Though I'd been very aware of this before, I was again struck by how little Americans know about the rest of the world. It always seemed to me that most people were disinterested, but I've discovered that's not necessarily the case.
Part of the reason I love New York so much is because it's like the whole world shrunken down to a city. There are communities here from countries all over the world: in one day, I hear a Russian meat skewer vendor screaming at her husband, a French businesswoman quietly speaking on her cell phone waiting for an elevator, a group of Chilean tourists chattering away as they peer at their maps, and a Chinese grandma playing with her grandson on the subway. In New York, you can eat almost nearly every every type of food you can imagine, find books in Japanese and Korean, and see movies in Hebrew and German. You can feel like you've traveled the world without going anywhere.
But just because we have so many foreigners here doesn't mean that even worldly New Yorkers are genuinely interested in them. Some are, to be sure. But just because you eat Chinese food and go to see a French movie that got rave reviews in the New York Times doesn't make you an international citizen. What I believe is that at least in the case of New Yorkers, people are only interested in limited aspects of other cultures, ones that are hip, cool, or fun. It's better than nothing, but many New Yorkers see other cultures as a part of New York life--just another bar, another cafe, another book. It's still better than most of America, though.
On a similar note, something I've always noticed about the US is what a short historical memory we have. This differs enormously from other countries, where even young people are deeply aware of events that happened fifty years, a hundred years, even centuries ago. I'm not sure exactly why this is, but part of it, I think, is disinterest in the past and a strong interest in the here and now. Our culture is very much an instant gratification culture, one where we are most excited by the new, the innovative, and the cool, like the Iphone or the latest bestseller. I think there is a possibility that this is changing, due to the multiple shocks my generation has suffered--9/11, disastrous wars in the Middle East, the economic crisis. I think the historical event that most people of my generation remember is World War II, since our grandparents have drummed it into our heads and we learn a lot about it in high school. Yet more recent events, like the Korean and Vietnam wars, are often glossed over in school and we learn about them in bad movies and on monument tours in Washington. There's hope, I think, that my generation has the opportunity to maintain a stronger collective historic memory, so we stop repeating our mistakes, over and over again.