I was talking to a fellow named Ethan Zuckerman – entrepreneur, founder of Global Voices, and skilled turkey-smoker – not long ago and he used the word xenophilia in the course of our conversation about global perspectives and understanding. Something of a rich mouthful, it seemed to me, and perhaps suggestive of less than admirable ways of loving other cultures (there’s far too much of this, for example, when one searches, as I did when we were working on the International Encyclopedia of Women and Sports, for “Asian women’s sports”). But the concept – appreciation for and a sense of connection with people from other places and with other ways of speaking and behaving, and of seeing and describing the world – is one worth talking about.
I have an unfortunate tendency to underrate Americans in this area. I love stories like the one about U.S. senator Jesse Helms, who told a teacher that, while French classes were all very well, if English was good enough for Jesus it was good enough for the boys and girls of South Carolina. But other nations are in the running when it comes to ignorant cultural chauvinism. I picked up a book this afternoon called The Englishman (London: Edward Arnold & Co, 1931). According to the jacket, the author “concludes by examining how far these characteristics [English character and genius] appear in the two most representative English works, The Bible and Shakespeare.”