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Clinging to American Culture

paul wheaton
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Joined: Dec 14, 1998
Posts: 20582
    ∞

When I read National Geographic, or meet people that have traveled to interesting places, or see pictures of stuff from all over the world .... it makes me wonder what are the things that define us as Americans? For a while I thought it was "McDonalds" (which I always refer to as "Scottish Cuisine").

Then I added in our "non metric way of measuring stuff."

Yesterday I was at the bank and this woman was chatting me up (lots of amazing cleavage on display so she had my attention) and she decided to comment on what I was wearing. Overalls.





Do folks in other countries wear overalls? Could this be something only in the USA? (well, and maybe Canada)


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Alan Wanwierd
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Joined: Jun 30, 2004
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I can think of a number of things that the "rest of the world" consider to be typical of American culture...

Unfortunately many of them are unmentionable in this forum - but I'll try and descrive them in objective non-offensive terms (let me know if I miss the mark!).

There are HUGE crossovers between what people see as "American" and what people see as "Corporate" culture - so the extension of the standard working day beyond your formally contracted hours, the erosion of work/life balance, the sacrificing of everything for the pursuit of economic success - is seen (perhaps unfairly) as an American cultural movement.

Another characteristic of American culture (or should than be charicature of American culture) often considered would be the inward ego-centric view of the world. Of course there are plenty of well travelled, worldly-wise Americans out there and its a GROSSLY unfair view by the world - but the R.O.W prefers to notice the more amusing American stereotype of someone how cant even point out Africa on a world map - or has no idea the difference between Pakistan and India - someone who cares more about the colour of Tom Cruises baby's eyes than they do about thousand of people being slaughtered in far off lands...

Clothing wise - The only thing I can think of as being considered American culture would be a baseball cap - worn high enough to have air between the top of your head and the top of the cap - I dont think anyone else in the world does this!

As far as overalls go - I think outside of tradesmen (plumbers, electricians, plasters, builders etc etc) you'd be hard pressed to see anyone wearing overalls around here in Australia!

Hope I havent offended anyone!
Paul Clapham
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Joined: Oct 14, 2005
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    8

Originally posted by Adrian Wallace:
Another characteristic of American culture (or should than be charicature of American culture) often considered would be the inward ego-centric view of the world.
Well, the British have been accused of this characteristic for years too.
Ulf Dittmer
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  63
Clothing wise - The only thing I can think of as being considered American culture would be a baseball cap - worn high enough to have air between the top of your head and the top of the cap - I dont think anyone else in the world does this!

Nope, not typical American - teenagers over here (Germany) do that as well. Seems to be a trend mostly amongst immigrants (or children of immigrants), not so much amongst German teenagers. I have no idea why that might be.


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Paul Sturrock
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Originally posted by Paul Wheaton:
For a while I thought it was "McDonalds" (which I always refer to as "Scottish Cuisine").


Oi! We wouldn't touch the stuff. Not till they start deep frying the Happy Meals.


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Dave Lenton
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Joined: Jan 20, 2005
Posts: 1241
Originally posted by Paul Wheaton:
it makes me wonder what are the things that define us as Americans? ...

Do folks in other countries wear overalls?
The only people I've seen wearing overalls in the UK are painters and pregnant women!

While it may be hard to think of specific attributes a person has which are definitively American (other then the accent, of course), there are some which are strong indicators. I work in quite a touristy part of London, and quite often play "spot the tourist" when I'm on the way to work. In this game I attempt to guess where a person is from before they give it away by speaking, and it is often easy to spot Americans.

The hair is a big giveaway. Americans seem to love BIG hair. Things like mullets, permed hair, and general large hair volume are things which have been out of fashion for a while here, but seem common in American tourists.

Moustaches are also rarer in the UK then in the states, but they are less of an indicator because a lot of European countries seem to like them for some reason.

Bum bags, which I think Americans call fanny-packs (that sounds weird to an English ear, as fanny has a very different meaning here!), a very very rare since the end of the eighties, but seem to be quite popular with tourists.

Are any of these things typically American though, or just typical to the type of American tourist who likes to come to the UK? A lot of countries will see the stereotypical English person as drinking beer, wearing a sports shirt, having very short hair and making a loud drunken noise because that's what a lot of English tourists look like. It isn't particularly typical of the average person here though.


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Frank Silbermann
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Joined: Jun 06, 2002
Posts: 1387
Twenty-five years ago I spoke with a German man who said that he could identify Americans in Germany by their shoes. American men would often wear light colored shoes (e.g. tan), whereas he said German men didn't do that. (Who knows; by now perhaps German men do wear tan shoes.)

I suppose the reason that people around the world know so much more about America than Americans know about them is because many foreigners can hardly help but be exposed to Americans and what our government is doing due to the international role America has played since WWII. But I think most people of _any_ country are rather incurious about others; just as most Americans feel no internal drive to find out about the rest of the world, most international critics of America feel no urge to understand _why_ Americans do the things that irritate them.
[ March 08, 2007: Message edited by: Max Habibi ]
Ben Souther
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Joined: Dec 11, 2004
Posts: 13410

Originally posted by Paul Sturrock:

Oi! We wouldn't touch the stuff. Not till they start deep frying the Happy Meals.


What about the McHaggis meals?


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John Smith
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Joined: Oct 08, 2001
Posts: 2937
What defines us as Americans is the absence of common purpose and goals. We recognize the uniformity of thought, faith, behavior, and life style as false virtues. And we'll continue to prosper as long as there are people who keep rocking the boat.
Paul Sturrock
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Joined: Apr 14, 2004
Posts: 10336

Originally posted by Ben Souther:


What about the McHaggis meals?


Do such things exist?!
paul wheaton
Trailboss

Joined: Dec 14, 1998
Posts: 20582
    ∞

English accent: I always think of Simon Roberts. I used to think of Monty Python, but after living with Simon for a while, and he sounds kinda like Monty Python, I can't remember what Monty Python sounds like!

Now I've been spending so much time around Andrew Monkhouse, when I try to think of a British accent, I think of Andrew's goofy australian-speak.

As far as ignoring other cutures .... I dunno, it seems like we are perpetually obsessed with learning about other cultures. Restaurants for starters. Then museums and art. Look at the mountains of stuff that we import. It seems like we are always talking about how people live in other countries. I guess that's why I was asking about American culture. We seem so void of it - we're always admiring/emulating other cultures. So many people from all over the world live here. It seems that almost everything interesting here came from some other country. I feel a bit like we are the borg.

Big hair: I think that the people with big hair are five times more likely to travel. Most of the people here seem to have short hair. Bald seems to be big these days. Of course, Andrew is bald and travels a lot. But he's also an Australian living in the US.

Fanny packs: I rarely see them here.
Max Habibi
town drunk
( and author)
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I'm bald and I travel a lot.

Paul, be honest. Did you just want to post a picture of a hottie?


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Ulf Dittmer
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  63
We seem so void of it - we're always admiring/emulating other cultures.

Well, the US as it is today is a nation built by immigrants, and continues to attract them from all over the world. No other country (possibly Canada) has a higher percentage of foreign-born residents.

So maybe the "we" in "we're always admiring/emulating other cultures" is the ones that actually are from somewhere else, and that has rubbed off on the others by virtue of being different, and thus interesting.
[ March 08, 2007: Message edited by: Ulf Dittmer ]
Dave Lenton
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Joined: Jan 20, 2005
Posts: 1241
Originally posted by Paul Wheaton:
I guess that's why I was asking about American culture. We seem so void of it - we're always admiring/emulating other cultures. So many people from all over the world live here. It seems that almost everything interesting here came from some other country. I feel a bit like we are the borg.
Could this partially be because of the age of the US? It is still a fairly young country, and it takes a while to build up cultural traditions. At the moment many people in the US may have a couple of hundred years of American tradition in their family, but that is preceded by several millennia of (often European) tradition. In time American traditions will become a bigger proportion of that, and foreign traditions will merge with American ones.
Paul Sturrock
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I feel a bit like we are the borg.

Proof of assimilation agenda!
[ March 09, 2007: Message edited by: Paul Sturrock ]
Tony Alicea
Desperado
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Joined: Jan 30, 2000
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    5
Is the Hottie from Lands' End catalog?


Tony Alicea
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Tony Alicea
Desperado
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"Another characteristic of American culture (or should than be caricature of American culture) often considered would be the inward ego-centric view of the world."

I's not a caricature, it's a reality. We Americans have always though that out culture is the superior one and that everyone that's different, by definition, needs some kind of adjustment. With the advent and presumed adoption of "political correctness" we no longer say so aloud; we just continue to think it, and act accordingly.

"Of course there are plenty of well travelled, worldly-wise Americans out there and its a GROSSLY unfair view by the world -"

No there are not. And it's not.

Max Habibi
town drunk
( and author)
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Originally posted by Tony Alicea:


I's not a caricature, it's a reality. We Americans have always though that out culture is the superior one and that everyone that's different, by definition, needs some kind of adjustment.


Um, which Americans are you speaking for here, Tony?

Personally, I think part of it is that guys named Tony Alicea and Max Habibi get to give their impression of, and contribute towards, American culture.
[ March 10, 2007: Message edited by: Max Habibi ]
marc weber
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Joined: Aug 31, 2004
Posts: 11343

Fridays are casual, so you don't need to wear a shirt underneath your overalls.


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Frank Silbermann
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Originally posted by Tony Alicea:
"Another characteristic of American culture (or should than be caricature of American culture) often considered would be the inward ego-centric view of the world."

I's not a caricature, it's a reality. We Americans have always though that out culture is the superior one and that everyone that's different, by definition, needs some kind of adjustment. With the advent and presumed adoption of "political correctness" we no longer say so aloud; we just continue to think it, and act accordingly.
I don't think that's a specifically American characteristic. If you asked most Brits whether it would be better for France to change to become more like England, I think most Englishmen (especially those educated before 1950 -- before political correctness) would say yes. If you asked most Swedes whether America would do well to become more like Sweden, most of them would say yes.

I wouldn't be surprised to find that a higher percentage of Americans felt America should change to become more like other countries than you'll find foreigners saying such things about their own country.
[ March 13, 2007: Message edited by: Max Habibi ]
Alan Wanwierd
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Joined: Jun 30, 2004
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...foreigners who don't give a fig whether the Portugese become more like them do feel irritated at Americans' refusal to do so.


You may have misread world public opinion there! I think most of the world is fairly ambivalent when it comes to America (or anyone else) being more like them or not, as long as they arent expected to change THEIR culture then people are generally ok with whatever others do - What annoys people is the current American obsession with travelling the world trying to make everyone else behave more like Americans.

..and I actually think there are a whole lot of countries out there who *would* look at others and wish they could be more like them! Here in Australia for example Sweden is often held up as a shining example of how society *should* be organised! In England people look at German roads and *WISH* they had them, in the Philippines it seemed (to me at least) that everyone DREAMS of being somthing else other than Filipino! I'll grant you that in most of the world there is a certain amount of pride in some aspect of their own culture - but *most* of us are capable of admiring aspects of others. The popular representation of American culture (whether fair or not) suggests that this ability is not present and this is seen by R.O.W. as extremely arrogant and misguided - a major character flaw.
[ March 12, 2007: Message edited by: Adrian Wallace ]
paul wheaton
Trailboss

Joined: Dec 14, 1998
Posts: 20582
    ∞

Originally posted by Max Habibi:

Paul, be honest. Did you just want to post a picture of a hottie?


Sometimes when you say "overalls" people think of what I call "coveralls" or other odd things. So I used google images and that was one of the first pics.

I guess I just got lucky!
Frank Silbermann
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Posts: 1387
Originally posted by Adrian Wallace:
You may have misread world public opinion there! I think most of the world is fairly ambivalent when it comes to America (or anyone else) being more like them or not, as long as they arent expected to change THEIR culture then people are generally ok with whatever others do -
(Then I guess I was misinformed about, say, Canada and Japan hoping to impose firearms registration on American states via U.N. declarations and agreements.) :-)

Originally posted by Adrian Wallace:
..and I actually think there are a whole lot of countries out there who *would* look at others and wish they could be more like them! Here in Australia for example Sweden is often held up as a shining example of how society *should* be organised! ... I'll grant you that in most of the world there is a certain amount of pride in some aspect of their own culture - but *most* of us are capable of admiring aspects of others.
Yes, in most countries, including the U.S., you do get both -- people wishing to copy aspects of other cultures, yet also having people believing that other countries would do well by copying _them_.

Originally posted by Adrian Wallace:
The popular representation of American culture (whether fair or not) suggests that this ability is not present and this is seen by R.O.W. as extremely arrogant and misguided - a major character flaw.
I would say that this is NOT a fair characterization because many Americans have and do admire aspects of other countries. I can give many examples: American socialists likewise see Sweden as a model for the way society should be organized. For over a century Isolationists have wished America would imitate Switzerland's neutrality. Economic liberals have often wished that America's business laws could be more like pre-1998 Hong Kong. American racists and antisemites in the 1930s admired aspects of German racial policy of the time. Libertines such as Hugh Hefner have expressed a desire for America to be less puritanical about sex and nudity. A great many American physicians today advocate changing our diet to be more like that of the olive-and-wine-growing areas of southern Europe.

Originally posted by Adrian Wallace:
What annoys people is the current American obsession with travelling the world trying to make everyone else behave more like Americans. ...
Many Americans whose jobs force them to travel do indeed resent and resist the pressure to learn other countries' language and customs, and wish it weren't necessary to do so. That's not motivated by arrogance so much as by intellectual laziness. Many of these differences in language and customs are so complex that it's very difficult to navigate them without going to the extreme of, say, reading a book.

(There are a great many Americans who have not read a book in years. A book about _anything_. Even many university graduates have read only what they were forced to read in school and couldn't fake having read. Of course, there are exceptions, and I imagine other countries also have people like that, but the percentages may differ, and it's probably rarer for such people in other countries to rise to the level of responsibility that would bring them into contact with foreigners. Again, this may have to do with America's popular culture being dominated by lower-class tastes.)
Paul Clapham
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Originally posted by Frank Silbermann:
Then I guess I was misinformed about, say, Canada and Japan hoping to impose firearms registration on American states via U.N. declarations and agreements.
You may very well have been misinformed about that. I know Canada was involved in having the U.N. put the kibosh on land mines, but I can't recall any gun-registration initiatives.
Andrew Monkhouse
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Originally posted by Frank Silbermann:
(Then I guess I was misinformed about, say, Canada and Japan hoping to impose firearms registration on American states via U.N. declarations and agreements.) :-)
I guess so.

The issue that the U.N. as a whole is trying to solve is the illicit trade of weapons. It is not aimed at America. In fact, the way I read the 2001 UN proposal, it could be argued that individuals would not have to be licensed - legitimate controls could be made at a manufacturer / distributor level which would have zero impact on the American consumer being able to purchase a legitimate weapon. (sorry, I haven't the time to find the 2004 proposal).

- Andrew
Frank Silbermann
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Originally posted by Andrew Monkhouse:
I guess so.

The issue that the U.N. as a whole is trying to solve is the illicit trade of weapons. It is not aimed at America. In fact, the way I read the 2001 UN proposal, it could be argued that individuals would not have to be licensed - legitimate controls could be made at a manufacturer / distributor level which would have zero impact on the American consumer being able to purchase a legitimate weapon. (sorry, I haven't the time to find the 2004 proposal).
- Andrew
The issue, as I understood it, was not ability to purchase (at least not at this time), but the requirement for government to keep track of private ownership. I also had the impression that America was said to have destroyed the hope of the conference achieving anything when the American representative declared at the outset that his delegation would not sign any policy inconsistent with current American practice as pertains to the private ownership of conventional (non-automatic) handguns and rifles.

[ March 13, 2007: Message edited by: Frank Silbermann ]
[ March 13, 2007: Message edited by: Max Habibi ]
Paul Clapham
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Originally posted by Frank Silbermann:
I also had the impression that America was said to have destroyed the hope of the conference achieving anything when the American representative declared at the outset that his delegation would not sign any policy inconsistent with current American practice as pertains to the private ownership of conventional (non-automatic) handguns and rifles. I guess any disappointment some nations felt about the conference was not our fault after all.
Well, no doubt many people in the UN environment were happy to blame things on the Americans. That's standard operating procedure from what I can see.

But I really wouldn't like this thread to turn into one about gun control. I suppose that guns might be one of the things that Paul meant in his opening post when he said "the things that define us as Americans", but I don't think it's top-of-mind when foreigners meet Americans in the street.
Ulf Dittmer
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Well, no doubt many people in the UN environment were happy to blame things on the Americans. That's standard operating procedure from what I can see.

Over-generalizing a bit, maybe?
I suppose that guns might be one of the things that Paul meant in his opening post when he said "the things that define us as Americans", but I don't think it's top-of-mind when foreigners meet Americans in the street

Well, of course not, they'd be concealed
Axel Janssen
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a.) Peanut butter (maybe its because one they sell here has an American flag on the jar.
b) I think the street grid of most American cities is very symetrical. This is very different from most European and probably Indian cities. I think this is Pan-American (in South America the same).
c) a friendly service attitude. Though this has changed a lot to the better in Europe too in the last 15 years or so.
[ March 13, 2007: Message edited by: Axel Janssen ]
Alan Wanwierd
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Posts: 624
c) a friendly service attitude. Though this has changed a lot to the better in Europe too in the last 15 years or so.


Actually I'd say an insincereservice attitude!

The old traditional style English transaction in a fish and chip shop might be like so:

"What do you want?"
"Cod and chips please"
"3 pounds fifty please"
".."
"There ya go - now piss off"...

and has been replaced by American culture transaction styles of:
"Good afternoon, how may I help you?"
"I'd like a burger and chips please"
"Certainly - would you like to upsize to large for a mere 50 pence extra"
"No - I just want a burger and chips please"
"We have a special on our bacon double cheesburgers at the moment - 2 for the price of one?"
"No - I just want a burger and chips please"
"Ok - that comes to a total of three pounds fifty today"
"..."
"Thank you very much - have a *GREAT* day.."


Apart from the incessant, ineffective and inefficient attempts to upsell all the time - the "have a great/nice day" never really works when its spouted with hateful venom from a spotty moody teenager who just wants to finish his shift and really doesnt give a stuff about your day!
(I realise that this is probably more a failing of CORPORATE culture rather than American - I'm sure there are plenty of honest, grumpy miserable service staff in USA who havent yet been turned into corporate drones!)
Frank Silbermann
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c) a friendly service attitude. Though this has changed a lot to the better in Europe too in the last 15 years or so.
Yes, I remember in 1985 taking a German exchange student to a shoe store. After twenty minutes trying on shoes, he left without finding anything he liked. He confided his amazement when the clerk said to us as we were leaving, "Ya'll be sure and come back again!"

Originally posted by Adrian Wallace:
Actually I'd say an insincere service attitude!
Etiquette often requires insincerity. Just because you think someone is ugly doesn't mean you should tell her so.

In fact, the stigma against racist speech demands that racists show insincere benevolence. I think insincere benevolence is better than the alternative.
[ March 15, 2007: Message edited by: Frank Silbermann ]
Angela Poynton
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Posts: 3143
What does it for me ... how I usually pick out an American is a combination of clothes & hair.

American styles are just very different to European. I have an aunt who lives in Pittsburgh and she's always sending stuff over to my parents that I'm sure would look perfect in an American house but simple look horrid to us. I watch a lot of "home improvments" shows and the difference in preferred style is evident when watching a US show after a UK one.
For guys ... also facial hair .. it seems to be the done thing n the US .. i HATE it!! My friend, wonderful georgous guy with the most beautiful face recently moved to Texas to get married and within a month he'd strted growing a beard .. there aren't words for how horrified I am. He just looks American now and he's the most british person I know


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Peter Rooke
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[ March 15, 2007: Message edited by: Peter Rooke ]

Regards Pete
Frank Silbermann
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Posts: 1387
Originally posted by Angela Poynton:
What does it for me ... how I usually pick out an American is a combination of clothes & hair. American styles are just very different to European.
Yeah, I often pick out European tourists when I see pants that are neither long nor short but rather somewhere in between (e.g. falling about mid-calf length).
Paul Clapham
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    8

Originally posted by Frank Silbermann:
Yeah, I often pick out European tourists when I see pants that are neither long nor short but rather somewhere in between (e.g. falling about mid-calf length).
And the tourists who are smoking cigarettes after hiking to the top of the mountain are probably Germans.
Peter Rooke
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- Or soldiers - kind of part of the training
 
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