My husband and I joke about this all the time...don't even have a clue as to where I first heard it: the difference between being American (enunciated and said with a modicum of pride) and being a "meruhkin" (said with a slight slur and at the back of the throat - mer-uh-kin - it kind of runs together to sound like "merkin" with a rolling "r", but it is not to be confused with the actual definition of merkin - which is a strange pubic toupee.)
So, what is a "meruhkin" you might ask? Well, you are surrounded by them every day. You might even be one (all the time - eek! - or just periodically - embarrassing but not the end of the world).
A "meruhkin" is the worst version of the American you can find. Let me see if I can help explain through a bit of comparing and contrasting.
Americans are proud of the flag, know full-well the history behind it, put their hands on their hearts when they say the pledge, and might even get a little emotional when they hear the Star Spangled Banner. A "meruhkin" might listen, but they'll probably talk or eat through the whole thing - or even sing (or, god help us, burp) it at the top of their lungs while chugging Bud Light (which is pretty much the only beer they will drink, unless they are feeling randy and order a "kerrs" [Coors]).
Americans are hard-working and choose the stairs as long as their legs are still blessedly capable. A "meruhkin" will always take the easy way out, especially if he or she can get something out of it for free...and will always choose the "meruhkin" stairs (the elevator) or the really "meruhkin" stairs (the escalator) since it takes less effort.
An American is independent, self-reliant, and goal-oriented. A "meruhkin" is often just along for the ride.
An American will work for years and years to provide a better life for his or her children. A "meruhkin" will have lots of children they can't afford in order to provide themselves with more tax deductions, or just because god told them to.
Americans raise their children the old-fashioned way and believe that they alone are responsible for their kids' outcome and behavior. "Meruhkins" leave the raising of their children to others and rarely take the blame when their kids do stupid, rude, or illegal things because they never had the time or spine to discipline them themselves.
Americans own their actions. If they do something wrong, they own up and take the punishment they deserve. "Meruhkins" hire lawyers for everything...and if they can't afford one, they eat up as much time as possible with a public attorney and waste everyone's time by lying, cheating, and avoiding the inevitable.
An American chooses to eat foods grown on family farms and ranches that have been around for decades, searches for ways to buy local or at least "Made in the USA", and is grateful for clear, clean drinking water available with the turn of a handle. A "meruhkin" will eat anything fast, cheap, and super-sized with a gallon of sugary soda or a 32 oz. Monster to wash it down, especially if it can be bought 2-for-1 at Wal-Mart.
An American likes to visit national parks and take scenic by-ways. Hell, he or she will even camp or fish on occasion and might even hunt a bit (and eat the meat instead of mounting its head on the wall). A "meruhkin" doesn't do much traveling, but when he or she finally gets out, it usually consists of flying somewhere like Disneyland with as much baggage as possible, forgetting to tip anyone who drives them anywhere or hauls their luggage, and then walking around in floral shirts and shorts with black socks and a giant camera, guffawing loudly, littering and being rude.
Americans take pleasure in reading things that aren't on the National Bestseller list and enjoy the occasional foreign film on the same 32-inch screen television they've had for 10 years. "Meruhkins" will pick up an occasional newspaper if it has enough pictures...maybe a People magazine if the gossip seems good...and they love blockbuster films, especially in big movie theaters with surround-sound, stadium seating, refillable buckets of butter-coated popcorn, various candies, and a vat of Coca-Cola to wet their whistles.
Americans don't watch much television, because they are too busy working, spending time with their families, walking their dogs, and being politically involved. "Meruhkins" have a T.V. in every room (including the bathroom), know most of the advertising jingles but wouldn't be able to place a Beethoven tune if it hit them in the face, and bought their first 70" LCD flat-screen with HDTV the minute it came out - even though they had to breed their pitbull 15 times and fake an injury at work to collect some L & I to afford it.
Americans budget, pay their bills on time, save money and try to pay cash as often as possible. They take lists and coupons to the store, buy what they need, and go home. "Meruhkins" buy as much as possible on credit, frequent payday loan establishments often, and believe that as long as they have checks, they have money. They are masters of the impulse buy and fall for pretty much every advertising ploy out there.
Americans will use public transportation if it's safe and clean. And they tend to buy used cars and drive them until they fall apart. "Meruhkins" lease and trade-in every two years...or...they just buy what they can't afford and wait for the repo-man.
Americans work for years to be able to afford a modest home with an affordable mortgage at the lowest interest rate possible. "Meruhkins" rent forever, live in pay-by-the-month hotels or trailer parks, or take out high interest, zero-down, variable-rate mortgages on houses of ridiculous size in ridiculous neighborhoods full of dozens of other "meruhkins" who will lose their shirts within a year, just like them.
Americans save so they can spend. "Meruhkins" spend and spend some more.
Americans value people. "Meruhkins" value things...and the opinions of others.
Americans value political dialogue, pay attention to what is being said by those in positions of political authority (and those who seek to be), and respectfully take the Constitution at face value. They get uppity when they feel their Constitutional rights are being subjugated...but can easily become just as uptight if they feel the rights of others are being threatened. "Meruhkins" pick and choose their politics as it suits them and usually only know as much as they have been told by their friends or The Enquirer. They often forget to vote (too busy watching T.V., I guess) but never ever forget to bitch. They are also selective in their interpretation of the Constitution. For example, you might hear a "meruhkin" say, "They better by-god let me keep my guns, but don't let those dirty gays in the military...and sure as hell don't let 'em get married on my watch...that'll just pull the curtain on our way of life and go against all or values." "Meruhkins" love to blame "they" and love to invoke "god". Ironically, they pull heavily on social welfare but tend to identify with the far-right. They are certainly a conundrum.
Let's just say, I've had a week of drowning in "meruhkins", and I'm glad to be home. I've cleaned my house, spent time with my family, shopped (with a list), updated the budget, paid the bills, and am about to hit the sack so I can get up and go to work like a responsible American.