Nov 6, 2008

Where did I leave off?

Right, the opportunity to witness and be part of a huge milestone in American history, yada yada yada. Whenever I travel to other countries, I'm always acutely aware and self-conscious of the "ugly American" stereotype. When I was on sabbatical in Guatemala and Costa Rica, like, a hundred years ago, I remember having a brutally frank conversation with a group of European (German, Danish, British) friends we hung out with about the world's perception of Americans, and it was humbling. They were right on several fronts: we were, for the most part, monolingual, geographically ignorant, somewhat politically uninformed, blissfully carefree consumers. No, we're not all loud, rude, overfed, materialistic boors who wear dark socks with shorts and tennis shoes, but there is a certain sense of entitlement that comes with being born American, not pride but something darker, an inherent arrogance that is difficult to shed or to hide (and was certainly a turnoff to that cute British dude). I was in Italy several weeks after 9/11, and was completely caught off guard by the sympathy and graciousness offered by almost everyone we met, because it was so out of the ordinary. So the idea that the world is watching and celebrating how we've opened ourselves up to change gives me hope that someday we won't be the bully on the global playground, or even the most popular (too exclusive), but that we'll be the smart, friendly country that happens to have more than its fair share, but does its best to get along with and to help others, and maybe every now and then helps break up a fight when it gets out of hand. Yes, a HUGE oversimplification, but try for just a moment to channel John Lennon and Imagine. Goose bumps.

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