The last time I traveled extensively abroad, Obama had just been elected to his first term, and people around the world were in love with America. Europeans in particular were enamored, due to part to Obama’s tour of Europe while he was campaigning—I remember one pundit saying that his loop was “the first time an American Presidential candidate campaigned in Europe.”
Unfortunately, Obama has not lived up to the Euros astronomical expectations. Not being able to address Obama directly on his failings, Europeans have decided to confront me about them.
“Obama said that he was going to leave Afghanistan and Iraq immediately, but look—you guys still have troops in both countries.”
Europeans also take it as their charge to confront me about the failings of the American Education System. I guess it’s nicer of them to blame the stupidity they perceive in Americans as an institutional fuck-up as opposed to a failing of character, but it does get very irritating to hear things like:
“Oh, Wow…you know a lot of stuff for an American.”
I will give the Europeans (and Canadians and what-have-you) one thing off the bat: Americans are not very well-traveled. In Nicaragua, you see more Canadians than Americans, which is only surprising when you realize that America has 11 times the population of Canada, and, on top of that, we’re technically closer. It’s pretty standard for Canadians and people from Australia and Europe and Brazil and…well, most places, to travel extensively during their 20s.
Of course, this negative fact doesn’t apply to me, or any other Americans traveling down here for that matter. Like the people I know from New Paltz, most travelers view themselves as detached from the bumbling hoard that they perceive as the American swarm. I’ve always had a bit of a problem with this. When a drunken traveler of the European persuasion started demanding to know why there was no cheese on the hamburgers Poste Rojo was serving at the family dinner, one of the American volunteers snappily responded with,
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were American…can my fellow Americans at the table please tell this guy what an American he’s being?”
I suppose she was trying to keep the levels of aggression down to a degree, but the fact remains that she was directly comparing the Euro’s boorishness to being American—she was trying to embarrass him into shutting the fuck up by saying he was acting like…like…one of us…
A particularly anti-American German fellow in his early 40s was really getting in my face about such things. We started talking about the ridiculousness of the Republican candidates during the 2012 election, but I became miffed by his usage of the word “you,” as in “you never elect anyone who really changes anything,” or “you create an education system that makes most people stupid.” I had to stop him.
“You hafta stop using ‘you‘…it’s not like I created these problems, or got these people elected.”
“But they represent you, no?”
The German was particularly educated, even by European standards, so I didn’t need to fill him in much about the Electoral College system.
Later on, he plopped himself down on a bar stool next to me and immediately opened with, “so, how many languages do YOU speak?” He knew goddamn well that I didn’t speak any languages other than the one he was addressing me in.
“Uh…just English, really, and the Spanish I’ve picked up down here.” I thought about mentioning my French basics, but I knew that he was probably fluent, and I wasn’t about to go through the humiliation of stumbling through a conversation in that tongue.
After several conversations like this, a couple bordering on arguments, I had to address his overall viewpoint.
“Here’s my overall perception of the conversations we’ve been having:”
“Yes…?” The German slyly slipped his stool towards mine.
“I am very critical of America…I have a lot of problems with it and I often discuss them with other Americans, but, when a foreigner uses the same arguments, I automatically become defensive.”
We talked for a bit longer, during which he said I couldn’t do basic math and that I needed to lose 7 kilos (about 15 pounds) to be a healthy weight by European standards. He showed me his abs. Then he said something that was just too much.
“I mean, I know more about your political system then you do…”
“…I very much doubt that.”
“Oh?” He cocked an eyebrow.
“Yes…I’m not trying to antagonize you, but it’s kinda my realm…I definitely know more about the American Political System.”
I knew he was going to try to test me, to make me look like a Stupid American.
“So…according to you, why did you drop the atomic bombs on Japan?”
Again with the fucking you. I wasn’t even born yet. I leaned back.
“What you want me to say is that Truman dropped the bombs because a land invasion would cost an estimated million American lives, but the actual fact is, Japan was getting ready to surrender anyway. The reason Truman actually dropped the bombs was because he was aware the Soviets were working on their own nuclear program, and wanted to rattle their cage and show them he was willing to use the bombs.”
The German leaned back, impressed that I knew this basic history. He stuck his hand out to shake. In his mind, I was not American.