Tuesday, July 19, 2005

An Anti-Anti-American Sentiment...

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I was recently in a pub with friends... an Irish pub in Kilburn that’s usually populated by very old men slurring their speech, and stumbling around the bar with pints of Guinness and the Racing Post. On the neighboring table to me three American students were quite boisterously discussing international affairs: the march of globalization, American Imperialism, etc. Subsequently, amongst the people I was talking to, a similar conversation began about terrorism and the role of Bush and Blair.

One particular friend began an aggressive, drunken diatribe about the United States, knowing full well that the table of US students were close by. In essence he blamed the stupidity, and ignorance of Americans for the terrorist bombings on the 7th of July. Americans were isolated, hamburger eating, religious zealots, and their ignorance, and election of George Bush, alongside Tony Blair’s unconditional support for the war in Iraq, was ultimately responsible.

The US students finished their drinks and left offended and shocked by what I think they perceived as a personal attack. I was on my sixth pint and in no condition to express myself lucidly so I sadly watched them pack up their things and exit onto the busy street… feeling rather ashamed of my companions, and disappointed in myself.

I’m not sure what Anti-Americanism really amounts to. Is it a sincere concern for the way a superpower wields its influence in the world? Is it insecurity? Is it jealousy?

The first thing that strikes you as a foreigner in the US is just how vast a society it is. The kind of pretentious cultural assessments you've grown up with are inherently flawed. States as large as most European nations comprise their own identities and values... where I lived in California was a world away from Montana, or New Hampshire, or Mississippi for example.

I lived in the US for two years and I considered it my home.

I fell in love with the perpetual optimism and enterprise of the people I encountered. I fell in love with the ubiquitous lust and drive for living. I fell in love with its deep sense of national identity forged in fundamental human ideals like freedom, individualism, self-determination, and self-reliance.

I loved the fact you could drive for a day and see settings so disparate... Desert lands, snowy mountain ranges, sky scraping cities, and a beautiful oceanside.

I loved that Americans were smarter, more thoughtful people than the rest of the world gave them credit for. I loved that in any public venue you would randomly find people discussing, with an enlightened intricacy, investments, business, foreign policy, healthcare, community... in terms of how it affected the vastness of America, rather than the relative smallness of my native country, and our thinking (in spite of our claims to be more internationally aware).

I acknowledge that the U.S. isn't perfect... after all, I'm a man who supports Kyoto and the ICC :)

But, I miss it a great deal. There's something about being surrounded by cynicism, pessimism, and negativism in the UK that ultimately wears you down. I miss hearing people's grand ambitions to start their own companies, or their determination to ascend to a better job. I miss listening to people dream without fear of incredulity, or people's perceptions. I miss that energy...

I only wish young people in this country, like my 22-year-old sister for instance, could experience that freedom, and license to dream, and the opportunity to try. After all, it's our individual pursuits, whether they are altruistic, or otherwise, that drive us forward together as a society... that allow us to keep people in work, to invest more in our infrastructure/schools/hospitals, and to keep our economy growing.

The United States is so much more than the two-dimensional stereotype it is so often reduced to. Some of the greatest minds have grappled with its immensity in some of the world's greatest novels... I miss the little part of it I experienced, and can think of few other places in the world I'd rather make my home in the future.

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