Wednesday, June 16, 2010

you don't know nothin about where we're from

Three weeks ago I took a flight 4,407 miles away from home alone, to be greeted by people I had not met before. I have had some of the most eye opening experiences of my life, and days that have made me feel both intensely frustrated and satisfied. However, I have not felt more far away from home than I did Monday night.

Monday night at dinner, after a German girl stated that it had always been one of her father’s dreams to settle in the United States, an older man from another European country joined the conversation.

“Why?” he asked. “Why would anyone want to live in such a god-awful place? It is the worse place on the planet. They are killing thousands of people. They made George Bush, and now they have made Obama.” He elaborated about his stance on the deployment of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The man then looked directly at me and said it is the last place that he would ever want to visit.

The Bolivian girl disagreed with him apprehensively: “I fell in love with the United States when I was in Washington. The people were so nice to me. If you had said that about Bolivia, that all Bolivians supported Evo Morales or it was an awful place, I would be very angry.”

“Good people in a country do not make a good country,” the man said.

I didn’t say anything. I have traveled enough to know that it is typically not advisable to speak about American politics in different countries. I stared straight at him and waited for him to finish his rant. It was obvious he wanted me to disagree, and generally I have no problem with arguing. However in the middle of South America, being the only person from the United States at dinner with people from five different countries, I was at a loss for how to handle the situation. It takes a lot to offend me, but by brazenly insulting the United States and failing to make any differentiations between political disagreement and personal insult, he accomplished it.

Earlier in the conversation, when the man learned that I was from Chicago, he looked at me with an expression of disbelief and said “Wow. I thought that the last of you had fled out of here. It is not common to meet Americans in Bolivia.” Unaware of what was to come in the conversation, I had told him that I have heard that his country is absolutely beautiful. It takes a special kind of arrogance to openly insult someone who you have just met, and who was not only friendly but complimentary.

I have traveled fairly extensively for my age, and this is the first time I have directly encountered unprovoked, direct hostility from someone of another country. Of course, I have witnessed obvious anti-American sentiment, however I have never personally been offended. I have met many foreigners in the US, and I can’t imagine ever making a derogatory statement to them about their home country, no matter what it is. Typically, I have found my acceptance and appreciation for people different from myself to be met with a similar attitude.

I have always felt appreciation for my American citizenship and home in Chicago, however it is even more evident when it is challenged. When the man said that, I wished that we were in Chicago, and he could have absorbed the repercussions of his statement there. The reality of the situation was that I felt more alone than I have in a long time. I am lucky to say, however, that this event has been the most ostracized I have felt in my stay here.

I love America.

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