Imagine this: In a college cafeteria in Paris or a coffee shop in Buenos Aires, on Copacabana beach or in taxi in Johannesburg, in a market place in Beijing or even the dining room of your next door neighbor’s home, the same time-old conversation is unraveling about you and everything you believe in.
Yes! About you! About the American!
It won’t come as a surprise that this particular conversation tends to paint an unfavorable picture of the United States and thus you, as a member of broader American society.
In this conversation, you’ve become the axis of all evil, capitalism the new suppressor, and multinationals like Wal-Mart and McDonalds the symbolic figureheads of a sudden end to individual nations’ economic and social sovereignty.
Americans are puppets of the media and the political forces within. They are prisoners of fear, unaware of international affairs and unjustifiably patriotic.
Californians are cool, though, and it would fun to go to Miami or visit the big smoke of New York City.
People from the South are stuck in a time warp, racially divided and unwelcoming to outsiders. Northerners are fine but they’re still Americans so be cautious!
Black people are the coolest of all, especially the Denzel Washington-types or the eternal gangsters like Samuel L. Jackson. Most live in the Bronx and Brooklyn, and there are probably a few in L.A. too, because that’s where all the gangster action transpires.
On a political level Democrats are idealists, and Republicans are not to be trusted. The name Bush is accompanied by every curse and insult of every language and dialect, in every corner of every universe, and its gut-wrenchingly entertaining that all Americans think Obama is the antichrist.
Still it doesn’t matter who’s in power because Iraq is and will always be a mistake. Oil was the driving force beyond the invasion, the fuel to the fire of American greed and consumption.
But let’s not get started on the Cuban trade embargo, the CIA or, worse yet, Israel!
“Hold up! Wait!” someone tells the student in a McDonald’s cafeteria in Paris, the lady in Starbucks in Buenos Aires, the taxi driver whose cousin lives in Queens, and the member of the immigrant family living next door to you. “Aren’t you watching streamed episodes of ‘24’ right now on that iPad you got while vacationing in Manhattan?”
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A silence ensues and out pours an attempt at balance.
Of course, all of the above is said in general terms because so-and-so’s best friend happens to be American. What a fun, vivacious guy, that one! He can drink just about anyone under the table and he parties like no other.
That particular American friend is also an extremely generous person and is persistent in inviting so-and-so to stay with him, spend thanksgiving with his family, and make a cross-country road trip to see the beautiful, varied landscapes of some of the 50 states.
And what about that friend of a friend who has been living and working in the States for the past few years, pursuing her dreams and moving her way to the top slowly-but-surely?
She often talks about the American work ethic and the innovation, ambition and general passion that her colleagues employ in all aspects of life.
Her workmates come from all corners of the globe and the surface such a melting pot of cultures functions as best as is possible given the differences they share. She often wishes all this was the case back home.
The most striking situation of all, however, is that her friends and colleagues have different criticisms and perceptions of themselves than most of the foreign people she has met, leading her to believe many Americans are unaware of what is said of them abroad.
The underlying question is therefore: What do you, one of the world’s most talked about, dissected, researched, and passion-evoking people of modern times, think or know about the perceptions others have of you as an American?