As an expat, my status as a U.S. citizen is always a topic of scrutiny. Positive, but mostly negative, opinions of the U.S. are thrown my way. Frequently the bashing is for no other reason than to dump their opinions on me as if I was a political candidate at a press conference. What's worse, they expect me to defend my country. People tend to get annoyed when I focus more on their mismanaged rhetoric than getting lost in the details of their misinformed accusations.
For Europeans, I have started to let this ignorance slide a bit. However, I'm finding the same kind of blind ignorant following in U.S. Americans too. Mitt Romney's recent blunder yet again demonstrates how many people are simply not listening or paying attention. How is this guy a presidential candidate? He's been dancing around issues and flipping his words around so many times it makes me wonder if he has developed some new strand of bipolar disorder.
With that in mind, today, I went shopping. This activity generally exposes my foreign-ness as I stumble over my Swedish and ask the store clerk to mercifully switch to English. Nevertheless, there is the occasional surprise attack of the "Fan of the USA." These exuberant people strike when least expected.
"Oh my God -- you're American! Oh I love the States!"
Today was another attack. I had to show my ID at the liquor store. Something I hate doing because I have managed to "ja" and "nej" my way through most transactions without too much confusion, but today I was trapped. There I was, with my passport flashing for all to see.
This particular cashier was extra excited: "She's American!" She announced my citizenship to the long line of people behind me. "A tourist!" This would have been cute, but we are in Stockholm where Americans are not rare alien-sitings.
I glanced apologetically to the guy behind me who, like most traditional Swedes, kept a stoic facial expression. He was seemingly unimpressed and probably slightly annoyed.
"Actually, I live here." I replied quietly.
"I LOVE the states! It's my dream to live there! It's so wonderful - you're rich right??!" She cooed. I was hoping she was being sarcastic. She wasn't.
I chuckled and rolled my eyes, "Uh, no. In fact, many people are quite poor now."
She frowned. "No. That can't be -- everyone is rich there!"
I should have let it go, but I couldn't. I never can. "Well, it's not that great right now. At the moment there's growing unemployment and poverty, it's slowing becoming more like a third world country with a great marketing campaign."
She gave me a look that could slice my beer bottles. She now hated me. The guy behind me continued to look smug, but his eyes sparkled. I was positive he'd have a good laugh later. I quickly tried to pack up my items before I destroyed her entire ideology.
She wasn't done with me though. She pleaded, "But, it's my DREAM!"
I relented, "Well, then, of course you should go then -- I don't want to kill your dream." I left, avoiding any more eye contact.
The rest of the day, I thought about my other "Fan of USA" conversations I've encountered while here. I once had a coworker argue with me at length about how everyone in the states had huge houses with multiple bedrooms. She told me everyone had two cars and lived in the suburbs, where everyone wore beautiful clothing. The way she described the States mirrored an episode of MTV Cribs. I told her repeatedly that she was misinformed by the media, yet she still didn't believe me. It was as if she needed to believe the U.S. was still the land of fairies, unicorns and the teenage Britney Spears.
My previous landlord lived in California for a few years before returning to Sweden. She insisted the U.S. was better and wanted to go back. She made broad generalizations about how people in the states were not racist, there was more opportunity for immigrants, and people were just plain nicer.
While I tended to agree with her that people in the U.S. are generally more easy-going and sociable than the Swedes, I warned her that racism and unemployment are still present in the United States -- if not growing in some areas. She was angry with me for saying that, as if I was some indignant child. I told her that I didn't want to give her the wrong impression - there is no perfect country. Maybe the States has great things to offer, but I wanted her to be aware that she wouldn't necessarily be free of the problems she has here.
Remember the Disney movie, An American Tail with the cute little mice? That song with the refrain: "But there are no cats in America and the streets are paved with cheese..." I found that song to be hilarious as a child. Now I find it ironically applicable to certain conversations.
Every nation has its pros and cons. The United States of America still has strong residing freedoms (which could soon be destroyed). It's difficult to break the news to foreigners that my country isn't the wonderful Land of Oz. I realize it's not Syria, but it's not a fairyland. Unlike the media, politicians or our wealthy community, I refuse to support this ridiculous racket (either ultra-positive or ultra-negative) of the Wizardry of the States. Like Toto, I want everyone to look closer. I want to expose the men and women behind the curtain.