Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Perceptions are changing

Living in the Middle East meant that, in general, people were really excited by the fact that we were Americans. Saudis and Kuwaitis associated America with the shopping and often abaya-free days they enjoyed on vacations. Disney, Hollywood, and all designer stores were what came to mind when they thought of our country. Outside of the locals, we often came into contact with the nannies, drivers, or migrant workers employed by the families we taught or the schools where we worked. They associated America with opportunity, civil rights, and religious freedom they didn't find in their current situation, as well as public education.

What I'm getting at is that we rarely ran into someone who had a disparaging comment about our home country while we were living in the Sandbox. It happened, but not frequently, and usually the negative impression was based on YouTube videos about the Illuminati or some other conspiracy theory and it was easy for us to correct them.

That has changed here.

As a result of the catering job I've gotten, I take a lot of Ubers home when my shifts end after the public transit has made its last run out to my neck of the woods. That means I've got about 20 minutes of conversation with a local or an immigrant to Australia and they usually have an opinion about the good ol' US of A. For the first time since we've moved overseas, most of those opinions have been negative and, with the way things are going back home, it is hard to refute them.

Here's what I'm hearing most often:

1. "What's going on with Donald Trump?"  

The world is afraid of the lunacy that this election cycle has stirred up. Like people are legitimately scared of Donald Trump and the media is giving the world the impression that all Americans are bigoted, homophobic, racist narcissists like he is and they have lost the desire to visit our country. While I genuinely hope that I show them an example of an open-minded American, most of the people I come into contact with (especially the non-caucasian ones) are genuinely afraid of America and no longer view it as a country worth their time or money.

I fear it's a foreboding indication of the nosedive our economy would take among other horrible things that would happen to our country if Trump were elected.

2. "Your police are really bad guys over there."  

Granted, this was uttered to me by a group of extremely intoxicated young men as we all waited for a tram in the wee hours of the morning on New Years Day. I was heading home after a long shift at work, and they had been struggling to find their car (mercifully without success) for at least 3 hours when they'd given up and decided to head home.

Just the same, considering all the news about police brutality and the #blacklivesmatter movement that had been in the news for so many months, it was hard for me to come up with evidence to the contrary. I realize that not all of America's police are "bad guys," but the fact that these young men who were Australian citizens but of Pakistani decent declared that they thought our cops would "take one look at our skin" and arrest them was a chilling reality of how the conversation about corruption of power in my home country has changed around the world.

3. "America isn't as multi-cultural as Australia." 

This one really took me aback because I am a proud product of the melting pot of America and our multi-culturalism has always been a point of pride for me. I loved surprising students in the Middle East with the truth bombs that there is no official language in the US and that anyone can openly practice any religion they want in the States (a fact that would immediately and shamefully change should Trump come into power).

I was told that my country is not as diverse as Australia by an Afghani Uber driver that had only been living in Australia for 5 years and had never been to the States, so I was happy to correct him, but he had made his decision to come to Australia based on his impression that America was unwelcoming to other cultures and that he would not find "friendly people who would like him" there. I didn't ask him how he had reached this conclusion, I was too saddened by the fact that my home, "the land of opportunity" seemed like a daunting, exclusionary, unfriendly country to someone who had previously lived UNDER THE TALIBAN. I quickly corrected him and told him all about how our major cities and even some of our smaller cities were very diverse, including large pockets of Muslim immigrants and refugees.

4. "What's the deal with Americans and guns?"

The most frequently cited source of information regarding gun control reform that Australians quote is the Jim Jefferies bit from his Netlfix special (warning: lots of choice words in this one)

It's fun for me to follow this comment up with the fact that I have never held nor fired a gun in my entire life. That fact also surprises a lot of Americans (including my non-gun-fanatic, boy scout, military brat of a husband who loves firing guns), but it's a point of pride for me and I don't plan to change it any time soon. (actual quote after Tyler read this sentence: "You really don't want to fire a gun? I feel like you should try it at least once. It's pretty fun." #America)

Yes, it's true that a lot of Americans get real fired up (pun TOTALLY intended) about guns and there is no easy solution to the gun problem in our country. I generally remind Australians that things aren't as easy as a sweeping ban on guns like what followed the Port Arthur massacre because America's population is dramatically larger than Australia's (over 380 million in America versus just over 26 million here) and, despite what my Afghani Uber driver friend thinks, an exponentially more diverse population of very opinionated citizens that are not easily pleased or willing to part with what they feel they have every right to own. I end things by saying I am happy to no longer live in a place where I have to consider how I will throw myself between a bullet and my students like I did when I was teaching at home, but all the guns in the world can't prevent me from being crazy homesick on a regular basis.

Vicariously yours,

1 comment:

  1. Definitely sharing. I agree that things aren't as bad as the media lets on...except on the trump front. That shit is bananas and I am equal parts sorry and thankful you are not here to witness it. I feel the same about my dad. If he was around, he would surely have an aneurysm.