Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Travelling with Americans

AOG, Madrid

Last weekend, after spending a few days with my partner, I flew from Barcelona back to Madrid. 

As I waited to board the plane, I noticed a man and his young son watching a soccer match between Germany and Greece on television. Because it was soccer, at first I thought that they were German. 

However, after a while, I overheard them speak and realised they were American. Yes, I was slightly shocked that somebody from the US would like soccer.

As luck would have it, they sat next to me on the plane, and we spent the entire flight, from take off to landing, talking about Europe and the US.

It was very interesting to hear him speak. After a few minutes he realised I was for Obama and never liked Bush, and I realised that he didn’t like President Obama at all and was very pro Bush.

We spoke, however, without acrimony, and listening to what the other had to say in a very amicable way. 

I was very surprised about what he said. It was like his views were taken from an alternative reality. From a parallel-universe America. 

“But President Obama is destroying our economy!”

“Of course we did nation-building in Iraq. Look at how grateful they all are.”

“How are American oil companies benefitting from the invasion of Iraq They have not received one dollar. How can you say that when ,today in the US, a gallon of gas is over $5.00?”

“We had to invade Afghanistan because they were harbouring and protecting Osama Bin Laden. What were we supposed to do?”

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, or even half the answers, but I was surprised that a man who grew up and lived in California was so misinformed. So one-sided. 

Here and there I would point out the general European view about America and its policies, both at home and abroad to the father.

“I have been reading the European media, and they only concentrate on the bad side, they never tell you about the good stuff in America”, he said at one point.

I have to say that the conversation was very challenging. His son, who was 15, had just spent an entire year studying Spanish in Salamanca, Spain’s Oxford. And his son loved soccer, so he loved soccer too.

I say this because this man was a nice person who loved his family and had worked hard to support it. 

I say this because he told me and his son so during the flight.

“How many birthdays did I miss? How many games?”

His son nodded in silence.

This man was now in semi-retirement but he must have been in his early to mid 50s. 

As the conversation went on, I tried to tell him about the other side of the spectrum when it came to some of the things he spoke about.

And I have to say that, to his credit, he went quiet very often and didn’t fly off the handle at any one point. 

Perhaps what I was telling him he had heard already, or maybe he is capable of independent thought and, when given new data, he processed it in silence. 

Or maybe he was ultra polite and thought I was just a stupid liberal living in Europe. 

His son, by contrast, did not really join in to defend his father's views. He would nod, however, whenever the European side was expressed. 

I don't know if he fully agreed with it, but, at least, he had been exposed to a different perspective for one year of his life. Unilateral views, for this boy, were no longer an option. 

I mentioned that, in the case of 9-11 and what happened in Afghanistan, perhaps invading an entire country to eventually kill one guy was not the best thing we could have done. That entire families had been killed by Western soldiers in the pursuit of one man. That I didn’t see the justification.

"But they, the Taliban, were harboring a terrorist!"

I mentioned that, as he had mentioned, the middle class in America was shrinking, and that this was very strange since, in the 1960s, when America was not as rich as it is today, the middle class was not shrinking, in fact, it had been growing steadily since WWII. 

That back then, and for many years afterwards, the world looked to America for guidance. But that was not the case today.

“So people hate us?”

“Some do, but then our foreign policy gives them little choice.”

“So what are we meant to do?”

“Not invade countries would be a good way to start.”

“So, are you saying invading Iraq was a mistake? Look at all the good we did.”

“We did good when, after WWII, we took up the cause of nation-building in Germany and Japan. But we didn’t do that, and have not done that, in Iraq.”

He was very surprised to hear this. His facial expressions were very interesting to watch. I think that at times he had a hard time taking in this new perspective. 

And then we went on to speak about his son’s future; and his own future.

“If you want to open a restaurant, why don’t you go to college? Take some courses; you have experience, how about some economic theory and new business concepts?”

“Dad I told you to do that!”

And then he told me about his new “job”, managing his younger son who wants to act.

And about how he needs to help his wife out, and look out for his  soccer-loving 15 year old’s college career.

And that of his other son from another marriage, but which they never talked about.

And I realised what a great father this guy probably was, and how unfortunate that he was a bit of a poster child for the dangers of misinformation and a lacking education. 

At one point he asked me if the sun was a planet just like the Earth and about how European countries managed to have free health care and not break the bank.

“Socialism just does not work, look at the Euro!”

And, when I got home, I turned on my television and, during my channel surf in search of BBC World, chanced upon Fox News.


xochimiqui1 said...

So sad! It depresses me so to realize that so many of my countrymen are so misinformed and ignorant about the the rest of the world.

Ynot said...

I think somebody somewhere should start asking some pertinent questions about why most Americans are so badly educated about the rest of the planet.
I remember reading that up until the 1960s, History and Geography were 2 separate subjects in high school & junior high and that, I think LBJ was blamed, at some point somebody decided to join both subjects. And we all know how that worked out.

Some of the thing's I've heard Americans say in Europe:

1- Is the pope the king of Europe?
2- Is Rome/Brussels/ London/ Athens the capital of the European nation?
3- Is the prince of Wales also the prince of Doplhins?
4- Is Denmark where they invented the Danish?
5- Is Israel a real country?

Need I go on...?