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Normally, I don’t blog after arriving home from a night out. But I want to write down what this felt like as I felt it, so here we are:
I was at pre-drinks at a friend of a friend’s. You showed up late, and only showed up at all because you are good friends with one of the roommates of the apartment.
“Hey, Yankee,” you greeted me. “Where are you from?”
New York, I told you.
Oh, that’s okay, then, you said. And I should have known—and did know, in fact—but pretended not to.
We were speaking, you in English and I in German. Which was fun, in a gimmicky sort of way.
You had spent a year in Liverpool, and told me that you liked England better than the US, which you had been to when you were 10, 12, and 18. And I noted that you had spent much longer in England, and that sometimes it takes a while for a place to grow on you, and so perhaps the comparison was unfair. And you said that you just felt more attracted to English culture.
Although, you noted. Does America even have a culture.
Hey now, I faux protested (fauxtested).
And you asked why I would possibly get upset by that. And I said that I wasn’t upset, I was just bored of hearing the same insults about America every day for a year. And you said that I was taking it too personally. That Americans always take it too personally. Insults about our country and culture. And my French friends jumped in that they, too, felt that France was a part of them, and them of it. But you were undeterred.
You persisted in explaining that you would just brush off any insults about Germany, because you don’t feel any particular allegiance to your country. And I was reminded of the time a friend of mine visited Munich and was told by her hostel’s pub crawl host that to be a feminist was to be a Nazi, because to believe in anything was to be an extremist.
And so I tried to point out that we—that is, Americans—have a very different relationship to nationalism than Europe does. It’s not tied to jingoism or ethnocentrism for us. Anyone born in the United States is automatically an American citizen, after all (please note that you did not know this).
But still you pressed on. You refused to accept my “agree to disagree.”
You said that we’re the only ones who wage war. And I noted that we need only look to history to see that that is not true. You dismissed history. Every country’s committed acts of war in history, you said. (Which is, I might note, a disgustingly convenient position for you to take.)
And you ended up saying that America deserves the terrorist attacks launched upon its soil. Because we bomb for oil. And your friend agreed.
And I, voice breaking and shaking,which I try never to do in an argument, noted that 9/11 didn’t happen because of oil.
You said that you were not talking about 9/11. Or saying that we deserved it. But you were. Because 1) that is explicitly what you said, and 2) save Boston, what other terrorist attack has been carried out in the US in the past ten years?
You brought up Guantanamo. I said that I think it’s a disgrace, and that our president wants it closed. You said that the fact that he can’t just snap his fingers and make that happen means that our system is broken. I said that ours is not a parliamentary system. That it doesn’t work that way.
And you went back to the terrorists. Of how the problem with Americans is that we can’t imagine what it’s like to be in their position. That we lack perspective and empathy for them.
And I told you that that wasn’t—isn’t true.That I do have perspective, thanks. That you were yelling at me for a position I didn’t take. And you dismissed me, because I’m living in Germany for the year. Because I am not the average American (as though you know the average American). But you’re sorry if you offended me. That I shouldn’t take it personally.
This, I noted, brought us back to our original point (I also noted that, while it was all well and good for you to say that Europeans were much better travelled, and better exposed to a variety of people, it was also much easier for them to be so).
I wasn’t offended, I said (this was a lie). But I can’t stand Americans who come over to Europe and disassociate themselves from their own country to try to make themselves sound smarter or more sophisticated, when they’re forever and ever, amen, going to have been made in the USA.
Those are the Americans you like, you said. And I wondered how many of us you had actually met and spoken with.
And then another roommate interrupted, finally, and got us all to move to the club.
And I rushed off to the foyer area, where, my back to you and a hallway between us, I cried (aside: thank you, parents, for instilling me the importance of never letting ‘em see your tears, END ASIDE). And I cried out of anger, yes, but also of sadness. Because it doesn’t matter how good I’ve tried to be this year. How enlightened. What myths about us I’ve tried to dispel.
Because there are always going to be yous, aren’t there? Who are going to believe what they want to believe about us because it makes it easier, somehow, to pretend to be whatever it is you think you are?
And I was so very, very sad that I’d been feeling so positive about Germany, and that you were ruining that for me.
But then I saw my tandem partner at the club, and told him what happened. “We don’t hate America, Emily,” he said. “Let’s do a shot.” And I spoke with another German for a while, who told me that, while he may not like our politics, he knows enough of us to know that we are more than that. (I thanked him more sincerely than was probably acceptable or expected.)
“You are not the way you were,” one person from pre-drinks told me right after we’d arrived at the club, referring to how I, who had been joking and laughing, was silent for the whole walk there. And I wasn’t. I wasn’t because you broke me.
But I am going to put me back together again.
You don’t want to represent your country? That’s fine with me. Better than fine, even. You don’t get to ruin Germany or Germans for me.
You’ll just be an illogical asshole. We have those back home, too.
And I know—believe me, I know—that my country has its imperfections. But it is where I’m from, and it is who I am. And I’m not afraid to argue for it, even with a pontificating and nonsensical ass such as yourself. Because doing so means that I have something that I believe in. Something worth crying over, even if the person who makes you cry over it—so, you—is not, and will never be, worth a single tear.
And you, you wannabe British hipster, with your desperate, put-upon accent? You, with your faux-cosmopolitanism, clad in plaid, with your grandiosity and pomposity and general lack of manners?
You, you nihilistic piece of shit?
You’ll have what you read in your papers about my country, and the half-truths you conclude, and the rant you delivered to an American girl who wasn’t ashamed of being so in what will come to be so many, many years ago.
Have a nice life.
I realize that this is an incredibly self-indulgant post, which almost stopped me from writing it, but by that logic I wouldn’t keep this blog at all. Bear with me/forgive me, is my point:
There’s scandal aplenty in the United States (three scandals! in one week! that’s a 3:1 scandal:week ratio!). But the one, I think, of which we, as a country, should be most deeply ashamed—or, failing that, over which we should be most outraged—is the seizure of the Associated Press’s phone records by the Department of Justice.
Not to bring it back to fifth grade, but: The freedom of press is guaranteed in the First Amendment. Literally. The very first one. Like, the first thing those guys thought to tack on was a guaranteed free press.
After news of the scandal broke, Press Secretary Jay Carney emphasized the need for balance between freedom of press and our national security interests. What, pray tell, goes more counter to our interest than a threat to freedom of the press? What interest are we protecting and promoting if not freedom of the press? Who are we to be doing any of the above if that’s the attitude we’re taking? This is our national security interest, Jay Carney. Ensuring that we may continue to live in a country, and in a world, that values freedom of the press.
Nietzsche (I KNOW, AND I’M SORRY) once said, “Be careful when fighting monsters, lest you become one.”
I do not doubt that those in power feel a deep, unyielding need to keep the country safe. As they should. I just also think that perhaps it would not be unwise, every now and then, to ask from what they’re trying to keep it safe. And for what, too.