On being an American abroad in these difficult days

On being an American abroad in these difficult days is an article that starts of well, but ends up rather shallow and cynical. Kinda depressed me by the end. Excerpted below:

It was a reminder of something Americans need to keep constantly in mind as we venture out into the wider world: People in other countries obsess about us, every day, even as we ignore them.

If you think of the world as high school (and why not?), America is the prom queen, head cheerleader and most-popular babe: Guys daydream about her constantly, notice every detail of her clothes, pay rapt attention when she changes her hairstyle and would happily forfeit all their future chess-club victories for a smile or kind word from her. And she can’t even be bothered to learn their names. If she makes it obvious to the entire school that she doesn’t care a whit what those guys think — about anything — there are going to be hurt feelings, followed by anger.

This week I heard former President Bill Clinton deliver a speech in San Francisco on “why we should care about the rest of the world.” The fact that this is even a topic for discussion — that 5 percent of the world’s population might want to consider caring about the other 95 percent — was depressing.

Instead of worrying about your clothes, think about your behavior. Spend a little time learning about not just the ancient history but also the current political situation of the places you visit….
Read up on not just the big issues of the day, but also on the water- cooler topics. In Cameroon, for instance, a journalist has just been hauled into court for characterizing a well-known soccer player as “schizophrenic.” Bring that up in a bar in Yaounde or Doula, and I guarantee you’ll get a lively discussion going, and probably have your next beer bought for you. Your new friends will go home impressed that Americans — one, anyway — pay at least a little attention to their country.

And while we’re at it, lay off the America-Ôø?ber-alles wisecracks. Those jokes about us just making it official and annexing Canada as the 51st state? Not so funny in Canada.

The smallest effort can have a big payoff. A couple of years ago I was riding into Istanbul from the airport with a chatty taxi driver who asked me, more than once, about America’s reaction to “Sezer’s visit.” Frankly, I had no idea who Sezer was, or where he had visited, or what kind of reaction Americans might have had.

But I sensed that he expected me to know, and that the matter was important to the cabbie’s pride. As I hemmed and hawed and stalled for time, we passed an enormous billboard depicting the president of Turkey: Ahmet Necdet Sezer. I deduced that he’d paid a call on Washington recently, and so I was able to tell the driver that Americans were quite honored that Mr. Sezer had been able to make time in his busy schedule to come visit our country, and that we hoped it presaged even closer ties between us.

It was a lie, of course — not the general sentiment, but the fact that anyone in the United States not of Turkish descent took any notice of a state visit by Turkey’s president. But it was a harmless lie, and when I saw the cabbie’s warm smile in the rear-view mirror, I knew it had been a fib worth telling.

Since then I’ve made a point of memorizing the name of the head of state of every country I visit, even if I forget it by the time my flight home clears that nation’s air space. It’s not so much to ask.


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