I re-read a few of my emails from when I lived in Paris in 2004 – just before Bush was re-elected. There were many emails surrounding the topic of Bush, since the French were so adamantly against him being in office, but this entry reminded me of a sort of duty that I, and other expats, have to represent America (if I may be so bold.). (Thank you, Charlie, for keeping them all safe.) I came across this particular entry:
I had a guy at a party Friday night ask me if it was true that Americans thought that we were the only country that existed. I explained that for many people that is true, that Americans can be very egocentric, etc. He said that he had a very bad taste in his mouth from Americans because they didn’t seem to know about anything, and that he heard this and that about us, and how can that be possible if we are such a dominant country in the world.
I tried to explain that many Americans have never been outside of the country, but we’re also not as fortunate to have many other countries surrounding us as in Europe. We continued talking about the differences, and he was a little surprised at my knowledge of his culture and history. He brought up the fact that Americans helped the French at the end of WWII, and that is a big reason he doesn’t understand our lack of compassion in the world at this point of time.
He asked me why I would want to come to France to study if I was already located in the most powerful country in the world. I could only say that I didn’t really know, but there was something wonderful I felt when thinking about France and its people, and that’s why I was here to find out why I wanted to be here.
I was very humbled by the way he asked me questions and was really concerned about learning why he would hear such things about Americans. It just made me think how important it is when going to another country to represent your country well. Had I been rude or loud and ignored what he had to say without listening, he would have continued to think that no wonder Americans have the reputation they have.
As the conversation was coming to an end, he looked at me and said…”You have saved a French man from thinking ill of your country. I will now think differently about Americans.” I felt at the time like I was in some amazing back to school special on different cultures mingling.
I ask myself this often. Do I have a duty to represent our country well, or is that too big of a task to put on myself? In the end, people are going to think what they think about me, and perhaps I can only be the best person I can be. That bodes the same for living life even if I were in the USA, doesn’t it?