“What do you think about Americans?” I asked the back of the taxi driver’s head as he drove us from the hotel to our first day of orientation at the University of Sussex, in Brighton, on the southern coast of England. “Do you want me to be honest?” the Briton replied. “Well, yeah.”
“No, do you want me to be brutally honest?” “I think that’s why I asked you.”
“I think they’re all a bunch of big-headed wankers, to tell the truth.” And I laughed, because I loved his sincerity. Is it far from fact?
And that was a tame interaction. The first taxi driver I had the pleasure of falling into conversation with demanded to know “why in bloody hell” I voted for George Bush. When I told him I was 17 in 2000 he calmed down. Still overcharged me, though.
Across the street from the Houses of Parliament in London, a man has been sitting vigil for 963 days (at the time of writing), protesting Blair, protesting Bush, protesting capitalism and war and how all these elements seem to run in the same circles. His name is Brian Hay. He’s lost his wife, he sleeps outside and he only leaves to shower and eat (save the time when thugs in the night attacked him and broke his nose; others maintained the vigil while he was in hospital). He has erected dozens of banners and signs bemoaning America’s strangling presence on the rest of the world. One sign reads “Bush. Blair. Saddam. War Criminals.” Others discuss how Blair ignores the British people and common sense but still obeys G.W. And many more present pictures of Iraqi children deformed from chemical weapons exposure in the first Gulf War or starving due to a decade of sanctions, all thanks to America.
Most people I’ve met here are kind, accepting and incredibly helpful – what a shock, coming from Miami! And they often maintain a positive attitude toward Americans. They don’t blame America’s people for the state of the world. They blame its government. They tell me that, from over here, where we aren’t bombarded with CNN and MSNBC, it seems as if the administration has run away from the mandate of the masses and pursued its own agenda. Just as Blair is learning to do.
How should an American, born and raised, react to such criticism? Should I just nod my head and agree that it’s not the people’s fault, but the government’s? Should I stand behind a government that is daily denying the right to vote to Iraqis? Isn’t it – hasn’t it always been – the people’s responsibility to monitor their leaders, and therefore what they do is a reflection of what we’re willing to accept? Maybe I should take my friend’s advice and sew a Canadian flag patch on my coat.
Sam Lockhart is a junior majoring in neuroscience. He is studying abroad at the University of Sussex. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.