Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Obama Abroad - Part Deux

My uncle Dick (who, by some estimates, may himself be about 5% responsible for Obama’s victory) recently emailed me two articles [1] [2] about how it is once again cool to be American abroad. I cannot say that I’ve been getting a lot more party invitations than usual over the past few months, but yes, it’s true: there is something perceptibly different.

Just like that, America went from being the object of derision to being the object of envy. We didn't just undo a bad thing, we replaced the bad thing with an assertively, proactively, absurdly good thing. The high ground from which people used to legitimately be able to criticize America wasn't just leveled, it was surrendered. And now it's ours.

At first, I questioned: Is this perception that I have -- that people are actually acting differently toward Americans -- for real? Or is it just my own personal shift from embarrassment to pride, from self-loathing to self-promotion, that is making me see my world through a different lens?

But then came inauguration day, when I learned that yes, it is real.

On my morning commute to work on the Jubilee Line, it began. I had dusted of my Obama button for one final public viewing and wore it on my coat. Halfway down the packed train, a woman caught my attention with her animated mime routine of furious waving, smiling and pointing. This is unheard of on the Tube at 8:30 am. She pointed at my button, then pointed at her own.

I smiled back and gave her the thumbs up, then went back to my book.

Then more waving, more pointing. I looked puzzled. Now, she was pointing at her other button -- more Obama, opposite lappel.

How nice, I thought! That merited a double thumbs-up this time. Back to my book.

But wait, she wasn't finished. She continued, awkwardly re-positioning herself amid the sardine can of commuters -- this time to show me her tote-bag. An Obama tote-bag, of course.

With no more thumbs to use. I opted for the point/wink/nod gesture, the one that says "you're the man!" Despite being a woman, I think she understood. We never did get to high-five, but it was definitely implied.

Outdone by what I can only assume was a British person (we never spoke), I got off the train and went to work.

The swearing in was to start at 5:00pm our time, which meant I had to duck out of work early to go and watch it. I could have just watched it online at my desk, but much like game four of the 2004 World Series (and despite the fact that American hangouts are to be avoided like the plague), there are certain occasions when you just want to be with your people.

Alas, that didn't work out; it seems a few too many other people had the same idea. Robbyn and I had planned to meet up and go to a place called (wincing as I type this...) The Texas Embassy for an event sponsored by Democrats Abroad. However, at 4:45, there was a line out the door to get in. No way we were going to miss the speech by standing in line, so instead we went in to a nearby pub which was showing the ceremony on their TV.

In the pub, actual British people, arriving from their actual British jobs, crowded around a TV set to watch. They ordered their pints of British ale. They tutted Britishly when people blocked their view. They politely thanked the bartender for turning up the volume so they could hear every word. And when Obama finished his speech, even though one doesn't like to make a spectacle of one's self... they cheered. Actual applause from actual British people.

It was hard not to bask in the moment. I felt like I should stand in front of the room and say, "Thank you, thank you!"

No, on second thought I should have stood in front of the room and said, "you're welcome!"


Dana said...

Amen! It is such a strange feeling to have this abrupt a shift, from the ridiculously dangerous to the sublimely optimistic. Enjoy! Maybe in around 2 years, when President Obama has fixed the economy and I find another job, I'll come over and experience the international acclaim!

Sophie said...

Alex, it's official, this blog has not been updated in 6 months! Why do I still check it?