I think Americans get a bad rap sometimes. They chide us in the media for being ignorant about the rest of the world – geography, politics, etc., but I think they often forget that we just don’t read that much about the daily ins and outs of other countries like they hear about the U.S. Sure, we hear about earthquakes, tsunamis, the Chilean miners, terrorism, and such things, but we rarely hear about the nuances of the French political system. Those that do hear such things must search them out, not just turn on the 6 o’clock news.
Here, it’s easy to read about American politics. In fact, Barack Obama was on the cover of today’s ABC (one of the top newspapers in Spain), looking grim. I doubt José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero would ever grace the cover of the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal unless he went on a rampage in congress one day. So I think we get the short end of the stick in many aspects.
One thing I do find funny is when Spaniards ask my opinion of politicians. “What do you think of Obama?” Well, isn’t that a loaded issue. I think many things, most of which cannot be cleared up in a short, pithy phrase. (Forgive me, I almost wrote frase. Spanish, quit invading my English!) If they talk about the Tea Party, I admit to blushing because I hope they don’t assume most of us are crazed, gun-toting, hicks who wear American flag tee shirts and cowboy boots everyday. (Disclaimer: I know not all Tea Party people are like this. It’s just an example.)
Today, an older teacher, a portly old man who has never spoken to me before, laid a hand upon my shoulder as I was entering the teacher’s break room. “They gave Obama something to think about, didn’t they?” he said, obviously in Spanish. I wasn’t sure what to say, so I replied, “Probably.” Then he repeated himself, willing me with his eyes to say more, maybe to become more animated. It was too early, too awkward, for such things. I laughed nervously and repeated myself. “Probably.” I mean, what does one say to that? How much does he know about politics in the USA? What are his views? Things like that do make me quite nervous.
Anecdote Number Two. A group of fellow teachers and I are heading back to school after the morning break. We are talking about health care and how the public here is just as good as the private. They ask me how it works in the U.S. Commence stammering. “Well, uh…” I say, fumbling for an intelligent sentence. “We have many different sorts of healthcare.” They pester me, asking what Americans think of the new healthcare bill. First, there are nearly 300 million of us, and we don’t all think alike. My own father and I certainly have differing viewpoints. Ahem. So I say, “Well, many fear what they think is socialism.” Cue laughter, as they all know that Spain has a technically socialist government and no one here fears their civil liberties being taken from them. I have a feeling they are all thinking, “Oh silly Americans. Barack Obama is capitalist.”
So I’ve learned that, when in doubt, it’s best to laugh and agree with their statements in a non-commital way. I don’t do this with everyone, just casual acquaintances whom I don’t wish to offend. With my boyfriend, his friends or family, it’s a different story. But still, I refrain from offering uninformed opinions on the Spanish system. I don’t want to rock the boat too much.