Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Coming to America

"My first time in the US was a year ago. It was familiar and completely alien at the same time! Very strange like entering the TV!"

A lot of my friends who know me so well are already asking me whether my first US visit is making me less anti-American. I suppose I really have become famous for my venmous anti-American rants on Facebook and at dinner parties. But, let me emphasise that I have nothing against Americans but I am critical of American Foreign Policy. 

So, what is it like being in the US? I haven't even made it to a week but so far, it has been a pleasant experience. 

Facebook is a great forum to collect comments and reactions. I posted my Monrovia to Chicago blog post and, received a lot of "Welcome to the Windy City" and "Yes, SN Brussels is a bit snooty to non-European passengers." 

My favourite comments was from one of my good friends from ACS (American Community Schools of Athens) who wrote a great line to describe the experience of visiting the US for the first time: "My first time in the US was a year ago. It was familiar and completely alien at the same time! Very strange like entering the TV!"

I couldn't have said it better even though one usually curses first-time visitors for comparing movies or the TV or sound bites to reality. But in defense of the strange experience of entering the TV, the US has this massive cultural and political sway over the rest of the world. American history, politics, music, films and general pop culture have captured everyone's imagination since they were kids. 

We grew up watching American cartoons and Star Wars. 

On top of it, I had the good fortune to practically have all of my schooling right up to high school in an American system in the various capitals of the world thanks to my father's diplomatic career. I had to memorise the US map in grade 4, read about the civil war in grade 9 and, read classic American literature all the way up to grade 12. I was taught by American teachers and had American friends growing up. 

I was even going to go to the US for college but ended up doing my under and post grad in London, UK. 

In many ways, I feel like I will be only re-united with America. 

Sure, since leaving high school, reading my first Chomsky at university and, witnessing the various American adventures in our own backyard (Afghanistan 2001 and Iraq 2003) have not made me a fan of the USA. In fact, my experiences with the UN which unwittingly endorsed American aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq only made me more disgusted with so-called US Foreign Policy. US Imperialism is a more accurate turn of phrase. 

In fact, I vowed never to visit the USA unless they got rid of George W. Bush. 

I followed the 2008 US Elections with great interest and passion and, like the rest of the world, was  overwhelmed with the grace and dignity of Barack Obama. 

US Foreign Policy - with which I am mainly concerned - seemingly remains much the same. 

I am here now and, will be staying for a few months. Who would have thought I would seek the USA as a place of refuge to secure the future of my progeny? But here I am and ready to see the country as a respectful and humbled visitor from a fresh and new perspective. 

As my friend said it so well, it was like entering the TV. Inadvertently, since I have been here I have been looking for references and trying to remember what I may have read or seen. 

Chicago, the city where I'll be, has a beautiful down town. I can't remember the last time I have seen such a spotless city of this size. 

I find people to be very friendly. Let me give you an example: we were coming back from central Chicago to Roger's Park. My host and friend was with us. She was sitting next to a very big guy who throughout the journey was just looking out the window. She and I were chatting and I saw an Aldi supermarket and remarked that I was pretty sure it was a German supermarket. My friend's neighbour, the gentle giant, suddenly awoke and started shooting factoids about Aldi. It was quite amusing and he went on talking about other supermarkets too. And then suddenly he was quiet. I don't ever remember people striking conversations like that on the London tube! 

Actually it also happened on the first night we got into Chicago. We were taken to the very fun Chicago Diner in Belmont by my friend's friend who was sampling the vegetarian restaurants in the city and, we were along for the ride. On the way back, we were chatting about the Diner and one of our neighbours chipped into our conversation and, then started giving us recommendations! 

I am also amazed at how good Americans are at making small talk about the most banal subjects such an art and, laughing very loudly at something very odd.

I look forward to exploring the city, making some friends and getting in touch with many friends and family who live in the US. 

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