Saturday, April 24, 2004


While waiting for a friend today I was asked by a forty something German lady if I am English. I replied no, that I come from the USA.

She spoke English very well, and it was obvious she wanted to talk. I had ten minutes to kill, so I obliged. I asked her about local attractions...and where in Germany she would recommend I visit.

As the conversation wandered she asked why I am in Germany and I told her. I also told her that CPT Patti is in Baghdad...and has been for a year.

"Of course you know", she said with the certainty of the blissfully ignorant"you Americans are not wanted in Iraq".

I considered this for a moment...and in my mind I was thinking "I'm going to go out on a limb and bet that I'm extremely more informed on the Iraqi situation than you are as my wife is there and I read at least a hundred news accounts per day about it." But what I said was "That isn't true...the unrest comes from four categories of folks comprising less than 10 percent of the population."

Answering her next queary I told her, yes, CPT Patti had Iraqi employees some of whom speak English...and she had soldiers who speak fact I do know what I'm talking about.

She steered the conversation that (remember) she started...away from Iraq directly.

"I'm against the military" she said, then elaborated. With bemusement I took a little delight in saying "well, that is my wife's profession...and it was my career for over 20 years."

It didn't seem to dawn on her that she had begun to make insulting remarks in my direction with astonishing rapidity.

She went on to tell me how she once lived in the USA...Texas and California...they were "God awful places" she said. And there were other places she couldn't "where do all those hicks come from? South Car-" she stopped. Looking at me, she said "Where do you come from in the states". I grinned..."South Carolina" I said. All of a sudden it turns out that the "hicks" are from Tennessee.

With regards to Germany she told me to be careful. And she seemingly believed she was helping me with this advice. "Be your wallet and backpack...there are so many Moroccans and Turks and Blacks here these days...".

And then...the train I'd been awaiting arrived. I excused myself.

Ten minutes. The entire conversation with this German woman took ten minutes. And in that time she disparaged my country, four states in my country, my wifes profession, my former profession, my credibility, and folks from two other countries plus folks of black african descent.

That's gotta be some kind of record.

And this she did voluntarily with me, a total stranger, who had for my part tried to get her to share with me those aspects of her country in which she was proud.

And yet, as my friend Sarah says "against all the evidence to the contrary" somehow the stereotype of us as "The Ugly Americans" still persists.

I'd like to be able to tell you that this exchange was an aberration. But it isn't Ask any American who meets and talks with Germans over here (with an exception for those actually making a living off of the Americans)...I'll wager they will relate similar stories.

And somehow they believe we are the dullards.


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