LONDON – During my two-week Easter vacation, when I went to Italy, the South of France and Spain, I saw graffiti in various places saying, “Bush terrorista” and “Go home USA” on different corners of Europe. I also saw dozens upon dozens of rainbow peace flags in Italy.
With all of this in combination with newspaper columns spouting off opinions and harsh words about world politics and late night talk shows throwing out jokes about the French, you might think it becomes hard for the people in Europe to separate the United States and Americans from George Bush and the war in Iraq.
That has not been the case with many of the people I have had the pleasure of meeting during my study abroad experience in London. My friend Florian from Germany is in a European Union class with me. The Germans have been staunchly opposed to the war in Iraq, partly I think due to still-deep scars from World War II and the Cold War. “We like our peace,” as Florian puts it.
Does this setting and the fact Florian questions Bush make him not understand why the war happened and be able to discuss it without shouting obscenities about Bush? No. We’ve discussed it multiple times and both agreed we wouldn’t want to be the one making the decisions. We also discussed the danger of stereotypes and generalizations. As much as Americans have the stereotype of not knowing anything about the world, Europeans often don’t know a whole lot outside Europe, especially of what Americans are really like at home.
There are some rude people in France, just as there are in the United States. However, most people around Europe greet you with a calm and friendly demeanor, especially when you pathetically try to spout off a few words in their language. In Naples I met Sara, who was the niece of a family friend we stayed with there. She and her friend were not much for the war in Iraq, but that didn’t stop her from trying her hardest to speak perfect English to us while showing us around Naples, even though we were in her country. She just wants to have work and a nice place to live, which unfortunately isn’t readily available in some parts of her beautiful country.
Living in London, the city where more cultures come together than in any other – except maybe New York – provides a great opportunity to experience differences in culture, while at the same time realizing that there are great people around every corner of the world. Another friend from my statistics class, Costa, is from Nigeria.
He’s always there with a smile and a conversation starter to everyone in the class, the English, the Africans, the Asians and me. Of course Costa is more comfortable when hanging out with the Africans, but that doesn’t stop him from making sure everyone is welcome. Instead of going nuts about the war and making everyone angry, the Africans in my statistics class joke that Saddam is in Kenya.
I’m not saying these guys don’t pay attention to world events,;it is very clear they do and I think it’s important for everyone to do so. But getting all worked up and making generalizations and nasty comments about Bush, world feelings or the attitudes of Americans goes directly away from the peace we all want and causes further division.
Politicians are the most public voices of a nation, so sometimes it is easy to associate a nation’s political policy with the character of people that live in it. However, when you come face-to-face with those you hear generalizations about, you often find a completely different story.