My year abroad in Italy in 2011 was a roller coaster ride of hardships and triumphs, and the first challenge I had to overcome was the task of making friends. Fitting in was harder than it normally was back home, but not for obvious reasons. I did not stick out too much, the language barrier was not insurmountable, and I was not too shy to strike up a conversation. Rather, I was being sabotaged. I was being sabotaged by a figure who followed me everywhere I went, announced my arrival with a bang, and sneakily, without me even knowing it, discouraged Italians from approaching me, talking to me, laughing with me, and, most disheartening of all, from giving me a chance. This evil villain was the Perceived American.
By “Perceived American” I mean the Italian stereotype of Americans. I mean the American who eats multiple servings of junk food at the McDonalds by the bus stop rather than dining at one of the many unique Tuscan trattorias scattered around the city. I mean the American who gets drunk after downing far too many drinks at night, and, wandering out into the streets, causes a scene with his inebriated antics. And I mean the American who treats the serene basilicas as hands-on museums rather than the holy places of worship that the Italians view them as.
The Perceived American’s faults are derived from one simple source: his inability to try to understand and appreciate other cultures. If he were to go to the local trattorias and eat only a little because he discovered with his first bite that he did not enjoy Italian food, the Italians might be a little shocked, sure. But they are more shocked, even indignant and angry, that the Perceived American does not even try to branch out from his customary McDonalds and taste the local cuisine. They are equally appalled when the Perceived American does not try to experience the Italian nightlife of passegiatas (evening walks along the main streets) but rather curls up in a bar drinking heavily, and when he does not even try to show the appreciation and respect for churches that is customary. They see the Perceived American following in every American’s footsteps and say to themselves, “If Americans do not try to understand our culture, why should we try to be friends with them, or talk to them, or even acknowledge them?”
And this is the challenge that all Americans traveling around the world face, to distance themselves from their unwanted stalker. I doubt many Americans are like the Perceived American or want to be perceived that way, but they have no say in the matter. Their first, ever-so-important impression has already happened once they identify themselves as American. The few bad actions of a few repeated over time have shaped the identity of our nation. Think about stereotypes we have of other nations. The French are arrogant and have bad hygiene. The Irish drink a lot. The stereotype that Italians and certainly many other countries have of Americans, as gathered from my experience abroad, is that we do not even try to understand and appreciate other cultures, and we believe in the absolute superiority of ours.
So what does this have anything to do with President Obama?
President Obama faces a world of turmoil and conflict, of strife in the Middle East and of corruption ranging from the tip of Cape Hope to the Atacama Desert. He will have to deal with leaders of these nations, collaborate with them, and prepare for the future with them, but that will be difficult to do with the Perceived American still around. Even though President Obama is nothing like the Perceived American and even though the leaders of other nations surely recognize that, the very existence of the Perceived American exacerbates every issue and deepens every rift.
Think I am exaggerating? Take a look at the recent unrest in the Middle East over a short film, “The Innocence of Muslims,” which poked fun at the prophet Mohammed, a religious figure whom Muslims hold sacred. Produced in America, the film provoked intense Muslim opposition, and most of their ire was directed not towards the creator of the film, who ironically was an Egyptian using the pen name Sam Bacile, but towards America as whole (Harner). That the Arab world focused its wrath on America, and not on the film’s producer, shows how easy it was for Muslims to believe that this was a film that expressed a common American view and not one that most Americans themselves find appalling. They found it so easy to believe because it would be, in their eyes, a typical American view, the Perceived American’s view, a view that shows utter contempt and disregard for other cultures.
President Obama cannot allow the Perceived American to exist if he wishes to have success in negotiating treaties, accords, or even lunch dates with other nations. In a new world that depends on open-mindedness and respect of others, the Perceived American sticks out like a sore thumb. So President Obama must kill him once and for all, and rid the world of this antiquated, senile, disrespectful figure. And how exactly can he take on the Herculean task of eliminating a seemingly immortal being, one that only grew stronger after enduring our own civil war, both World Wars, the Vietnam War, and many other conflicts which fully displayed his proud insensitivity? Well, it won’t be easy, that’s for sure, but he is already on the right path.
President Obama has the power to kill the Perceived American because he is the president. Representing our whole nation whenever he travels abroad, he is the only American some people may see in a lifetime and thus he shapes what the stereotypical American is. His actions, words, and statements are broadcasted widely and analyzed heavily by millions of people in hundreds of nations. So far he has done a great job. He showed poise and compassion in his meetings with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, among others (Miller). On all his foreign trips he has been greeted by crowds of excited supporters, cheering his every step, and on these trips he has become a foil, an antidote, to the poisonous Perceived American.
Although it may seem like a given that as the president he must differ from the Perceived American and that therefore President Obama does not deserve as much individual praise as I am giving him, that is not necessarily true. In fact, I would argue his predecessor, President George W. Bush, actually strengthened the image of the Perceived American through his actions, words, and decisions. President Obama must continue to exercise wisdom and sensitivity in his myriad of negotiations with foreign leaders, all the while showing that he appreciates and values their cultures.
President Obama’s potential to kill the Perceived American is precisely why I voted for him this November. He had much success in foreign relations, while his opponent Governor Mitt Romney did not. After Romney’s trip to England, the English media labeled him “Mitt the Twit.” Romney angered Palestinians on a trip to Jerusalem by implying their culture was the reason for their inferior living conditions, a classic ignorant statement of the Perceived American (Lauter). So even though Romney may have been the better choice to lead America out of the financial trouble we are in and restore value to the dollar, I believed that foreign relations and the newly heightened conflict in the Middle East were even more pressing issues, and that’s why Romney did not get my vote. In a connected world that depends more and more on bonds between nations, having Romney as President, unable to kill the Perceived American, would hurt us more than whatever financial damage President Obama might do.
So in short, my advice to President Obama is this: take up the challenge of the most celebrated assassination of the twenty first century and kill the Perceived American.
Harner, Devin. “How ‘Sam Bacile’ Bamboozled the AP, Wall Street Journal Over Anti-Muslim Film.” PBS. PBS, 14 Sept. 2012. Web. 22 Jan. 2013.
Lauter, David, and Maeve Reston. “Fallout from Romney’s ‘culture’ Remarks in Israel Continues.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 30 July 2012. Web. 22 Jan. 2013.
Miller, Laura. “President Obama Meets with World Leaders on Day Two at the U.N General Assembly.” The White House Blog. N.p., 21 Sept. 2011. Web. 22 Jan. 2013.