I’m the middle of a 36-hour stopover in London on my way to Uganda. The flight in last night was stunning – crystal clear skies and a route that took us directly over a glittering London. Breathtaking.
Today I had the strangest thing happen to me – two times. I had people offer me pity because I was an American.
These could well be very isolated and utterly non representative comments… freakish even. Freakish like seeing that license plate today that said, “KUO7”.
Freakish or not, however, they were jarring. I’ve traveled overseas a lot in my life. My first memory is actually of walking across the tarmac at Heathrow after an overnight flight and hearing my mother say, “Never again, never again are we taking a charter flight…[with a three-year-old boy in the middle of the night].” So I am accustomed to hearing certain things about America – generally very positive things.
This is the first time, however, I’ve been overseas since September 2002. I’ve heard from friends and read in countless places that the perception of America has taken a dramatic plunge. So I expected to get an angry earful about our country if I got anything at all. I never expected pity.
Again, I may have had a most unusual experience but it was shocking to hear people say, “Oh, you’re an American, I’m sorry.” Anger, at least, stems from passion – stems from genuine care and concern. There wasn’t any passion behind these comments other than genuine pity.
Part of the pity was about the woeful state of our currency. Right now it is basically $2 to every British pound – a consistent rate of exchange not seen 1975. Our dollar is at historic lows against the Euro. It is expensive to be an American and people recognize that.
But the other part of the pity was deeper. It was a general sense that it was just hard being an American right now and there was, of course, deep pity about the man who currently occupies the White House.
But maybe there was another reason. Check out this ad from a Tube station in London:
America as the set for movies? Is that what we’ve become? Really? The America that helped rid the world of fascism and helped beat down Soviet communism, the America that helped rebuild Europe and Japan, the America of great art and aspiration is now marketed as the movie set for Forrest Gump? Ack.
Again, this is a very small snapshot of a particular moment. But even snapshots sometimes matter.