In need of some hope? It’s 82 meters that way.
Looking for some peace? 48 meters the other direction. The signs all point to the Oslo Rådhus, or city hall, as seen through metal fences, behind cement barricades. This is the spot where President Obama will be recieving his Nobel Peace Prize tomorrow. And as you may have guessed, the rather unsightly barriers are not part of the normal Oslo landscape. In a land where even the police on the beat don’t carry guns, the sights of manholes being welded shut, bomb sniffing dogs, Secret Service and metal detectors on the street are greatly out of place. But security for the U.S. President has to be taken seriously, and Norwegians, who trust each other enough to leave babies in strollers outside of cafes while having a sip of mocha with friends, have pulled out all the stops.
I don’t usually get all patriotic, I am proud of being American and I miss certain cultural nuances at times. Even though living abroad has been a bit easier since President Bush disappeared into oblivion, you still find yourself a bit…hesistant at times to proclaim your American-ness. I’ve realized that sometimes, in certain company, I say it as though I’m describing a stroke of bad luck. With a little grimace and a wink. After President Obama’s election I felt a bit more confident, a bit less embarassed of our recent history, cautiously hopeful. Since then, I’ve slipped back towards being jaded and exasperated, but I still hold out (there’s that magic word again) HOPE that we will be able to afford basic insurance, end ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, increase protection for the rights of women and move towards ending armed conflicts begun by the previous administration. Among other things.
I realize the series of long-shots I’m listing, but I can’t give up. And despite the fact that no one, most likely including and especially Obama himself, have any idea what he did to win the award, I’m happy he is receiving it. I’m happy that Europeans hate us less by virtue of liking our President more. I believe the Peace Prize has been awarded with less merit in the past, so I’m willing to go with the flow and celebrate peace and all it’s potential.
So today I am going to brag. Openly. Plainly. About why I like being American. Canadians. Germans. Dutchies. Miscellaneous. Buckle down, you need to hear this.
Currently being in a country known for a bit of a stern demeanor and notoriously closed social circles, I’m proud to be a happy, hugging, emotional American. I smile at people on the subway even though they respond only by looking at me like I’m mentally ill. I hug people I’ve just barely met. I hold hands with my friends, laugh LOUDLY in public, cry and don’t hide it, invite new people into my life easily, show affection indiscriminately. It’s glorious.
Despite the fact that it highlights some of our cultural issues, I love the selection of food I can find back home. I want an entire aisle of cereal. I love having 20 brands of orange juices or granola bars. I like being able to buy organic cheese, Tofutti, and Velveeta in the same store. A variety of cheese and cheese products is the American way.
I truly believe that more Americans should travel outside of our borders when they are able, but I love that we don’t have to leave our country to vacation. We can have beaches or mountains, palm trees or pine forests, sand or snow, city or country, Southwest desert or Pacific Northwest rain forest. All without a passport, a language difference or a currency exchange. Sometimes the adventure and unknown of an exotic locale is exciting, sometimes you just want to get away without having to bring a phrasebook.
After the time I’ve spent living in Canada (30 million), Germany (80 million), Netherlands (16 million) and now Norway (5 million), I have come to appreciate the anonymity of living in the United States. Try as you may, is nearly impossible to accurately stereotype a group of 1 million people, let alone the 300 million that live in the United States. It’s like a ‘Where’s Waldo’ in black and white. You’ll never find me.
And finally, and most cumbersome to admit, at times I enjoy the rhetoric of America. Despite the truth of reality, which includes misogyny, racism, slavery, violence and ignorance, I can appreciate the myth of idealism that many Americans embrace so tightly. All flaws included, there is still a bounty of freedom, opportunity and power in the United States. Not always in the right amounts, and not usually for everyone. But it’s a work in progress, and I have friends and compatriots who are doing that work every day. Even knowing the reality of the political realm and the pace of true progress, I truly believe President Obama is one of those.
So tomorrow, I’ll hold my head high, smile widely and ignore naysayers when our president receives this amazing honor in the captial city of the foreign country where I live now. I’ll bundle up, brave crowds (I recommend Rescue Remedy for that), and walk heavily guarded streets of Oslo just to say I was there.