I’ve been in Ireland just shy of two weeks now, and a lot of questions about America have come my way. Questions I cannot answer.
“Why do Americans take nationalism so seriously?”
“Do you own a gun? Nearly everyone there does, yeah?”
“Can you explain Trump, how’d that happen?”
“Do you think people there will actually vote for a woman?”
[Let me be clear: there has never been a gun in my household and we have never and will never cast a vote for Trump.]
Being welcomed while referred to as an immigrant here feels strange after coming from a place where “immigrant” is used like a dirty word. On the opposite end of the spectrum from the U.S., Dublin encourages immigration, is full of people from other countries. Yes, I have met many Irish people, but I’ve also met people from Spain, the Czech Republic, Canada, Mexico, England, India and Germany. They all get along fine, arguing about which football team is better, not which country.
So when faced with explaining why Americans continually claim to be the “Best Country in the World,” I’m perplexed. Because no one else is competing with us for that title. People here love their home country and the places they’ve travelled or lived. I’ve yet to meet someone who tries to rank them.
The biggest challenge came after the attack in Orlando. People here wanted to know what I, as an American, made of it. I felt the same as everyone else: disgusted; shocked; heartbroken; uncomfortable. People wanted an explanation for how this could happen. I couldn’t provide one.
That this is the impression people abroad have of America – that we are a country known for mass murder and hatred – saddens me. I don’t want people to think we’d rather protect access to guns, personal wealth, and the right to hate speech than lives. I’ve heard (good-natured) jokes about Americans being under-educated, particularly in relation to languages and foreign affairs, and I can’t really disprove them; I speak one language and can barely name the Prime Ministers of other countries.
Most upsetting, though, is that Americans are seen as hating people different than us rather than embracing them.
At a comedy show two nights after the shooting, a comedian asked “Any Americans in the audience?” and as a few people hollered, he merely said, “Yeah, you bring your guns tonight?” People laughed, because that was all they knew about America.
Talking to three girls from Texas later, another comedian referred to the state as “real Trump territory.”
“I want Trump to win,” he said, “I really do. Then I just want to watch it all burn from afar.”
A joke, clearly, but one that captured how perplexing the American situation is to every other country.
I don’t mean to oversimplify an incredibly complex issue, but before we start building a wall, Americans might want to make sure other people still
want to move in.