Dear Anonymous

A couple of days ago, Hank Green (of YouTube, DFTBA, Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and various other fantastic things fame) was sent this anonymous question on his Tumblr account:

“To what extend are you Americans aware that you are hated in literally all non-western nations?” 

Hank replied in a surprisingly succinct fashion — normally, he and his brother John are more…verbose in their responses on Tumblr — with a link to a Pew Research Poll. (You can see the original post from the embedded text above.)

Now, I generally try to ignore such blatantly untrue things, especially on the internet, which allows people like the above questioner to hide behind their keyboard and spew hate and ignorance with no fear of repercussions. But having returned from extended overseas travel recently and intrigued by the research that Pew released recently (which I found and dove into thanks to the initial link Hank posted in his response), I decided to hit back at this anonymous person who apparently thinks they can speak for “literally all non-western nations”.

First, it should be noted that, on the contrary, sometimes people in Western nations don’t like Americans very much. Up until recently, especially when millennials began traveling more and consciously began to challenge the “ugly American” stereotype, American tourists were only liked as far as their money could take them and sometimes not even then. (Believe me, I’ve been to Paris…Parisians don’t really seem to like much of anyone besides themselves, and especially not Americans who can’t speak French beyond “merci”.) And, you know, the Brits still do think Americans are loud and rude as a rule, despite the “special relationships”. And Russians — my data will show later — definitely don’t Americans much (although I think Putin wouldn’t care to be lumped in with the West, so Russia can have its own category).

Second, I have significant personal anecdotal evidence that blatantly contradicts the assumption in the original question. Most recently, I was talking to an Egyptian guy who was driving me around Cairo for the day…an experience in itself and truly not for the faint of heart. Anyway, he worked at my hostel and was kind enough to drive me to the Pyramids and around the city and give me some insight into daily life in Egypt’s biggest city (of course, there was a price for him being my chauffeur, but not my conversation partner). I learned that before the “revolution” in 2011, he was studying for his degree in social work and wanted to move to Dubai to try and help reformed prisoners. And then one dictator got overthrown for another and he had to give up his studies and work to support his family. A hostel was the obvious choice because he already spoke great English and a bit of French, as well as Arabic. I bring him up because he was very candid with me…something I was grateful for, because not many Arab men are with Western women on first acquaintance. I asked him point blank what he thought of Americans in general and this was his answer:

“نحن نحبك ولكن نحن لا نحب حكومتكم” …which means “We love you but we do not like your government.” He explained further (in English) that he has been very happy with all the individual Americans he has met (graciously including me in that) and that they were nice, friendly, respectful people. But — and here he reflects the data I will be citing later — he and normal Egyptians generally don’t have much of a good opinion on the American government or its foreign policy toward Egypt. And really, given the recent record of “Talk Lots, Do Little” of the Obama administration toward Egypt, who can blame these everyday people for their indifference or hostility? The US government has done almost nothing for them, despite all the aid that is given to Egypt annually, mostly in the form of military financial assistance.

When I was previously in South Sinai for 6 weeks on that same trip (working in a hotel and diving in my spare time) I was treated well, especially once locals around town found out that I was American. I can’t tell you how many times I would say where I was from and the person talking to me would go, “Oh, America! We love you! Welcome!” (How much of that was excitement over how much money they thought I had to spend in their shop or restaurant, I’ll never know. But that’s not the point.) The point is that everyone in Dahab was welcoming and friendly and helpful, for the most part, before and after they heard about my blue passport.

In Amman, Jordan, it was the same. The falafel guy on the corner, the man in the pharmacy, the other staff at the hotel I worked at…nearly everyone I met asked me where I was from, and when I said “Ana Amrikiya” (I’m American”) the reaction was the same: Welcome to Jordan, how do you like it here? Say hello to Obama for us, he and the King are friends!

In Kenya in 2010, despite one scary outlier incident with a drunk guy, unsurprisingly people loved asking our group of mostly-Americans if we had voted for Obama, and smiled so much when we mostly said yes. In Qatar for my study abroad year, mostly the same, despite the tensions going on during the height of the Arab Spring, with Bahrain boiling over right next door and the US doing nothing about it. In Japan, again, the same welcome, the same very-polite open arms. In Istanbul (a city on the edge between the Middle East and Europe) I traded a kiss on the cheek and the little cash I had left for a gorgeous pashmina, and the proprietor grinned where I told him I was from and said he was proud that his scarf would go back to California eventually.

So you cannot tell me that people in non-Western nations hate Americans. They might not like the U.S. government or its foreign policy, but then, a lot of Americans do not like the U.S. government or its foreign policy either.

And now, in case all that wasn’t enough, I will present you with hard, quantitative data to back up these claims I’ve made, and to refute (maybe not beyond all reasonable doubt) the original statement. Keep in mind: as with all statistical data, the sample sizes vary, there is a margin of error, and social context (the researchers ability to contact people in the countries surveyed, etc) should be taken into account along with the results.

I guess I’ll start with how people around the world see President Obama as a leader, because it’s rather straight forward. Before I begin with more recent data, it should be noted in the interest of fair reporting that in 2014 Gallup released the results of a survey done in 2013, that placed President Obama’s leadership global approval rating in the average of 46%. However, according to Pew (2015), a median of 65% of people polled “say they have confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs”. Of course, his approval has slipped sharply in Israel (where his rating is down to less than 50%, especially among voters in PM Netanyahu’s Likud Party); and he “has never been popular in Russia” where his most recent poll comes in with only 1 in 10 Russians expressing confidence in him. Elsewhere, President Obama is still hugely popular in African countries and surprisingly strong in India.

Speaking of Africa (not including North Africa, because that is a different story), according to those polled in nine countries on the continent, the median approval rating of America in general hovers at 79%. Elements of U.S. soft power and key features of economic engagement in the region are also viewed positively by those in the countries surveyed by Pew. Everyone still with me? Because the continent of Africa is definitely “non-Western”, and it doesn’t seem like the very diverse people living there hate the United States.

In general, over the last two years (2014 and 2015, according to these reports by Pew) the American global image has remained somewhat consistent, with approval at median 65% and median 69% for each year respectively. For a more thorough breakdown of the survey results going back to 2002, you can look at this chart. Regionally, the Middle East in 2014 had a low rating of 30% approval and in 2015 “most Jordanians, Palestinians, Turks and Lebanese register[ed] an unfavorable opinion”. Asian countries that were surveyed (with the exception of China at 44% approval) also demonstrated a very positive outlook on the U.S., with highs of 92% in the Philippines and 84% in South Korea. Another notable outlier was Pakistan, which polled at just 22% approval. Heading south, Latin American approval of the U.S. was a solid 65% in 2014 and around the same in 2015, although ratings in Venezuela have dropped and in Argentina the increase has been slow.

Now that I have dumped all this data on you, I’ll give you my reactions and basic assessment and wrap this very long post up. Given my background in international relations and U.S. foreign policy, these approval ratings were actually higher than I expected them to be, especially on the African continent. Places like Turkey (where a favourable view of the U.S. is only 29%, see the Pew results from 2015), Pakistan, China, and Russia having a largely negative view of the United States didn’t surprise me one bit, given the relationships America has with these countries and the rhetoric on both sides, regardless of formal alliances and actions. Just because the Cold War is over doesn’t mean that the U.S. and Russia are best friends now; the U.S. continues to use drones in Pakistan and treats the country as an unpredictable nuclear power. The posturing of island building and continued tacit support for North Korea by China makes it hard for that nation and the U.S. to get along, no matter what the TPP says.

I could go on and on. (As I have in this post, apparently.) The point, however, was to refute the all-encompassing statement in the original post: that Americans are hated by literally all non-western nations. Given the last 1,600 words of personal and statistical evidence, I think I’ve successfully done that. So, in conclusion…

Dear Anonymous:  I am fully, painfully aware of the glaring flaws that abound in the U.S. itself and in its actions around the world and I am not trying to excuse or justify any of it. You personally might hate America — there are plenty of valid reasons — and you might think the world shares that hatred, and frankly, given the media, you might not be blamed entirely for coming to that conclusion. However, next time you try to spread that hate with your unfounded, sweeping statements instead of addressing it productively…

Don’t do it where an internationally educated, well-travelled American can see it.

Stop Asking Why I’m 25 and Single

Before you think that I am just writing this post as a bitter, lonely, mid-20s spinster who is angry that she didn’t have a date this Valentines Day weekend…think again. I am in my mid-20s, but that is where that sentence stops being relevant to me. I’m not bitter, lonely (well, that’s up for debate at the moment, but it’s a different kind of loneliness), or angry that I did not have a date this Valentines Day.

In fact, I think Valentines Day is the worst, most pointless, most commercialised holiday in existence. This is including Christmas and whatever the hell has become of St. Patricks Day. I would not want to celebrate Valentines Day even if I was in a relationship with someone. If you don’t buy me flowers just because, I’m not going to demand them of you on a specific day in February. And I’m not going to buy pink lacy lingerie to wear to bed for one night– I’ll save that for your birthday or really any other day of the year (and it will not be pink).

I tell the people I love that I love them whenever I want. I don’t need a day to remind me.

Anyway, this post is not about or in response to Valentines Day. (Which, if you look at the history, is actually quite bloody and/or controversial, as most history is.)

Our society — whether we admit it or not — still has this ingrained tendency to place a woman’s worth in her relationship status. It starts at childhood — we are told to find our Prince Charming, to not be smarter than the boys because then they will never want to marry us, to dress up and wear makeup (but not too much, because then men think we are “fake”) to class in college to snag a man there, to wear a pencil skirt instead of slacks to a job interview. This is all indicative of the misogyny inherent in our lives. Men are victims of it, women are victims of it.  It needs to change. Which is why I proudly call myself a feminist.

But this post is not strictly about why I am a feminist. It is about one aspect of that part of my personality.

Lately people have been asking — both outright and as part of conversational subtext — why I am 25 and single. As if that is a bad thing. And in some ways, it is. In others, it’s really, really not. I would be lying if I said I did not know why I am single at 25. Here are some of the reasons, some of them more serious than others.

I’m 25 and single because I do not like doing what society (or anyone else really) tells me what I should be doing.

I’m 25 and single because I move a lot. Since I turned 18, I have lived in 3 different countries for extended periods of time. I used to leave San Diego and go back to my hometown during the summers, so any dating or potential relationships would have to withstand those three months, and it never seemed like they would or that it was worth it to try.

I’m 25 and single because I got cheated on during my first real relationship in freshman year of college. Six months and that was that. So I was wary of anything real for a few years. And then, like I said, I headed off to Qatar for a year.

I’m 25 and single because I have not been in a relationship that extended beyond one night in a bar or a couple of coffee dates since I was 19 and I really, really do not know how to be in a relationship.

I’m 25 and single because giving someone else that much of myself is terrifying to me. I do not know how to open myself up enough to really get to know someone, knowing they might hurt me in the end.

I’m 25 and single because I like being able to just…pick up and go to the Middle East for three months. Or move to the UK for graduate school without having to worry about stepping on someone else’s dreams or making a choice to try long-distance or asking them to come with me and then getting rejected. I like my independence.

I’m 25 and single because I’m terrible at reading signs or flirting or whatever. You want to make out with me in a bar in Cardiff? Great, I’m in, but please just either tell me that and we can make it happen or just kiss me and go from there. Don’t be subtle.

I’m 25 and single because I’m such a skeptic of men and their intentions. I’m the girl that will hear a terrible pick up line and go, “God, that was lame” and then the guy will be offended and give up. (Seriously it’s happened before.) But if a guy also just says hello, I’m automatically putting my guard up. So it’s a lose-lose situation over here.

I’m 25 and single because as it says in my intro post (and this is the biggest reason, I think) I tend to fall for people who are unavailable — taken, gay, far away, my best friend, whatever. Which is safe, because I will never risk a friendship or try to hurt someone else’s relationship for my own feelings. So I am just stuck in this agonising unrequited spiral, that keeps me from focusing on other potential relationships.

I’m 25 and single and I do not know where or what I am doing with my life. While it would be fantastic to be able to share some of that uncertainty with a partner, to have a hand to hold, to be able to send a message to someone who isn’t going to tell me, “So sorry, have to go, going to Spain on holiday with insert name here“…all of that is not strictly necessary. I can (and do) shake it off when I see my three of my best friends happily in their relationships– one of which I just…do not understand. Seriously, what do they have in common? But if they are happy, then more power to them. I can (and do) smile and be ecstatic when I receive a “save the date” card from my best friend from high school.

I’m 25 and single and at the moment, I am okay with that. No matter why society tells me, or how sexually frustrated I get, I am alright on my own. I always have been.

So stop asking me why I’m 25 and single. Maybe — just maybe — it’s because right now, that is what is best for me.

And, also, it’s none of your damn business.

Red Tape

My best friend is smart, hardworking, articulate, a good writer, great at small talk (seriously, I’ve never seen anyone my age able to schmooze like that), has two degrees and internship experience, is willing to relocate, wants to help save the world, and dreams of living in New York City someday.

He’s also a UK national. (But don’t you dare call him British. He’ll fight you. It’s an identity thing. And beyond the scope of this post.)

I mention all this because while he is more than qualified to do so many of the jobs that are available and hiring in our field, he is unable to even apply. He cannot check the little box that says, “are you legally able to work in the United States of America?” I have the same problem, except you just need to change the “USA” to “United Kingdom or European Union”.

He’s spent the last four months or so emailing, Googling, and making phone calls on both sides of the Atlantic trying to get someone to explain the American work visa process — or even to tell him which one he might need to figure out the process of. There are multiple types of work visas in the US and all of them require different documents or guarantees. The commonality seems to be that you need an employer to sponsor you for the visa…but in order to even apply to work for said employer, you need a visa. If you do manage to get a visa, they are by no means completely secure — you can be forced to leave the country at the whims of your employer or the State Department if they hit some sort of limit for the year. Basically he’s hit a dead end for the foreseeable future.

Being an immigrant has always been hard. Historically, Americans collectively know this better than any other nation. It’s just…hard for different reasons now. And this is to say nothing of how difficult it is to be a refugee or an undocumented migrant.

I began this post days ago and now I cannot for the life of me remember where I was going with it. There was supposed to be some scathing social commentary. Not so anymore. I suppose it’ll just remain an unnecessarily long ramble.

More broadly, I’m incredibly angry that we live in a world where the state of Texas applies to ban Syrian refugees from settling there. (Thankfully that petition was rejected.) I’m sick of the fact that your country of birth dictates where you can live and work, or that a country you crossed oceans and deserts and endured unspeakable hardship to get to has built a literal wall to keep you out. I’m upset and disheartened that there is nothing I can do about any of it at the moment.

I’m sad about the moments my best friend and I are missing; I’m sad that our conversations about our uncertain futures always carry a level of “if” instead of “when” in the subtext; I’m so selfishly sad that neither of us nor our wider circle of friends have any real means of reuniting.

I’m frustrated by the whole process — the red tape and barred doors that my best friend and millions of other deserving people face in search of a better life.

 

 

Chipped Nail Polish

I have been more or less permanently back in the United States for about…two weeks. I say “permanently” because I am paying rent (albeit to my cousin) and looking for jobs that will help me pay my student loans. My belongings have been shipped from the United Kingdom; my dresser is set up in my new room. My address has been changed; I am looking into getting a new drivers license. I cancelled my UK phone plan…to be fair, the service was shit.

Yet somehow, the thing to rub it in the worst has been my nail polish coming off. It’s a dark navy blue — matching the dress I graduated in. The dress is at the back of my closet now. And it’s like the last remnant of an amazing week — an amazing year — is slowly disappearing as I fall back into a terrifyingly ordinary day-to-day routine.

I miss it. The awful hills you have to walk up to get back to Ustinov from basically anywhere. The silhouette of the cathedral in the background of every picture. The mound where we went up to watch a solar eclipse or take pictures after getting covered in coloured powder during Holi or huddle like drunk, freezing penguins at 1am during a party that was evacuated because someone decided it was a smart idea to smoke in the toilets.

Most of all I miss breakfast-and-Tesco with Scott on Monday mornings. Baseball with Steph; wine with Karla. Dylan and his camera, Karissa and her advice. Walking Elsie and cooking with Chris; whisky and human sunshine with Aja. Books and sports with Ruth and Libby. Rob and Corey and Pep and video games and smoking. Pizza, coffee, and Youtube videos in our kitchen with Claudio. Fangirling with Marie, dinners with Nadine and Victoria. Seeing Lara and Mike and Marc and Siobhan at the bar.

They say when you miss someone, it means you loved them enough to feel their loss. And maybe that poetic bullshit is helpful to some people. Not to me. I’m a practical girl — I don’t want to wax on about missing someone. I want to fix the damn problem by going back to them. If I wanted to love someone from afar, I would launch myself into a cheesy regency romance novel. Or go star in another remake of The Great Gatsby.

Actually, I just realised how ironic this is. I say I don’t want to go on and on about missing someone. But that’s essentially what this entire post is about. So sue me. I am allowed to be emotional about this, especially since it’s 2:30am and I am homesick for people who are scattered across the globe.

Seeing you after four months apart was like coming home. Sort of like the universe going, “Here are all the people you will ever need.” And then the universe followed that up five days later with, “Sorry, sucker. Time to leave again. Good luck with that.” My only regret of that week is that I was so sick of goodbyes by the end that I didn’t even give you — any of you — a proper hug.

I cried myself to an exhausted sleep my first night back in the United States.

I’m grateful for technology — 4,000 miles (give or take) and 5-6 hours time difference are vanished by the wonders of the internet. But it’s a poor comparison to the year we spent together. Just like chipped blue polish has nothing on the shiny smooth colour of a freshly painted nail.

I should sleep now. Until tomorrow, internet. I will probably regret this later.