I’m on my reading week and have so far been to Barcelona, Berlin, just arrived in Rome and will be headed to Florence soon. I’ll do a full breakdown of my time here when I get home, but I’d like to talk about some of the marvelous discoveries I’ve made on my journey.
Sophia and I stumbled (as we often do – as is the best way to discover things while traveling) upon a Christmas market in Berlin. While I indulged in a man-made sledding hill, complete with snow and strobe lights, Sophia heard some girls speaking English and struck up a conversation with them. Sisi from Copenhagen and Chloe from Oxford – two girls au pairing in Berlin.
Four hours later, we’d had drinks together at two bars and talked the night away with politics, culture, and getting to know each other. This morning, we met up again for what was meant to be a quick lunch and ended up being a 3.5 hour conversation about economic and social problems in the world (minus Denmark) among other things, each learning more about each others’ countries and lives. This brilliant connection between strangers in a foreign country happened all because we share a common language and were open enough to talk to strangers in a strange land.
Our world has closed its doors to itself, in a way. Especially in America. Most of us, myself included, have almost no idea how other countries see us, how they work, or that there is no “greatest country in the world” (again except maybe Denmark). We often make assumptions about other people, cultures, and governments and blind ourselves with patriotism and arrogance. We are a nation in a struggle – and we know that. But do we recognize the economic struggles of the rest of the world? We are no better than many other countries, no worse than many more, and we are often too self centered to see that.
Then there are countries like, well, Denmark, which have almost no poverty, schools and universities that pay their students like its a job, free health care, and amazing welfare for those who need it – and no one minds paying extremely high taxes because they don’t need to live in excess like we do. And because of this, they live better off than most Americans. We don’t have the economy for that right now – sure – but one day we could. And yet I know we will throw a fit about helping others or paying high taxes when most of us were just lucky to be born in a position where we could be upwardly mobile.
Taxes help all of us, and don’t we want everyone to be able to thrive? Isn’t that true patriotism? And are there not people in a position to pay high taxes to make our country survive and thrive, taxes that can give all Americans the same opportunities they were lucky enough to have? Do we really want anyone living on the streets or dying of cancer and unable to fight it?
I’m lucky for the experiences I’ve gotten to have. The people I’ve been able to meet and the culture differences have made a vast impact on how I feel about the world and my place in it as an American. I feel somewhat hypocritical saying all of this because I’m only able to say it because I’m one of the lucky few born with enough money to be able to do something like this. I’m able to do this not because I’ve ever done anything incredible or worked extremely hard, but because I have a mom who supports me with whatever I want to do. I have a dad who spent years and years studying his ass off and working and saving lives and still works 50 or more hours a week at 72 years old. A dad who was born to poor, hard working immigrant laborers that encouraged him to work hard and make a life in the “land of opportunity”, America. A dad who pays a high tax bracket and believes in helping out the rest of the world.
I think we as Americans should look back at this, at the work we and our ancestors put into our country. At the fact that we are almost all born to immigrants of our land. That we are all part of a bigger picture, a bigger world that is watching and hearing what we are doing and sees our arrogance and selfishness. It’s something I have been very privileged to be able to see, something hard to understand and honestly unfair and hypocritical for me to mention, but something worth thinking about and improving upon.
Even though it is by no means perfect, and even though I live there not having the same rights as everyone else, I do love America. I always have and always will have, and it’s because of the opportunities there that allow my family and I to live as we do. But in these fragile economic and socially tense times, I think it’s also important to take a step back and realize the world is changing. The world is struggling along with us, and there are solutions to be found by seeing that and looking to some of them as models and partners in this struggle – by working with them and not acting like we are better off than everyone else in the world. We are all in this together.