Monday, November 12, 2012

"I hope we start seeing forever, instead of what we can gain in a day."

I hadn't really considered what an interesting experience it would be to experience a United States election from the perspective of another country. Additionally, this was only the second Presidential election since I have been old enough to vote, and therefore only the second one that I've really paid attention to and participated in. I was at work on Election Day, and it seemed that any customer who didn't ask me my opinion on the election, who I thought would win, or who I'd voted for was the exception to the rule. I have quite a few customers by now who are regulars and whom I know by name, but they weren't the only ones asking questions. As soon as I spoke, everyone responded to my accent by asking my opinion. It was admittedly strange at first, because in the United States it's still considered pretty taboo to ask someone who they've voted for, so it's not something that happens very often. When the first few people asked, I didn't even know how to politely respond, or whether I was willing to answer honestly, because I didn't want to have to get involved in any sort of political debate with a customer. With the first gentleman who asked, when I tried to evade the question, he kept pushing, and eventually I did answer. But after the first couple of times that someone asked or brought it up, I realized that most people were using the question as a way to give themselves a chance to tell me their views on the American political situation.

Everyone had more to say than just which candidate they supported (oddly enough, I've yet to meet a British or Welsh person who does not support Obama), and most of the time what they had to say showed that they were informed, not just blindly choosing sides. It made me feel like I needed to come home and read up on the UK political system, which I didn't quite do (but I did pick Josh's brain). But more importantly, it made me remember how self-interested we can be as Americans. With a country so big that it's rare to live anywhere near an international border, it's easy to forget about the rest of the world, to look at it from afar and see the big news and the scenery but not the details. And it's a bit scary to realize this, considering how global the economy is becoming and how international travel is becoming easier and more common. Shouldn't we be keeping up? What does it mean that we're buying products made in factories halfway across the globe, by people who most likely could recognize the face of our president, when we probably couldn't even identify the capital of their country, speak a word of their language, let alone say anything about their government?

So this is a challenge myself to learn more about the country that I'm living in, its history, its culture, and its politics. It's easy to push aside those things and focus on what's immediate in my life--my essays, my dissertation, and going to work so I can support myself. And I'm obviously not running next door to the bookstore to pick up a book on Welsh history and politics, but I'm going to try and be realistic. Even learning in little ways is still learning--by reading the newspaper, talking to my customers and coworkers who have lived and grown up in Wales, or learning a few words of Welsh.

Since arriving here, I've discovered and fallen in love with the Scottish musician Emeli Sandé. The title of this post is a line from my favorite song of hers, "Hope", and I feel it fits the mood of this post. Give it a listen, and maybe you'll set yourself a personal challenge to learn a little bit more about the world beyond your doorstep.

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