http://danvillesanramon.com/print/story/print/2008/08/01/diablo-views-the-american-image


Danville Express

Column - August 1, 2008

Diablo Views: The American image

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

My son Pepe lives in Berlin but he was not there when presidential candidate Barack Obama visited last week, attracting hundreds of thousands to his speech at the Victory Column. Pepe was still on vacation - the same vacation that I wrote about two weeks ago.

Those Europeans really know how to take time off. Pepe claims they can vacation for weeks at a time because they are more productive while at work than Americans who spend time hanging around the water cooler. But I don't buy that. We don't even have a water cooler at the Danville Weekly.

I think that when jobs come with six weeks off, as in Germany, they are structured differently. Vacation time was completely overlooked when my job was structured so when I'm gone it's difficult for those who remain behind. It's been like this everywhere I've been employed. Except for Caltrans. I worked at Caltrans many years ago - it was still called the California Division of Highways - and it was staffed well enough that I didn't have to feel one bit guilty disappearing for a week. But maybe it wasn't Caltrans. Maybe it was the era.

Anyway, back to Obama. He is popular in Germany, indeed in all of Europe since part of his campaign is restoring America's image overseas. Apparently many Germans have been looking forward to a regime change here in America ever since U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissed Germany and France as "old Europe" in 2003 when they pledged to stand together to oppose war in Iraq.

It was interesting when I was an American living overseas. For one thing, it made me aware of being patriotic. Sure I'd always been happy to hear the national anthem played before ball games and I'd flown the flag on holidays but it was a feeling I took for granted, kind of like loving my parents. Then when we lived in Thailand, it seemed some Europeans enjoyed criticizing the United States in front of Americans, and I would find myself bristling like a defensive parent and responding to negative remarks as though I were Uncle Sam himself. I never missed the Fourth of July celebration, working at the hamburger booth hosted by the American Women's Club; it was fun to see the eclectic collection of U.S. citizens who turned out, from grizzled old expats remaining from the Vietnam War era to the fresh-faced Peace Corps volunteers who came into Bangkok for the occasion.

Some foreigners are mind-boggled by the vastness of the United States. I remember a Danish woman being amazed to read in one of my magazines how many thousands of people drown in a decade in the United States and commenting if that many drowned in her country it wouldn't have any population remaining. Stats on the vast quantities of food consumed are also popular.

Another thing that impresses me is how passionately foreigners follow American politics. From CEOs to taxi drivers, they are well informed. Pew Research Center just published a survey done in March and April as part of its Global Attitudes Project to assess opinions of people around the world who follow American politics closely. In Germany, 82 percent expressed confidence in Obama while 33 percent had confidence in McCain. In France the figures were 84 percent Obama; 33 percent McCain. In Great Britain, it's 74 percent Obama; 44 percent McCain.

In the Mideast, both American candidates were viewed more negatively: In Lebanon, 34 percent had confidence in Obama while 25 percent said McCain; Egypt, 31 percent Obama; and 23 percent McCain; Jordan, 22 percent Obama; and 23 percent McCain. In Turkey, 20 percent expresed confidence in Obama while only 5 percent did so for McCain.

However, Pepe said he read a German poll in an airplane on the very day Obama spoke that found "71 percent of Germans were sick of him already." Perhaps this was a reaction to the fawning German media; a friend reported to Pepe that the newscasters, usually noted for their Germanic sobriety, were noticeably starry-eyed during the visit.

It hasn't been easy for an American in Europe since 2003, Pepe told us. How can he come across to women as an intelligent, sensitive guy when they see his government as imperialists? He thinks his social life may pick up if Obama is elected. Either way, Pepe will still get six weeks of vacation.

-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.

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