What the world is coming to

American flag

Eh, it’s been a week.

I have no words for Boston or West . . . nothing adequate, anyway. Like most Americans, I’ve been glued to news sites and broadcasts for days — unable to tear my eyes away from the disturbing updates and images. The photos haunt me.

Whenever something awful happens, I vow to “tune out” and stay far away from the updates — but, you know, that rarely happens. This dates back to 9/11, I’m sure, when we were glued to our TVs in the D.C. suburbs waiting for word on parents and friends in Washington. It was terrifying; it was life-changing. My inner peace was shattered. And though I was only 16, I was certainly old enough to realize something truly terrible had happened. Life was forever divided into Before and After.

My mom and I frequently talk about “the old days” — the simpler times when she was growing up in the ’60s and ’70s. Long days where kids played in the streets together, unafraid of kidnappers and rapists. No one wore sunscreen; no one got burned. People felt safe enough to leave their cars unlocked, to have their doors wide open. Neighbors waved and hosted block parties. They came to borrow to sugar.

“I feel so sad that you’ll never experience that,” she says.

“I don’t know any other way,” I say.

But their “simpler times” were often far from simple. And we talk about that, too. Threats of nuclear bombs. Volatile race relations. The assassinations of presidents, politicians, beloved leaders. An impeachment. War.

“But it wasn’t broadcast in real time,” Mom says. “That’s the difference.”

It wasn’t on your iPhone, cradled in the palm of your hand. It didn’t surround you and drag you into the thick of it; it wasn’t tweeted live from every nook of the country.

But life keeps moving.

I think about my own kids. They’ll be born in a post-9/11, post-Boston world — but we will work to protect and strengthen them. When I feel anxious and scared about “what the world is coming to,” I remember the resilience of America — through everything, through all of this — and know that, somehow, we will still link arms and work together and figure it out . . . because we’re Americans.

Though I don’t know what the world is coming to, I’m proud of my country. I cry when I hear the national anthem. I’m thinking endlessly of Boston, of Texas. I’m rooting for all of us. And if nothing else, we are here . . . together.

The obvious Americans — and happy St. Patrick’s Day!

It’s been almost a year since I was in Ireland, drinking my fill of Guinness (or Smithwick’s — I’m not serious enough for straight Guinness, despite my cupcakes) and thinking I blended amongst the locals eating out in Dublin. Though I was, of course, an American tourist, I wasn’t prancing around with a neon pink fanny pack and white tennis shoes, barking at people to serve me “A-mer-i-can food, dammit!” and generally setting international relations back a few centuries.

Not that I recall, anyway. (So much Smithwick’s.)

(Okay, not really — I’m not a drinker — but everyone is a drinker in Ireland. Even my mother, plied repeatedly with Irish coffee.)

I’ll just come out and admit it: I can be a bit smug when I travel. I try to never be “the ugly American,” offering courteous smiles to everyone I meet and never stiffing the locals on tips. On our trip to Italy years back, our tour director said something that has stayed with me: “We are all international ambassadors.” Meaning, you have an unpleasant interaction with an American. You think they’re rude. Though it’s not necessarily fair, our minds may make a leap: this American woman was rude. Americans can be rude. All Americans are rude. And so on.

I try never to be rude. To blend, if you will, and this doesn’t just apply to international travel. When asked by a clerk if I was “from Texas?” while shopping in Los Angeles years ago, I just cocked an eyebrow and laughed. If she thinks my Southern accent is strong and Texas-like, she’s obviously never met a real Texan. (Or a real Southerner, ’cause my twang ain’t go nothing on the accents of my North Carolina relatives. I’m sort of jealous, really; I’ve just got the Eastern Seaboard thing goin’ on. Though I do use “y’all” with reckless abandon.)

So anyway. In Dublin. I’m trying to blend and not be rude and be a courteous American when I walk into a pub with my family. I’m trying to not scream “TOURIST! TOURIST OVER HERE!” and just enjoy a casual evening in Ireland. Before we’d uttered a word — before we’d even greeted a soul in the place — a cute young waiter approached, passing out menus. “Evenin’,” he said with a smile. “Americans, eh?”


I was flabbergasted. I didn’t think I had a “tell.” Is it my purple jacket? My jaunty swagger? The way I “style” (term used loosely) my hair? My liberal eye contact?

Grabbing hold of our good ol’ American enthusiasm, my family and I exchanged questioning looks while I laughed, “Yes — what gave it away?”

The server’s crooked smile would have made Edward Cullen jealous. With a gentle but aggravating shrug, he replied, “I just know.”

“But how do you know?” I pressed, suddenly desperate to see what set us apart. “The way we walked in the pub?”

We hadn’t known where to sit, of course. Not locals.

“I just know,” he repeated, and then I dropped the matter. Mostly because I was starving and we were soon going to be served this:

(And yes, we ordered burgers and fries in Ireland. How cliche.
But I tried haggis in Scotland, so sue me.)

Then I forgot about cultural identities and international relations and politeness and fanny packs (or lack thereof).

Om nom nom nom.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!