Having lived 17 years of my life as an ex-pat, I am all too familiar with the gammut of emotions and experiences that being an American abroad represents. Thankfully, most of my friends were entirely accepting of me, but this was anything but a guarantee that they agreed with my country's policies or view of its role in the world. I remember making an extra effort not to be too conspicuous, avoiding baseball caps and tennis shoes and keeping English conversations to just above a whisper when in public.
Given most of the world's reaction to the election of Barack Obama as the next U.S. president, it would seem that it's suddenly OK to be an American again. In Vienna, a young woman heard an American businessman speaking English on the bus, turned around and gave him a spontaneous kiss on the cheek, then got off at the next stop. No words -- but none were necessary.
Reports are coming in from all over the world that this momentous occasion is a welcome one. Jordanians and Egyptians wept for joy. The French fell over themselves to welcome the president-elect who, they believe, will be more outward focused with a kinder, gentler approach than his predecessor's. As one German put it, "A world without American leadership is, for most Europeans, a world of chaos." (The Israelis are among the few who don't seem too thrilled -- with Iran breathing down their necks, their concern over Obama's possible naivete can be understood.) One journalist observed that Europeans have been secretly pulling for the U.S. but were just too weary of the Bush bravado.
Does the world really know and love Barack Obama, or is there more going on in this outpouring of emotion in the international community? I see the pendulum principle at work here. Reacting out of such extreme disillusionment with the Bush foreign policy, the world is expressing what the American electorate also demonstrated: the farther we can remove ourselves from the disappointments of the past, the better.
I am among those who are eager to see the direction Obama steers America's relationship with the rest of the world. What if dialogue really does work better than confrontation? What if the "measure of humility" Obama spoke of in his acceptance speech goes a long way toward repairng the breach between players on the world stage?
It's well worth a try.
If you are a non-American, please express your reaction to the Obama victory by posting a comment.