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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    From Russia with love

    There are not many experiences quite as alienating as sitting in another country, listening to someone tell you why your country has caused all the world’s problems.

    If one thing is for sure, it is that after the economic crisis in America, which has been the major factor in the economic downturn of many of the world’s countries, foreigners have begun to look at America in a new way.

    Man walks to the bank. Man asks for money. Bank gives man the money. Man says he can pay the money back. Man can’t, bank collapses, man goes to jail.

    This simplified explanation of America’s economic crisis came from a Russian who seemed to represent what many Russians think about Americans: they are greedy, meddling, and ignorant. They are an empire reaching its long arm into the affairs of too many countries worldwide, but also a country full of interesting people, and a country worth living in.

    While this is a generalization, many Russians have expressed similar sentiments. Initially I thought it was a uniquely American thought – that some sort of guilt pervaded Americans, which led them to believe that foreigners hated them.

    Living in an international dorm has given me the opportunity to interact with many foreigners. On my floor alone, there are students from eight different countries: Germany, Austria, Finland, France, Turkey, Estonia, Azerbaijan, and the United States. One thing I have gathered from being around so many international students is that Americans are very wary of how other countries perceive them. Slovenly, brash, bullying: these are a few of the adjectives which many Americans apply to themselves.

    Although Americans seem to be wary about perceptions of American people, many foreigners are wary about American politics. And this seems to be particularly true about Russians.

    Although I was not in Russia before the economic crisis began, it seems to be a pervading subject of American politics. I have been told by several Russians that America is responsible for their economic crisis, and I have been treated with more hostility by Russians than I have by any other international students.

    However, amidst all of the political accusations, there has been one factor which has generated positive responses from all international students, Russians included: Barack Obama. I have not met a single person, from any country (America excluded) that liked George W. Bush. Every international student who has ever mentioned him has been excited about Obama, seeing him as a sign of hope for America. This, of course, excludes the white supremacists I met who hated Obama for obvious reasons.

    So it seems that there are two competing factors for international perception of the U.S.: the economic crisis, which has pissed off a lot of people (Americans and Russians especially), and Barack Obama. That being said, I have not met many foreigners who have seen American people as slovenly, or ignorant, or even as a representation of their country’s politics. Many of the international students have expressed a desire to visit or live in America, just like many Americans would want to visit or live in Germany, France, Finland or many other countries across the world.

    What many people believe about a country’s politics does not always apply to what they believe about the country itself or its people. I certainly would not apply my beliefs on Russian politics to all Russian people, and I would hope that Russians would not do that to Americans.

    Unfortunately, however, people are not always so understanding, and in Russia, political relations have absolutely played a part in the way Russians perceive me. I have been met with unfriendly stares, and people I know have been subject to abuse and threats for being American. That is just the way it has been, and all of the research and theories could not explain that, because all people are different. While many Russians have been friendly, loving and interested in America, many have not been and many have been threatened by an American simply being in their country.

    It is unclear to me how relations will change between Americans and Russians. There is still much tension, but that tension seems to be easing, although very slowly. There is no doubt that many Russians view the economic crisis as remnants of a failed Bush administration, and that having Obama as president might ease American imperialist tendencies.

    What the future of these two countries will be is for someone much smarter than me to say (much, much smarter). The only thing I know is what it is like to be an American in Russia, and that is tense, with perceptions changing on a whim, sometimes for the worse and sometimes for the better.

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