Obama's Election and "Anti-American" Sentiment Abroad

Screen grab from La Nación's Elecciones EEUU 2008 supplement, yes, even Michelle Obama's outfits draw attention down here.

"Why are you here? Don't you know that we're terrorists?" the two Syrian women asked me and my friend Jane with jesting smiles after we approached them in Damascus to ask directions to the Old City and the Umayyad Mosque. Then they, of course, cheerfully helped us get to Old City (one of the most wondrous places I've ever seen). After our initial inquiry (it's policy for me as a female traveler to ask other women for help and directions when I travel abroad) they had asked the obvious question when chatting to obvious tourists and we had answered honestly. I don't understand why Americans prevaricate and say things like "Canadian" to that question--I'm not embarrassed. And I'm not trying to avoid the conversation about US foreign policy that often ensues. In the little bit of international travel I've been incredibly fortunate to do, I've heard criticisms, again and again, of the United States. A lot of anger against "unilateralism" and "arrogrance" and "yankee imperialism."

Which is why the last month has shocked me.

On the night of November 4, I joined a group of my friends at the Centro Cultural Paraguayo-Americano's election party to watch as the results of the US Presidential election rolled in. As states were called by networks and shaded from gray to either blue or red, cheers erupted in different sections on the lawn. A couple of the waiters took extra special care to make sure that our foursome had all the drinks and snacks we could want. And asking us how things were going "for us." Because "we"--the three PhD candidates, the professional clarinetist, and the Paraguayan waiters--were hoping for an Obama victory.

There's a stunning level of goodwill and outright affection towards the United States. Paraguayan taxi drivers and journalists in Paris were quick to congratulate me on November 5 and with such a glow of delight spoke of the example the United States is to the rest of the world. The recriminations stopped and instead an effusion of admiration for the "leadership" of the United States began. "Solo en los Estados Unidos," I have heard said repeatedly in the last few weeks with unbridled warmth and, to be truthful, idealization. I had just assumed that the "Anti-Americanism" I'd encountered for years was the norm but instead I've found a euphoric desire for the United States to succeed, to do well, and to bring "peace" to the world.

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