Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I'll be whatever you want me to be, just not that.

My mother leaned into the patio table as she said the following words, punctuating each syllable with breathless urgency. “Remember one thing, Cammy, if you ever get into a tight spot...”

She glanced at Kelly and Stephanie, then whipped her head back to me.

“You’re a Canadian.”  

My flushed, boozy cheeks collapsed into a frown. “I am no such thing, and I will never say that. No offense to Canada.”

“Do it, Cam,” piped in Kelly, her curly strawberry-blonde hair tapping her shoulders as she nodded in agreement with my mom.

She was supposed to be my ally here.

Kelly is an FBI-agent, formerly stationed at the Sacramento field office and working the field of counter-terrorism. 

Before her gig at the Bureau, she worked for the UN, helping to rebuild police forces in war-torn Bosnia.    

A killer patriot from North Dakota with brilliant comedic timing, a love of running and the best Ghiradelli brownie recipe in the northern hemisphere, Kelly shuffles calls on her Nextel walkie between informants and babysitters. 

How on Earth could she condone me putting on a charade of being “not an asshole American” to soften the ire of some pea-brain who hates my country?  

It was the night before my big move to Copenhagen, and I was enjoying one last hurrah with my close girlfriends at my parent’s house. The patio smelled of citronella oil mingling with lemon as we sat by the pool under the glow of white lights draped on the balcony above us.  I took a sip of my homemade limoncella, letting the sweet liqueur take over my mouth.

“I’m not sure I can do that,” I said stubbornly. “Only a coward and a traitor to her country would take the easy, Canadian way out.”

I looked over at Stephanie taking a sip of her 2003 La Crema Pinot Noir. I love watching Stephanie drink wine. There is something painstaking in the way she slyly takes each sip, swishes the wine around in her mouth while making sure no one's watching when she swallows. Each sip is savored, sinfully delicious. Stephanie is a born Mormon and as such, was raised under the beliefs and teachings of the prophet Joseph Smith who forbade the consumption of alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes and drugs among his flock. She’s a rebel Mormon though, caught between the old rules and traditions of her Church and family, and her latter-day proclivity to push boundaries. She will probably never not be a Mormon, but she’s made peace that she will be one who questions protocol and persnickety canon that forbid her from having innocent fun. Every weekend Stephanie and her husband Chuck — whom she met at BYU after he had returned from his two-year church mission abroad — drop their kids off at church, waving goodbye as they peel out of the parking lot and head up the street to Starbucks.

Stephanie piped in, “Your personal safety will have to trump your need to be patriotic and proud.”

To them, it was all rhetoric. Be a Canadian: no harm, no foul. Just insulate yourself if you ever feel in the presence 

At Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum   

of someone who really “hates us.”  I’d heard on the TV all about how much “they hate us” from pundits like Bill Maher and Whoopi Goldberg.                             

It was late August 2006, the dog-days of summer and the heyday of Bush-bashing.  I couldn’t help but think that shedding my Americanism to blunt the edge of sharp Euro-criticism would be tantamount to letting “the terrorists win.”

That statement has become a favorite of mine in recent years. If we don’t [fill in the blank here], then the terrorists win. We’ve heard it in presidential speeches; heck, I’ve written it in gubernatorial prose myself, that if “we don’t continue to travel, or if we don’t keep our resolve, if we succumb to fear” then “the terrorists win.”

On a recent business trip to Manhattan, when I forgot to put into my checked baggage my purchase of a large bottle of designer Glow Fusion self-tanner, which ended up in my carry-on baggage – in defiance of the ‘no liquids policy’ – I told the TSA Security Agent that if he threw out my self-tanner, then the terrorists win. He chucked it in the trash, unamused.

This is what our country of America had become. Pale, feckless wannabe Canadians. 

Because people like Sean Penn and Barbara Streisand had gone on parade telling red-blooded Americans that “everyone hates us.” Nevermind that the press conveniently crops Hugo Chavez or Saddam Hussein out of the image of Sean wheezing those words, lest we see that it’s his chummy friends who have penned his talking points.

I’m an American living in Denmark going on the record to say that they don’t hate us. They didn’t hate us when Bush was President, and they don’t blindly love us because Obama is now. Whatever their capricious love/hate whims, whether anyone in Europe or the rest of the world blindly loves my country or hates my country is of no concern to me anymore. 

Frankly, I don’t give a damn. (Coming from a make-up’d, Jimmy Choo-wearing, former-sorority-president who cares about what people think, I’ve made a staggering leap).

What became crystal clear to me recently during a discussion with a powerful film producer in Copenhagen is that it would be a huge miscalculation to presume the citizens of any other country but America would honestly root for a thriving America. As I was telling this producer juggernaut, “If you look at the times in history when America has thrived the most — economically, culturally, politically— it was - ”

He cut me off.

“But don’t you see? We don’t want America to thrive and be successful.”

It was like a ton of foam bricks falling down on me, completely stunning and altogether painless.

It hit me how silly and naïve I’d been, paying so much concern as to whether the country I had a crush on, Denmark, loved me and my country...or not. When the very premise for that anxiety was flawed. 

Why would any countryman truly cheer for the excellence of another country? Duh.

That last night in California was almost 3 years ago, and I’m proud to say I’ve never had to work my killer Canadian accent while ‘aboat’ in Denmark. For now, America’s leadership is doing a bang up job placating the critics and apologizing to countries that hate us at every corner of the world.  

Living as an American abroad, maybe that should make me feel safer. Somehow, it doesn’t. 

*Names have been changed to protect the anonymity of my friends.

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