I am an American. I don’t have a green card or a blue passport to prove it, but I am. I am also an Israeli, a Ukrainian and a Finn. I am an Estonian and a Spaniard, a German, an Indian and a Turk. Human on a good day, so to speak, I feel unity with most of the places on the planet where I have been welcomed with open arms, had good times, and met shining, inspirational people.
As a matter of fact, I usually feel welcome everywhere but Denmark – the one country where I can actually prove my nationality with an official beetroot-coloured Danish EU passport. The feeling is mutual. Like most other Danes, I don’t really like my country, let alone my fellow countrymen. Mostly because I know us so well, and because our collective efforts and capabilities really should make us behave better, think more freely, and share more readily. It’s a sort of misanthropic reaction to a high degree of idealism, one might say: bitterness resulting from shattered hopes and unfulfilled high expectations.
I get that attitude a lot whenever the USA is the topic of dinnertime conversation. Disappointment. It is also pretty clear that there is an inverse relationship between how harshly the entire North American civilization is judged – usually on its corporatism and foreign relations – and how little first-hand knowledge of the country and its people the critics usually have. Whenever someone – usually (and to my great sorrow) on the left – tells me that he or she hates America and all that it stands for, I always ask whether they have been to America. Almost always, the answer is no.
But I have. In the nineties, I spent a year studying at the University of California at Santa Barbara, a prestigious party school on the west coast, and later in the same decade, I worked at the UN Headquarters in New York for a time. I have since visited both the East and Northwest Coasts more than a handful of times as a performing poet and artist, but I have only scratched the surface of the huge nation.
I might have managed to crawl under its skin at certain easterly and westerly points, but there is still so much left to explore. Just as there is everywhere on the globe, even in the petite nation of Denmark. But I am getting ahead of myself here. Let’s return to foreign affairs for a while.
Is it fair to judge an entire nation based on its foreign relations, past or present? Can a country’s political administration be equated with its population? The answer is, of course, a roaring NO. Seriously, who wouldn’t detest being equated with and judged by the actions and politics of the political administration here? Danes are racist. Danes are warmongers. Danes are market fundamentalists. Are we? You might ask yourself, dear reader. Am I? Again, the answer is no.
No more than the Americans, the Israelis or the Finns. Germans are not Nazis, even though they had a hugely popular Nazi regime for some years. Sadly for the global state of governance, the elected administration of a country does not necessarily mirror the population. Bummer for the political system, lucky for mankind. When it comes down to basics, we are all pretty much the same, even though we are different.
This sameness is an excellent foundation for exploring fruitful and dangerous differences alike. On the West Coast of the USA, I sense the same pioneering spirit as in any artist, any nomad and any exploring sojourner –in any Viking, if you will. The further north you move, the wackier, more artistic and alternative the people seem to be. If you are anything like me, go there. I promise, you’ll love it. In fact, a lot of good things are the brainchildren of that Northwest Coast, from California to the Canadian border. On the East Coast: the farmer, the consolidator, the old money, the brazen bull of Wall Street. Out of this completely different kind of energy, fast, dense and dark, emerges the miracle of the Gaian salad bowl: the momentous, peaceful and mostly trouble-free co-existence of every shape and colour of two-legged human under the sun, strolling the avenues of the Big Apple. Fear-based or not – if you haven’t been there, hurry up and bite it.
On the east/west axis, here is a lesson or two for us Danes: observe and respect your fellow man in the East. Follow your dream in the West. We Danes are not really good at either. In fact, we are steadfastly attempting to become what Americans used to be: protectionist, unequal and market-ruled. But then again, we’ve got bicycles, renewable energy, and really, really good-looking people. Americans like that. Everybody does. In this sense, I am also an American. A Danmerican perhaps. And now that the Danish government has allowed dual citizenship, I’m just waiting for the US embassy to send me my new blue passport. M