Yesterday I just accepted all comments without replying to each one. I was venting, not looking for a conversation with people who have never been emigrants themselves. I thought I’d leave that for after I’d calmed down a bit.
God, I get tired of having to explain this, but here I go again: I don’t hate Americans. But every now and then the country as a whole is too much for me. And at those times I do feel conflicted. Because there are things about this country that I do really, really hate, and they are situations that ultimately have come about because Americans have let them happen.
And some of the things that infuriate me are represented—if sideways, with lots of smiley faces—in the comments to yesterday’s post.
I was pulled over by a traffic cop yesterday, and I got a ticket for having an expired registration sticker. This in itself is no big deal; I should’ve had my sticker updated.
But here’s the thing: he was driving behind me. He had been driving behind me for at least five minutes. So when he was done giving me the ticket, I asked him how he could tell from behind that the sticker on my windshield was expired. He told me he ran my license plate. I asked him what had made him do that. He said that that’s what he does all day, run people’s license plates, if they “get in front of [him], or change lanes in front of [him]. [He’s] a traffic cop and [he] deal[s] with traffic violations”.
I had indeed just changed lanes in front of him. He didn’t have his sirens or his flashers on and I wasn’t speeding. He was behind me as I came up on a slower car, and we both put our blinkers on to change lanes and pass by. I changed lanes just as the cop behind me changed lanes. So he was then still behind me, though, as I changed lanes, it was clear that he had hoped to pass me by as well. Something that happens all the time, something that at most deserves and “ugh” if it means you have to break and reset your cruise control. But because this guy was a cop, he ran my license number and pulled me over. For changing lanes in front of him!
This is a small thing, you say? So minor that you’re laughing right now? Cracking up, perhaps, because that’s all yesterday’s post was about??? Well, then you’ve just proved my point. A cop has every right to arrest me if I’ve murdered someone. A cop has every right to pull me over if I’m speeding. A cop has every right to pull me over if he sees my expired registration sticker on my windshield. But he abused his power because it annoyed him that I didn’t change my mind when I saw that he wanted to pass me, too. It irked him that I didn’t cower and let him go first, so he decided to put me in my place.
He pulled my license plate because I changed lanes in front of him. That’s not a traffic violation. I didn’t change lanes in any hazardous way; I wasn’t speeding; I didn’t forget to use my blinker and he didn’t have to slam on his breaks. But he pulled my license plate. And it’s exactly because a cop gets away with doing that that makes me lose it.
The NSA is all over the news; senators are shocked at its abuse of power. Really? That flabbergasts me. Don’t they ever look around? Exactly why are the NSA’s doings news? They’re nothing more than the logical next step in a country that doesn’t pay attention to the small stuff.
So here we are, in a police state. One of my Facebook friends responded with, “Try living in Saudi Arabia”. That’s typical response number one. Am I supposed to feel better because it’s not as bad here as in Saudi Arabia? When someone brings up American poverty, someone else will unfailingly point out that people in Bangladesh are still coming here for a better life. Are these countries the bar? Should we just shrug apathetically because, hey, it could always be worse? With that attitude, sooner or later it will be.
Typical reaction number two: If you don’t like it, why don’t you just leave? This kind of question is directly related to the idea—and typical comment number three: You can do anything you want if you just put your mind to it. Whoever came up with this infantile notion was simultaneously insane and brilliant. It’s at the root of a lot of problems in this country, in my opinion.
But as for myself, why don’t I leave? Don’t be silly. Why is anyone in the situation they’re in? Do you really believe that people who complain about things per definition must not want their situations to change hard enough, or they would “make it happen”? Can you seriously say that about everything in your own life?
In the eighties in the Netherlands, there was a lot of attention for the plight of what were supposed to be “temporary foreign workers”–in Holland’s case mostly Turkish and Moroccan families. The men came to the Netherlands in the seventies, with the idea of making some money and then going home to their families. But they ended up settling and eventually bringing their families over, and a decade or so later they found themselves falling between two cultures. Their kids were Dutch, so any considerate parents didn’t realistically feel they could uproot them. They themselves felt they’d never be fully Dutch, but they also no longer felt fully Turkish. It sounded like an awful scenario to me. I never imagined being in their shoes.
I didn’t come here to have a better life, or to make more money. I had an excellent job and did just fine, thank you very much. I moved for love of T. Our teenage children are both American and there’s no way I could insist on uprooting T and them and dragging them to a country they wouldn’t understand any more than I understand America half the time. Not to mention the thousand other reasons why it would be practically impossible.
So yeah, I live here now, but with one foot in the past. By now I have good American friends and I’m losing touch with my Dutch friends. Most of whom probably see me more as an acquaintance by now, because let’s face it, liking someone’s Facebook status cannot replace a good conversation over a glass of wine or a beer or a cup of tea.
I pay taxes here, and yeah, that gives me the right to criticize America. And its fricking cops, who occasionally trigger in me a gut-wrenching homesickness. Although I’ve gotten pretty good at the “being positive” thing and not “whining” too much, every now and then I just don’t give a rip about any of that, because the authority-questioning part of my Dutch self is never going to change.