My recent trip to Eastern Europe was a reminder of my American-ness. I drink real Coca-Cola — with ice. I love me some football — real football, that is. And though I adore music from around the world, for me, no music is like a good James Taylor, Lyle Lovett or Dixie Chicks song.
I am proud to be an American.
I am also proud to have lived in and spent time in a variety of other countries. Time in those places has given me a keener appreciation of what those countries and cultures have to offer and has made me understand much more about my own country and culture.
When I lived in Slovakia 18 years ago, everything there was somewhere between beige and gray.
Communism had just ended. The country was on the verge of everything.
In 18 short years, their economy has skyrocketed. For the most part, Slovakia is now as advanced as any Western European country.
To put things in another perspective, when I was there in 1993, I could change $100 and get about 3,300 crowns (their currency back then)—enough to live comfortably on for a month. Last week, I changed $100 and got 65 euros—enough to travel modestly for a day.
Everything that once was gray and dingy is now bright yellow or orange or green and dotted with flowerboxes blooming brilliant pinks and purples.
The juxtaposition of then and now and here and there messed with my head. Their economy has gained so much strength while, let’s face it, ours has weakened.
I went back to Slovakia to attend the wedding of a dear friend. The couple’s wedding guests were from around the world.
While I wasn’t visiting with Slovak friends, I spent the bulk of the weekend with a couple from Madrid, a couple from Oslo and a girl from Uzbekistan now living in Moscow.
We laughed and danced and played the weekend away—all in English, without anyone working hard for a word or phrase.
They knew subtle references to American music and culture — while I shamefully realized that I barely could find Uzbekistan on a map. I didn’t know it was a country of 28 million, while Norway has less than five million people.
When we weren’t dancing, we were talking. We bonded in that rare and magical way that happens when you’re in a foreign place with people you never met but love in the flash of a smile and open embrace. We got each other.
Through their eyes, I was able to confirm some realizations of America’s changing place in the world. From my perspective, the rest of the world has less hostility toward us now. Some see our power and prominence fading. Maybe that’s just our arrogance diminishing. After all, the genuinely strong don’t need to remind others of their strength.
Just because much of the rest of the world recognizes a changing America doesn’t mean they don’t realize what our nation has done and continues to do for the world. However, the cold truth is that many outside of our country do see this as a time of transition around the world — and part of that change is a shift away from a world so dominated by American culture.
The small irony is that the entire conversation among people from five countries about global politics and economies took place in English. My new friends agreed that the universal language of English was a real gift — and they recognized America’s role in that exchange.
Just like we are still grateful to the Greeks, Romans and other great societies of the past, for centuries to come, the world will have America to thank for so much.