I remember one day in the beginning of my tenth grade year, a senior guy who was a good friend of mine stopped me after school and said, "Hey! I need to talk to you! What’s all this stuff I keep hearing about you?" I stood there listening as he recalled all these things people - lots of different people - had been saying about me through the gossip chain. I remember my jaw dropping at some of the crazy rumors and then this really weird sensation came over me: why the heck would anyone care enough to be talking about me (much less take the time to make up stories)?
It's not that I had "low self-esteem" or thought I was completely unimportant. I went to a small school and the fact that I was a cheerleader, a good student, a party girl (just being honest here), and involved in every organization on campus put me in that not-so-exclusive "popular kids" group. But I had heard my share of rumors about other people, and I just couldn't think of anything that would make me so interesting that people all over town and around school would be talking about little ol’ me!
Last week, my post about my immersion class experience evoked some interesting comments, comments that took me back to my first couple of months living in Brasil. The couple of months that sort of reminded me of that day with my friend in tenth grade.
This time it wasn't that people were spreading awful rumors about me though. The first couple months in Brasil, I was constantly shocked at how much people wanted to talk about the United States. And not just because they were talking to me. Everyone I came across seemed to want to discuss US politics, culture, or problems. And they knew a lot! People here are following the presidential election closely and often have stronger opinions (good and bad) about my country than they do of their own! They certainly have more to say about President Bush than they do President Lula! (And oh, how uninformed they often are on that subject!)
I felt like that little 16 year old girl again as I listened to everyone talking about my country. Why the heck does everyone care so much? Why is it that there is something about US politics on the Brasilian news everyday? Why do people watch American movies and listen to American music, even though plenty of them don't understand English? Why do they think Americans eat fast food every single day (which most of us don't/didn't!), and furthermore, why do they care what we eat anyway? Why do they have such strong opinions about who my next president is - they don't pay US taxes, their national and personal security doesn't depend on who our next leader is. I went between flattered, that they spend so much of their time thinking about my country and embracing my culture (movies, etc.), to totally bewildered as to why.
I understand that the US is a key player in the international world. I understand that we export lots of goods. I understand that we have a huge entertainment industry. But I still don't fully understand the obsession.
So meanwhile, Americans get dubbed as not caring about or taking an interest in other cultures. But sometimes I think it's just that we are interested in the same thing - the United States of America!