Wednesday, February 09, 2005

I have Zelig-like tendencies. I have found this is a trait more common among Americans than others. We seem to prefer to be liked and to fit in rather than be correct. I personally thought it was because, for the majority of conversation topics, I couldn’t give a shit. But, recent observations have shown this is much more common amongst compatriots.

On the return from my last trip, I chatted with a guy who could be described as all American except he was from Manchester. He was square-jawed and wore a marine-style haircut that kept his blond hair tight against his head. He was still wearing dusty tan boots. The dust a day ago had been drifting across an Iraqi desert. He was hired by an engineering firm to protect the Texan petroleum engineers as they do the work of freedom. He sat a stool away from me. He was talking to his mobile phone to a woman back in England. Being the nosey shit that I am, I eavesdropped between sips and pretended to watch the soundless Arsenal game playing above the shoulder of the barkeep. It was a mix of tough guy military talk (“My mates dropping right beside me.”), and gentle queries about the health of elderly members of the family (“How’s mum doing?”).

Afterwards hearing my accent when I ordered another pint he asked, “You a yank?” I love that! Straight out of world war II. We chatted amiably, but I put on a much more macho front than should be possible from a guy with a tattoo of a cartoon chicken. I somehow even worked in the story about how I punctured my lung when I broke my ribs. I was graphic in description and dismissive about the pain (The pain made me pass out, but I left that out). This machismo banter wasn’t me at all. This discrepancy must have been noticeable, but he was friendly enough and chatted about what he was doing in Iraq. His view was the ‘Yanks’ don’t listen enough to the locals and are bound to have it all go ‘tits up’ on account of that. My chest-puffing chatter changed when I spoke with the guy in the seat next to me as we flew towards our home. He was a sharply dressed middle-aged man whose family fled Lebanon because of similar nonsense plaguing Iraq currently. “We lost everything. Our home. Our country. For what?” He shook his head and was silent for a moment. Then, he told me that he had a friend who was also American, a marine, who had married a British woman and because of that had a choice in being called up and shipped over. “I told him to forget it. He has a wife and child now. What would happen if he got shot out there? No. I told him, his responsibility was to his family not his country.”

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