Studying abroad in London has given me a chance to see how the rest of the world views America.
I’m not sure I am so proud anymore.
Two weekends ago on my way back from a trip to Italy, I shared a bus ride from the airport next to a nineteen-year-old boy from Barcelona, living and working in London. It was late and I had just endured several hours of sitting on the unforgiving tile floor of the Ciampino Airport, followed by the bore of a bumpy flight home; so, needless to say, I was not in the chattiest of moods. But as he began to ask me questions about where I was from and what America was like, he asked me something that intrigued me and made me want to talk to him more: “Is it really as dangerous in the US as everyone says it is?”
I asked him to repeat the question because I thought I had misunderstood him. I was even more thrown off when, after asking what he meant, he responded:“You know… with the guns?” and followed up by asking if I had ever seen someone get shot in real life before. I laughed, and explained to him that I have never seen a gun being used in real life except for recreational purposes. We then moved along with our conversation.
Being here, I am continuously interested and shocked by Europeans’ perceptions of America. It’s so tempting to try and sum up an entire country’s culture into one characteristic in order to understand it, and I wondered if this is a common summation of the US. Normally, if I heard this kind of generic statement being applied to an entire culture, I would disagree immediately. How can you sum up one nation of millions of people, when things are really as different between states as they are between different countries? I was almost offended that this was the stereotyped image this boy had of America, but I actually left thinking it was somewhat funny – this boy’s skewed perception of Americans as the crazy people with all the dangerous weapons. I went back to my flat in London. I forgot about our conversation.
A few weeks ago, a middle school student in Nevada shot and killed his teacher and injured two others before turning the gun around on himself. I heard about it from one of my roommates as she routinely scrolled through her Twitter feed. Our reactions were the same as the ones I have had multiple times in the past few years – a cycle between thoughts such as oh my God; this is awful; and I can’t believe this happened again. We talked about how sad it is that shootings have become so commonplace; how pathetic it is that we aren’t even surprised that something like this could happen. Then we went along with our night as usual. I forgot about our conversation.
Growing up, I was always taught that the United States was the best country in the world. But today, I am not sure how proud I am to be from a country that will not respond to the desperate need for stricter gun control laws. I am not sure how I feel to be from a place that has allowed these mass shootings to become so commonplace, to the point where we are no longer even surprised that they are occurring. I never realized I was from a place that others think of as dangerous, when I always felt lucky to have been born in the US, because I thought it was the safest place to live.
This isn’t an issue that is just going to go away.
I need to stop forgetting about the conversation.
We all need to stop forgetting about the conversation.