Sunday, February 22, 2009

Only in the USA, and Speaking of Obama and the US economic-political climate...

My favorite 'Only in the USA' moment of our trip came when rushing through the Atlanta airport, the SwedeGirl spied a news stand magazine rack, and of course Obama was everywhere on every cover- so she pointed and yelled -"OBAMA!". The southern black clerk working at the stand heard her, and she was just the type of woman you see working at the Atlanta airport, distinctly American- black, a few gold teeth, gregarious- and she caught the words from the Swedegirl and let out a knee slapping howl of laughter. We shared this funny moment and I called out "See, everyone is excited!"

Being in Atlanta, the many black southern workers are a notable subculture around the airport. There was a black woman with the most fantastic outfit- gold belt, done-up hair, and long ornate finger nails- and she was sweeping the floor in the food court. She was dressed like she was going out dancing in a club, but I watched her as we dined as and she gracefully moved around cleaning trays and floors. I kept thinking she was the manager just down to help out for a minute, but it seemed this was her work, and this was how she had come dressed for it.

Otherwise, as The SwedeGirl and I enjoyed an ice cream cone from Ben and Jerry's, we sat and watched the crowds go by. Its fun to go to the USA after being in Europe and have new eyes for the Americans style. First- the biggest thing that strikes me always, is how FAT Americans are. We were doing nothing to remedy this, sitting with our ice cream, but watching people go by, there is no question Americans are more likely to have paunchy bellies and chub going on than the Swedes. Especially the men, there are way more 'fat' men in America than there are in Sweden. The business traveling set is a bit plump in America, and here in Sweden they are more streamlined in their figures, and more likely to be wearing glasses with hip looking frames than golf shirts in XXL.

It was also interesting to note how in the airport and in grocery stores, I could identify subcultures easier in the USA. In the USA, I can tell farmer/ trailer park retiree/ red neck that hardly ever comes into town/ business traveler/ southern belle/ student from the North East/ back packer/ musician/ baby carrying new mother from one another. In Sweden, people more or less just look 'Swedish' to me.

We also had a funny 'my kid looks like she's a genius' moment in the airport. After eating the ice cream, we returned to the gate to find our departure location had been changed. We had to run-run-run and get to another terminal QUICK. When we arrived to catch our connecting flight to Florida, I handed SwedeGirl the tickets and asked her to give them to the lady at the gate while I wrangled our carry on luggage into something I could manage down an airplane aisle. My girl looked at the tickets and said "This is not mine, it does not have my name on it...oh wait- There it is!!! " and handed them over. The ticket checker responded by saying "You can READ? How old are you, 5?" She said, no, three and a half. The lady asked what her name was, and my girl replied by finger spelling it in sign language, and saying it out loud. This really got the lady, and we boarded the plane with all the people at the gate thinking she was a reading, spelling, signing, certifiable three year old genius ....if only she had said good bye in swedish we could have really had 'em!

It was great to be back in the USA under the new presidency and feel out how it is going. I have found that even if I read the news in Sweden, there is a collective national mood that is palpable when you are actually in the USA that is impossible to sense from afar. I found this when I was in Florida in October, and got to watch the Palin-Biden debate and read the papers the day afterwards, and see the Obama- McCain debate. It was also the same week the bailout was being planned, so the economic anxiety was peeking. It was a very different thing to BE THERE, and sense it, than hear about it from abroad.

This time, the general sense of economic anxiety was running high. When discussing going to a shop or restaurant, I was often told "call first to make sure they are still open!" due to the large numbers of store closings going on. Similarly, most of my friends made at least one mention of tight times, less income, and fewer clients in all their varied professions. And the housing values in our region of Florida are down 30-75% in some cases, and still falling... The sense of hard times is much more prevalent in the USA than in Sweden. Here in Sweden it is almost theoretical- like do you think this will reach you? In the USA, there is no doubt it has reached everyone.

It was also the first week Obama was naming cabinet members and seeking to set policy priorities. It was interesting to note how the Republicans were blocking his efforts, despite attempts and calls for partisanship. While there, there was much hulla ba loo made over Tom Daschle, who was set to over see the health care imitative, for not paying all his taxes. He subsequently stepped down from his nomination, and Obama apologized for nominating someone who was not of highest integrity and standards. To me this was just stupid. Tom Daschle is the right guy to overhaul the US healthcare system, it has been his focus and priority- he is the expert in the system. The unpaid taxes were just that he had borrowed a friend's car/ limo/ shuttle car while in DC many times, and he failed to report the use of the car as income and pay taxes on it. I think that speaks more to the complexity and stupidity of the American tax code than of Tom Daschle's lack of integrity. Hopefully his stepping down will not doom the efforts to improve American health care.

Overall, the sense I got about the Obama adminsitration was a bit 'back to reality' that politics as usual will resume, but that the aim and goals will be more aligned with what Americans want to see happen. There is a still a relief and ease that comes from knowing the priorties are less about torture/ authoritarian war monging that came from the Cheney set, and more focused on overall integrity/ domestic crisis solving from the Obama crew. The news the Gitmo will be closed came as a very welcome relief....

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