Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Props for the Birthday Boy.

A hundred plus hunger strikers up in peaceful arms demonstrating about the lack of security for civilian Iraqis and the founder of Bread for Peace standing a few meters away in a light straw hat explaining the work of his organization to passers by and petitioning for support.

The weather is lovely. Warm and slightly cloudy - a nice break from the heat and humidity that characterizes Washington in the summer, a season lasting pretty much from April to November in this city, at least by Danish standards.

The location is Lafayette Park, the park overlooking the White House, and I have merrily positioned myself on a bench with an old classic.

The book is Invisible Man, the 1952 novel by Ralph Ellison, dealing with a young black man from the Jim Crow south and his journey to Harlem, New York, where he (as far as I've come) is rising to oratory prominence and popularity in the a movement for the socially opressed.

It's hard not to draw the obvious longer line to the current inhabitor of the shining white pompous building in front of me and ponder the significance of his presence there. Not just the racial bounderies that broke down but the academic revolution it denoted, in which it is suddenly cool again to be smart and led by sense.

We were all so godly excited on the night of November 4, in this city that went 93% for Obama. On that night, when after a two year long parade of one bad succesor solution after the other, we finally knew that we would be breathing more easily in the years to come. Not because the new boss would be a bandaid for the rough patch we're in but because his being there meant that the Western world would finally be led by logic, clought and thoughtfulness.

I am still excited for the new guy.

I am aware that his job is tough, that the road is long and bumpy toward healthcare reform that's worth anything and that the situation is that we're basically screwed in every way regardless of the awesomeness of the new President.

But he's doing the best he can, with abilities that far surpasses the past eight years and has managed to inspire people who were done with politicians.

Yup, I am still excited. Though - I don't pride myself on accidentally thinking as I walked past, "I wonder what time he or the girls walk Bo."

That's where the enthusiasm americornifies. Right there...

Monday, May 18, 2009

On District Love. 90 minutes in Dupont.

"If everybody could just put their egos down and sit down on a bench and just enjoy the day..."

An absolutely glorious day, stopping after work at the Dupont Circle fountain, enjoying the beautiful day, the singer/songwriter, and the Times' Week in Review section. 

Michelle, my new Greek-American acquaintance, who just sat down next to me an hour ago and complimented my comfortable looking 3 dollar flip flops, just reminded me of that free stuff that life is all about. 

The importance of putting away our egos, talk to random homeless people playing chess as she likes to do, and sit back on a sunny afternoon and take in the wonder of warm spring day in one of the most diverse cities known to me.

An African man with dyed blond hair in dreads just tromped by shirtless in torn shorts holding a huge stick in his hand - walking in front of a suit carrying a trolley. Both looked equally at home there, walking across the fountain square.

I often wonder if you counted all the different nationalities - oh well, my my, case in point:

"Are you from Denmark?"

Asks guy standing in front of me while I'm typing. I'm very bad at remembering faces, or rather, I'm very bad at remembering people I meet while drunk, but luckily other people outdo me in that area and now I'm down two new acquaintances this afternoon... 

I know that chances are that I'll never see any of them again, just as I know that this city is also corrupt and infested with segregation and crime and the biggest of egos. But how I do love it and all the things it is also. Home to world citizens of every sort, the smartest of the smart and the most driven and adventurous and self-sacrificing, inspiring and fascinating people - sometimes in the shape of your cab driver and sometimes in the shape of your professor.

How can you not love all of these smiling people who sit down with you and talk peace and love and politics? And tell you where to go for the best Greek. And educate you on the workings of life on welfare and self help groups. And the ability to sit down and enjoy the moment - reminding me of a cab driver I rode with a couple of months back who told me to carpe momenti, cause we don't always have the whole day. 

How true in this fast paced and intensely random city. God, how my corny heart loves it.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Rant on the Relevance of the Good Ole Dream

"that American dream of a better, richer and happier life for all of our citizens of every rank"
James Trustow Adams, The American Epic, 1931.

In this era of change (when has any era in history not been characterized by change?) when Americans are increasingly occupied with pondering not only the future of their nation and its standing in the world, but the very essence of what it means to be American, there is a lot of talk about how the Great Recession is creating a need to reevaluate the American Dream. 

When hearing this I tend to go on an inner rampage about how I could not disagree more - I feel like concepts such as the American Dream are being looked at through the reality of prerecession and an abundance that we are moving away from. I have trouble, and forgive a foreigner for venturing to know better, making sense of this questioning of this great descriptor of what America has been and is about

The argument seems to be that, because we are experiencing an economic crisis of still unknown proportions and can no longer afford the same luxuries as we used to, the American Dream of a "better, richer and happier life for all of our citizens" is passe. As if because the nation has, for now, seized to become wealthier, the relevance of pursuing the dream is lost - what?!

I realize that I am living in a capitalist society and that is why, to me,  the American Dream never had much to do with wealth for all and issues of equality. Not so much as it is a description of the American boldness to dream as well as doing, and most of all the determination of the American worker to work hard to achieve that dream and the will of fellow Americans to help those who work to help themselves. 

But there is a reason why they call it a dream. 

America is not known, at least where I come from, for being a country of equality of opportunity - remember the longevity of slavery, Jim Crow, and the endurance of racism in many places still? Which brings me closer to my point. The reason it is called a dream and not the American Reality is that is only becomes that if the person works hard for it. See where I'm going? (...) It takes hard work because we may all be born with inalienable rights, but also, as far as Americans are concerned, into a proud, if recently perhaps lesser so, capitalist society that eschews the idea of moving towards anything remotely socialist due to their belief that you need incentives to make your own luck. 

Well - that is one thing that we are being given in this recession - something more to strive for that we are not just being handed either by birth through luck of being born into this abundant age or handed through a credit card that allows us to spend before working beforehand. The period in which we are entering is by far the one where the idea of the American Dream is at its most relevant. 

Old Lincoln who grew up in log cabin, the poor kid from Queens who makes it to the CEO chair, and this multinational kid, raised in Kansas and Hawaii to a white single mother whom I hear made it big - those are the stories at the heart of the American Dream, not the notion that simply by being born in America the American Dream shall be bestowed upon you automatically.

What is pretty characteristic here and perhaps unique is the wonderful will of Americans to help those who are willing to help themselves. And that is what makes the American Dream achievable. Everybody, fortunately, cannot be a president (cough! Palin! cough!) but because of the American boldness to dream and the national consensus to help people achieve it, they can make it further from less than perhaps in any other country. 

That is social mobility though, not equality, and it is something to strive for in a time when we haven't had incentive to strive very far in a long time.

Americans, however, do like to pride themselves on the notion that everybody can become a president, pointing now to the election of Barack Obama as newly evidenced proof of that idea. But a bold and probably unique approach to social mobility is nowhere the same. Obama is the embodiment of the American Dream and acknowledges this in his statement that only in this country would his story be possible. But the idea that that dream stands for an America of equality is one that I and I would think the President too would beg to differ on. 

America's new president will have experienced that lack of equality himself just by being half black, and I see it everyday in the still somewhat segregated city that is my otherwise beloved Washington, D.C., where the lowest payed jobs are usually filled by black and Hispanic people and where a peak into the floors of Congress will make you rethink the idea that everybody can become President. I would argue that there are very few financially underprivileged people in the House and Senate buildings even though those entities are made up to comprise representatives of the people. 

So I was sort of surprised to find out last week that the coinage of the term, the American Dream, stemmed from a 1931 book, The American Epic, by historian James Trustow Adams, in which a large part of this dream is described as precisely that of equality: Foreign friends of Adams are being quoted for their statements of amazement of the way in which "everyone of every sort looks you straight in the eye, without a thought of inequality". 

Without question I would concur that Americans in general are a lot more chitty chatty and that it is easier to get into random conversations with random people here, and yes, from all representations of society than it is where I come from. But does that really constitute equality? To some extent perhaps, but I have a feeling that a lot of bad off Americans would argue that in terms of equality America has a long way to go. The Declaration may have stated as early as 1776 the self evident truth that all men are created equal, but that required of course that you were not born black, or worse even, a woman. 

But that brings me finally to the point (...) 

Though everybody can dream, and perhaps with enough determination to create one's own luck, make that dream reality, America is not about equality of outcome as Adams' definition seems to point to. The dream is about equality of opportunity and about being the smith of your own happiness as we would say in old Denmark. It is not about everybody ending up with everything they want. Making it is not always easy and that is why it remains a dream. If everyone got what they wanted there would not be enough for the extremes of the Donald Trump version of the dream and his is very much an embodiment of the term as well. 

If everyone were equal, that, my comrades, would be socialism, and nobody would want that (!). But the American Dream, as I see it, has rarely been of more relevance to us than it is now. In this time when so many are losing their jobs and investments, the mentality of making your own luck when what you had is lost or looking to leave, is now more relevant than ever. 

And for a country that just elected the ultimate agent of hope, I have pretty good hopes for the survival of the American Dream. Even if recession would change its spelling to begin with the tabooish letter d, I do recall a certain people who emerged stronger than ever out of the last one.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Americornization Coined on UrbanDictionary.com

The pride was deeply felt when an email arrived in my inbox the other day confirming the acceptance of the word, "americornization", into UrbanDictionary.com.

Finally, foreigners living in the US will now have a word with which to describe the change happening within them and more importantly, will have proof with which to show their friends and family that this is a completely - normal? - thing.

Whatever. It's official now.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Recession, the Theme Party.

"It's no fun being in a recession when it weakens the quality of my favorite local consignment shop."

Words of ridulousness you randomly pick up inside your own head when overhearing the staff in the shop complain about the decline in customers and donaters since the recession.

I had noticed it already. On the shelves, which were less filled and had more familiar things then I am used to and like to see in the one place I've happily allowed myself to go on shopping sprees, and whose stuff constitutes about a fifth of my closet.

While woving to remain positive amid all the pessimism, I've been trying to think of this recession as a theme party, making the best of it by embracing second hand clothes, cheap beer, and microwave dinners. Being from Copenhagen, luckily I already find two out of three intensely trendy, while the latter serves to constitute the theme.

I can't help but feel that there's something strangely appealing about a laid back, trucker, My-Name-Is-Earl kinda lifestyle. I see myself in a dirty wife beater, cursing and laughing at dirty jokes with my equally financially strained friends, enjoying the free things in life, such as my ability to open a beer with any imaginary object available, which I am confident that I would instantly develop the second I moved into my trailer.

But then s*** like this happens. My favorite thrift store - the place where I would shop all my fabulous trashy clothes, for no more than a couple of bucks a wifebeater - is having trouble staying in business!

Ok. So I haven't - knock on wood - been hit directly hit by the recession yet. The more or less fabulous trucker life would so far be a choice and not a necessity as is sadly becoming the case for a lot of people right now.

With fear of unfairly downsizing certain people's legitimate financial woes, I think a lot of us need to remember how intensely good we've been having it for a very long time.

Ask your grand parents or even your parents about their standard of living when they were your age and whether they were able to pay a rent like yours, eat out as frequently and travel as much and I know a lot of them will be able to provide us with a reality check.

I don't know your situation or that of your grand parents at your age but I do know a lot of students, young professionals, and even older ones who bemoan their financial situation, while really living a life, which, compared to people of truly scarce ressources, is pretty damn good.

Many of my 'poor' friends have flat screen TVs, decent and centrally located apartments and go out all the time. I, myself, can claim to be no exception, and often hear myself lament that I can't afford my lifestyle without actually having to make sacrifices here and there.

But my generation is not used to having to make these sacrifices. I spoke to a friend the other day who blatantly said that even though she knew that she couldn't afford certain things, she still felt like she should have them, and if she wanted them enough, she would buy them, even if not economically responsible.

We aren't used to having to save our money or having to go without and I wonder how we will deal with the need for a change of that mentality.

I cannot help but think that it might be good for a lot of us to learn to take less things for granted and be more appreciative of the many things we have. For some of us, who have found ourselves gripped by fear of the big, bad, Recession, it would be healthy to take this opportunity to redefine a couple of values. Oh, and just to top off the preaching; give a little thought to the starving kids in hunger struck countries and consider whether our financial pain tolerance could be a little higher.

Finally and much more importantly, we should all take the time to finally acquire that free and intensely impressive skill of opening a beer bottle with a lighter, a salt shaker, a napkin, a bird...

On Facebook.

I heart Facebook.

Case in point:

Sunny Sunday, strolling around at Eastern Market and bump into this girl I know but have never met before in real life.

She and I have been Facebook friends since last Summer when I was preparing to go to D.C. for round two and was searching Facebook for others going there for internships, anticipating how weird it was going to be, coming back to a place so familiar without all the familiar faces of my fellow students long gone to their home countries.

"This might come off weird, but don't I know you??"

Forty minutes and an accompanied flea market trip later I once again find myself in enthusiastic awe of the wonder of Facebook.

This is not the first time my social circle has been expanded by this magnificent invention. I have searched for housing, gotten to know prospective roommates, bonded with coworkers, arranged parties as well as reunions all over Europe and the U.S., all thanks to a random thought in Mark Zuckerberg's head.

So besides enabling me to quote texts from the bumber sticker application and a better grasp of geography, courtesy of the World Challenge application, Facebook has made a dramatic contribution to my social life and I will continue my unfunded (Mark, come on!!) lobbying for it.

My most recent convert was my roommate who finally signed up after five beers on Saturday night, astounded and enthralled the next morning, waking up to ten messages from long lost people now reacquainted.

There's a golden middle way to every thing, and Facebook of course is no exception. It's a problem when you can't get embarrasingly drunk on the town one night without having to think hard the next morning over whether or not anybody took horrible pictures, which will end up available for viewing by not just friends and family, but as Facebook expands, also coworkers and bosses.

Which brings me to the next issue, because how do you say no to befriending your work or family members on Facebook?

"Sorry Boss/Dad/person I met at a panel debate - I just don't feel comfortable letting you see the otherwise hilarious pictures from last Halloween when I was dressed as a dirty cop or the pictures from the time when my friends had me arrested for my birthday," just doesn't have the best ring to it. Neither does a simple click on the "ignore" button for the pending friend request. "Your friend will not be notified" but they'll probably notice anyway, when they can't access your profile or aren't allowed access to anything but your profile picture and work info, don't you think?

Facebooking with coworkers and bosses can also serve as a great way to bond with each other, connecting on a more personal level, ultimately increasing the level of fun at work, but can in gross cases come back to haunt you, making you regret ever signing up in the first place, as I am sure Jon Favraeu can testify to after a picture of Obama's 27-year-old speech writer grabbing a cardboard Hillary Clinton at a party made its way to Facebook, causing quite the outcry, though quickly removed from the site.

As with everything online Facebook should be used with caution. But use it we should, for all the good it can bring.

You can send a horrible email to the worst possible recipients in five seconds, you can have your identity stolen, and you can loose your job via an inappropriate picture someone put on Facebook.

You can also position yourself in front of the Capitol, screaming for the bringing back of typewriters, cash, and the abolition of camera phones, but we'd probably all be better off, learning to maneuvre in the electronic age, making all these crazy gadgets work for us and not against us.

I'll end the rant here. Gotta message my friend back about an upcoming reunion in D.C. brought on by the glorious wonder of Facebook.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


"Your uuhm, tolerance for cornyness has been considerably raised..."

Quote from my best friend, the truthsayer, as few days into visiting me in my chosen city of residence, Washington, D.C.

I've been here on and off since 2007 and am here now more or less permanently for a job in media production. She, the truthsayer, hadn't experienced me in the city before and was struck by the degree to which I had americanized; getting goose bumps when hearing Obama speak of the whispers of the dead soldiers in Arlington, humming the Yes We Can song more often and with more of a passion than I like to admit and a penchant for deep conversations about life and love with random people on the metro.

There's nothing wrong with this development of course, as long as I don't end up with a fondness for questionable delicacies such as baconnaise, but it does strike my uncorny friends at home.

Being from cold Northern Europe, I brought with me an inherited lack of ability to strike up deep conversations with random strangers and a general mistrust for people smiling at me ín the street for no apparent reason ("you want money, or something, buddy?").

Scandinavians are known for being a very private people and not used to American talkativeness. Someone once said that Americans will open up their front door very fast but not necessarily to the other rooms in the house, whereas when a Dane finally lets you in, you're in all the way.

Hah, case in point, the random stranger who sat next to me at my local brunch spot just told me to have a good one...

I'm all about this American talkativity, smileability, and confidence in own relevance.

As a consequence of this I decided to launch this blog on my meetings with American culture, politics, and randomness. I wonder if having this outlet for my intensely interesting thoughts will render me less interesting to the people in my physical life or if they will be given a deserved break from my rantings.

Whatever this will turn out to be, here it is, the blog you didn't know you were waiting for: