Posts Tagged With: Paris

A United States President The World (Still) Likes

 

Then President of the United States of America...

Then President of the United States of America, George W. Bush invited then President-Elect Barack Obama and former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter for a Meeting and Lunch at The White House. Photo taken Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009 in the Oval Office at The White House. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 
The United States of America has been a country for 236 years. For one reason or another, in all those years, no American president has enjoyed the level of adoration across the world as Barack Obama. If today Obama were running for President of the World – instead of for President of the United States – he would win handily. The world – not all, but certainly a great chunk of it – loves Barack Obama. And unlike some of his fellow Americans who from Day One have vowed and worked to defeat him and block his proposals in a stated effort to doom his presidency, his support outside the United States remains high.
I was reminded of this during a recent conversation with two women from Paris, France. I met them on the beachwalk in the South Beach area of Miami Beach in the state of Florida, U.S.A.
As others I’ve met from other parts of the world, they told me that when Obama won the U.S. presidential election almost four years ago, they – along with thousands of others in their city – jumped for joy as if they had just won the lottery.
Amelie, the one with the better command of English, said people in Paris took to the streets in spontaneous celebration. I heard similar stories from people from just about every continent. The reaction, many said, was partly a response to eight years of President George W. Bush, whom to this day is one of the most widely disliked U.S. presidents across the globe. But it was Obama himself – a man who impressed people from Europe to Africa to Asia to South America to places far aflung – who was the man of the moment, wowing the world.
When I hear people who are not Americans say that they celebrated Barack Obama’s election, especially people in rural areas and small villages with little to no access to television, it still surprises me. Non-U.S. citizens dancing, hugging and kissing over the election of a U.S. president? Seems a bit strange to me. After all, before Obama, when was the last time spontaneous partying broke out across the world in celebration of an elected American president? It’s simply never happened.
Amelie said she was “so happy” about Obama’s election that she and some friends ran out onto the street to join the party. Then she did what many seem to do today, now that Obama has been in office and is up for re-election. She asked the question they all ask with great concern:
“How is he doing?”
My answer? Not as good as four years ago, I’m afraid. In fact, we could end up with a new president, and his name is Mitt Romney.
Amelie did not like that answer. People around the world don’t like that answer. Decisions by the president of the United States has such a tremendous impact on the rest of the world that who sits in the Oval Office is seen as extremely important.
“Obama is the best!” Amelie said. “And he’s what is best for the world!”
Maybe so, Amelie. But Americans are fickle. While Obama may have done some things right – members of the Republican Party might suggest he’s done NOTHING right – the United States’ economy is still in the dumps. Millions of Americans are still unemployed and can’t find a job. And Obama gets blamed for that, even if he took office after the U.S. economy was in the tank.
Americans are prepared to give Obama the boot. Even some of his previous supporters have abandoned him. Some of those supporters maintain he caved too much to his Republican opponents, the same opposition that treated him as the enemy instead of the president.
Others say he didn’t deliver on promises. What ever, the world watches and waits. Among them Amelie.
“I hope Obama wins,” she said. “I think the other will be bad like Bush.”

 

 

 

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Buenos Aires: Why The Long Face?

The sun on Argentina's flag: Is that a smile?

When I saw Prague several years ago, instantly I knew I liked the city. There was no doubt. I can say the same about Rome, Cape Town and many other places in the world I have been fortunate enough to visit. After  more than a week in Buenos Aires, I’m still not sure what to make of South America’s second most populous city –  only Sao Paolo, Brazil, is larger. 

There’s much to like, even love about Buenos Aires, but cities are about the people in them as much as they are about what’s in them and what they offer. Paris is full of beautiful things but don’t visitors always say that sadly it’s also full of Parisians? The people of Paris get very low marks when it comes to friendliness and helpfulness to outsiders. It’s as if Parisians would rather see all these millions of tourists disappear. Never mind that these visitors from all over the world pump billions of dollars into the French economy and have made Paris the number one tourist destination for decades.

Parisians, rightly or wrongly, get a bad rap. Some of it may be deserved. I did not enjoy my first trip to Paris because of negative experiences with the Parisians I had turned to for help with directions. Most of them were shockingly rude. Amazingly, several of them made their living selling stuff to tourists. Could they even imagine what just a weeklong world boycott of Paris would do to their bottom line?

Urban Gaucho: in the Recoleta neighborhood

And yet, on my last trip to Paris some three years later, just about every Parisian I met couldn’t have been nicer and extremely helpful. I kept asking myself what had changed. Had there been some tourist board campaign to tell Parisians to straighten up and fly right? Had Parisians themselves seen the light? Had they decided to turn a new leaf after much international bashing?

Suddenly Paris was filled not only with nice things but nice people and that made for a nicer experience. This is the rub I’m having with Buenos Aires. I like the city. I’m not too sure about the people.

It’s not that the people of Buenos Aires are rude or unhelpful. Stop anyone on the street and they will help get you on your way. They will even offer a smile afterward, or a no-need-to-thank-me-it’s-my-pleasure. They definitely show themselves to be friendly. My problem with the people of Buenos Aires is how cold and unfriendly they appear en mass. Nobody smiles. Everyone seems to look at each other with suspicion. They don’t seem happy. Ride the buses or the trains and the only long face you don’t see is that of a child at play. Of course, go to a bar or a disco and there are plenty of jubilant people there, mostly under the influence of beer. But I’m not talking about the people celebrating something in the Palermo party district or alcohol-induced giddiness. I’m talking about the regular Joe going about his day. I understand that going to work for some may not be reason enough to smile or even appear to be happy to be alive, but I can’t help but to think “why all the sad faces?”

Then I wonder is it something in this city’s DNA or the country’s troubled political history? The years of ruthless military dictatorships? The scars of the economic collapse and deadly protests a decade ago? Are these otherwise nice folks just simply physically and emotionally exhausted?

Okay, I know, I know. Buenos Aires is a big city – a huge one – and people in big cities with big problems need a reason to smile. Living in a city is challenging. Just getting around on overcrowded trains and buses in the summer heat is enough to make a person want to scream.  Yet, I’ve been to dozens of cities, some as large or larger than Buenos Aires, and the people didn’t  look like downtrodden huddled masses yearning to breathe free. They were light, talkative, shared a smile upon eye contact.

In some way, I understand that in a city – one that has its share of petty street crime – you want to wear your don’t-mess-with-me, or leave-me-alone face. Coming from a city like New York, I completely understand. But at the end of the day New Yorkers are at least entertaining and laugh at themselves. Sooner or later, something or someone around you will give you good reason to smile, even laugh.

Now, as I said before, the people of Buenos Aires aren’t necessarily unfriendly. They just seem that way until you engage them in conversation. Then, you sort of like them.

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Santiago, Chile: Ignore The Naysayers

The Titanium: The tallest building in Santiago, Chile, currently under construction. When completed, it will be more than 60 floors of office and retail space.

I thought I was going to the worst city on Earth. To hear Chileans describe Santiago – as dirty, polluted, ugly, traffic-clogged and a lot of other negatives – is to imagine urban hell. Most of them said the city was not worth more than a couple of days. Some struggled to come up with things to do and places to visit in the city other than the Cathedral. And yet, I am loving Santiago.

I think it’s clearly an anti big city thing. People don’t like big cities. At least the people who don’t live in them. Big cities generally have big problems, such as traffic congestion and public transportation choked with people. Some people see city living as Hell on Earth. They prefer smaller towns with lots of green spaces and such. So a place like Santiago, to most Chileans who live in ideal outlying provinces, urban living is the worst thing imaginable.

When I was in Salta in northern Argentina, I had nothing but negatives about Buenos Aires – from Argentinians themselves. They basically described their country’s famed city in much the same way as Chileans described Santiago. I am glad I did not listen. I was determined to visit Santiago. And I am glad I did. It’s a vibrant place with lots going for it. Sure, it’s not Paris or Rome, but the city has great neighborhoods in which to hang out, sit and have a good breakfast or enjoy lunch. Based on what I had heard about Santiago, I had planned to stay only two days.  I’ve extended my stay by two days.

Of course I wasn’t about to have Buenos Aires-bashing Argentinians keep me from visiting the city. I have long wanted to visit Buenos Aires. And I will stay as long as planned, perhaps longer. I guess I am a city person at heart. I love cities. And sure, I like spending time in the great outdoors, in small towns, but I don’t mind urban living and all the insanity that comes along with it.

I grew up hearing all the negatives from Americans about New York, the largest city in the United States. People in other parts of the United States love to hate New York. Even some who have never been there. They’re just not city folks.

So I say to you, dear reader, listen to the criticisms, but take them with a grain of salt and go see for yourself.

 

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