During one of my very fun nights out on the town in Berlin my two new friends offerred to show me their favorite night spots. And as we walked town the now typical hipster street, we ran into a big crowd of people gathered around one guy who was struggling to be heard, telling some story like a tour guide.
“Oh this is so funny. Have you ever heard about these pub crawl just for Americans?”. my friend asked. Of course I had not. So she went on “Yeah they have this guide who brings alcohol in this backpack dispenser and everyone gets little shot glasses and it advertized for Americans to come get really drunk and maybe get laid.”
As I listened to these words I was already noticing all these details, looking at the obscenely loud crowd of college age kids in front of me. We walked around them like you walk by the scene of an accident. We joked about maybe trying to fit in and observe them up close. The joke didn’t last long and we got out of there in a hurry.
Hours later we hopped into a tram to get to the next destination. It was a typical Berlin tram on a wednesday night, not too full, lots of people sitting and the odd conversation here and there. Suddenly, as the next stop approached, there came this overwhelming sound of people. As if a stadium had let out after a championship game, there was a crowd outside and it was chanting and singing and yelling. And as the doors opened, they packed into the tram with a resounding roar, banging on the walls and stumbling over people in their seats.
YOu could hear the accents, you could hear their words, it was very painfully obvious that the American pub crawl crowd had invaded the tram. When they weren’t shouting conversation to their friends, they were busy leaning over passengers.. repeatedly apologizing for being drunk and for George Bush. I’ll never forget the look in the middle aged German couples faces, the look of disgust and pity, as college kid after college kid apologized for George Bush or even.. being American.
After two never ending stops, they piled out. The silence was deafening. Those who remained on the tram, I’m not exaggerating, gave a collective sigh and everyone looked at each other with this knowing look. To me it said “my god that was horrible.”
These events replayed in my head all evening. The college kids, the pubcrawl, the local people on the tram, the unbelievably loud communication, and of course.. the repeated apologies for what their country has done.
Say what you want about George Bush or even Congress, but these encounters remind me that there is something deeper going on. It is hard to break down what it is all about, but I definitely look to how people are being educated in the US, especially in college. To me college is the new high school, except that now you pay big money for you kids to basically attend a glorified high school with fewer rules.
Then you come back to the whole American image abroad thing. It is in shambles. And It won’t be cured by this congress or a new president. It will take a revolution in American culture that looks highly unlikely any time soon.