Monday, April 7, 2008

I'm Sorry That Your Country Is Falling Apart, But That's Really No Reason to Shout

So I was getting on the bus this morning to go to work, and as I'm getting on, there's this young man at the back of the bus being very agitated and upset. While I'm looking for a seat, he shouts out, "Anyone who knows anything about the Argentine national crisis, raise your hands!" Nobody raises their hands, and so the guy turns to his buddy and says, "See! I told you so!" They then re-commence their heated and animated discussion in very loud Spanish, fulfilling every "passionate latino" stereotype there is.

I assumed that the guy was trying to make a point about either the general ignorance of Americans or the general cultural bias of the American media. Both of which are pretty valid points to make. But I was still a little offended by the fact that he chose to shame everyone else on the bus by using them as his example of either American ignorance or American cultural bias. Plus, I know a little bit about the Argentine national crisis. It's got something to do with soybean farmers, right? And, um, they're pissed at the super-hot lady president of Argentina, cause she thinks they're getting too much money and power and influence over the government? And so the whole nation's economy has stalled because the farmers have been on strike? So I would say that this counts as knowing something. But I was too busy looking for a seat and thinking about Nietzsche and about maybe buying a tuna fish sandwich after work to raise my hand.

So I was stewing on this for most of the rest of the bus ride to work. The guy was still going on in Spanish at the back of the bus. I wanted to show to him that I wasn't ignorant, but I felt that that would be a little gauche. I mean, I couldn't raise my hand now; the moment had passed. I would just be causing unnecessary chaos and confusion if I said, "Um, excuse me sir, I actually do something about the Argentine crisis.."

Then, I realized that the guy sitting across from me was from Zimbabwe, who, as I also knew, is currently going through something of a national crisis. he was quietly chatting to the Indian lady next to him about how we worried he was about his family, and about how the media is always making Mugabe out to be a monster, but he's not, etc. (He also kept giving me funny looks, as if to say, "Stop eavesdropping on my conversation!") But listening to this guy made me realize several things.

First, the bus that I was on was not exactly a representation of American culture. I was probably in the minority on the bus as being an American citizen. Also, most everyone on that bus was enrolled at the University of Chicago, and so were most likely grossly overeducated. So probably someone other than me knew about the current crisis in Argentina. So really, the lesson isn't that our culture is horridly unaware of current events. As long as we keep importing the best and the brightest from other nations, we should be fine. The lesson is that nobody - no matter your culture or race or gender or age or education - likes to be bothered by jerks on the bus. Most people will be more than willing to talk about the important issues with you in a civilized manner, but don't shout at them, or ask them to raise their hand to prove what they know.

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