As an American in Europe, I have been subject to countless inquiries and discussions about the recent election, both leading up to it and now that the results are in. The majority of foreign people I meet bring up the issue of the US presidency in one way or another, and usually investigate my views before deciding whether I’m passable for further conversation and association. When I walked into my Dutch class after the election, my teacher said, “So, Shannon, are you happy?” The room was silent. I said, “I am so happy,” and everyone chuckled approvingly, folded their arms and leaned back in their chairs.
I most certainly did not talk about politics this much while I was in the States. This is probably a combined result of the desire of people here to ask my opinion specifically as I am often the only American present, the ubiquitous hate for Bush in Europe, and their love for Obama. Whatever the cause, though, Europeans (and non-Americans in general, for that matter) seem just as invested as I am in the outcome of the election – the only difference being they didn’t put an absentee ballot in the mail.
For this reason, when my friend Charlotte from Paris asked me if I was disappointed that I couldn’t be in the States during the election, I told her no, that in a way it’s more exciting to watch it all happening from across the ocean. The results were announced somewhere around 5:00 am in Amsterdam, and not wanting to merely be lying in bed when the historical moment arrived, I went to an all-night election party. The event (one of many in the city) was at the Hilton and saw around 700 attendees throughout the night. There was American food – hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, ribs, and some very dry corn on the cob. For snacks they had pizza, popcorn, tortilla chips and french fries. I ate as much as I could to feel better about the 20 euro entry price.
I went to the party with my Dutch friend Eva and we chatted with a rather random selection of other Obama fans: a few other Dutch people, a German, another American, a guy from Suriname, and a few excitable Nigerians. As the night wore on, we watched Obama’s promising lead with each CNN update in between listening to the scheduled panel discussions. There was also a comedy performance by two American guys and some live music by a woman whom you might see in a cheap club in a sketchy Vegas hotel. I felt jittery and wide awake until my nerves settled, the wine started getting to me, and the clock neared 5:00.
The room was still full of eager onlookers, and though I did my best to keep my head from nodding and my eyelids from weighing down, the “experts” on CNN just weren’t holding my interest. But suddenly the numbers spoke and the official announcement flashed on the big screen – and I joined everyone around me in an eruption of cheers and applause. Eva and I hugged as though we hadn’t just met 2 weeks before, but rather had been waiting for years to share this with each other. The Nigerian men we’d been talking to started bringing us drinks, and we all watched with tears in our eyes as Obama accepted his victory and stood with his lovely famiy on the verge of history. It was a powerful moment – and of course the cinematic music added to the emotion.
After the American buffet breakfast, I bid farewell to my foreign friends, walked out to the dark street and rode my bike off in the thin rain. I didn’t make it home until 7:00 on Wednesday morning and had to get the boys out of bed at 7:30. For a minute I regretted going or at least staying so late, but I quickly remembered that I can sleep any night, but this – likely one of the most important historical moments that will occur in my lifetime – this was worth staying up for.
I lay on the floor of the play room that morning dozing as the kids played and jumped on top of me with squeals of delight. They were as excited about the election as the rest of us. I have seen first-hand the extent to which the rest of the Western world cares about US politics; it often seems as though they take personal offense to much of what goes wrong – on the way to the boys’ daycare, “Fuck Bush” is spray-painted on one of the building fronts. Every time I see it I wonder what kind of person who vandalizes property in Amsterdam felt so personally offended by Bush that they were compelled to deface these bricks? How did it come to this?
I am happy for the opportunity to view my home from an outsider’s perspective, and even happier to see that perspective begin to change. There is little to do now but wait and see if Obama pulls through – but I can confidently say that in this time of failed policies, closed minds and youthful apathy I am more proud than I may ever be to say that I voted.
And it only cost me a few minutes and one postage stamp – a 92 euro cent stamp with a picture of the earth in the shape of heart.