IMPRESSIONS OF AMERICA- “THE DANGER OF A SINGLE-STORY NARRATIVE”

Filip Carnogursky - Brazil


September 1, 2017

Before arriving in Brazil, all participants of Global Citizen Year meet at Stanford University in sunny California, to connect, get inspired by exceptional leaders and to share their worries and excitement.

Since I was a small kid, I greatly adored the US. I remember as I watched High School Musical at home, together with my siblings, and desired to attend a school in the US, with all its fancy classrooms, happy kids and beautiful facilities. I remember as we watched Behind the Fence and desired to have the huge fridge full of all different kinds of fruits, vegetables or milk product. I remember as we watched Step by Step each day after school and desired to go to Disneyland. At that time, I’d probably say to Donald Trump that there is no need to make America great again because it is the greatest already!

From this naïve narrative, I came to UWC in Germany. Here, people had a rather very negative stance against the US, often based on their own experiences and real stories that they witnessed. Suddenly, I found myself as being a victim of another biased story.

And now, I finally have the opportunity to experience this vast and diverse country by myself. Fulfilled with excitement and a slightly different kind of wishes than the ones from my childhood, I am finally in the dreamed country of United States of America.  I think that the narratives of the United States vary so much due to the diversity and disparity in almost everything. It is a country with the biggest GDP and the biggest weapon export; a country with the best universities in the world and at the same time a country with the highest rate of incarceration.

Before I departed from Slovakia, I asked my Fellow participant of GCY, if I could stay at her place nearby San Francisco. She didn’t know me at all, and yet she agreed to host me, without her being at home. I only met her mum two times, while staying at her place for a full 24 hours. I was impressed by the trust that was put into me.

I arrived in Oakland, the neighbouring city of San Francisco. When the staff of the airport observed a lost confused ginger tourist, e.g. – me,  they approached me by themselves and asked me if I need anything, without me ever calling them.

Before my departure from Slovakia, I stupidly put all my drugstore things inside my backpack. All of it was obviously taken by the airport security guys. The pain of the unopened shampoos and gels was real. Therefore, I needed to buy new ones. I went for shopping the first day in San Francisco. I enjoyed walking through the neighbourhood, just the fact that I had to walk for 20 minutes to get to the nearest grocery shop was a bit inconvenient. As the host told me: “We Americans don’t walk, we drive our cars to get everywhere” – I noticed that myself. The streets of a usual neighbourhood of Palo Alto were as wide as highways in Europe. I enjoyed walking on them while scrutinizing every detail of the environment around me, however, it somehow didn’t feel right. Almost everything is excessively and unnecessarily big here. Cars and roads alike.

When I got to the shop, I was surprised by how expensive everything was. I put a deodorant and a hair wax into my shopping basket and went to pay. I was standing in the queue, greeted the saleswoman and were preparing to pay, when, suddenly my visa card stopped working. After a few times of repeating the payment procedure, the woman beside me said merrily: “I’ll pay for it”. I, confused, thinking that she meant her grocery, replied: “Sure, go for it!”. Then I got it. She just offered to pay 12 dollars for my shopping. Just like that. And moreover, she gave me her address to come to visit her at any time if I needed anything. No worries, she wasn’t hitting on me, I managed to figure out that she is happily married and has two sons. This little experience made my day beautiful. On the way back, three older ladies, complete strangers, greeted me with a cheerful smile on their face.

This was just the first day in the United States and made me realized how hard it is to judge something, without experiencing it. It made me realized how hard it is to form an opinion, without knowing. It made me look forward to Brazil, to make my own narrative of the country.

I am not saying that America is perfect as is portrayed in most of the movies and songs from there, but neither it is as bad as other people say. I believe that any generalized statement about a country creates unnecessary assumptions and generalizations that could be easily developed into prejudices. One shouldn’t judge but rather try it out, or get to know it better. If possible.

Filip Carnogursky