Uncomfortable Chit Chat in KL

Back in Phnom Penh, I'm still reveling in the diversity and aesthetic beauty of Kuala Lumpur. When I'm on my computer with my photos I'll share with you my tour of the city (it's great being nothing but a tourist in a foreign country), but for now I'll share with you my experience at Border's bookstore.

There I am by the magazine rack, trying to decide whether to buy a Times or a Newsweek when a Chinese Malay man cornered me into a discussion on American politics. He begins with the opener, "Do you feel safe in the economy." It was a total ambush. I was trapped.

These situations generally tend to make me uncomfortable. First of all, I'm horrible at small talk, especially when I'm in browsing mode. Just add in the extra challenge of accents and it throws me all off balance.

Secondly, I hate politics. I do my best to follow them, but easily get discouraged with all the name calling and finger pointing. Who really is an expert on this giant bubble that is the economy anyway? Eventually, I come to the conclusion that politicians will never make our world a better place, so the perfectionist in me hopelessly gives up on the arena altogether and takes frequent hiatuses from reading or listening about the world's many issues. The downside of all this is that I haven't accumulated the breadth of knowledge to carry on a decent conversation with a foreigner without portraying the U.S. as a world full of bumbling morons. (Or at least without fueling the notion.)

So here we are, this man and me, and he proceeds to tell me how much trouble my homeland is in.

"Obama won't fix things in one term," he says.

I nod in agreement.

"Bush was an idiot," he counters. "Why did he get elected to a second term anyway?"

I smile politely, but try to evade the question as I helped elect said idiot to office. I don't want to take the conversation there.

Then the man's wife joins us and together they ramble on to me about the pitfalls of my country. I dart my attention between one and the other as if watching a ping pong match, trying my best to give them my utmost attention as they talk over one another. I smile politely and nod. I throw in the occasional interjection, though nothing too unsettling. Just enough so they take note that I'm not mute. I hopelessly gaze in the direction of the door and the women's lifestyle magazines I wanted to flip through, but any chance at escape seemed futile.

"Why didn't you elect Gore? Gore's the best man."

Oh brother! Am I personally responsible for my nation's decisions. I was too young to vote for Gore anyway, but even if I could have - come on! Inventor of the Internet? Carbon stocks? Please.

Finally, I got my break. The couple shook my hand and as quickly as I was ambushed they left, though not without offering me career advice.

"Take any job. You can do anything. You can't be picky," the woman insisted.

She obviously does not know me very well.

Aside from the uncomfortableness of the situation (I should have claimed Canadian citizenship) I'm impressed with the level of interest in American politics in this far east country. Even the barista at Starbucks closely followed Obama's election and had heard of obscure states like Iowa.

On that note, I added a Time and a Marie Claire to my stack and headed on my way.


Unknown said...

I don't understand why other countries care about our happenings either. They must look up to us for a number of many reasons. I can only think that maybe they themselves dream of living here or have the power we do over many nations. Maybe them following our media is giving them that false sense of being here just like we in America play video games because we feel like we have entered into a world we can succeed at when we cant live up to our Americanized standards...

Rachael said...

I think it definitely has to do with the fact that the things that happen in the U.S. ultimately affect the happenings in other parts of the world, especially economically. I'm embarrassed to say, though, that I'm not as well versed in American politics as some of the Malays I met.

Anonymous said...

it's because theyre chinese. chinese seem to be obsessed with foreigners, especially americans. probably has something to do with their quest for world domination.