Americans abroad ride feel good wave after Obama win

November 9th, 2008 - 9:48 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWarsaw, Nov 9 (DPA) For the first time in eight years, Magdalena Jensen feels proud to be American.Before Barack Obama won the US presidential election, the Polish-American was quick to play up her European heritage when she met Poles.

Associating herself with Poland “helped 100 percent” when making friends. But when Jensen introduced herself as American, she was constantly asked what she thought of President George W. Bush.

Now Jensen, a US journalist based in Warsaw, thinks Europeans will warm up to Americans and view them in a friendlier light.

“I now hope to have instead of Bush-bashing conversations, some actual intelligent conversations,” she said.

Obama’s victory, driven by US voters desperate for change after the Bush years, gave the rest of the world a chance to feel good about the United States again.

People across the globe sent US friends glowing congratulations. Others expressed surprise that the United States elected a black president.

Change, indeed. For most of the decade, Americans abroad were berated about “your president” and the war Bush started in Iraq. The United States’ image plunged to historic lows. Diehards refused to travel to the US, citing Bush’s policies.

Poland was a good example on a continent that once depended on US military might to defend it against the Soviets and lapped up American culture after World War II.

Poles idolised the US as the land of freedom when Lech Walesa’s Solidarity labour union, which helped bring down communism in the 1980s, printed a cowboy on its posters and made a hero of then president Ronald Reagan.

With Bush’s presidency, the Iraq war and the US-spawned global financial crisis, America lost much of its mystique. Americans abroad say they’ve felt the tension as Europeans grew unfriendly.

“I noticed a general trend that Europeans have chosen to keep a distance with Americans on a social level,” said Phil Goss, an American working for Polish television. “Maybe that trend will reverse now.”

Europeans’ widely-held belief that the US is a racist place was bolstered by last month’s arrest of two Tennessee neo-Nazis who allegedly plotted to assassinate Obama.

As the first black president-elect, Obama punched a hole in that notion on Tuesday.

“People had stereotypes like that about America, and it’s nice to have those stereotypes slightly altered,” Goss said.

Not only are the stereotypes changing, but the US is becoming a country Europeans can like again.

In Paris, student Sontia Nkenkeu-Kelk, 16, was all enthusiastic.

“Because of Obama’s success, I now want to specialise in American affairs,” she said.

Others were more wary. A Serbian intellectual recalled rejoicing at Bill Clinton’s election, only to see him push for NATO to bomb Belgrade in the 1999 war over Kosovo.

“If (Obama) introduces health insurance for everybody in the US, he will be one of the greatest presidents ever,” he said.

While the Democratic senator from Illinois is not without his critics, many agree his victory is a chance to rebuild America’s standing abroad.

“Obama’s election will give the US a new image in the world,” said Pap Ndiaye, a French historian specialising in black and US history. “It is a great stroke of communication.”

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