Friday, November 16, 2012

A Dark Place: Unplanned Pregnancy, Unexpected Danger

When I found out I was pregnant, I cried for what felt like weeks. My husband and I both wanted a baby so badly, but we didn't have enough money to afford it, and our future was so uncertain. My husband isn't an American citizen, and we were still waiting to find out what would happen with his permanent residence application. I had a job, but he had not been granted a work authorization permit yet, and we didn't know if he would be, or when. I had applied for food stamps previously, but because my husband was not a citizen, he was not counted as a member of my family, and my $30 over the limit salary was rejected as too much money to qualify. I didn't qualify for any of the aid programs available except MedicAid either, but health insurance doesn't put a roof over one's head.

At first my mom was supportive and told me that she might be able to help with childcare, and that money should not be the deciding factor in whether or not a couple keeps their baby. But the next time we spoke she had changed her mind, and offered no more advice except to talk about how expensive babies are, and to tell me that she had morning sickness during her entire pregnancy, as if that should somehow dissuade me from having my baby.

The prevailing attitude among pro-lifers seems to be that women who choose to get an abortion do so nonchalantly, preferring not to disrupt their lives of alleged wanton unprotected sex with multiple partners, alcohol and drugs. The day that I went to Planned Parenthood, where the staff treated me with such care and courtesy, I sat with three other women in the private room where you wait to be called to your ultrasound. There was not one smiling face, not one word spoken. We all sat, the television in the corner flashing images of carefree people who weren't struggling with the decision to keep their own child, all of us tense and quiet. We shot careful glances at each other, surely comparing ourselves, trying to gauge what "sort" of women we all were. We were none of us alike, and yet all of us had this silent thing in common. We weren't sure if we would keep our pregnancies.

The doctor and the sonographer were both very kind. By Texas law, they were required to turn the screen toward my face and play a heartbeat if there was one. But they told me I could look away, and that if I didn't want to hear the heartbeat, I wouldn't have to, they would let me wear headphones that played ocean sounds while they met their legal obligations. That law is so ridiculous, the staff and I agreed. Its makers seem to think that I didn't have any emotional connection to my pregnancy whatsoever, that it would take seeing a blob on a screen for me to realize the magnitude of what was going on inside my body. Cold, callous idiots.

It turned out that there was no heartbeat yet, no fetal column, just a sac implanted in the wrong place. I had a rare cervical ectopic pregnancy. I had to go to the emergency room, and I was checked into the hospital that same day. I stayed for a week, receiving multiple doses of methotrexate, a form of chemotherapy that dissolves the tissue, which my body would then absorb. But because the cervix is so vascular, there is a risk of hemorrhaging, which could lead to an emergency hysterectomy or even death. It was a terrifying, harrowing experience. I thank all the powers that be, and modern medicine too, that I survived with my body intact. Others are not so lucky.

After the terror of that experience had begun to subside, my husband's sister in Iceland had her baby, a healthy, beautiful little boy. It was only after we talked to them on video chat and I saw her smiling face, and her husband's and mother's, that I was able to process the loss of my pregnancy, and allowed myself to cry and grieve it. You see, I had felt that I didn't deserve to feel sad over losing a pregnancy I almost terminated because I couldn't afford it financially.

I am a feminist, and I always have been. I have always been pro-choice. I have always wanted to be a mother. I have always felt that pregnancy and childbirth are beautiful, miraculous things, and I still do. But when I was pregnant, and it was unexpected, and I went to too many people for advice and heard too many conflicting opinions, and when my own parents offered no support, just told me to make my own decision and then barely spoke to me except in loud, overly casual and upbeat tones, not acknowledging the sorrow in my or my husband's eyes, making cruel jokes about my potentially becoming a welfare case... I felt dirty and ashamed. I suddenly understood all the horror stories I'd heard from other women, stories that I hadn't understood until now. How could someone feel dirty and ashamed of being pregnant? Sex is nothing to be ashamed of, and pregnancy certainly isn't. How is it possible to be married and employed and still not to be able to afford a baby? Aren't there programs for people like that? I found out all of these things are possible when it happened to me.

My own parents didn't comfort me after that initial conversation. My mother, a Scandinavian who was a single mother when I was born, then ended up marrying my father (a federal government employee) and being a stay-at-home mom for going on thirty years now, is against providing help for people who are in the situation I was. She was even against helping her own daughter. "Hey, you got MedicAid, didn't you?" Yes, and I will be eternally thankful for the MedicAid I received. We are still waiting to see what we will have to pay from the hospital stay, what will and won't be covered. But all the MedicAid in the world didn't change the fact that I wouldn't have had enough money to keep my own baby, had the pregnancy been viable.

My husband's sister and her fiance are both in school in Iceland. She gets a year of financial support from the government for maternity leave (my employer provided twelve weeks), and her husband gets ten months. When I tell my parents I think my husband and I may go back to Europe so that if we ever get pregnant again and everything is safe and healthy, we could actually manage to keep the baby. My mom says that since Obama was reelected we'll end up getting help here, since he believes in "entitlement". She says it as a barb, we have a challenging relationship. But I tell her that people who earn less than $65,000 per year love their kids just as much as anyone, and do deserve to be able to keep their children if they want to. She says that she never said that people who don't earn much don't love their children, but she never puts two and two together. She just doesn't want to pay more taxes, that's fine, that's her opinion and she has a right to it. But I get the distinct feeling that she is able to conveniently lump me, her own daughter, into a group of lazy ne'er-do-wells, who she must feel could earn enough to keep their kids if they really wanted to, or if they hadn't made whatever decisions they did in the past that got them to where they were. In other words, if they had done everything "right" the first time, they wouldn't be where they are now and would be fine. So it's their own fault and that's that.

My whole view of America and capitalism changed the day I saw those two lines on the pregnancy test. What should have been one of the happiest days of my life was terrifying and sorrowful. I shouldn't have had to picture my little baby's face and know that I would not be able to see it in real life, would never hold my already intensely loved child because I had no way to pay to keep it healthy, fed, housed, clothed, educated. In other countries, a full-time student counts as a full-time employed person who deserves help to be able to raise their baby in the first year and then return back to school to finish their degree. Here, we would never have been able to spend our baby's first year with it, because we both would have had to work full-time to keep our apartment and pay for childcare. You work your ass off to be able to pay someone else to raise your child. My husband would not have been able to go to college without sending us into a lifetime of crippling debt. I would have had twelve weeks with my baby and then had to hand it off to a day care center. Why do we have to choose between life and work?

My pregnancy wasn't a normal, healthy one. It was a dangerous one that would have killed me or rendered me infertile if it hadn't been for an appointment with Planned Parenthood that I made before my employer's health insurance went into effect. I am thankful every day to be alive and to one day be able to possibly get pregnant again, maybe next time it will be all right.

No one should ever be too rich for welfare but too poor to live a "normal" life. No one should have to be made to feel lazy, dirty, or ashamed for not being in the "perfect" situation to raise a family. No one should have their own parents call them welfare cases, or blame them somehow for the fact that their salary isn't what it would have been thirty years ago.

People who haven't been there don't understand. One of my friends was on drugs and homeless when she found out she was pregnant. She qualified for and receives government assistance, lives with her mom while she is finishing her degree. She is clean and sober and I couldn't be more proud of her. But she would not listen to me when I told her that she really does have more support than I did, in fact she said she was almost offended that I would even compare myself to her at all. She had a place to live once she found out she was pregnant, she had financial help from her mom and the government, and she had free childcare (the child's paternal grandparents) while she went to school. She started out homeless, destitute and addicted, and because of wonderful programs that she qualified for as a result, she got all the help she needed. I have an apartment, a job and a spouse, but I couldn't get the help I needed to make it work.

People make you feel like you have to justify the most painful decision you've ever had to make. They'll make you justify it through your wracking sobs and tell you you're wrong. They don't want to see you as pained or suffering in that moment, they want to see you as spoiled, lazy and selfish. The woman who can't keep her own baby feels more alone than anyone could imagine. A kind word goes further than anyone could imagine.

I am an educated, employed woman who was raised in the middle class. I could not afford to keep my pregnancy if it had not been a life-threatening one that needed to be terminated in order to allow me to live. The people I loved looked at me as lazy and selfish when I needed them the most. No one should have to go through that. We need to change our society from one of competition to one of cooperation and compassion, and we need to do it now.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Something that’s been on my mind a lot lately is how much more we, the members of humanity, have in common with each other than not. I’ve been seeing how on the most basic levels we all want the same things: We want our families to be together and to be well. We want enough clean and healthy food and water to eat and drink. We want clean, comfortable, and safe shelter for ourselves and our loved ones. We want to find a way to contribute to the world that fulfills us, and ways to express ourselves creatively. We want freedom from personal violation.

Finding a love that is pure and true in another person is something that many of us do during this lifetime. In fact, I believe that more of us do find true love than don’t, and that we all can if we love ourselves in a healthy way and clear our lives of blockages to love. Now that I have found the one person I love so much that I truly want to spend every single day of my life with him, the person I love for who he is, not for how he makes me feel about myself, I am simultaneously filled with fear, joy, and compassion.

I experience fear because now I truly have something to lose. Although I certainly do count my family (as in, my parents and siblings) as “something to lose,” and think about their well-being often, I now have a new dimension to this loving concern. This person is someone whose existence I feel is grafted to mine, as if we are attached to one another as equals on a spiritual and emotional level. This is the person with whom, bli ain hara, I would like to start a family of our own, a new generation of the family from whence I came.  When my thoughts are idle or getting too focused on things I “lack,” I remind myself to just say “thank you” for this person. And I do. Over and over again. I do not intend to ever stop.

I feel joy at having found this person who loves me without trying to control or change me, who accepts me for who I am and whom I accept just as completely. It’s funny that I use the word “completely,” because I do feel completed by this person. But I do not feel completed in the sense that I was a mere shell of a person before who needed another person to be whole. I mean that being with this person adds another dimension of wholeness to myself and my life. There’s a clicking sensation in my solar plexus, a feeling of two puzzle pieces made out of light and energy snapping together in that perfectly satisfying way. There is a third entity that we create by uniting our lives and that entity is home.

And finally, I feel compassion towards my fellow living beings on this earth in a brand new way. Up until this point in my life, I have viewed my experience and the experiences of others through the lens of daughter, sister, individual, girl, woman, artist, teacher, student, worker, creature. Now I have a new lens to add to my personal array: the lens that is myself as a part of a whole. I think of history and history in the making. I think of families separated by war, poverty, illness, strife, hardship, stress, physical transition. I work in a job that may not pay me the money that I need right now to support us both until he gets permission to work on one piece of Earth or another, but that allows me to meet hundreds of people per day. Stressed people, calm people, sad, angry, happy people. And their children, parents, babies. I smile at every child and baby. I allow myself to see myself in each person I meet. I force myself to do so when I’m not exactly inspired.

In this time of transition on our beautiful home planet, our only one, I think we all feel it and know there is change afoot. And on one level or another, we think about how we’re going to ride the proverbial wave, maybe we wonder whether we can even stay afloat. I say “thank you,” for the gift of this beautiful relationship with another person because it has given me a way to get over myself and to love the whole more than the portion of it. Because what I see is that really, with the exception of a terrified and drunken few (and even they, in their heart of hearts, I hope), we all have those same desires. We all want to be free from separation from our loved ones, and from their suffering which leads to our own. We do, in fact, want to be free from suffering in all its forms. We just want to be allowed to live our lives, and to be together here with the ones we love. The more freedom we have to do that, the more ease we have accessing food, medicine, shelter, education, creative expression, and the beauty and majesty of the intact natural world, the more freedom we will have to value the similarities between us. The more we will be able to give others the very room to breathe we may crave. The more love we’ll be able to have for the whole world, and not just our little yet precious families.

Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe we need to have that vision of the big picture, of the real possibility of the harmonious whole, in our minds and hearts in order to access the same in our little piece of it.  I am certain we are doing just that.  

Friday, February 24, 2012


We keep Sprinkles in the bathroom at night because he's too loud when he runs his nightly 8 miles on his neon green hamster wheel. His cage is basically a bright orange rectangle with bars and a lid, and there is also a smaller clear box attached to the main cage, which we call his "apartment." This is where he sleeps, stores his favorite seeds (which he transports from his food bowl in his cheek pouches) and, disgustingly, defecates. He literally shits where he eats. He occasionally dumps his turds on the cage floor just outside his "apartment" door. He also insists on pissing out of his cage through the bars, where it leaves a brownish puddle on the floor. Maybe he's trying to tell me that he has a kidney infection by showing me the unnatural color of his urine. But I'm not taking something that cost me less than eight bucks to any medical professional, thank you very much. I tried to create a pee shield once using a page from a magazine and some off-brand plastic wrap. He insolently changed pee corners. Bastard.

Today I walked into the bathroom and saw him where he usually is during the daytime, sleeping in his apartment. But I did a double take, because I thought I saw his pink nose hanging halfway out of the "door" of the apartment. Thinking the rodent dead, I leaned in for a closer look, calling his name. (I know he doesn't know his name, but if I don't address him as Sprinkles, then who else am I talking to all day when I'm home alone? Don't answer that.) What I found startled, fascinated, and revolted me, all at the same time. I wasn't looking at the hamster's nose, nor any other part of his head, but at his scrotum, which was nearly the same size as his entire skull, and a disturbingly bright shade of pink which bordered on red. I shrieked, and looked away, and laughed, and looked again, and said "ew" several times in a row, and then shouted at the unconscious creature how disgusting his balls are to behold, asked him why they look like that, laughed again, and looked away, and then looked back. He either didn't hear me or was ignoring me and hoping I'd go away and let him air out his sack in peace.

I don't know what it was that bothered me most. It wasn't just the sheer size of his flagrantly displayed "scrote," his tallywags, his bird's eggs, his cojones, his clangers, his clappers, his chestnuts, his mountain oysters, his niagara falls, his love apples, his jingleberries, his plums, his whirlygigs, but also their shocking crimson color against the backdrop of his black and white fur, and the fact that they was hanging completely away from the rest of his body, while his face was invisible, buried in the wood shavings and shredded newspaper and toilet paper bits he calls a bed. Anyway, it was weird. I thought about taking a picture but then I realized that I was starting to wander over the borders of what could be misconstrued as animal pornography, so I decided against it. Not after that seventh grade field trip to the zoo when I took a picture of a bongo peeing, which I thought was hilarious, but caused my parents to give me a strange look and tell me to go finish my homework.

I mean, come on.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Who Says You Need A Topic?

I haven't been blogging because I felt guilty about writing such negative posts, so I tried to think of something positive to say. Six weeks later I'm back to say, "screw it."

Once upon a time I moved to Iceland. I got: semi-screwed over by a university, two jobs that I hated, a hamster, engaged, and then decided that moving to Texas would be the best way to embark on this new chapter. If you're new here, this is typical of the kinds of life decisions I make.

Oddly enough, I'm still not at all scared of getting married. I moved overseas to live with this guy after having spent all of seven consecutive days dating him while physically in the same city, so the whole legally binding contract sealed with a kiss thing is the least stressful leap we've had to make during the course of our relationship.

But tonight, I finally talked to my guy about one thing that I really am scared of when it comes to marriage. I brought it up between episodes of various sitcoms we were watching illegally on my laptop, the picture of 21st century life-partnership bliss. I began timidly...

"Honey? There's one thing that I'm really scared of when it comes to living with you for the rest of my life." (Okay "timidly" means blunt with no segue, but in a slightly higher pitched voice.)
My sensitive guy turned to face me, his face all genuinely concerned, "What is it? You can tell me."
"I--I'm really scared that I won't get to decorate my bedroom the way I want it ever again. I don't want it all guy-ie and gross with nothing but brown and squares everywhere." (That's honestly how I picture men's decorating to be: A sea of brown, black, and occasionally grey squares.)
He looked at me for a second to make sure I was serious. I was. "It's okay honey, you can decorate our bedroom. It can be girly. Well, not girly, but, you know... feminine. It'll be your room, I'll just show up to crash."

Then I got excited and started talking fast, and mentioned something about, "Blah blah blah dressing table! Blah blah blah teal, but more like forest green, with pink accents," and he looked like he instantly regretted what he said, but it was too late. You heard it here first, people. I have locked in bedroom decoration for LIFE! BOO-YAH! That's how it's done, ladies.

Seriously though, I was pretty worried about that. A woman's bedroom is her sanctuary. It's where we dominated the home phone line as teenagers, before cell phones were a thing teenagers had. It's where we blasted our Sarah MacLachlan and Tori Amos and cried over our journals when we were having a bad day (yes, I was a teen in the nineties). It's where I learned to play my first Creedence Clearwater Revival song on my Harmony acoustic guitar I saved up for ("Bad Moon Rising"). It's where we curled up in a little ball on our beds and wished we could be anywhere, ANYWHERE, but about to attend high school another day. Was that one just me? What the hell do guys do in their rooms but awkwardly masturbate? I can't help but think of the Beach Boys' song "In My Room" and think that I'm being unfair. Brian Wilson should have been allowed to decorate his adult bedroom too.

In other news, I decided to do a little detoxing and am quitting dairy for a couple of weeks and no longer eating at night for as long as I can stand it. All I want to do is eat. That's the main reason I'm blogging. Because if my hands are typing they're not shoving food in my mouth. I want three pizzas, in my mouth, now.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Icelandic Postal Service -aka- Big Brother

I have developed an arch-nemesis during my time here in Iceland: The Icelandic Postal Service.


It all started when my friend Anna (whose blog you can view here) wanted to send me a care package. She had found some cool cards she thought I might like, and asked me if there was anything else I might want or need that was small enough to send in a little care package. I requested a little container of Pacifica solid perfume which is about the size of a round tin of lip balm, and that was that.

More than a week went by, and one day I received a letter in the mail from the customs department. This letter told me that there was a package waiting for me, but that I had not paid any customs fee or taxes for the items therein, and I was required to provide a receipt or order number for the items, and to let them know the total monetary value of the items I was having shipped to me. I went to the postal service website and did an online chat with one of the customer service representatives. I told her that the package was just a gift from a friend, that the items inside were surely not worth more than 10,000 Icelandic krona, and that I hadn't purchased any of them, and asked if I could please come pick up the package. She asked me why my friend had sent me the gift. (Wait, what?) I told her she had sent me the present for no reason at all. She then said that I had to send an email to the customs department, with the individualized number that was printed on the letter they sent me, and tell them that the package is a gift and the reason it was sent to me. What the beep?!

So I did. I sent an email that said, "Hello, my name is Inga and you sent me a letter with this number on it: [number]. My friend Anna send me a present for no reason in particular, and I would like to come collect it."

I was then allowed to collect my present.

I called my mom to ask her if this kind of thing was normal, and she said that unfortunately, it is. Her friend worked at the post office for years. There was a woman in their town who loved to paint, but the paints she used were very expensive to buy in Iceland. This woman had friends who lived overseas who used to send her paints every few months, just as a way to be nice and help her save a little money. She always wrote on the shipping label that the paints were a "birthday present," and of course the postal workers opened the packages to check and make sure that there were no illegal items in there. Eventually, the people working there noticed that the same woman always got paints sent from the same friend and compared notes behind her back, suspicious that the packages were always labeled as "birthday presents," saying things like, "How many birthdays can that family have in one year?" and so on. They even wanted to confront her about and considered reporting her to customs, for the apparent "crime" of having a nice friend who sent her things.

Someone I work with told me that she has a friend whose mother lived in the United States, and who also had a young daughter. The grandmother of the little girl used to send her clothes every few months or so, from the time she was a baby, because... Well, because she loves her grandbaby and wants to send her clothes! Geeze, why else would she want to?  The woman always brought her little daughter with her to the post office to collect the packages from her grandmother, this went on for a few years without incident.

One day, however, the postal representative at the counter said, "We're going to fine you for these packages you're getting from the States."
"Why?!" the woman exclaimed.
"Because you're importing children's clothes and selling them," the representative told her.
It took some doing to convince the post office and customs department that the clothes she was "importing" were really gifts from her mother for the little daughter that accompanied her to the post office each time she had come to pick them up.

Now, I agree that people need to be honest and pay any and all appropriate taxes if they're running an import-export business. But the postal service here takes this monitoring to a new level. What business is it of theirs if someone gets a lot of presents from overseas, or if -heaven portend!- they get a bargain on art supplies or clothes for their kids? These postal workers seem to take jealousy too far and try to use their authority to prevent people from making their lives a little easier.

My mom told me that she once sent my grandparents a package with, along with some clothes, a tube of Neosporin antibiotic ointment in it. When they got the package, the Neosporin had been removed. Apparently, there's some ingredient in neosporin that is illegal in Iceland, so they took it out. So many pharmaceuticals are illegal here, it's ridiculous. Don't even get me started, but here I go anyway. I'm not talking things like ephedra, which is illegal in the States too, but even things like Excedrin Migraine and my beloved Dayquil cold medicine are banned, you have to get weak substitutes with a prescription from the doctor.

Medications for "personal" issues that come up are even worse. You also can't buy things like - wait for it - yeast infection medicine at a simple grocery or drug store. No, no, no. You have to go to a pharmacy, and you have to wait in line at the counter and then, in front of EVERYONE, ask the PHARMACIST if you could please buy some yeast infection medicine. So. Humiliating. At least that's what I've heard, ehem. Other "personal" medicines that we take for granted in the States, like pain reliever for a simple U.T.I. are unavailable without a prescription. You either suffer for days or you get antibiotics, there's no in-between. Not that the person writing this blog or anyone she knows deals with these issues often, but every once in a while these kinds of things are bound to happen, and you don't realize how nice and convenient it is to be able to run out to the store and take care of them quickly and discreetly until you no longer can.

When you go through the duty-free stores in the airport, alcohol and cigarettes are sold for less than half the price that they are in stores in the country. The extra cost outside the airport is pure tax. So naturally, if you live in Iceland and are paying the equivalent of about $85 U.S. for a one liter bottle of rum for example, you're going to want to stock up on booze if you get a chance to go on a trip somewhere. But they have a limit on how much you can buy, so you can't stock up and save "too much" money or avoid the taxes. When I stopped in the duty-free store in December they had signs posted showing how much of everything you could buy, with different combinations of each. For example, you can buy one bottle of wine, one large bottle of liquor, one six-pack of beer and a carton of cigarettes, and that's combination A. They have two or three other combinations of wine, beer, booze, and cigarettes that are allowed. But no more than that! Otherwise they might lose some of their precious taxes on the booze you would be buying for the rest of the year or time you spend not traveling. They also assume that there is a good chance that if you're buying that much of those products, you're probably selling them to other people or worse, giving them to friends for free. 

Give me a break! If I want to fill a shopping cart full of booze and cigarettes and I have the money to pay for it, why can't I? Isn't that my right as an adult of legal drinking age? If I want to be a raging alcoholic, I should be allowed to wantonly destroy my liver and kidneys!

No place is perfect, I guess.

What gives, Iceland? Are there any banned books I should know about, while we're at it? There are certain things that are good here, though. Things having to do with women's reproductive rights and certain aspects of health care that I won't mention here because I don't want hate mail.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

"Miss America"

There are a lot of people in the world who have a problem with America. I accept this. However, what I don't like is that often when I meet people and they find out that I'm American, they take it upon themselves to rant to me about everything that they believe is wrong with America. It is offensive, rude, and, worst of all, annoying.

These special individuals accuse *all* Americans of being racist, exclusionary, uneducated, illiterate consumerists. They complain to me, unprovoked and unbidden, about the war in Iraq, Black Friday, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Peace Corps (who, according to a French guy I had the misfortune of meeting on New Year's Eve, are really working for the CIA and go around ruining countries), Israel, Afghanistan, the list goes on and on.

I try to explain to them that trying to describe all Americans in these sweeping terms is like saying that every single person who lives on the continent of South America feels the same way about politics, religion, and personal life choices, or saying that all Europeans have one set of ideals and one political ideology. It is unreasonable to accuse every individual living in a country that takes up half of an entire continent of possessing the exact same characteristics of everyone around him or her. When I point that out to people who give me a hard time about being from the U.S., it seems to give them pause (most of the time, but not always). Maybe they honestly never stopped to consider that, just like they are not the exact same person as their neighbor, I am not a carbon copy of the American person sitting next to me. Also, I think that the fact that I refuse to apologize for America tends to make them more angry, or often earns me the title of being "100% Pro-American." That's not the case at all. I just refuse to be lumped into one category, and I dislike being expected to verbally disown the place where I grew up and do love, despite its flaws.

I guess I find this particularly offensive because I enjoy learning about other cultures and meeting multi-cultural people so much. I took Comparative Religions and International Relations as electives in high school, for example, minored in Spanish in college, and come from a "cross-cultural/ third culture" family myself. When I meet someone from a different country I generally take an interest and like learning about their culture as they experience it, I don't just start telling them what I think about their government's politics. I think America is one of those countries that some people like to demonize. As far as I'm concerned, anyone can think whatever you want about my government, I'm constantly reevaluating and criticizing it in my mind. But why must some people make the actions of my government something that I'm personally responsible for, as a citizen? I don't blame every Icelander I meet for their banks crumbling. I don't call every French person a colonist, or Brits imperialists, for example. I know that the individual does not necessarily match the governing body. And the only place I've been to in the States where someone has been outright rude to me for being, say, "from Iceland," was in Oklahoma at like, a drunken house party. Even then, usually people were just uninformed (albeit sometimes woefully so), and weren't trying to be rude.

Maybe because America is considered a "superpower" (are we even still considered that?) and there are so many subjective representations of our country and citizens out there, along with a government that certainly does make mistakes in plain view of the international community, that people somehow feel entitled to confront Americans they meet on certain issues.

I am also just not a fan of political ranting. The way I see it, if you don't like something that a government is doing, either do something to change it or talk to someone who can. As my friend Michelle says, "most people just want to rant about politics and then pat themselves on the back," which is exactly why neither she nor I like philosophizing about such things with most people. The only time I don't mind is when I'm talking to someone who hasn't yet made up their mind about the issue at hand, so I know I can have room to explore the topic without getting hit by a surprise barrage. In short, either do something about it, or shut up. Incidentally, I think I may program the White House toll-free number and maybe the number of a Congressman or two into my cell phone, so if people start complaining to me about things they don't like that America does, I can give them the number of someone who gives a darn, or is at least paid to do so.

I am an American. I know how to read and write, and love doing so. I support world peace. I am not racist or sexist. I vote. I do not shop in an avalanche of people breaking down store doors on Black Friday. I am descended from immigrants, and I respect this land's First People. I love the environment. I am a healthy weight for my height. I am fine with the idea of America having more than one national language. I believe in freedom of religion, and separation of church from state. I do not expect everyone to speak English when I travel overseas. I keep my voice at an appropriate volume in public. I don't eat at McDonald's, but that doesn't mean that I never have. I do not blindly accept everything that my government does. I do not deny the good things that my government does either. I consider more than one country to be my home, and am legally allowed to do so. I am not the same as every other American, and they are not the same as me. That's my favorite thing about my country.