US expats uneasy, not afraid
Around the world, anti-US doesn't always mean anti-Americans.
As president of the American Women's Club of Lebanon, Helen DelMissier Hachem says she has a responsibility to help bridge the cultural divide between East and West, drawing Lebanese and Americans together.
But as the possibility of war with Iraq nears, the group is keeping a low profile. For now, it has suspended its fundraising for charity. It's a safety measure, but not one that's easily accepted.
"This represents an abandonment of principles that we feel have drawn us Americans into the Lebanese family circle," says Mrs. DelMissier Hachem, "doing for others less fortunate and demonstrating the old American principle of 'can do' and 'sharing."
From Beirut to Manila, the Monitor surveyed Americans living abroad and found that most are bracing themselves against a growing wave of anti-American sentiment. On Monday, for example, the US State Department warned Americans to leave Oman and the United Arab Emirates because of security concerns.
But that is only part of the picture. Even as European capitals witness record antiwar protests, babies in Kosovo are named for former President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. True, Americans are finding that their accents spark unwanted attention from strangers and cold silence from some of their coworkers. Still, many of those living far from home continue to remark on the strength of the relationships and exchanges that shape their daily lives.
LONDON - Americans living in and visiting London have few worries about getting caught up in an antiwar backlash. But they do acknowledge that it may be sensible to adopt a low profile if the US attacks Iraq. "I wouldn't avoid places, but I would avoid talking so much in public," says Mira Balakrishnan, who is here from Houston, Texas, for a five-day stay. "I would put a little bit more thought into what I'm doing."
If anyone suffers from hostility in London at present, it may be the French. Cynthia Coleman is half-French, half-American, and is in no doubt as to which to tone down.
"I'm getting much more flak because of [the French side]," she says. Nonetheless, there has been a palpable shift in attitudes towards Americans here in the 18 months since Sept. 11, 2001.
"When 9/11 happened, I got a lot of calls from random people sharing their sympathy, and that feeling has gone," says Ms. Coleman. "It is slightly more confrontational now."
MANILA, PHILIPPINES - Bart Edes has lived and worked in Manila for almost three years. He says the most noticeable change for him has been the level of invective that people he does not know are willing to share with him about the US and Britain.
"I have not sensed animosity directed toward me, but I have noted criticism of the stance of countries advocating armed action against Iraq," he says. "I have been struck by the lack of inhibition of strangers and international civil servants to share views that are very critical of the US - and British - stance."
Mr. Edes notes that since safety has always been an issue for Americans in the Philippines, he is accustomed to being careful.
"Because I live in a country where terrorist attacks are common and street crime is a concern, I have always taken security precautions," he says. "But I am, however, concerned about the potential reaction of extremist groups to an attack on Iraq."
SAINTE-MÈRE-EGLISE, FRANCE - Philip Jutras, a American World War II veteran living in France, has straddled US and French culture for three decades. He is especially indignant that his wartime service is being used by some back home for political purposes to vilify his adopted country.
"This tension between old friends [France and the US] is horrible," he says. "But I make it a policy never to discuss politics or religion with my friends, so I can avoid the subject as much as possible."
Still, Mr. Jutras, who works as a curator of the Airborne Museum in Normandy, says he does not feel awkward when people ask him about current US foreign policy. He does, however, believe that the Bush administration has been harmful to the way Americans are perceived abroad. "In all my years, I've never had any problems because of my nationality," he says. "I just say what I think. I tell foreigners that I don't agree with the war with Iraq."
Jutras, who hails from Maine, now lives in a small town in Normandy. He first came here in August 1944, not long after US paratroopers had landed on the beaches. After the war, he continued to serve around the world, including Iran and Korea. He learned to speak French, German, and some Korean.
In 1970, when he went back to Normandy to pay his respects to the French family who looked after him during the war, he found that the daughter, who, like him, had lost her spouse, still living there. Two years later they married.
"In all my years, I've never had any problems because of my nationality," he says.
CAIRO, EGYPT - Nancy Collins is a project coordinator at the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services. She has been working for four of the past six years in Egypt. Ms. Collins lives with her young son, Charles, in the middle-class Heliopolis district of Cairo. Though some say that sympathy for Americans comes less often than rain these days in Egypt, the political anger she feels around her has not extended into her personal life.
"I haven't felt any animosity directed towards me," she says. "Beneath the surface, though, there is a lot of tension because Egyptians believe that it is so unfair what is being done in Palestine, on the one hand, while at the same time President Bush is launching a new war against Iraq. They talk a lot about what they believe are America's double standards when dealing with Arabs and Jews."
Ms. Collins has noticed that the reaction to her nationality has changed recently. "A few years ago, when I told Egyptians that I was an American, they would usually say 'Welcome to Egypt,' and that America is a great country. Now, they usually say nothing at all. What I experience is often just a cold silence."
Although she is not currently worried about her safety, Collins has made plans to leave should threats to Americans increase. "The first part of my plan is - if the situation merits - to just remain in my apartment and not go to work. I would also keep Charles out of school.... If the situation grew worse - I would likely evacuate to Cypress."
NEW DELHI, INDIA - Just a day after a large group of New Delhi's Muslim community protested peacefully against war on Iraq, American Tricia Hoban went for a stroll through Jamia Masjid, a venerated mosque. "I have not changed my habits - I have never felt threatened by either the Muslims or Hindus or any other Indians. In fact my friendships have just deepened over time," she says.
Hoban, who moved here three years ago for her husband's work, says locals stop to speak to her or look at her on the street, not because she is American, but because she is occasionally in Indian dress. "I get positive reactions ... because I seem to be making an effort to fit in," she says. "No one is wagging their finger and lecturing to me about George Bush if they disagree with the war."
PRISTINA, KOSOVO - In the heart of what would seem to be America-hating Europe, a small corner of the continent is in love with the US.
The 1999 NATO bombing of then-leader Slobodan Milosevic's forces, led by the US, has left the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo eternally grateful. The American flag flies everywhere alongside the Albanian flag, and a six-story-high poster of a waving Bill Clinton adorns Pristina's main road from the airport - Bill Clinton Boulevard. All this from a place that is more than 90 percent Muslim.
To Blerim Krasniqi, who was in a refugee camp in Macedonia during the NATO bombing, the debate surrounding Iraq reminds him of when the Kosovars were the people of Iraq and everyone was against the war except the Americans. Then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and President Clinton - both of whom have had babies named after them here - were for intervention, while the Europeans were saying there was still time for debate and diplomacy. "If it wasn't for America, I wouldn't be here today. I would be in a camp or dead. But thanks to America, I live in Pristina and I work and have a life in my home town."
Lundrum Aliu, a Kosovar Albanian journalist, says that people here look more to the US than to Europe. "America was our savior and we believe that if there is someone who can make this place or the region or the whole world better, it's America. We are all convinced that only the United States' leadership can do this."
BEIRUT, LEBANON - Helen DelMissier Hachem moved from Chicago 2-1/2 years ago to retire here with her Lebanese husband of 31 years, Khalil Hachemo.
Despite the prospect of war in Iraq and the ever-present threat of violence along the Lebanon- Israel border, DelMissier Hachem says she has felt no animosity toward her. "It's one of the most astounding things of all ... I've never felt uncomfortable," she says. She puts it down to the "amazing" Lebanese ability to adapt to Western trends and lifestyles.
"There's scarcely a person on the streets who does not have a child or an aunt or some relative in the States. They feel an affinity to us," she says, adding that it's a lesson her fellow Americans should take to heart.
"The Lebanese are highly educated and widely traveled and have an uncanny insight into world events and history," she says. "I wish Americans had this same astuteness. We are a great people, but we are hindered by our geographical placement, our hugeness and self-sufficiency. These are desirable but a deterrent at times like these, when broad knowledge of the world and regional politics would be an asset."