1. When I returned to the U.S. after many years abroad, I did not understand how the elevator worked. I jumped back when the doors began to close. It’s okay, said a man inside the elevator who put his hand between the doors to make it open again. I rode the elevator to the 20th floor, where I was introduced to colleagues, one of whom said, “You don’t look American.” I said I was born in the Middle West and grew up on U.S. soil. “Funny,” he said, “You don’t seem American at all.” Why? I asked. “The way you dress, the way you talk.” I thought he had judged me too quickly. “But I feel American,” I insisted.
2. Once I was teaching a seminar to executives in the Austrian Alps. The man who organized the seminar and I were both American. My job was to teach the executives to write like Americans. They came from 12 countries in Eastern and Western Europe. On the third day at the final lunch, a discussion arose about American CEO salaries. Bored, I said I didn’t know why anyone would ever want that much money. My American counterpart said I said that because I had never had the opportunity to earn that much money. I was humiliated. I said I had had the opportunity, but decided against it. He apologized. We had behaved like Americans.
3. My belated interest in politics was fostered by the following situation: I am at a gathering in some country where I am the only American. Conversation turns to politics, and I am put in the position of being an impromptu spokesperson for the U.S. I have learned to say, “Not everyone back home would agree with me,” before making a pronouncement. Many years ago, I told a professor that I had no interest in politics whatsoever, that my interests were in archeology, religion, myth, philosophy, and so on. Now when I see this professor, we always talk politics.
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