Henry Weiner is a University of Wisconsin-Madison junior studying this semester in Prague, Czech Republic. Nate Juergens is a Macalester College sophomore studying this month in Rome, Italy.
On orders from their father (me) and mother (my spouse, Ann Juergens) they wrote emails about what they saw and felt an ocean away on Tuesday during Barack Obama’s inauguration.
They missed deadline, but I still thought it was timely to share their brief dispatches.
Goofy, smug grins
By Henry Weiner
PRAGUE — Barack Obama was to become president at 6 p.m. Prague time Tuesday, and so a group of about 25 students from all over the United States who are here studying started the trek to the big screen at about 5.
We got to the pub known to be showing the event, the fittingly named Globe, only to be turned away because it was already over capacity for the event. Either they had really good drink specials and free hot wings on Tuesday nights, or people in Prague actually cared about what was about to happen.
We decided that the closest place we could watch CNN with such a large group was at an apartment of four of the students.
So, we are sitting in a relatively big living room in Prague with upward of two-dozen American students and probably about five or six Czech students.
Watching the festivities, the American students were silent. Most of them had looks on their faces like a soccer mom after her kid just scored the game-winning goal: not saying much, but getting that goofy, smug grin on their faces as they looked around for opponent moms to rub it in on.
The only thing was, there weren’t any opposing “moms” to be found. Even if I hadn’t voted for Obama, I wouldn’t have dared mentioned it in that room. These kids went to school in such places as Massachusetts and California, and most of their political beliefs make Ho Chi Minh look like Rush Limbaugh, so needless to say, Barack got the benefit of the doubt.
The most interesting thing, however, was the reaction of the Czech students.
Many American Obama supporters seem to have a fantasy that everyone around the world is dancing in the streets at the thought of our new commander in chief. That may be the case in Nairobi or maybe even London, but definitely not in the Czech Republic, where the reception for our history-making president was definitely warm, but nowhere near ecstatic.
From my limited experience here, there is definitely a disconnect with western European cultures and attitudes, which seem to be basking in an Obama victory. From what I could gather, people here are far happier to have Bush out of office than they are to have Obama in it.
When I asked my Czech roommate Ondrej what he thought about the whole thing he said, “It’s cool, but I don’t care really much. What really does it matter to us? He not our president. Ball-like A-llama isn’t going to change my life.”
We will see what happens, but for now Czechs (who, admittedly, don’t really get excited about almost anything) don’t see much reason for celebration.
Cheers and champagne
By Nathan Juergens
ROME — We searched everywhere last night for a place to watch the inauguration. Finally, we found a bar with CNBC that was showing it.
We were in there with about 10 students from our group, and as the show went on, more Americans filed into the bar, probably another five or six.
There were also a few Italians watching — not many of them because the telecast was in English.
We were all cheering as the whole event unfolded, clapping when the crowd in D.C. clapped, and some booing when George Bush was shown (which the Italians found very amusing).
We popped a bottle of champagne as he said his oath, and the Italian bartender also had a glass in celebration.
I really liked his speech, and I think most of the other Americans did, too. But when I talked to some Italians outside the bar, they were a little skeptical that Obama would be any different from Bush. We tried to convince them otherwise, but they said they would wait and see.
Later, our professor toasted Obama at dinner, but there wasn’t much other Obama-mania going on in Rome.
It was a pretty calm night.