The audacity of ignorance

When we arrived in the US for vacation last month, we stayed in a hotel in Albuquerque the first night. It had been a rough night, and Ellen was especially tired and jet-lagged. She was fussing at breakfast, so I took her for a little walk.

I was walking past the pool area when a man in his late fifties approached me and said, “That was me — twenty seven years ago, I was walking around with my infant son at this very hotel.” We chatted a bit about being parents and such, and I mentioned that we were jet-lagged. He asked where we came in from. I told him we were visiting from Denmark.

“Denmark! Wow, they’re having big problems there!”

I didn’t know what he meant. I wondered if something terrible has happened since we left. I tried to think. There’s the economic crisis, but that’s not just in Denmark… maybe he was talking about the Mohammed cartoon crisis… but… that was almost four years ago… but that is typically the only thing Americans actually know about Denmark. So I said, “Yeah… I guess…”

“Yes!”, he continued, “And now they’re trying to do the same thing here.”

I briefly wondered if there is a concerted American effort  to depict Mohammed in cartoon form. A contest, perhaps. He went on.

“They’re trying to put health care in the hands of know-nothing polititians.”

Ah — ok. Health care. I kept what I was thinking to myself, but wow, the audacity. Here’s a guy that’s telling me how terrible socialized medicine is in the country where I’ve lived for the last three and a half years. And he’s not asking me — he’s telling me.

“It’s not going to work though,” he announced. “Because Americans love freedom too much.”

“Yeah… they do”, I said. He no doubt he took this as confirmation of everything he’d learned about socialized medicine from Fox News, but what I meant was that I was glad I had the freedom to refrain from arguing with a fool.

But maybe I should have said something. Maybe I should have said, “Wow, please tell me more about a country where I live and you’ve never even visited.” Or, “Freedom? You mean the freedom to cling to a job you hate because you know you can’t afford health care on your own? Or the freedom to go without medical care entirely if you lose that job? Is that the freedom you mean?” As usual I thought of lots of cool things I could have said after the fact.

But I walked away, feeling a mix of annoyance and sadness. Here is a guy with a chance to learn more about something which he’s obviously interested in, and yet he can’t even be bothered to ask me if what he’s heard is true. I know so many educated and enlightened Americans, but it’s the rest of them that do the most talking.

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