Let us take a look at assorted pearls of wisdom from the U.S. State Department.
The U.S. State Department--never weary of issuing statements for the well-being of its citizens--is in a bizarre state these days. Moreover, our Motherland’s beloved military rulers might one day emulate its style of issuing motherly cautions to American travellers. Since Uncle Sam ‘moveth in mysterious ways’--much like the Lord Himself--we will examine closely in this article what those ways are.
Modern tourism--meaning unstoppable adventurism in foreign lands--takes American citizens to far-flung corners of the globe, almost like peanut butter spreading thinly over a slice of white bread. Unaware of the true dimensions of the chaos created by the policies of their government, American travellers regularly receive larger doses of advisories from U.S embassies and consulates. The notifications have legal ramifications, for if the American citizens are not advised well ahead of possible unrests brewing in foreign lands, the State Department can face much complaining in the shape of suits of the legal kind.
What wonderful sameness, last week was just like any other week here! In a local English daily of Pakistan, appeared yet more pearls of wisdom issued to American travellers by the U.S. State Department.
1) ‘Don’t act like Americans, or show behaviour typical of Americans’ was the mother of all warnings. Just yesterday, on my way back from the Federal capital of Islamabad, I was able to spot all the Americans aboard the airplane as easily as spotting close relatives. When questioned about the travel advisories, the fair-skinned men dressed in Shalwar Qameez suits and Chitrali caps admitted that asking a leopard to have its spots dry-cleaned was the State Department’s cruellest joke.
Not a single American can change his or her behaviour at the flick of a switch, or by inserting a new chip into his brain, unless he has been to the Cuban concentration camps where Uncle Sam organises group therapy sessions for alleged terrorists. Not even a massive Truth Injection in the rearmost fatty part the anatomy--for the want of a better place--can make an American change what is indeed a part of his indoctrination since childhood.
2) ‘Avoid behaviour that could cause you to be singled out as obviously Americans’, the State Department explained further. Obviously, Daniel Pearl is being referred to here; the Wall Street correspondent who literally went to pieces in Pakistan, and who was singled out when unable to camouflage his unique American identity. The more one hides, the more revealing one becomes; I wish they would explain this fact to tabletop dancers across America as well.
3) ‘Don’t wear white socks, and tennis shoes’, the Department stated the obvious. Let us tackle this one by first referring to an historic event.
Alexander of Macedon, who some claim was Great, insisted on making Persia his private property. When Darius I, the Persian king, heard of this, he had a ball and mallet sent to the youthful invader, insinuating that ‘playing games would suit his young age and lack of experience better than war.’ Alexander replied, “The ball is the earth and I am the mallet.” The overt reference was to the game of Polo.
That the thoughts of the State Department and Alexander are remarkably similar need not shock anyone; we have all grown up watching international conflicts on television in the very comfort of our living rooms. It is economic acumen when one government insists on treating the whole world as a ball while imagining itself an unbreakable mallet. Considering that nations have risen and then consigned to history, such delusions of grandeur are perfectly forgivable, but to indulge in conquering while wearing tennis shoes and white sports socks reflects poorly on the American idea of high fashion.
In any case, gauging a government from the kind of socks and shoes it encourages its citizens to wear remains a trait of European foreign policy right down to the present day. The international dress code is in danger as more and more American delegates flout U.N. rules by wearing cowboy scarves and torn jeans in order to romantically drive home a point if not their girlfriends. As of this writing, the United Nations Organisation is hotly debating why the Americans must love their apparel to death.
In the light of the directives issued thus far by the State Department, it is, therefore, a major shift in the living habits of Americans is entirely unjustified. If not tennis shoes and white socks, what will my American friends wear--crocodile-skin cowboy boots from Texas, wooden sandals made my Buddhist monks, or Peshawari chappals?
4) ‘Don’t complain if asked to share a bathroom’. As for their obsession with bathrooms, which they call washrooms, Americans are justified in spending nearly half of their lives in that space. How can they ever imagine sharing it with others, least of all foreigners who love eating raw garlic? Again, the State Department has misunderstood the living style of Americans. A washroom has already been defined by the architects of Disneyland as ‘a space where one may--not necessarily in this order--read newspapers, sort junk mail, prepare business plans, smoke in order to relax anal muscles, order pizza, and then repeat the routine at least one more time just to be sure.’
Washrooms are un-shareable with aliens even if the rest of the Third World got rid of lotas, and dictators--interchangeable terms really. The cooperating government of Pakistan edging rapidly closer to the day when it will proudly announce that American paper policies can also be safely used as toilet paper. Our washing habits will never be the same.
5) ‘Never threaten to sue over bad service, bad television reception, or the weather’. As for suing, all my American friends thrive on lawsuits if not Italian suits. Suing is the second biggest business after a business, which they claim is beyond compare: show business. It is un-American to spend an entire day without uttering ‘you’ll hear from my lawyer’. Users of the popular phrase readily admit that it carries tremendous weight when shouted within the hearing distance of an entire neighbourhood. Of course, there is at least one lawyer available in every locality and quite ready to serve the needy.
It is a fact that the average American has spent nearly ten thousand hours watching television by the time he is thirteen. Television is mom and dad, an alluring goddess worth worshipping, an awe-inspiring Big Brother. An American threatening to sue a hotel for poor television reception ought not to surprise any self-respecting establishment. If a hotel cannot receive all uselessness channels perfectly, it has no business being in business.
It’s time now for a short emotional break; don’t go away We’ll be right back after Bruce Springsteen’s eerie song: Fifty-seven channels and nothing on
That being the nature of the television beast; does one take God to court for bad weather? Can one get rid of the pests and flies of the Third World by threatening to sue the peoples or the poor debt-ridden governments? The State Department of America has it all upside down. Tell an American he cannot litigate and he will surely suffocate, after first serving one with a finely printed legal notice.
6) ‘Make complete and up to date inventories of household effects’. American trashcans prove that paperwork has broken the back of an average citizen. And when paper-shredding happens to be the fastest-growing religion, having citizens maintain useless inventories of household effects is an exercise in futility, an attempt to keep them obsessed with personal belongings. One can safely label such warnings as over-reacting to scenarios portrayed in movies about alien conquests. Contrary to popular belief, it does not even seem remotely possible that Saddam Hussein plans to destroy America’s proudest weapons of cultural destruction: torn jeans, white socks, and smelly sneakers.
7) ‘Maintain adequate supply of food, water, and necessary medications in regions of political unrest’. The average American abroad need not worry once he has filled his refrigerator with the kind of tin-canned balanced diet highly recommended by the State Department. Travellers will now be condemned to reading nutritional information printed over packs instead of reciting the Holy Bible.
8) ‘Keep a car in good working condition with a tank full of gasoline’. As for automobiles, good Americans folks love their cars. They can eat and sleep in them, will shampoo them, and may talk with them while asleep. To insinuate that their tanks are empty is adding low-octane fuel to a raging fire--metaphorically speaking. Their tanks are always full--just in case the State department, at a short notice, asked them to drive into the sunset without getting a speeding ticket.
The oilmen ruling Washington have guaranteed the American public that while the street-urchins may eat out of garbage-bins, their car-tanks will remain forever full of cheap gasoline freshly pumped from the Persian and Arabian wells. The world’s oil belongs to America until the commodity and the patience of lesser nations runs out. American soldiers would rather die and be posthumously decorated than believe the war is about oil.
Alexander--let us affectionately call him Alex--must be turning in his grave. He died in an unhappy death in Babylon, Iraq. The Americans insist they must conquer the ancient land in order to place over Alex’s memorial a large wreath. Saddam insists on an express delivery of the wreath by the courier service of his choice. Good couriers are hard to come by these days. Who can one trust with a wreath from Washington--Richard Nixon?
All governments lie to varying extents, Uncle Sam being no exception. The reason the entire globe feels the pain is because the great American finger, instead of staying comfortably inside its own bleeding nose, is poking into dangerous nostrils while singing the tune of freedom, restoration of democracy, and free-market economy.
Having finished this piece yesterday evening, I visited my barber for the usual. I threw my head back and asked for a massage of the upper storey, the epicentre of pain. I must emphasize that barbers of the East are unlettered sages who can perform circumcision, cut hair, and cook exceptionally well. Mine, as he poured mustard-seed oil over the remains of what was once a thick forest of hair, remarked philosophically, “Sir jee, Amreeka wants our oil. It needs a good maalish too.”
It struck the right chord. The entire population of the salon burst out laughing as the implication was that the country in question deserved a Divine Thrashing. I cared little about agreeing verbally with my barber because the massage automatically shook my head in a manner that appeared to convey, “Yes, yes, yes.” Moreover, the heads of the rest of the customers, much like mine, shook in agreement in exactly the same way.
One man’s dream is another man’s nightmare. The Red man, the Black man, and the Yellow man have all paid dearly for the American Dream. Is it now the Brown man’s turn to bow his head and quietly become a part of the sacrificial queue?
I left the salon dreading what a swift retribution might be like if a powerful nation continued trying the patience of the Greatest Superpower--God Almighty.
Tahir Gul Hasan holds the copyrights to his work. Written permission of the author is required for reproducing or re-printing his work on any medium.