“I hate your country’s politics.”
This was K, and this was the first thing he said to me.
We sat on the dark patio of a Tirana bar, table of ashtrays and beer bottles, the headlights and footsteps of surrounding streets obscured by a criss-cross fence. I’d arrived in the city only hours earlier, and had already found myself chasing fun with the group of people I’d hang with for the next five days.
K had just come in from Kosovo, in town for a gig where important record executives would be. He sang, or he played the guitar, or did both—it wasn’t clear. He had a red Adidas track jacket and the straw Fedora of male insecurity: a little too self-consciously cool.
He sat down at the table, said his hellos to old friends, was introduced to me. He asked where I was from, then crossed his arms, leaned back, eyes narrowed to a challenge, as if to say, “Come on, step to this, I dare you.” He announced his personal aversion to my country’s politics with smug satisfaction.
It was like K was trying to hand me a big bag of his bullshit. And I, in turn, got to firmly but without malice reply, “Actually, this is yours. And I’m just gonna let you hang on it.”
There was a time when I would have had to jump up and down to prove to K that I wasn’t one of those Americans. I would have cited my city of residence, my family’s long history in activism, personal lifestyle choices that reflect my commitment to anti-corporate, anti-imperialist values. I would have lamented the pervasive culture of ignorance and fear that paved the way for predatory politics, and when the bitch/blame-session reached its crescendo of discontent, I’d have thrown my hands up and announced my ultimate goal to marry someone with an EU passport and flee the whole mess.
I would have, in short, run laps to prove who I was to K, to win his validation and approval, this person I had just met, in some sort of attempt to resolve my own insecurity about my nationality.
Instead I shrugged, sighed, “Yeah, join the club, buddy.”
The rest of the tabled groaned at K. “What is that?” Robo asked, shoulders hunched and flicking ash, seeming a little uncomfortable at K’s underhanded assault on me. “That’s the first thing you say to someone?”
“Well, I do hate the US’s politics,” K defended himself.
“Yeah, but as the first thing to say?” Zhujeta cooed in her gentle, loving way. “Not even, ‘Nice to meet you.'” She titled her head in the same way as when she spoke to the begging gypsy kids that cruised past the table, “It’s rude, K.”
“Okay, okay,” K waved his hands as though they were little white flags. “Sorry, nice to meet you.”
I shrugged again. Whatever issue it was—whatever insecurity in K made him want to challenge someone, get them to prove themselves to him—I wasn’t going to get involved. That was between K and himself, not me. Or my Americanness.