America is the land of the free. The Middle East is repressive, restrictive, fundamentalist and fun free. Right? Right.
I know that Lebanon is not representative of the rest of the Middle East, but still, that’s bullshit.
In America, you are not allowed on a public beach after dark. Try it, the cops will arrest you. It’s a fucking joke. Surely that’s a basic human right? To occupy a few feet of public land – well, more than a few in my case - irrespective of the position of the sun relative to earth. I think you can even do that in North Korea.
Nor are you allowed to drink in public places, which is extremely inconvenient and just means that everyone has to use paper bags. And risk getting arrested.
Also, in America, you are not allowed to cross the road when you want, because that’s jaywalking. You can be arrested for a repeat offence, even when there are no cars coming.
You can’t be arrested for not constantly wanting more stuff, but people look at you like you’re a freak - which is fine by me - if you tell them you don’t give a shit. Or if you are NOT constantly worried about your neighbour being richer and more successful than you are.
Also, you can’t make the empirically valid point that Chinese-Americans are better at math, without someone turning round and telling you you’re a racist.
In fact, something similar happened to me today. I was with the school counselor at the American school here, where I do some substitute teaching. He’s called Dave, from California, and he's a smug bastard because he has a hot Lebanese wife. We were outside, walking along a busy road. I watched two cars narrowly avoid a collision. I said: ‘Jeez, Arab drivers!’
It's really great to watch - Arabs go nuts as soon as they’re behind the wheel.
Dave looked at me with disdain and said, ‘You can’t say things like that. That’s a microaggression.’
‘A microaggression. An subtle insult, although you may not have intended it.’
‘But just look,’ I said, indicating the mayhem on the road with a generous sweep of my arm.
Dave ignored me. He said, ‘Have you not read Dr. Wing Sue’s paper? Racial microaggressions are the everyday insults sent to people of color by well-intentioned white people who are unaware of the hidden messages they’re sending out.’
At that moment, we were walking past one of the derelict buildings whose front had a gaping hole in it where it had been hit by an Israeli shell in 2006.
‘Maybe microaggressions have microimportance,’ I said. ‘What about macroaggressions?’
Dave ignored me. ‘I’ll email you Dr. Sue’s paper. You should really read it,’ he said.
Sometimes my memory serves me well. This was one of those occasions. ‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘Have you read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations? No? Oh, you really should. He says:
Take away thy opinion, and then is taken away the complaint ‘I have been harmed’. Take away the complaint ‘I have been harmed’, and the harm is taken away.'
Dave wasn't so smug after that, but I was. Ha!
Freedom. It’s not to be found in America, that’s for sure. But it is here, at least in the little things.
You can light up in any taxi. In fact, you will often be offered a cigarette by the driver as soon as you get in.
There are no rules on the road. Not always a good thing, but it is a form of freedom. People nonchalantly drive the wrong way up a one way street. Traffic lights are suggestions, not commands.
If you want to go out to get smashed on a Sunday or a Monday night, you can. There'll be plenty of others doing the same.
Marcus Aurelius would have been happier here. So long as people see that you do not intend to cause offence, you can say pretty much what you want, and they will not get offended.
Well, that’s been my experience so far. I feel more freedom here. But Aurelius, that wise old dog, also said: 'The universe is transformation: life is opinion.’ And I may well change my opinion, if I get banged up for exposing myself in public, or for some other peccadillo.