The fancy world of Hollywood movies and TV attracted me to the United States, but the real world of politics, wars and terrorism dominated my mind with apprehensions about the American people and officials before my first official trip.
There are two views of the U.S. in Pakistan. America in the eyes of an average Pakistani is a country that has never been a friend of Pakistan. It is a country that invaded our neighbor, Afghanistan, after 9/11, and let that chaos spill into Pakistan. The U.S. is also seen responsible for drone attacks that have killed a large number of civilians and few terrorists.
But there is also better image of America among social activists and young students, who believe the U.S. is also a country that offers aid and scholarships that support education, health, anti-poverty funding and offers business opportunities to Pakistanis.
I never knew that stereotypes about the U.S. were going to change forever after my visit here as part of Pakistan-United States Journalism Exchange Program.
After meeting with American officials, journalists, policymakers, and most of all the common people on the streets and in the shops, I realized it is perhaps only us Pakistanis who tend to view everything through a political lens. People in U.S. are least concerned about what is happening in the neighboring state, let alone country.
Most people know about Pakistan generally, but there were some exceptions. One woman I met had never heard of Pakistan, “Where exactly is that, dear?” she asked politely.
Another affectionate woman said: “Oh, you are from Pakistan! How is the war on there? Is your family OK?” From her queries I realized how she was concerned about my family’s well-being even though I was only meeting her for the first time.
I found the American people and journalists to be straightforward and extraordinarily friendly and helpful.
I have been here about three weeks now and have met people from Washington, D.C., Alabama, Texas, North Dakota, Minnesota, and found all of them to be wonderful. In fact, I have made good friends in Fargo-Moorhead. Frankness and modesty are the two qualities that I appreciate most in Americans.
Unlike our country, experienced people and even your seniors do not pretend to know everything. Rather they would prefer to learn from their juniors’ experience. This approach has moved me.
Another aspect of the society that is most appealing is that people measure your worth by your ideas, behavior and friendliness rather than looks and dress.
One stereotype impression about American society in Pakistan is that Western children are disconnected with their families since they don’t live in a traditional family system. Though it is true that most children older than 18 live on their own, I have met people who have moved from Chicago and Seattle to Fargo so they can be closer to their families and parents. So, this notion about American social system also proved to be wrong.
Back home, all we hear about America is related to government policy, military, terrorism, gun culture, racial discrimination. Only after coming here did I realize that we never hear about this country’s best and most significant factor: the greatness of American people in treating locals and foreigners equally.
The friendly behavior and humanistic attitude of Americans has changed my heart and mind. I am convinced that the real face of America is reflected by its people and not through interventionist policy of the government or alliances in the War on Terror.