Growing up in rural west of Ireland - America (read USA) was always that mythical place that older brothers of friends of mine went to - "To work on the sites" in exotic places like New York, Boston or Chicago. Each summer, families with kids of perfect teeth and tanned skin would come to Mass and talk to each other in that strange "yank" accent. Old women neighbors would talk over mugs of tea about a dying cousin in "Amerikay" or how their niece had a good job in a hospital there.
With all the salvation Amerikay held out... there was also the dark side of how the yanks were gullible, ridden by crime and without any sense of community. "Shure don't they live to work only and God help you if you get sick there.... or old". This was our Irish way of making ourselves feel better about our rain sodden lot - next stop begrudgery.
When I came to live in the USA, deep down I suppose I still had these notions filtering my thoughts. Unknowingly or perhaps better said - unwittingly. But it was only when I saw the addictive news marathon of the Boston bomb brothers being captured by police - that I suddenly realized how wrong I had it about Americans and how wrong Americans have it about themselves.
This is far from a perfect society but it is here that I have found the most genuinely friendliest staff from Star Bucks to 5 star hotels. Strangers will strike up conversation with a smile and make sure to end it with "Have a great day". The reaction of people of Boston to the bombing there - while compared to Britain or Ireland - may be considered over the top emotive - but it wasn't hysterical - just the real outpouring of fear, anger and grief and then relief when the police caught the bombers. I now see that what Europeans take as Americans being loud, unrestrained and over-the-top, is actually how they just deal with their turbulent thoughts. Americans wear their hearts on their sleeves and it shows.
The final images that will stay with me, are the celebrations of the people of the neighborhood in Boston where the last bomber was captured alive. Clapping and cheering the police with the American flag waving, dancing and laughs of relief. This would never happen in Ireland or the UK. And once I would cast my eyes up to heaven on witnessing it.
But now I was moved...however not to clap or cheer.
And then.. a Boston man, heavy set, be-stubbled and drawn with a thick Boston accent was asked by an MSNBC reporter, how did he bear up under the fear of the bombers being on the loose? He looked at her and drawled.."What fear....I knew our police would catch him and they did. He did a terrible thing and we all are torn up bad about it. But no terrorist stops us from getting on with things..getting on with (our) lives."
Then, I clapped.