Thursday, 13 November 2008

The Obama Smile

There it is again. That smile. The waitress in the sandwich shop is smiling at me. It’s not because I look good, or cool, or stylish. In fact, I look like shit. Having basically not slept in an office chair all night. Having not had dinner. Having not showered yet. No make up.

I am, in short, nothing to smile at.

But there it is. Every time she brings something to the table. First comes the toast, all hot, buttered and crunchy. Then the Full English I was convinced to order. I don’t like it and can’t really afford it, but it is the standard breakfast fare here. The Vegetarian is eggs, in omelette form, a sliced or halved tomato quickly grilled, toast, and usually either mushrooms or potatoes. This morning, in honour of being American, I order the hash browns. And then, there are the beans. The ubiquitous breakfast beans. Somewhere between baked beans and navy bean soup, these unappealing slightly pink, tomato-ey beans are de rigueur. It is a strange breakfast. Too big, lacking in flavour and greens. But there is something about it in the London damp and grey that makes your stomach sort of centered all day. I don’t really like eating it. I’m always happy to have eaten it.

Each time she brings something – that smile. She even offers to bring over another table to hold my laptop -- she does not suggest that I move, no she suggests that she rearranges the furniture so I can have my laptop out and my plate on the table simultaneously if I want. I decline, and she smiles again.

She smiles like, well, like, like…like she is proud of me. I realize I have been seeing this smile for days.

Since Tuesday, I have not once been yelled at for starting the Credit Crunch (which usually sounds like some strange breakfast cereal to me), nor for not bailing out the banks soon enough. I have not been asked who is this Sarah Palin. I have been asked only when Obama will be made president and why will it take so long. I have answered with all the political mumbo jumbo of picking a cabinet and advisors and appointees and I have explained the horseback ride to Washington, D.C.

Instead, as soon as my accent becomes apparent, I am smiled at. A genuine, heartfelt, “I don’t know you, but I’m sure I like you” smile. Like the fact that I am here means I am one of the good ones. I am a blue stater, not a Barack hater. How could I be anything else? Here I am in the middle of London bumming around neighborhoods tourists never see.

I realize now I have been getting this smile everywhere. That I am suddenly welcomed where I was barely tolerated before. That I am suddenly someone to be proud of, someone courageous, someone like them. I am someone who has stopped pretending that I can do anything I want at the expense of everyone else. I am a grown up. Like them. I am not expecting celebrity or fame or riches; I am just trying to get through the day, do the right thing, and make the world a better place.