Interview with Suzy Hansen, Author of Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World
by Joanna Blaz, Editorial Director, Young Professionals Program, UNA-SNY
At the United Nations Association of New York Book Talk for “Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World,” first-time author Suzy Hansen answered questions from the audience about her ten years as an American journalist living in Istanbul, feminism in the Middle East and the meaning of “Post-American.” The talk took place at the Institute of International Education and was attended by about 40 people.
Hansen writes in the same direct, intelligent and unapologetic style as she speaks, as she sets out to answer one main question: how does the rest of the world see Americans?
From the lyrics “where at least I know I’m free” to the way we dress as tourists, Hansen holds a mirror to the everyday cultural subtleties Americans never stop to examine, and attempts to understand when they started to seep into our subconscious.
“For all their patriotism, Americans rarely think about how their national identities relate to their personal ones,” Hansen writes. She often describes the country as an “empire” and presents the idea of two Americas: one viewed from the inside and one viewed from the outside.
After the Book Talk, Hansen answered a few questions for UNA-SNY YP.
JB: What was your impression of how the idea of the American free press and journalism is viewed abroad?
SH: “American foreign correspondents in particular do tend to have this attitude that we have the best journalism. That only American journalism is truly objective in a way, that it aspires to different standards than other countries… I think that Americans just forget to be self-critical.”
“[They] still have a way of looking at things that comes from being the most powerful country in the world… Even if you’re a liberal, even if you are self-critical, you have these kind of tendencies that come from power.”
JB: How do you think this book will speak to American immigrants?
SH: “A lot of these problems are enshrined in the immigrant experience actually. We tend to think that America’s so special because of the immigrant experience but one of the problems is when an immigrant comes to this country and they are starting anew, and they are told to forget the past… but it’s not just forgetting the past from that (country)… it’s that they don’t then realize that in order to become American, you also have to adopt the history of America, which is a bloody and violent history.”
JB: You were very self-aware about your own American bias. How did you keep your objectivity in mind while still exposing yourself to the culture when you chose the sources and locations in the book?
SH: “That’s why I kept the book so closely attached to my experience. I did not set out to report this book, it is all reflective.”
“I decided that in order to figure out how I had gone from being that person in 2007 to this person in --- by the time I started writing the book --- 2013… I just felt like I had to trace it. It wasn’t necessarily that I was going to set out and ask people ‘What do you think of America?’ Because then it wouldn’t be authentic but then also all the problems and issues that you’re raising would come up, like ‘Who did you select?’”
“But I knew that I had this transformation… there was this arc. And I just wanted to write a book that accounted for how that arc happened.”