In 1980, I was a recent college graduate, intelligent but politically ignorant. I’d first voted in 1976 for Jimmy Carter. My father was infuriated. But I tended to lean left then, even if I wasn’t entirely sure why. I made the bold proclamation that if Ronald Reagan was elected president, I’d leave the country. Oh, how easy! I was 22 and full of ideas.
Reagan was elected, and in April 1981, I flew away. It wasn’t just because of Reagan, of course – I’d desperately wanted to return to my beloved Switzerland, so I bought a one-way ticket and had enough money to last a few months.
A former professor at the university where I’d spent my junior year of college helped me answer a couple of ads. One was local – a couple needed an au pair for at least the summer. The other was at the prestigious Monte Rosa boarding school in Montreux. One paid very little, one paid considerably more. I heard back from the couple first, and, needing to secure employment, accepted their offer. (The Monte Rosa contacted me a few days later, and, trying to be honorable, I turned them down and another American took the job.)
The husband of the family interviewed me at the hotel where I was living. We sat outside, at a tiny table, and drank strong coffee. His Italian-accented French was easy to understand, and we conversed without problem. He said to me, “You Americans, you’re always saying, ‘We’re Number One!'” He demonstrated with his index finger while smirking at me. I answered, “That’s because we are,” and grinned back.
I’m reminded of this exchange, and that long-ago summer, as I hear and read about people – adults my age – saying they’ll leave the country if Donald Trump is elected our next president. I’m sure some feel the same way about Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee on the other side. It’s not that easy to move to another country, and you know it. Unless you’re loaded with money and extraordinary connections, relocating for at least four years is nearly impossible. My life abroad in 1981 lasted less than six months. The Swiss government made it clear that my ‘visit’ was coming to an end.
If you go, be sure to send me a postcard!