Europe Meets D.C.: Witnessing Election Day through European eyes

WTOP's European interns Alina Braun and Christine Amdam experience their first Election Day in the United States, and are surprised to find out that Americans celebrate political victories.

Editors Note: They traveled 1,230 miles to come to Washington, D.C. — Christine Amdam flew all the way from Norway and Alina Braun from Germany. This fall, they are studying journalism at American University and working as interns for WTOP. They quickly discovered that Washington and the American culture are very different from their hometowns Oslo and Mannheim and decided to document their experiences. Check each weekend to read about Christine and Alina’s “culture clashes.”

Celebrating politics

Alina Braun, special to WTOP

Drink and food specials, people dancing and shouting in the streets and motorcade – this is what I associate with soccer world championships in Germany. On Tuesday night, I learned that the re-election of President Barack Obama also created such a mass party.

I still get the goose bumps when thinking about the celebration and the excitement of all these people – an excitement that I only knew from sporting events. I would have never imagined that a political decision would be able to create the extreme excitement I witnessed.

Some European friends and I wanted to be in the middle of what was going on during election night. We were told to go to U Street by many Americans, and we ended up at the Mexican restaurant Alero. You could feel the tension in the restaurant. All eyes were fixed on the TV screen, anxiously waiting for the next results.

It reminded me of the last soccer world championship in Germany, when all restaurants were packed and people had that same look in their eyes when they stared at the screen. I thought, “Wow, it is voting results we are watching, right?”

Whenever Obama won a new state, people started jumping on their feet, embracing each other and cheering. I expected the final result to be announced around 2 a.m. but, then the win over Ohio caught everybody by surprise. First, there was a moment of shock, and then everybody went crazy. People started dancing to the song “Viva Obama,” screaming the name of their re-elected president and some were even crying.

We rushed out on U Street where people had gathered in front of Ben’s Chili Bowl and were constantly singing “four more years.” Then we decided to go the White House. Here, the craziness was even more extreme: Teenagers climbed into trees, and American flags were swung everywhere. Suddenly, the whole crowd started to passionately sing the National Anthem.

Some Obama fans came dressed up as if it was Halloween. One, for example, wore a rabbit costume. I was so amazed that I wasn’t really able to take part in the singing, screaming and jumping. I mostly observed the scene with a big grin on my face and took a lot of pictures. I have never before been right in the middle of a historical moment.

Some German friends and I started to imagine how it would be if this were to happen in Germany. The thought was so absurd that we had to laugh. When Angela Merkel was elected as chancellor in 2009, nobody went out on the street or watched the result at special election parties. In Germany, I never even thought about doing that. This does not mean people weren’t happy about the result of our election. Many were – they just didn’t celebrate it.

Politics is considered a rather dry topic in Germany. Sports are something you celebrate and area a cause to drink and go crazy. But politics? Somehow, Americans manage to make it a fun and entertaining part of their culture in Washington. I admire people in D.C. for that and wish Germans would find that passion for politics. I have never read and heard more about politics than here in this city, and, generally, I have never been more interested in politics. In Germany, I sometimes had to force myself to read all political news on a regular basis. Here, it somehow became a hobby – as if I was infected by the city’s love for politics.

Watch a video of election night by Alina Braun:

Alina Braun is an intern at WTOP this fall. She is studying journalism and foreign policy at American University for two semesters. In Germany, she is obtaining her master’s degree and studying, in which she is majoring in linguistics and minoring in psychology. She works as a freelance journalist for the German public radio station SWR.

Four more years

Christine Amdam, special to WTOP

I have waited with excitement for Nov. 6 since I came to Washington, D.C. in August. The campaigning, conventions, debates and what the election is about here in America is very interesting. I could have gone to Australia, Bali, San Francisco and a lot other places for this semester, but I chose to take my semester abroad in Washington, D.C. The reason I came here was mostly because of the election. What is better than being in the political center of the U.S. for this big happening? I wanted to feel and be a part of the circus.

The Republican and Democratic conventions were the first biggest political events to occur when I came here. If they had been here in the District, I would definitely have done what I could to be there – or at least stay outside and talk to people. How the speakers are treated reminds me of Hollywood-stars. They talk to the audience as if they were in a church in Harlem. The speeches reminded me of gospel sermons when I listened to them, and when I saw how the audience reacted.

It is also strange to me that Michelle Obama and Ann Romney get their own speeches. You rarely see a picture of the Norwegian prime minister’s wife in the Norwegian media. She never talks to the press. The prime minister talks to the people about politics and not his personal life. I understand that the wives speak because they want to show that the candidates are more than political figures. They are also fathers and people who care and have feelings.

I actually met Bob Schieffer, the moderator of the last debate, just a few days before he went to Florida. Because he spoke to me and other students at American University. It was even more interesting for me to watch this debate because Schieffer told us how he prepared. We also got the opportunity to provide questions he could use for the candidates. In the end, both Obama and Romney got off topic about foreign policy and focused on the American economy. There were no doubt both of them tried to reach the undecided voters in the middle.

The candidates’ family members came up on the stage as soon as the debate was finished and showed their support. It took me some time to get use to this. I feel that I know more about Romney and Obama’s family than any politician’s family in Norway.

On Election Day, I woke up at 5 am. I wasn’t supposed to get up before 8 a.m., but I was so excited. It’s the first and maybe the last time I will be in this country for an election, and I had so many questions. How will people act? How will they celebrate? How will they act when the polls close and the votes get counted? And, of course, who will be the president the next four years? While walking in the city that day, I felt the city was different. People were saying “happy Election Day” to each other. People also talked more about politics than usual. They shared their voting experiences. Some people had to wait up to four hours in lines outside the polling booths.

I spent the evening at an election night party at Bohemian Caverns on U Street. I got there around 6 p.m. and luckily got a seat. It got crowded real quick, and everybody paid attention to the TVs. When the new polls came in, people became really engaged. They were cheering when they were satisfied and screaming out in frustration if they were not happy about the results. I felt excitement and tension the whole night. At 11:25 p.m. when the polls from Ohio came in, Obama got 274 electoral votes and was re-elected as president. People went crazy where I was. They were giving each other kisses and hugs and started screaming. The DJ turned the volume of the music up, and everybody started dancing. Some of the guests ran out to the street. Cars honked and were driving back and forth. “Four more years, four more years!” resounded through U Street the rest of the night.

Christine Amdam is a WTOP fall intern. She is studying journalism at Oslo University College in Norway. Christine is studying at the American University Washington Semester Program in D.C. for one semester.

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