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What the Vietnamese are thinking on the day the U.S.'s first black president is sworn into office

 "Where can I find an affordable kumquat tree for Tet?"

Seriously. The Vietnamese lunar New Year starts on a Monday this year, January 25, and everything is going to shut down starting Saturday so people can take all of next week off and turn it into a nine-day vacation. Which means people have just three more days to get ahold of the obligatory kumquat tree drooping with bright orange kumquats, to show what a fruitful year this coming Year of the Buffalo is going to be. Money is tight right now — exports are falling off, and food prices are dropping, which hurts farmers — and people's top concern is how to afford the normal obligatory round of gift-giving and feasting the Tet season entails.

Some Vietnamese may be vaguely aware Obama is being inaugurated. It's an administrative detail regarding the American political system that really isn't at the top of their minds today.

We Americans have a tendency to think the entire world revolves around us. The U.S. is in a highly celebratory mood about an occasion that's very significant in our history, and we assume the rest of the world is celebrating with us. And, yes, broadly speaking, Vietnamese, like most of the world, are happy Barack Obama is taking the reigns of the American presidency. But it's not the most important thing on their agenda today. And there is something a little overweening about Americans' insistent queries to non-Americans about what they think of current American political developments, as if we assume they're going to be interested, or think they're important. How would we feel if Chinese were constantly coming up to us, asking us what we think of Hu Jintao? There's an implicit assumption of our own centrality on the world stage that is revealed by just asking the question. If the U.S. under Obama is to project a more internationalist image, part of that effort will need to involve recognizing that our internal politics don't really matter as much to foreigners as they do to us.