Nothing worthwhile ever happens quickly and easily. You achieve only as you are determined to achieve … and you keep at it until you have achieved ☼ Robert H. Lauer

The Merican’ Conundrum: How to Defend Your Country Abroad

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Anti American sentiment is a reality the planet over. From military expenditures, environmental concerns, racism from the right wing, the forthcoming power play against China for global domination, and as one of my Australian cohorts recently pointed out, TSA officers abusing their authority and only choosing to pat down “the hot ones” (heey that’s not a transnational issue!), the USA is not happening right now.

But when one travels to places encompassing landmass that lies beyond the borders of the U.S. of A, there won’t be any Americans. Americans don’t travel, right?!

Let’s begin with this nickname, “Americans.” Why do they call themselves that? How could it be that one nation is so egocentric, it assumes a name that could rationally apply to two entire continents?

I’ll share my experience: Traveling for the first time as a student, I was quite sensitive to this ‘self classification.’ Determined not to use it, I made a conscious effort to erase the term “American,” from my vocabulary, and refer to myself as being “from the US,” or even easier, “I’m from California,” thus revealing both my nationality, and that I should in fact be perceived as awesome, in one fell swoop. Brilliant, right?

Not so! When being introduced to someone at a gathering, my British flatmates would chime in, “She’s American!” Walking past McDonalds on a street corner, my foreign companion would make a snarky comment about obesity funded by these greedy “American” companies, to making an offhand comment about fashion, and receiving the comeback “Oh, you’re so American!”

In a Chinese city when trying to send a package, the country code was not listed under United States. Instead it was under – you guessed it, “America.”

The title ‘American,’ followed me around everywhere I went, with or without my explicit consent.

And then I finally acquiesced, using it to refer to myself, and the German girl at the receiving end of my monologue proceeded to press the point by asking very innocently, “oh, so then are you South American or…” and an Australian oh so condescendingly attempted to remind me that “America” is in fact two continents, as though educating a small child.

In other words you can’t win. I still avoid excessive use of the term, but I’ve since reinstated it into my vocabulary, maintaining that I do not overexert this classification – other people force it on to me.

Because America (see what I did there?), like most places on earth, has a wide disconnect between government and people.

While this shouldn’t be a great surprise, other nationalities seem to have a strange sense that the specific person from the United States they happen to be taking to is either directly responsible, or closely associated with those who are responsible for every fault they find with the nation. But in actuality, as with any nation of that size and scope, there exists every political standpoint imaginable, and the type of person who does travel, is more likely to be farther removed (and ironically more politically in line with the aforementioned other nationality who is currently yelling at them).

What to do when this happens?

1) DO NOT: pretend you are from Canada.

2) DO: Read a newspaper, get informed. We’re easy to pick on because we’re fat, ugly, and slow. Just because someone aggressively disses your homeland doesn’t mean they are intelligent or well read. Knowing a thing or two about their country can help get this unnesscary attention off of you, and put this bully back in his place without challenging him. Are they sputtering some sort of nonsense about a popular current issue, but don’t really seem to know all the specifics? You should be able to provide them. Recommend books, foster some higher learning.

In conclusion, as an American who has traveled alone a bit, this type of attention and backlash is a reality, and I’ve ended up speaking out on issues I don’t normally specialize in.

One night in Malaysia, despite my utter lack of participation in the (heavily intoxicated) conversation up to that point, I was enlisted, as the only American there, to weigh in the Israeli Palistinean conflict. It had turned borderline anti-Semitic, and I was only too glad I had taken a course on, and read some highly stimulating material on the issue before having to address the entire group about it.

Be true to your identity and values as an American, whatever those may be, just be sure you have some basis for your arguments. Ignorance is, after all, one of the biggest stigmas against you. And boy is it amazing when you can prove them wrong☼

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1 Response »

  1. nice post.. i understand totally. a good friend/attorney cautioned me once to ‘be smart.. remember the world’s hatred of our country is greater than your kind heart.’

    i speak out at times as well, or i will return to a restaurant or bar and apologize for a group that represented my/our country… i think one has to travel alone before one can see through foreigners’ eyes. you seem to do a good job of helping negate some of the bad pr we get! thanks!
    lisa/z

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