Now that I am back in my homeland of majestic purple mountains, fruited plains, and good ol’ amber waves of grain, I am amidst my American brothers and sisters–sometimes loud, sometimes big, but almost always smiley and friendly. After more than one year on the road, I feel I have taken a very unscientific measure of foreigners’ views of Americans and America. Many statements have some truth to them—although, of course, they are all generalizations.
Here are some of the most common things I heard about us from foreigners.
- Americans are very confident.
- Americans are all rich.
- Americans don’t know much about the rest of the world.
- ‘I like Americans but I do not like American politics or foreign policy.’
- How come every American traveler I meet tells me they don’t like George Bush? How did he become president… twice??”
- I traveled to the United States and was pleasantly surprised at how friendly and welcoming they were (I honestly heard this at least ten different times).
- You are thin for an American (this was really said to me in Madrid by a British guy).
- You’re American, and you actually know how to drive a stick shift (standard transmission)??
- You’re American… so you have a gun, right?
- I don’t meet many Americans—they don’t travel as much as others.
This last one is a much discussed topic amongst travelers. Roughly 20-25% of Americans have their passports and those that do are more likely to be liberal-minded, left leaning individuals. But even though I do travel and think it is a great experience, education and investment for me personally, I do not feel the need to ‘wear my passport’ as a badge or look down on others who choose not to.
I also know there are many reasons why some Americans do not or can not travel outside the country:
- The US is very big and one can spend a lifetime just seeing the fifty states inside its borders. North America has just about every climate and landscape known to man and a wide variety of culture, cuisine and lifestyles. A lifetime isn’t enough to see everything.
- Unlike European countries, the US is very far from most other countries making it very expensive to travel abroad. A New Yorker may go all the way to Florida on holiday while the same thing for a Brit may be to fly to the Costa del Sol of Spain—probably the same distance but because of the small size of European countries, crossing borders is just more common.
- And in relation to the above, since the distance is so great, the flights are therefore very expensive and many, many people in the US can not afford to travel abroad.
- The unfortunate lack of vacation time given by the majority employers in the US.
The United States is a vast nation. With a total land mass area (exclusive of waters) of 3,536,294 sq mi (9,158,960 km²) the U.S.A. is the world’s third largest country, following Russia and China. Stretching more than three thousand miles across with nearly fifty states and nearly 300 million people in between, this is one diverse land.
Like all nations in the world some people are good and some bad. Some are the nicest you would ever meet and some are complete morons. One of my biggest pet peeves is generalizations.
In the beginning of my trip, I was slightly excited to be thought of as a ‘cool’ or ‘good’ American. People said I was ‘different’ because I was traveling and seeing the world and not just holed up in my country watching one of 300+ channels on my TV or driving my big, gas-guzzling SUV on some big highway somewhere (these are obviously more stereotypes).
By the way, I sold the only car I’d ever owned, a 1989 Honda Prelude, before my trip began. I only drove about once a month and hope to not buy another one since I normally use public transport anyway.
I was happy to also defend and explain to people that all Americans are not created equal and we are all different just like the rest of the world. But, I have to admit, as time went on I began to get sick and tired of trying to make sense of it all and either defending or renouncing other Americans. I grew weary of debunking the negative stereotypes that I really can’t do much about.
A few times I did encounter the stereotypical “ugly Americans” (as well as other English-speaking nationalities that shall remain nameless) during my travels giving us all a bad name, but I still tried to give them the benefit of the doubt because of the fact that they still made the decision to travel and see other parts of the world in the first place.
But I also met and know wonderfully kind and open Americans. Just remember also that the Americans who are traveling abroad are there to open up to new experiences and engrossing themselves in new cultures, but by making comments about these very visitors to your countries that open-mindedness can quickly turn to defensiveness.
After all I’ve seen and done I am still an American and I like myself and most of my American friends. I was proud to represent my country as I toured the world. I’m not proud of all Americans or everything my country does but who said it was all or nothing? Now shut up before I shoot you… and then sue you.