I just returned from a two week honeymoon. My husband and I were adventurous and went to Elephant Pepper Camp in Kenya on safari and then to Mauritius for the typical lazy beach holiday at the Les Pavillons. Over the course of these two weeks I went on a roller coaster of realizations about my nationality. With such a mixed set of emotions I now feel totally unsure of how I feel. There are positives and negatives of being an American.
You are probably wondering what the heck I’m talking about. Emotional about your nationality? Let me explain… I have traveled, a lot. In the past 5 years I have been to Australia, India, South Africa, Mozambique, Italy, Switzerland, France, Spain, Mexico, Greece, Croatia, Lesotho, Canada (it counts, right?) and most recently Mauritius and Kenya. I’m not stating all these places to brag or claim I am some world traveler, I’m simply stating that I have traveled enough to speak from an educated and experienced point of view on what I am about to say…. friends, things have changed. Out “there” relatively speaking, in the rest of the world, there is a different attitude towards us. For the first time in my life I genuinely felt ashamed, embarrassed, and at times SCARED to be American.
Sure, I have always experienced a sense of annoyance in my dealings with foreigners. They typically groan under their breathe and roll their eyes (especially in Europe) as soon as you ask for something in the distinct American accent. But, in the past, I have always been able to shake it off as falling victim to the American stereotype most have come to categorize us with: loud, obnoxious, rude, and entitled. Manifest destiny at its very best.
But this time in my travels I really picked up on a more aggressive dislike for people from our country. In the first week of the trip on safari we were in close quarters with people from Scotland, London, New Zealand, Spain, as well as some Kenyans with original colonial roots. Everyone was kind to us, but we were certainly the butt of a lot of jokes. This didn’t really bother me. What did was the overall sense of inadequacy that I left with. I consider to have been lucky enough to be able to travel and live abroad the way that I have. I’ve gained life experience and culture. But even with all of that, I’m not nearly as cultured as most Europeans that I have encountered. They speak multiple languages, have rich traditions, travel often, and watch more broad ranging and objective news/ media than what we have access to. After a week of hearing their stories and opinions around the camp fire, I was feeling pretty anti-American myself. We really do live in a bubble. Most people never leave the country (or have a desire too), Jersey shore is setting the trends, and the most dedicated source of news among the new generation is the Facebook feed. We are in trouble.
Once we got to the second leg of the trip in Mauritius I had time for self reflection – as well as a new set of experiences. The first day on the beach I started writing this blog article. It was VERY different than it is right now. It was about the brand and image that the United States of America has blasted the rest of the world with through politics, media, and Hollywood. I was loathing the country and never wanted to return. I schemed with my new husband about how our children were going to go to boarding school abroad (very dramatic, I know). However, over the next few days I got increasingly more annoyed with the European, Indian, and other guests at our resort. I can confidently say that we were the only Americans on the island of Mauritius. Americans rarely go there. I think after being around so many foreigners, I came to realize all the things that are GREAT about Americans. I got past the initial shame I had felt and good old fashioned patriotism kicked in. Hallelujah.
We might not travel all over the world, watch Al Jazeera, drink tea and speak multiple languages. But we do have our own set of strengths. We speak “American”. It’s a laid back dialect with a sense of humor and an appreciation of hard work, power, freedom and family. Americans are actually very polite when compared to others. And the fact that I just made that statement is a HUGE surprise to me, but a new opinion I have formed.Â It’s not a snooty, well mannered type of politeness. It’s more of a way of greeting people and treating others. We are kind to our servers and put a strong emphasis on the importance of good customer service (at hotels, restaurants, the service industry as a whole). We smile when we talk and laugh often. These are things of value to me and make me proud to live in a culture where this way of treating people is customary.
Anyways, I do want to be more aware of my world views, sources of news, and keeping an open mind. But I also won’t ever let myself be put in a situation again where I shut down and let people bash my country. I will defend it and point out the good. Everyone and everywhere has good and bad. Glass half full for now…
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