Jun 05 2008
After the dozenth person told us we needed to attach a Canadian flag to our backpacks while traveling around Europe, I became curious. How bad would it be? Why do I have to pretend I’m not American? Do Europeans really hate us that much?
In short, no. Most people we met were able to separate any feelings they may have towards the American government from their perception of its people. That said, George W. is widely mocked. We rarely introduced ourselves as Americans without getting a comment or two about Dubya – to the point where I wanted to start every conversation with, “Hello, my name is Brittany, I’m from the United States, and I DID NOT VOTE FOR HIM, thankyouverymuch.” (Oh, there was also this guy).
We obstinately refused to wear maple leaves on our luggage, and we had no major problems. Sure, I encountered lots of people that were surprised I wasn’t a gun-toting, lawsuit-happy, Bible-thumping, socially-conservative cowboy. They can’t help it—their media depicts Americans that way. And I was more than happy to assure them that, no, I promise, we’re not all like that.
But there was ONE guy…
During our tour of Halong Bay, our group—a mix of Australians, Canadians, Irish, English, Malaysians and, of course, two awesome Americans—stopped on a beach to have a picnic lunch. The conversation was pleasant and fun, aside from an irritating British man at the other end of the table who would loudly state well-known facts as if he discovered them. “Did you know that the skin is the body’s largest organ?” he’d say proudly. “Yes, I read that in a science journal.”
We largely tuned him out, and talked to the cool Aussies and Canadians around us.
There was one moment, though, when there was a brief lull in conversation. Mr. Science Journal took advantage of this opportunity.
“I mean, I can understand voting Bush into office once, because how could they know?” he said, his voice heavy with condescension. “But the fact that they re-elected him really makes me call into question their intelligence and what kind of people they really are.”
No one said a word. Aware of the presence of two Americans (well, everyone but him, who hadn’t bothered to talk to us), everyone looked down nervously, avoiding our gaze. An awkward silence fell.
Eventually, Ben broke the silence:
“God, I hate Americans,” he said.
The table burst into laughter, with the exception of Mr. Science Journal. In Ben’s words, “I think I succeeded in making an ass out of THAT guy.”
There’s very little you can say about America that will offend me. I have enough of my own criticisms to appreciate that other people might be critical of government as well. But this guy’s personal remarks and unapologetic generalizations rubbed me the wrong way. It was the one instance during our trip that I had to suppress the urge to defend my country.
Before I end this, I want to tell one more anecdote that will leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy on the inside about Uncle Sam.
Back on Crete, we met a Danish dude named Nikolaus, who’d spent time in Florida, where he had family. His first impression of the States, he told us, was confusion over the extreme number of rules we have; rules that seemed silly to him. No, you can’t walk here! That would be trespassing. And God forbid you show a beer bottle in public!
“It’s like you fear all the time!” he said. “Americans are scared. What are you afraid of?”
This perception was accentuated when he visited the local Walmart to register for a fishing license. He’d brought his passport, his visa, and several other travel documents and forms of identification. However, because he didn’t specifically have an American driver’s license, the Walmart employee would not issue him a fishing license.
Irritated, Nikolaus argued with and questioned her, but she wouldn’t budge.
“She would not use her brain!” he said, getting annoyed as he remembered it. “She just followed the rules without thinking!”
As he was about to storm out angrily, Nikolaus noticed racks of guns lining the wall. “So I can’t get a fishing license,” he said. “But, if I wanted, could I buy a gun?”
“Well, yeah,” the employee said. “Of course.”