I am frequently asked about what people think of Americans when I return from abroad. Here is my response.
“What do people think of Americans?” This question is unavoidable when you are in America and talk about traveling the world. At first glance, it is a pretty straightforward question but it does come with some baggage that I am going to attempt to unpack in this article. I go into a couple micro-rants and for that, I apologize in advance.
First, I want to make this one point crystal clear: You will be perfectly safe traveling the world as an American.
As of writing, I have traveled to over 30 countries and territories. I have also lived in 4 countries long term. In all that time, I have never had a problem because I was American. That’s not to say I haven’t had problems, I have. They just weren’t the result of my nationality.
More often than not, any time I have been scammed or hustled was due to the color of my skin and the belief that I must have a lot of money. This is especially true when traveling in less developed nations such as Cambodia. These issues are never serious and aren’t a good reason to stay home.
So What Do People Think of Americans? They don’t.
People all around the world are really too busy with their own affairs to really hold any strong opinions about Americans. While the question is asked out of genuine curiosity (and perhaps fear), it is slightly arrogant to think that being American is important in any way shape or form.
This is one of the most profound lessons I have learned on the road: people are just people. This idea that we are somehow different because of ethnicity or nationality is just bullshit we have been spoon fed since we are children to make us feel that we have some privileged place in this world.
People Are Not Policies
When I lived in Turkey as an exchange student in 2004, the war in Iraq was only a year old and still very fresh in people’s minds. I was in Istanbul one day and I stumbled into a political protest against the war. Want to know what happened? Absolutely nothing. I was perfectly fine and no one bothered me or even talked to me. I was completely ignored.
I have found that, with few exceptions, what people think of Americans and what they think of American policies are two different things. People are very good at separating the actions of Americans from the actions of their government. All of my friends and acquaintances have opinions on American policies abroad and some of them like to discuss their views with me, but I’m never regarded differently due to the biological lottery of nationality.
I wish this is something that we, Americans, could improve on. American media is so sensational and jingoistic that when they cover events in other countries, they often talk about governmental policies as if the entire nation is collaborating together to offend America, which isn’t the case at all. Stop watching the news.
People Are Curious About You
When you travel abroad, many people will want to meet you. They will want to know everything about you. They will invite you into their homes, cook for you, take you out on the town, and even give you the shirt off their back while asking nothing in return. Accept this generosity and return the favor.
Another thing to remember is that the United States is still seen a beacon of hope and opportunity. The light may have been diminished a bit upon electing the Cheetoh-in-Chief but millions of people would give up everything for the chance at life in the U.S.
Be A Good Human (and Vote)
Getting along with people in foreign countries is really no different than anywhere in the U.S. All human cultures are built on the same fundamental rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated.
Make a conscious effort to do this and you will never have to worry about what people think of Americans.
Also, vote for people who know that the fuck is going on in the world. Stop fucking voting for assholes who think problems are solved with bombs or that think entire groups of people are to blame for your problems. /endrant