Having never been anywhere outside of North America, I must say I’ve been a bit naïve about worldly things. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been living in my own little bubble: a sports filled, investment banking-centric hole that I’ve worked hard to dig for myself. Whether right or wrong that’s just how it’s been, and that’s one of the motivations for going on this trip with Zhou. There’s so much I have to learn.
One of the more interesting things that’s come up in conversation on more than a few occasions has been how people from other countries view Americans. First, it’s worth noting that there seems to be a distinction between traveling Americans and Americans. Traveling Americans are those who appreciate the world around them and are intelligent, driven people. Or perhaps it’s a way for others not to offend Zhou and me when telling us what they perceive Americans to be. Because Americans are another story entirely.
It seems that those who’ve never been to America stereotype the average American as the patriotic, gun-toting, redneck, straw-chewing Southerner. It also seems that since it’s usually the stupid people who make the news, that characteristic is prevalent as well. We’ve learned that in one country to remain unnamed, Americans are sometimes known as “septic tanks.” This is clever for two reasons: it compares us to sewage and it rhymes with Yanks.
One of the opinions that does seem pretty spot on is that we’re loud. We haven’t seen many other Americans on this trip, but those that we have seen (and heard) have fit this stereotype well. For example, there was a family of Americans on the beach near us in Zanzibar, and rather than having a private conversation like all the other tourists nearby, the husband and wife instead seemed to prefer shouting at each other from a good distance apart. I think the husband was at the bar the entire time while the wife was down on the beach, but that didn’t stop them from having a nice chat about life for all to hear. The other group that we ran into was a church group at our last campsite, the Wheelhouse. If it weren’t for the deafening sounds of the cicadas at the camp, I would have gone deaf from all the kids running around and adults chasing after them.
Another interesting viewpoint has been the good vs. evil characteristics that Obama and George Bush have come to symbolize. It seems that George Bush is synonymous with all that’s wrong with America, while Obama is the best thing that’s ever happened to our country. The sad part about this is that Bush (and now Sarah Palin as well) has come to represent the Republican party as a whole, while Obama is the figurehead of the Democratic party. It’s amazing the dichotomy created between these two presidents and therefore parties, but in a way it’s currently a good thing, as it’s the current president who’s so beloved by so many people we’ve met.
One of the most shocking things to me though has been the lack of knowledge about American sports. As far as I knew American football, basketball and baseball were worldwide phenomena that every kid grew up watching. I understood that soccer (among a few other sports) were also big outside the U.S., but never realized how little coverage the sports I’ve grown up with get. In fact, a pretty big English sports fan we talked to actually had never heard of Lebron James. The Lebron James. As sad as it is, that fact among any other has really made me realize how much more there is out there in the world.
The talks we’ve had about the differences between our country and others in regards to topics like healthcare, taxes, rights, government, national defense and laws have really opened my eyes to a number of things. Most notably, I know now about American healthcare, taxes, rights, government, national defense and laws. I guess there is more out there than Lebron’s 24 career triple doubles and Ohio State’s seven Heisman trophy winners…
[Note: not all talks we’ve had about our country have been negative, and I truly believe that Zhou and I have actually made a good impression on most people we’ve met. Just for the purpose of this post, it seemed more interesting to highlight the less-than positive.]
Picture of the Day: We used to watch the landscape as we drove. This is what we look like on the truck now