So, what was it like to be an American abroad in Asia for two months? The very question itself is fairly narcissistic, and perhaps even characteristic of how people from other countries perceive Americans.
But it is a point of interest, especially in today’s tumultuous political climate. You couldn’t step foot into a business with a television without images of our president donning the screen, so this understandably became a point of conversation that came up time and again as I met people from other countries. For the purposes of this post, I’ll be referring mostly to the reactions I received from fellow Western travelers. As much as I would have loved to have heard opinions from Cambodians, neither of our vocabularies really allowed for such a nuanced discussion. (But I could say “thank you” like a champ!)
I briefly met a few other Americans during my travels, but most of the travelers I met were English and Australian, with a few Dutch, French, and Italians thrown in for good measure. Unsurprisingly, I felt the most culturally similar to the English and Australians whom I met; this has been my experience elsewhere as well. Almost everyone was savvy to American politics, and while most were somewhat sympathetic to my status as an, ahem, non-Trump supporter, there was an underlying sense that we have become the laughingstock of the world. Sure, we were already fat and overly friendly, but it appears we’re also dumber than originally perceived.
I had the pleasure of working with a young Indian man, AJ, on a volunteer project in Mumbai a couple weeks ago, and while he didn’t voice his opinions on our president one way or another, he did sum up the policy of the Trump administration well: America is first, and the rest of the world is secondary. I didn’t get the impression he was stating this in a positive or negative way: it was simply a statement of fact – and he’s absolutely right. For me, though, I felt like I constantly had to defend myself against this stance to people whom I met from other countries.
Rich, a good friend I made from England, explained to me in layman’s terms Brexit and the British election process. While I read the news and understand it from that angle, it was helpful to learn more from someone who actually lives there. I’d like to think I was able to offer similar insights into the current political situation in the United States. I’m not an expert by any means, but I am from there. The fact remains, though, that it’s both strange and difficult for anyone to act as the single representative from a country of 300+ million people, no matter what your opinions or political beliefs are.
I got along well with almost everyone I met. There were a few good-spirited jabs (the enormous bald eagle emblazoned on the first page of my passport, for example, elicited a few laughs during a multi-country passport comparison session), but again, it was all in good fun. There seems to exist a general understanding among people our age, especially those who travel extensively, that these are strange times. Most seem to realize that it’s important to get to know individuals rather than make generalizations about entire countries. That is, after all, how silly generalizations are broken down. (And sometimes, reinforced.)
And I’ll just say this in defense of Americans everywhere: I’ve never met more enthusiastic KFC lovers than Rich and Ryan (of England) and AJ (of India). I’m just sayin’…
Special shout-out to all of the intrepid travelers I met over the past couple of months (especially the ones who take the time to read my blog!). You all are an inspiration, and have made me feel at home in my vagabond lifestyle.