Saturday, October 16, 2010

Redisovering America: The Good the Bad and the Ugly

I've been home just over a week and I feel like I'm rediscovering America: the good, the bad, and the ugly - American the Beautiful and the Not So Beautiful.

When I posted this post about my first weekend home, I got a lot of comments saying that I need to give it a chance and not be so critical. I totally agree. And I promise I'm doing that. And I'm finding the transition - both the good and the bad - amusing and interesting, funny and frustrating, fascinating and infuriating.

So far there are many things about being back in the US that I LOVE! But balancing that out, I'm finding there are other things that I do not love so much... Right now it's a close tie. Let's see which one will emerge the winner.

It's been a bit of an emotional rollarcoaster - which I think is ok. No one ever said that moving back after 9 years abroad would be easy - I certainly wasn't expecting it to be.

There are times when I hear or see that have me scratching my head - especially regarding American's ignorance or stereotypes about other cultures or countries.

There are times when I'm ecstatic to be home and other times when I'm so "homesick" for Europe and wishing I could hop on the first plane back.

There are times when I recognize things about life here in the US that just make so much sense - they make me feel "at home" in the US. In Europe my friends often thought me strange (in a good way I hope) for certain things like loving pumpkin flavored coffee or beer for example (a Swedish person would find this just plain weird), or this inexplicable need I had to over-decorate my apartment for each changing season. But being back in America, I realize these things do not make me weird. They make me American. They are the things that other Americans like/do. And it's these things that make me love America and feel comfortable with my repatriation.

Of course there is the flip side of the coin. I have learned a lot of things from living in other countries. I especially loved living in Sweden and after resisting for a long time, I finally learned to embrace and really love the simple Swedish lifestyle (seriously - I even like salty liquorish candy now, I'm a true convert). And some of the things about Swedish life I'm very homesick for. And some of those things that I have learned seem better than the American way of doing things. Or maybe not even better, just interesting to compare. And I feel frustrated because I

It's a journey - and kind of a fun one. And I want to share this journey with you all.

That's why I'm introducing a new section of my blog -  a series of short (yes folks, I'm going to attempt brevity here) posts on my fabulous journey of rediscovering America: the beautiful and the not so beautiful, as it may be. Of course I will still be giving you long and drawn out rants or musings on life and whatever task is at hand. But look for my Oh America! posts coming soon.

But before I begin this series of blog posts (where inevitably some will not shed favorable light on Americans) I would like to offer a small disclaimer (and by this I mean try not to judge me to harshly while I'm judging others). 

I may write about silly and stupid things that Americans say about other cultures - BECAUSE IT'S FUN AND IT'S FUNNY. However, my disclaimer is that I do realize that I have been privileged (and driven by an excessive urge to live abroad and seek out all things foreign and international and possessed with the demonic ability to give up everything else to pursue it) to live abroad and have the experiences I have had. I'm not judging other for taking a different path - that's fine - there are many paths in life to choose and it would be really boring if we were all on the same one. And I'm not necessarily judging others for their ignorance either. Ok. I admit it. I am just a tiny little bit but only if it's really bad. I mean judgey wudgey was a bear and all... But only a little. Mostly I'm just amused. I promise.

But back to the disclaimer. Actually, while living abroad, I have spent a LOT of time defending Americans and their ignorance about other countries or cultures - besides I found that there are an awful lot of foreigners who have crazy misconceptions and mislead stereotypes of Americans (i.e. we are all fat and carry guns and love George Bush).

So, in anticipation of the upcoming Oh America! posts, I would like to share with you what I have shared with many Asians and Europeans as to why Americans may be slightly ignorant when it comes to foreign countries and cultures and knowledge of geography and why (as so many international people point out) so few Americans actually own a passport. Here goes:

  1. The United States is geographically isolated. Essentially we are a huge island in the middle of the ocean - bordered by Mexico and Canada (and most Americans have been or will go to those two countries sometime in their lifetime). The fact of the matter is, it takes a long time and is expensive to travel to either Europe or Asia. It's not a simple trip. You don't just hope on the train or hop in the car! So geographic isolation is a huge international travel deterrent.
  2. The United States is HUGE - states are like European countries. Most Americans have been all over the US. And to those Europeans who look down on Americans for not having been to another country. Ummm... hello? I have never met an American who has never been to another state - usually they have been to multiple states and most have been to both coasts (6 hours by plane apart - I bet there are lots of Europeans who have never been 6 hours away from their home country). So, Mr. cool I've been to so many countries European, please remember that geographically, Americans traveling to different states is like Europeans traveling to different countries within Europe. And Americans going abroad is like Europeans going to Asian. Obviously fewer Europeans have been to Asia than those who have been to the countries surrounding theirs. So, if we stop comparing countries visited and start comparing distances traveled, I think Americans would probably kick Europe's collective ass!
  3. The US is interesting and diverse enough to keep you entertained. Americans don't really need to go abroad - there is lots of cultural diversity right here at home. And driving across the country is a hugely popular thing to do.
  4. The average American gets TWO WEEKS of vacation. The average European gets FIVE or SIX WEEKS! Of course they travel more. Especially if you take into account point number one with the US being geographically isolated. It takes a full day of travel both back and forth to go overseas (at least) so there is 2 days of your 10 day vacation gone right there. If I had just 2 weeks vacation, I wouldn't travel abroad either!
  5. Geography is seemingly not highly valued and often not taught in schools - I never once was offered or attended a geography class in school. In college a gained a wider perspective on the world - but I was an International Affairs major so that was kind of required. I do not know why geography is not taught in school and I think this is something that should be changed. But you can't blame people for not learning something that was not taught. I do wish our schools would put more emphasis on the international rather than focusing so much on the US. My favorite teacher in high school went out of her way to educate us about the world and the art, literature and cultures of other countries. This had a profound impact on me and helped fuel my fire for wanting to live abroad.
  6. Americans tend to have a strong work ethic. We graduate from college very young (much younger than Europeans who generally graduate at age 26) and are encouraged to join the work force as quickly as possible. I mean it's not like the government is chipping in for our education (no socialism here) and we have all those student loans to pay back so what else is there to do? Gap years for travel are not encouraged in the US the way they are in Europe - again, influenced by the loans but also the American 'work, work, work' and 'make money and get ahead' mentality.
Ok - now you have my disclaimer. What do you think? Do you agree with me? What are your thoughts on why Americans are sometimes ignorant of other cultures or have not traveled abroad?

Anyway, stay tuned for my rediscovering America posts coming at you soon!*

Ciao for now!


Average Girl said...

You know darlin, I think this is a great post... I do however have to say that I live on the west coast of Canada not far from Seattle in a pretty warm and sunny place, and when I was younger, I always ran into American tourists, and they would always ask me the same thing:

"Where are the Eskimos and igloos?"

My response was:

"In Alaska!"


I can't wait to see what your next posts are going to be... There is tons of stereotyping when it comes to Canadians too... Not all of us say "eh". Well I do! LOL

cheers sweetie


Lifebeginsat30ty said...

I very much agree with everything you've said! Although I have to say that I've been surprised lately about the amount of ignorance and intolerance. Some people are just that ignorant.

I'm very interested to get your views after being gone so long. I had trouble re-adjusting after one year, so I can't imagine 9!

Pammy Ponders @ Reflectorville said...

hi. i just found your blog, so I'm backtracking over our traveling stint and looking forward to hearing how you settle back home ! the annual leave days are a bummer, its one of the reasons i don't think I will ever leave europe to live, unless I can find another place that gives us 40 days off work a year!? good luck.

Julianna said...

My almost hubby was born in Portugal. He lived there until he was ten. I love hearing the differences in there and here, and his opinions on immagrants (legal and illegal) in this country. It keeps things interesting.

I agree with your list. I have been to other countries and my dream 40th b-day gift to me would be a cruise in the Med. But there's no place I would rather live than here. There are few places in the world that I could be a single Mom and buy my first home before I was 30. Which is why there has always been, and will always be a flag flying outside my home. :) Can't wait to here your "home" reviews! -J

Alena said...

Very well put! I haven't even thought about some of those. Another reason I can add about why Americans don't travel abroad often: it's really expensive. Due to us being so geographically isolated as you pointed out, the travel alone is expensive. And you don't just go for a weekend when you spend so much time travelling - you have to go for at least a week. That adds up to a cost that not many people can afford. And another reason (also stemming from geographical isolation): it's almost impossible to endure such long travel with small children. I would love to go to Europe on vacation, but my baby can barely take a 20 min car ride. So it's neighboring states for us until the kids are old enough to be able to take such long travels.

So yeah, I totally agree with you about how much easier it is to travel to Europe when you're IN Europe.

Having said that, a lot of Americans are ignorant for other reasons, but I'm sure you will explore that nicely in your blog :)

Matt79 said...

I think your points are all fair, especially the "two weeks vacation" one - I don't know how you manage!

Anonymous said...

Generally I agree with all that you say. I have found that some Americans have little desire to venture to other countries. They seem content. Others travel extensively and are comfortable doing so. I have friends and neighbors that fit both profiles.

I continue to travel broadly for business and vacation...and I married a man from London that shares many of my interests. Today, I have family in the US and UK. This works well. Susan

Sara Louise said...

I'm totally in agreement with you. It's amazing how patriotic I am living outside the US. As soon as I start hearing all this nonsense about how Americans don't travel I go on a huge tirade listing all the things that you did. I tell them to think of the US like Europe and each state is like a country. Plus, Americans don't get 35 vacation days a year, I mean HELLO!!!

Happy to hear your got your positive hat on, hope your new job is going well :-)

Fickle Cattle said...

I think everyone, all over the world, have something to like and dislike about their own countries. I say your home is where you are. :-)

Anonymous said...

This is really interesting! I've travelled a lot, too, to nearly 40 countries and lived in five... so I can't wait to read more!

JT said...

Great post! I met people in Boston who hadnt been anywere, not even New York. How can you have no interest of going to see one of the biggest (and for most - coolest) cities in the world? Especially when it is a 3h drive from where u are?
But it is the same in the countryside of Sweden. You might be happy just visiting charter destinations where they speak swedish and have swedish menues - a bit booring for my taste. :)

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