Mark Manson, an American living abroad, has an amazing post up on his blog entitled “10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America.” In the form of “tough love,” he offers some observations of how we Americans tend to view ourselves versus how the rest of the world views us. Generalizations? Hell yes there are generalizations, but that’s not the point. America is something of an echo chamber, with a majority of people purportedly unable to locate Iraq on a map, and it does us all a world of good to get some damn perspective on the rest of the world–especially since we think we’re running the place.
Read the whole thing. I’ll wait.
Now then, I want to focus on part of #10, “We Mistake Comfort For Happiness,” that defined me far better than I’d like. I have always considered myself well-traveled, having been to something like twenty-one countries. Most of those were either guided tours or study abroad programs. Some were backpacking trips where I saw lots of museums and hostels, but very little real life. I got to visit families in their homes in Belize and Russia, but even then it seemed like we were guests of honor, not experiencing everyday life. I spent a month in Spain for a study abroad program, where I lived in a dorm and spent almost all my time with the other Americans and a handful of Italians. Which brings me to why I felt a written GPOY moment.
The American public is becoming docile and complacent…When we travel, we look for giant hotels that will insulate us and pamper us rather than for legitimate cultural experiences that may challenge our perspectives or help us grow as individuals.
At the end of May 2012, we went to one of those all-inclusive resorts in Cancun, Mexico. It was sort of all-inclusive, anyway. I won the trip in a raffle last year and did not entirely know what I was getting myself into (there was a timeshare presentation component that we worked very hard to avoid). Long story short, though, we barely ever ventured away from the hotel. The same goes for our trip this past month, which, to be fair, was our honeymoon, during which time all we wanted to do was sit on a beach/by a pool and not do anything. After five days in the Turks & Caicos, I can’t really tell you anything about the place except what I learned on the internet.
Of course, going off the beaten path sometimes has the unfortunate side effect of exposing people who aren’t expecting dumbass Americans to dumbass Americans. I can’t speak for how those people actually experience that, but I for one don’t like being a dumbass. I lost count of the number of times I tried valiantly (I think, anyway) to communicate with people I encountered in Germany in actual German. I thought I did well, considering that all the German I ever learned was in one year of college classes that I almost never attended without a hangover. I guess that’s the point of this rant. Not everyone can travel the world, but we can all learn about the rest of the world, and at least make an effort to talk to them in their own language, even if we’re hung over.
Photo credit: arker from morguefile.com.