Let me start off by saying that I love America. I love Americans, and I love the fact that I was blessed enough to be born and raised here. Over the years I have been taught many things about our country, but one thing in particular that was drilled into my mind over and over again was the pervasive belief that America was, indeed, the “greatest country in the world.” As I got older, I continued to hear this phrase, and it became apparent that my peers grew up hearing this, too. Soon I came to the conclusion that this belief was taught to everyone, and Americans- and sometimes non-Americans, alike- seemed to have truly come to believe this. Before I started to travel, and even for a while after, I bought into this notion. I embarked on a world of carefree travel, proudly armed with my American passport that allowed me easy entry into almost every country in the world. I had heard rumors that some non-Americans didn’t like American tourists, because we were loud and rude, but “How can that be?” I thought. “We’re Americans. Everyone loves us!” It didn’t take me long to realize that these rumors had merit. Some people outside of the U.S. really don’t care too much for us, and I soon understood exactly why.
One thing that I noticed about my fellow Americans abroad was that we are arrogant. We expect the moon and the stars to move when we travel to other places. We’re known to march in with our costly accessories and our American flag-ladden apparel (seriously, what’s with that??) and make our presence as Americans known. And if something doesn’t go our way, some are quick to throw out the “I am an AMERICAN!” card, as if that is supposed to make the red carpet roll out and have everyone break their backs to make sure everything goes our way. It’s disgusting. Really, no one cares.
We also expect things to meet the same standards that we would expect in the U.S. We really are fortunate to live in a country where we don’t have to experience many true discomforts in our lives. Yes, it may suck that the A/C in your Lexus blows too cold so it’s hard to get it at just the right temperature, but that’s not a real problem. In many other countries, things like A/C and wifi may be a luxury that not everyone has. When we travel, we shouldn’t expect everything to be like it would be at home. It’s just not a realistic expectation. And we certainly shouldn’t get upset when we are slightly inconvenienced. When a country doesn’t have all of the amenities that we have become accustomed to readily available, it doesn’t make that country “less-than.” It makes it different. After all, there are people in the world that are dying from lack of food and water- we can survive a week with sketchy wifi. Let’s count our blessings.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when I travel to another country and encounter other Americans who don’t even attempt to speak the native language of the country. We are notorious for demanding that people speak English when they come to the U.S., so why wouldn’t we think the same thing applies to us when we travel abroad? It’s unrealistic to expect someone to learn an entirely new language before they travel to a different country, but it is completely realistic to expect them to brush up on the language and learn a few basic phrases of the country that they are going to. It really makes a difference when you approach someone and attempt to communicate with them in their native language. Even if you struggle, at least you made the effort, and it will be appreciated. However, when we waltz into a country and speak to everyone like we assume that they speak English or should speak English, it’s rude and very disrespectful.
Another complaint that others have about Americans is that we don’t respect the culture of other countries. We’ve been so brainwashed into thinking that our American way of life is just so great that the way we do things is the standard around the world. It’s not. Other countries have entirely different religions and customs that we must respect, no matter how different they may be from our own. If they bow when they greet each other, you bow too. If they take their shoes off before entering a home, your shoes should come off too. When you enter a place of worship or a sacred place, even if the religion is not your own, you need to respect it as if it were your own holy place. Sure temples and mosques may be elaborate and beautiful, but they are more than tourist attractions; they are sacred places of worship and should be treated as such.
And finally, we think we’re the best country in the world…even if we’re not. Why, exactly do we assume that title? When it comes to things like healthcare, education, and social equality, the U.S. has a lot of room for improvement. Not to say that we aren’t ‘great,’ per se…. we’re just far from the best, and maybe we should start acting like we realize that. If we already think we’re the greatest, we won’t be able to see room for improvement.
The reality is that other countries want American visitors. American visitors means American dollars, which means revenue for other countries. Travel provides wonderful experiences and cultural exchange, but to really appreciate another culture, we must put aside our preconceived notions, our comparisons, and unrealistic expectations to truly find the beauty in the differences.