This is My Rant

In the last post I wrote, I talked about the influence of American politics on the rest of the world. While writing that post, Jeff and I got to discussing a related idea—how difficult it is to hear other people criticize your country when you’re traveling. It’s almost as if America is family; I can pick on it all I want, but by God, you better not say a negative word about it.

America is an easy target. We wield a huge amount of power, and we often do really dumb things.

I’ll be the first to admit that I think our current President is a moron, that the war in Iraq is a disaster, that our environmental policy stinks. And if you, Mr. or Ms. Non-American, say these things to me during a civilized discussion, I’ll acknowledge that you’re right. But if you just throw out an insult, or if you catch me in a foul mood, I’ll be right up in your face defending America tooth and nail. Though W and I don’t see eye to eye on pretty much anything, you better not tell me that he’s a terrorist. You better not say that our war is worse than the 9/11 attacks. You better not claim that America is evil. I don’t deal in platitudes and gross exaggerations. I don’t deal in comparisons of horrors. I know that America is good. And if you even dare go anywhere near these statements, you better have a damn good answer about what your country is doing to make the world a better place.

Way back when Jeff and I first started planning this trip, I mentioned to him the one thing that I would have a really hard time putting up with. It wasn’t squat toilets. It wasn’t long bus rides. It wasn’t having limited clothing options. It wasn’t even dealing with foreigners who hate America. Most of them don’t know America well enough for their opinions to count. The thing that will be hardest for me is dealing with those Americans, who we’re bound to come across, who love to have pretentious conversations about how stupid/awful/self-involved/arrogant/whatever America is and how whatever third world country they’re in at the moment really has it figured out.

Sure, I agree, the $6 beachfront bungalows and the $2 steak dinners and the $0.50 massages are awesome. But you know why they’re awesome? Because you can afford them. To the people who live in these countries, all of that is still out of reach. Education, health care, a chance to improve their lives…that, too, is probably out of reach. I’m not saying you need to pin an American flag to your backpack the way the Canadians pin the maple leaf to theirs (why, again, do they do that?). I’m just saying that you need to be a little more respectful of where you come from, a little more humble about what you’ve been given, a little more thankful that by the grace of God (or whatever higher power/good luck you want to acknowledge) you were born in a place that might not always do the wisest things or act in the best way but allows you a hell of a lot of opportunity.

I am not a flag waver. I can’t even begin to describe how frightened I was to come home to a post-9/11 world after months away and find flags plastered everywhere and the national anthem de rigueur at every event right down to the ballet. But send me out into the world for an extended period of time, and the patriot inside comes out. During the 2002 World Cup, my roommates and I risked life and limb to wave an American flag and chant wildly at a German gathering as the U.S. played (and almost beat) Germany. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more perfect rendition of our national anthem then when our German hallmates sang it to us (print out of the lyrics in hand) from the balcony as we played wiffle ball on the 4th of July at our Freiburg dorm.

Distance does indeed make the heart grow fonder.

7 Replies to “This is My Rant”

  1. Yeah, the US flags that were everywhere when I got back to the US after 9/11 freaked me out too. Patriotism to a certain degree is a good thing, but when it goes too far overboard it just scares me… it makes me think of Nazi Germany with a flag on every house.

    I agree though. I’m especially annoyed by American ex-pats and travellers who have nothing good or positive to say about the US. There was a guy like that in the group that was studying abroad with us and I think everyone ended up hating him.

  2. “I can’t even begin to describe how frightened I was to come home to a post-9/11 world after months away and find flags plastered everywhere”. How can you say something like that? Especially since in the previous paragraph you say how lucky you are to be an American. You should be proud of where you are from. Proud of what this country does on a daily basis to keep you safe and able to do the things that you enjoy. Most of all you should be PROUD of every person who has fought to keep it that way over the years.

  3. Ah, the whole “that’s un-American” argument not exactly stated as such. Its funny that the things most often described under the blanket term of “un-American” are usually 100% American. But this is not the forum to debate if exercising one’s constitutional rights is “un-American” or not. Travel makes you realize how great America really is. Without experiencing other cultures and lifestyles you never really understand how blessed we are here in America.

  4. I can say “something like that” because I’m an American, because an amendment to our Constitution guarantees me the freedom of speech.

    Telling me what to say, think, feel, or believe is un-American.

    Waving a flag doesn’t make you a true American. I don’t know exactly what does, exact perhaps standing up for the poor and the weak, advocating for equality for all people, allowing people the freedom to say, do, and feel things that you disagree with, participating in the democratic process, etc. It’s something we should all aspire to, but I doubt there are too many of us who have achieved this.

    Anyhow, as an American, I respect your right to believe that flag-waving correlates to pride for one’s country. I just respectfully submit that you are wrong. 🙂

    On a side note, I can also say this, because it’s my blog, and I can say whatever I want. Woohoo! But what I say now is enough. The point of this post was to state how fortunate I am to be American, and how that can be too often overlooked by travelers. You can agree with that idea. You can disagree with that idea. But I highly encourage you not to make leaps in logic or make wrong claims about how I feel about my country. Because, you know what, this blog isn’t a democracy; it’s a dictatorship. (Insert evil laugh.)

  5. To: “A True American”
    I am in the military and I agree with Theresa’s comment about being scared by the number of flags that were just everywhere at that time–I felt the same way and clearly the fact that I am serving my country should show that I am proud of my country and support the troops past and present. I think we should learn from history and the mistakes of other nations that blind patriotism without questioning or criticism leads to bad, bad things and our founding fathers knew that when they made freedom of speech the FIRST amendment. Hanging a flag on your house doesn’t prove anything–speaking up and taking action when you think the country/administration is headed in the wrong direction does.

  6. Hi Theresa,

    I am a Canadian living and working in Barcelona and I agree that absence does make the heart grow fonder. I find myself longing for the weirdest things (Tim Horton’s donuts)… as well as the really big stuff: family, friends and country.

    I have travelled a great deal in Latin America and in Europe but I have never, in ten years, seen a Canadian sporting a maple leaf pin or Canadian flag badge. I rarely, however, stay in hostels so perhaps I am missing some of these maple leaf sporting travelers.

    When my mother travelled to Great Britain for the first time in the 1950’s, she said that some Canadian people (herself included) wore a small Canadian pin or flag because WW II had only been over for a few years and many Canadians were proud of the role that our country played. She said that she was well taken care of by strangers who saw her little pin.

    I, myself, have never felt the need to wear my citizenship on my knapsack or my sleeve. I AM Canadian and I know what that means for me.

    While we are asking tricky questions about nationalism, I wonder why a few Americans who are traveling or living aborad respond that they are Canadian when asked where they are from. I actually saw an American acquaintance do this here in Barcelona. A guy from Boston approached our group and asked where we were from. The man in my group said “Toronto” and then they chatted about sports in Canada and the USA. After the young packpacker went on his way, I turned to the man and said, “I didn’t know you were from Toronto.” “I’m not” he responded. “You never say that you are from the USA!” I was astonished. Recently, two Canadian friends were visiting and a guy on the beach heard us speaking English and asked where we were from. We named our three respective Canadian cities and he said “You are pathetic. Why don’t you just have the courage to say that you are from the Unite States.”

    These are difficult waters to navigate.

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