As travelers often observe, one of the first questions you usually hear from other travelers is, “Where are you from?” Even if it’s asked out of simple curiosity, the answer has a way of coloring people’s perceptions. If you’re German, you must be disciplined and efficient. If you’re Australian, you’re probably a hard-partying surfer dude. Or Crocodile Dundee. And so on.
The above stereotypes are unfair and inaccurate, but they’re also relatively benign. Answer that you’re an American abroad, however, and you will often be naturally presumed to hold the same political beliefs as do the leaders of your country. You probably support the war, you own a gun, and you’re arrogant or unconcerned with the rest of the world.
These generalizations are no more accurate than those about Germany and Australia, but they’re a little more deleterious. I’ve heard people plainly admit to me, after learning that I’m American, that “they don’t like Americans.” That’s not exactly the best starting-off point for a friendship.
If one state in the Union seems to stand for all the others– abroad anyway– it might be Texas. Over at World Hum, Sophia Dembling talks about the difficulties of “traveling while Texan.” She addresses the hypocrisy of those who eschew visiting the conservative Lone Star State because of its political leanings:
“I am exasperated when people who travel happily to Cuba, China, Saudi Arabia and other nations with suspect human rights and political attitudes and behaviors say they don’t want to go to Texas because our electoral college falls to the right.”
She continues: “Yes, death penalty. Yes, George W. Bush. Yes, Jasper. But also Ann Richards, Molly Ivins, Barbara Jordan, Kinky Friedman. Even LBJ. Texans don’t all suck, my left-wing Texaphobic friends.”
The irony is, perhaps, that while some left-leaning folks fancy themselves more worldly and open-minded than those on the right, their preconceptions about people who live in rural areas, or certain states, are often elitist and flat-out wrong.
For instance, I attended a small liberal arts college in the rural Midwest, where some supposedly liberal students would openly mock the “townies” and “rednecks” that apparently populated the town surrounding our school. It took years for these same people to learn, if they ever learned it at all, that the people they once derided as unsophisticated and backwards are actually not much different from themselves.
Read Dembling’s excellent article at World Hum here.