People believe a lot of stupid things, and one of the stupidest is that Americans are somehow at much higher risk than other nationalities when traveling. Many Americans I know won’t travel to foreign countries, and I’ve even seen Americans wearing Canadian flags in the hope that it will make them safe. Many Americans seem to think they’re targets, especially in Muslim areas. My own personal experience says otherwise.
Although I’m Canadian, I lived in the States a long time and have an American accent. Most people assume I’m American, so I know what it’s like to travel as one. I’ve been to lots of places that my American friends think I’m crazy to visit, like Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Palestine and Somaliland. Instead of being threatened or insulted, I’ve been welcomed.
Again and again I’ve told my American friends how surprisingly safe it is to adventure travel around the world, yet they persist in the belief that what I do is crazy or brave or just plain stupid, when in reality the only real threat I face is from the microbes. Oh yes, foreign microbes have kicked my Western ass on numerous occasions. Damn foreign microbes. The people have been much nicer. Here are two examples of “exotic” locations where I was assumed to be American and treated well.In Isfahan, Iran, I got into a conversation with a religious teacher at a madrasa. This guy decided to give me a driving tour of his city. I hopped into his car and we zipped around Isfahan to see the sights, including the many beautiful blue-tiled mosques.
At one point he asked, “Do you have mosques like this in America?” He seemed surprised when I told him I wasn’t American. His treatment of me after he found out I was Canadian was no better or worse than it was when he thought I was from the Great Satan. While he probably wasn’t terribly fond of the U.S. government, like most people he could distinguish between people and governments. Yes, I’ve said that before, but it bears repeating.
In the predominantly Muslim city of Harar, Ethiopia, I was a regular member of a daily qat chewing session. One of the younger guys there talked to me every day in order to improve his English. The Arab Revolution was all over the TV so we had plenty to talk about. Several weeks into my stay he asked, “You are a Jew, yes?”
“No, I’m not,” I replied.
“But you are American. Ninety percent of Americans are Jews.”
“Actually it’s more like two percent, and I’m not American anyway.”
So this Muslim guy not only thought I was an American, but a Jewish American and still had no problem hanging out with me.
That’s not to say that I’ve never had problems while abroad. I live part time in Spain, and four or five times I’ve had Spaniards start bitching to me about “damn Yankees” needing to go home. Every single time they’ve been lone, older drunk guys – losers, in other words.
And are you really going to shut yourself off from the world just because of a few losers?
For a slightly different take on this from a real American, check out Dave Seminara’s post on National Pride While Abroad.
Photo courtesy flickr user Cali4beach. One of these ladies is actually Australian. Appearances can be deceiving!