“Let’s drink to the pursuit of the new American dream—getting the f***out of America,” Thomas B. Kohnstamm from his book Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?
Woosh. Anybody who has known me for more than 5 minutes knows how much I dream about getting out of N.Amer, but that statement is as harsh as a brain-bleed of a hangover that just won’t quit 17 hours later. If you’ve been there, you know….
Call America what you will, and while my precious freedom of speech compels me to write, I’m not trying to get into any bipartisan political arguments. Let’s think about this: If America is a nation of dreamers, what is the American dream? Is there some sort of communal American Dream that we can all claim? I don’t know about you, but the circle skirt + white picket fence -dream isn’t really doing it for me these days.
I have the privilege of owning one of the most powerful passports in the world—meaning that ironically, being an American gives me the highest potential to go places other than America. I like that potential. That power is one of my most precious freedoms and I treasure it.
In spite of all of that powerful, positive potential, Americans are often highly criticized for being some of the most obnoxious of all world travelers. I actually think that besides being criticized for wars you didn’t start, one of the worst thing to hear is, “wow, I’ve never met another American traveling before. Most Americans don’t even have passports, right?” ….Just so sad.
Just as there are many diverse reasons that inspire people to travel abroad, there are many equally legitimate reasons that people in the US choose stay home.
I think it’s time we take the stigma out of both options and explore how we can bridge the gap.
One of the greatest freedoms Americans enjoy is the freedom to live how we please. While I personally value international travel as a way to experience other cultures, I equally value the choice that someone else might make never to leave the borders of their own state. Everyone is different. Let us never conflate the fact that someone is different with the belief that they are wrong.
RESPECT OTHERS…..Wherever you go in the world you will have differences with the people you encounter that may seem insurmountable. These can range in degree from differing views on fundamental human rights such as hygiene and safety, to broader issues of politics and religion, to the simplest question of how much money is reasonable to pay for a gelato. Regardless, I can promise you that there is one thing you can do to improve a sour situation. Respect others. As much as you may believe otherwise, different people and different places aren’t stupid and wrong and crazy, they’re just different. Tell yourself this, choose to respect them the best way you can and move forward.
If you are thinking I’m crazy and saying to yourself, “no way, that is naïve and overly tolerant. You are completely wrong and I will never change my mind” –I can assure you I have thought and said something along the same lines before. But, it is my experience that digging in your heels and refusing to see the humanity in the beautifully, imperfect human(s) that you disagree with will get you nowhere and will cause you to miss out on a lot.
I can’t tell you what is or should be the “real American dream”. My dream is that more Americans could practice respecting others—be they native people of a foreign country, your neighbors, coworkers, or people from your community—and truly try and make friends with those people who are the most different from you. Look for the beauty, choose to see the charm.