While this month marks the birth of America’s independence, we’ve been exploring the mechanisms of a traveling American all week long on Jetset Times.
Last week, I was at a cocktail event in Taipei. The crowd was international and I loved every minute of mingling. That is, until I found myself in a conversation with the wife of a Northern European politician who lived in Taipei for fourteen years but didn’t speak a lick of Mandarin. Zero. Nada. To each its own, I wasn’t going to judge. But, when asked the question of how she perceived the growth of Taiwan in the last decade, she had nothing but rather snippy things to say: “Oh, I met President Ma back when he was still the mayor [of Taipei], I would tell him how many English street signs I still can’t understand!”
There’s definitely some truth to that as the city translates Chinese characters into two romanization systems. But I had a feeling her comment was not meant to actually complain about Taiwan, but to let us know where she sits in the caste system: “I’ve met the President many times back when he was only a mayor.” She repeated several times.
When it was clear that I was the only American in the circle, she asked if I voted. When I replied “yes,” she asked why. “I think it’s important,” I responded, “as a woman, to exercise my right.” I didn’t know what else to say. Why wouldn’t anyone vote? I thought to myself. She said, “So you have an opinion, you’re obviously not Swiss.” I stared at her, probably looking stunned. She continued: “You don’t get it, do you? But I bet YOU do!” She pointed to the man (who was Scottish) standing next to me and laughed contemptuously. I wasn’t sure what had just happened, so I kindly excused myself and walked away.
As I write this note, I realize how harshly Americans have been criticized for being “ignorant” when we travel around the world. Yes, we’re judged for speaking louder than others, but the shrieks are always with love and excitement: “Oh my gosh, this is amazing!” Hold on, is there a need to apologize for feeling…happy? We’re hated because we take immense pride in our own country. Wait, which country doesn’t? We’re perceived as ignorant when we don’t recognize half of the world map (okay, some of us may still need to work on that one), but we should never apologize for smiling in photos, wide-eyed, showcasing our pearly whites as the flashes go off. We’re judged for lacking culture. I just have to highlight: we smile, we maintain enthusiasm. We’re Americans doing what we do. We stay positive.
While this month marks the birth of America’s independence, we’ve been exploring the mechanisms of a traveling American all week long on Jetset Times. MacKeagon Voyce does so beautifully in his thought-provoking piece, “The Turbulent American Identity Abroad.” MacKeagon gracefully moved from Greece, Bulgaria, Israel, and Palestine in efforts to arrive at the notion that appreciation for justice might require encountering an unjust experience firstly.
In our new contributor Annie Gray’s article, “Getting Cultured: The New Age American,” she transformed from pretending to not be American to finally owning up to her identity as a happy American traveler. There’s something to be said about her notion, “traveling isn’t a time to shed your identity, but understand it fuller in contrast to others.”
Sometimes, life on the road allows you to realize what it is you miss the most about home. In “Small Town, Big Spirit: Celebrating The 4th Of July In Manzanita, OR” written by Hailee Donoghue – currently a Buenos Aires local – she reminiscences celebrating Independence Day in true American fashion: traditions, family, and lots of fireworks. Meredith Todd’s “4 Quintessentially American Things To Do On The 4th While Away From Home” is the ultimate anthem to creating your own star-spangled fete when home can feel so far away at times.
Two weeks ago, I was on a mother/daughter trip to Hainan Island, a place known to be the “Hawaii of China.” When our guide, a twenty-four-year-old young man, knew that I grew up in America, his eyes lit up with jealousy. He said, “I can only dream of going to Taiwan for now. America is a dream on a whole other level.”
Here’s the thing to being an American: we’re polarizing and often, it’s because we speak our minds. We’re opinionated because we can be. It’s ingrained in our freedom of speech, in our land of democracy. Regardless of where we travel to, we will let everyone know who we are and what we stand for. Some people love us for it, some hate us for it, while many can’t ever speak their own minds in their native lands. So we ought to remain positive, hopeful and be appreciative for what we can do.
To the woman who said I’m not Swiss. With all due respect to Switzerland (where some of my best travel memories reside) I’m proud to call myself an American. An opinionated one who votes. An American who will walk away and ignore any snooty attitude. To me, such ignorance does not equate to living in a country for fourteen years without learning the local dialect.
Happy Independence Day, x