“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” — Mark Twain
It is often reported that around 80% of American citizens do not have a passport. Therefore, the great majority of Americans have never traveled outside of the country. Consequently, these citizens have a limited scope of understanding when it comes to life outside of and, perhaps even inside of America.
Many Americans believe the United States to be the greatest country on Earth, the center of the Universe. A place that all other nations seek to emulate. Indeed, it is the only global super power with many endearing qualities. However, as one travels to other nations and experiences foreign cultures, many preconceived notions about America seem to dissipate, while others may be enhanced.
People view their world with different political or religious lenses, and different levels of patriotism.
But, by being as objective as possible, you may be surprised how many preconceived notions of America are shattered when you are exposed to different perspectives.
Here are 10 things you may realize about America and the world when traveling abroad:
1. Only Americans live to work: Although many cultures possess a strong work ethic, America seems to be the only place where the overwhelming majority of the population “live to work” and not simply “work to live.” In many developing countries, for example, you’ll notice that the average person seems to have far more free time than the average American. Or, perhaps, they simply enjoy their free time more than Americans caught in the rat race.
2. Remarkably few countries are engaged in foreign wars: America is widely considered to be a military aggressor by most countries. Most nations appear content to optimize life and commerce within the confines of their borders and see no benefit to meddling in other nations’ affairs. Even the nations that respect America’s role as a human rights watchdog, view their militarism as a bigger threat than a force for good.
3. Emphasis on family and neighbors: Americans have become somewhat detached from their neighbors and, in some cases, from their own families. Again, most noticeably in developing countries, it is not uncommon to see middle-class families with three generations living under the same roof. Love and respect for the elderly and children seems far greater in foreign lands than in America.
4. Commerce is much more localized: Even though you can find a McDonald’s in nearly any major city around the world, day-to-day commerce is clearly more localized in most foreign nations. Yes, large stores and malls can also be found everywhere, but there’s a noticeable plethora of small shops, food stands, independent taxis, and other micro-vendors in nearly every country except the United States.
5. English is the universal tourism language: Americans have a great advantage when traveling the world: English is the universal tourism language. From Latin America to Asia, English is spoken at nearly all hotels or any attraction or service needed for you to function. You’ll find that Europeans, Russians, and even Chinese tourists will speak at least some English in order to function abroad.
6. America does not have exclusivity on freedom: Americans are taught that they live in the Land of the Free, yet most populations enjoy even greater freedom in their day-to-day lives. You will not see oppressive security at airports or train stations in the majority of the world. You will not see tax collectors or health department officials cracking down on small food stands as they do in the United States. Most lemonade stands don’t risk being raided anywhere but in America.
7. America is unreasonably expensive: Although most Americans notice the rising costs of everything from housing, to food and health care, they may assume that they still possess the highest standard of living in the world. In general, Americans do enjoy a high level of comfort compared to the global population. However, even lower-income Americans will experience a significantly higher standard of living in almost any other nation in the world.
8. Service with a smile: The American dollar is still respected and desired by tourist destinations, which typically results in grateful service providers. But when you spend an extended period of time abroad, you begin to realize that foreigners take great pride in providing service with a smile; something that seems to be in decline in America. Americans generally seem more disgruntled with their jobs than foreign counterparts. However, notably, there seems to be more immediate recourse if things go wrong with your service in the United States.
9. Public transportation inferiority: One of the main things you’ll realize about America when traveling abroad is their woeful inferior public transportation. Granted, Americans love their cars and the freedom that they bring, along with comparably excellent road system. However, since other nations were slower to acquire the individual wealth for private vehicles, they were forced to develop an excellent variety of public transportation including trains, buses, taxis, rickshaws etc. Now, most of these countries have also developed excellent road systems in addition to world-class airports and train stations. America actually has a long way to go.
10. Everyone wants the same thing as you: No matter what Americans may think about people in other cultures, they all seem to overwhelmingly want the same thing: a peaceful, more fruitful, and better future in which to raise their children. Additionally, they all require and demand the basic freedom to live in basic privacy and security.
This article first appeared on the Bohemian Travelers website
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