Stop Saying You’re Canadian: How to Deal with Being from the Most Hated Country in the World
And Meet People Traveling
When I was 19 years old, I went to Lyon, France to study abroad for the semester. It was 2008. President Bush was our nation’s leader, and our economy was on the verge of collapse.
At that time, politics were not a huge focus for me. I was born a Democrat, but I cared more about getting good grades, my ability to drink legally, and finding a French boyfriend than the state of affairs.
One evening en France, I was at an apartment party with a bunch of international students and found myself conversing with a guy from Sweden. I don’t remember the particulars, but I do remember him disparaging the USA in a way I was completely unprepared for: “You try to control the rest the of the world, yet you’ve never even experienced a war in your own country,” he said. As someone who tends to take things personally when she shouldn’t, I remember feeling ashamed of not only my country but of my lack of ability to “fight back” for myself and my home.
At some point during our talk, the Swede may have noticed I was offended and offered, “It’s okay, Israel is actually the biggest problem.”
Nice one. As I was a Jew who had just gone on a 2-week trip to Israel earlier that year, that was definitely not the right thing to say. I lost it a bit then and basically ran out of the apartment. It was one of the most uncomfortable conversations I’ve ever had.
Back in Europe 9 years later, I’m much more prepared for these scenarios. And as Europeans love talking about politics (and it’s one of the things that make them great), I expect them. And now I have my own goddamn opinion of my country. It’s very clear, and this is it:
But it’s also amazing.
But it really does suck.
But like it’s cool.
See! That’s what I think. Now we can talk details.
Things that make us suck:
Using the metric system
Things we are good at:
…to name a few.
So how has being an American in Europe been this time around? When our president is somehow even worse than he was 9 years ago?
Well, it’s shit but also weirdly gratifying.
Shit because our president has made it clear he doesn’t care about the rest of the world. And some people don’t like the US because of that or other reasons like those mentioned above. So if a person doesn’t outright criticize the US upon meeting you, you often see them bite their tongues when you mention that is your home.
One way to handle this reality is to simply tell everyone you’re Canadian (some travelers do this in countries like Vietnam). That, to me, is selling out hard. Do the world a favor by being a face of this country. You and I are as much of a diplomat as an actual diplomat. It is possible you are the first American this person has ever really gotten to know in real life. Represent.
Another option I have in dealing with my Americanness is to say that I don’t really know the people who voted for Trump. And that New York is different (most people have a delightful impression of NYC). But I’ve always been a team sports girl and even when the team sucks, I still support the team. Completely separating myself from the situation is also a cop out. What do I actually think about why Trump was elected? As separate as I feel from the people who actually cast that vote, why did they do it? The US is a big and complicated beast, and I’m sorry Mr. Netherlands, you can’t simply compare our problems with yours from your hill of 17 million beautiful tall people. (Sorry about this gross overstatement. ❤ Dutch people).
In conclusion, the best way to deal with being American is to own it. When I arrived in Serbia recently, I met a guy who said upon meeting me “I really don’t like your country, you bombed us when I was little…”
Nineteen year old Sarah might have been horrified by this encounter. But now, when this sort of thing happens, I’m exhilarated to hear a first-hand account of a historical event, unfiltered by the media.
I didn’t know much about the complexities of why we bombed Serbia at the time, and of course, I should not take this guy’s experience for the absolute truth either. However, no matter what, after talking to this person, I understand the world a little better. Experiences like these have taught me how much grey exists in this world.
And I say being from the States abroad is also gratifying because although our team sucks in many ways, most people care about our team more than they care about any other one besides their own. I feel lucky that people give a shit about my country. And that on no merit of my own, they want to hear what I have to say as well as tell me their opinion.
Let me lastly say, that if you have not had to put up with being hated, you are doing something wrong. If you travel and only talk to your companion who is also from the place you are from the whole time, than you’re not learning anything. So how to meet people?
2. Go to a Couchsurfing event. Most big cities have more than one weekly meet-up at a bar or park that is for locals meeting foreigners (including in NY. You don’t even need to travel!). There is also a “hangout” function on the app itself.
3. Do a travel program. I did a Spanish and surf course for 2 weeks by the beach in San Sebastian, Spain where I met a ton of people. The school, called Tandem, even set me up to live in an apartment with Spaniards.
4. Wing it. Don’t be shy. It’s sometimes difficult to meet locals, but it’s usually easy to meet other foreigners who are also traveling. Just strike up a conversation with someone at a bar or on your walking tour.
I have personally met awesome people in all the above manners. Also last last thing. Despite what I said before, fuck the idea of a team, because the team leaders are a bunch of assholes who don’t deserve your support. And anyway, we’re all on the same goddamn team. It’s called humanity.
Feel free to add a comment on my (not-explained at all) America is good-at or sucks list!