Leif Pettersen's Travelogue

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I’m Afraid of Americans

Posted on 7/18/03

I am spending a year in Europe. Americans on a whole have always been mildly to intensely disliked in Europe, but the United States foreign policy approach in the past few years has driven the world’s general loathing of our country to a new dizzying high. Among other globally impacted high jinks, during Dubyah’s reign we have; Pulled out of 1997 Kyoto Protocol agreement on global warming, signed by 178 other countries, pushed for the development of mini-nukes, violating the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and made the baffling decision to resumed the “Star Wars” defense plan. Aside from the domestic repercussions of spending all of this money on the military and not putting it to countless other beneficial uses, these actions are continually pissing off everyone around the world.

What we are not privy to here in the States is the fact that while these stories make mild news and get light coverage before the media drifts off onto J. Lo related issues, these stories make the headlines around the world and linger for months in newspapers and newscasts. I was in London in March of 2001 when the news of the U.S. pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol broke. The story led each and every news program for almost a week. People were freaking out and wondering how we could do something so arrogant and foolish. When I arrived back in the States, there wasn’t a peep. Not even a tiny blurb, deep in the newspaper’s World section. In fact it wasn’t until eight months later that the story made a brief and mild appearance in the U.S. The mere fact that our news media totally ignores stories that are major issues for the rest of the world, just because it doesn’t make us look too good, shows how we are indifferent and/or ignorant of our actions outside our borders. No wonder the BBC broadcasts are jammed in the U.S. If we got a regular peek at an alternative point of view on how we are affecting the rest of the world, we would have to own up to our actions and, God help them, maybe even force the government to work a little harder at justifying it’s questionable dealings.

Knowing this and hearing more than the usual gossip about how unpopular we are in Europe, I briefly debated whether or not to cobble together a few fake Norwegian I.D.s, so I might be personally spared some of the blanket malcontent from the natives as I passed through their countries.

Turns out, as usual, that darn foreign intellegence is wrong again. While yes, the United States foreign policy is roundly despised and it’ll take years of Clinton-like finesse to swing us back towards a respectable reputation, I have yet to encounter a single instance of anti-American sentiment. Fortunately for me and the rest of the Americans enjoying their time in Europe, people realize that we are all individuals who have independent feelings and world views that often are nothing like the views of our bumbling government. I still hear a lot about Bush’s blunders, but the discourse is in the form of an intelligent discussion, where people give me the opportunity to tell my side of the story rather than shout me down with their condemnations of me and my country. I am always happy to have these discussions, if only to pass along the fact that not all Americans are gun toting, SUV owners with a dozen lawsuits going at any given time. Yes, they really think that. It’s embarrassing.

Upon hearing that I only know of one single friend of mine that keeps a gun in his house, they are flabbergasted. When they hear me rave about the brilliance of the tiny Smart Cars that can be seen in most European cities, they stand in disbelief that I would even consider driving anything smaller than a seven person mini-van. And after learning that I have never sued anyone in my life, they are simply speechless.

I am careful to add to all of these conversations that I am just one guy and can only speak for one tiny region of our humungous country and if they were to have this same conversation with someone from Texas, they would likely hear something much different. Nevertheless, I am heartened to report that not a single person has flown off the handle upon learning that I am an American and tarred and feathered me, before running me out of town.

In a time when what little information we get about our position on the foreign stage consists of the occasional footage of crazed, flag burning, screaming and frothing anti-American demonstrators from all over the world, I think it’s time to inform everyone that they do not have to cancel their summer trip to the south of France for fear of being pummeled with rotten tomatoes. Well, come to think of it, anyone who can afford to take a high season jaunt to the French Riviera and chose to simply spend all of their time sequestered on the property of an Americanized resort in Saint Tropez, is probably not the person we want running around as an example of the average, down-to-Earth citizen.

Get the hell out of the high priced hotels, get off the friggin’ tour bus and DO NOT make a B-line for the Hard Rock Café in every city you visit. Eat at the little mom-and-pop restaurants, go where the locals go, do what the locals do, talk to them. When they see that American travelers are interested in something with more depth than a sterilized, 12 day, guided, tour of Europe - which is about as comprehensive as a two page summery of the complete works of Shakespeare - that culminates in a stop at Euro-Disney, they will open up, respect you and welcome you.

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