As I mentioned in a previous post, our almost-daughter Amanda is now in New Zealand. She has been keeping a blog-journal that helps dissolve the miles and keeps us in touch. In her last post she mentioned how fascinated she is with how Americans are perceived in other cultures. In some incidences she has heard Americans are “uppity,” “over-weight,” and “loud.” She has also gathered that Americans tend to travel by cruise or tour instead of by backpacking or individual exploration. While I can’t argue with any of these labels, I can also say I have had somewhat different experiences when I travel.
Several years ago my husband and I went on a cruise (guilty) to Australia and New Zealand. I liked that we, as Americans, were not the majority on the ship. As we mingled with the cruise guests I was shocked by how much they knew about the USA, whereas I knew very little about their countries. For instance, one morning we shared a breakfast conversation with a married couple originally from Scotland, but who were now living in Australia. They were delightful and asked very appropriate and concise questions about life in America. Did we think President Obama would be a good leader? How was our economy doing? And so on. I could respond, but what I really wanted was to ask questions about their leaders and economy. My husband and I looked at each other and grimaced at our lack of information in such matters. It was embarrassing to be so limited.
This past summer when I was in China and Tibet, I was curious at how I would be received. While not a tall woman, I know I didn’t exactly blend with my streaked hair and physical attributes. To my relief and surprise our group was treated very, very, well. The Tibetans were not gushy, but would light up with smiles as we met. Often they’d offer a “Hello” or a “Good Morning” with excellent diction. I’m afraid my response in limited Tibetan was shaky at best. I squeaked out, “Tashy Delay.” Usually the Tibetans seemed more amused than impressed, but I was trying, and that was what mattered. The Chinese people—the ones milling on the streets or the storekeepers—were also very warm and welcoming. Some wanted to take pictures of us or to practice their English speaking skills in a conversation. My Chinese, however, was limited to just a couple words the woman who runs a local Chinese buffet taught me before I left. All in all, I have been deeply touched by the people I have met in my travels, and I hope I have been a favorable and honest representation of an American in return. As Amanda continues her life in New Zealand I have little doubt the stereo-type of Americans will take a turn for the better.