Americans Abroad

American gentleman are not exactly gentlemen… (They have) a want of thorough self-contained self-respect, which belongs to men who are born gentlemen of good ancestors, educated properly, with sufficient estate and who know for certain their place and that of others. (Daniel Curtis, who left the U.S. in 1877 to live in Venice)

When an American is traveling abroad and his country is insulted, the correct response is:

1) Ignore it.

2) Try to educate the poor fool.

3) If a man, kick him in the nuts, followed by a roundhouse punch to the jaw. If a woman, bitch slap her.

4) Order airstrikes to level the town/village/city, preferably after leaving the vicinity.

Even if you are the perfect gentleman, having heeded all my sage advice while traveling, you will still encounter locals with their own biases against the United States. In fact, you’ll probably encounter quite a few of them. Their reasons may be good; perhaps their town has been invaded by sneaker, track suit wearing Americans who talk too loud, and appear to be completely ignorant of local customs and history. Or perhaps they’ve been invaded more literally – by Delta Force. America seems to have a military presence, invited or not, just about everywhere.

Perhaps they’re just jealous of America’s dominance of world affairs, or the great comparative wealth enjoyed by its citizens. Or perhaps they’re just having a bad day. In any event, you have a number of choices in how to deal with such encounters.

If you’re traveling alone in the Mideast, and suddenly surrounded by a mob chanting things like “death to the infidel”, we recommend escape or, if that’s not possible, a very placating approach. You may want to make it clear that, while you may look American, and, yes, those are Air Jordans, you’re really Canadian, and, boy, you hate arrogant Yanks too. On the other hand, an attitude of defiance is noble, especially if it appears to be the only option. But pick your path; you can either be a living coward or a dead hero, but don’t act like one while pretending to be the other.

Of course, the spirit of gentlemanly behavior knows no borders and the basics – consideration for others, a lack of pretense, modesty, etc. –  never change, but there are new situations one will confront. Here are the keys:

– Neither advertise your Americanness, nor go out of your way to hide it.

– Dress in the same tasteful style you do at home, taking care with your appearance while avoiding excessive vanity. Don’t be the American in shorts, a tee shirt, dark socks, sneakers and a baseball cap. Don’t be that guy at home or abroad.

– Compensate people generously, but not excessively, when their service deserves it.

– If challenged about America, you should explain, in your usual quiet clear way, that, given that you are not currently Commander-In-Chief, you have little control over which countries America invades, or, for that matter, domestic policy. Neither defend nor apologize – you don’t owe anyone a defense or an apology for the actions of your fellow countryman.

– As with most arguments, the wisest course is often to simply avoid them by walking away.

Americans abroad have an unfortunate tendency for the binary, either defending America, no matter what, or apologizing for America and assuming that native customs are inherently superior. The US is a great country which has generally done far more good than harm around the world. On the other hand, it has more than its share of foreign policy mistakes, and is guilty of exporting the worst aspects of its culture. As a sophisticated citizen of the world, you want to recognize that each country has its strengths and weaknesses, but you should never be ashamed of your home. It’s always good to say you’re proud of the USA, even better if you can say it in the local language.

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