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January 10, 2011



I am an expat in Asia, more than 9 years now. I have emotionally gone through different cycles of wishing I was Canadian just for this reason (they are so neutral and they are welcome in Tibet and North Korea!). But, I don't know. I'm a little older now and it doesn't bother me as much what quasi-random Europeans think about my nationality. Every country has their shameful events in history. Even in Europe.
I'm a Southerner as well which means I represent an even stronger guns and fatty foods culture. But I'm a thin vegan and I haven't shot an automatic since I was 9 (at my Uncle's house).


What an interesting post, Leigh!

My partner is American and I find that, when we travel, he's often in a position of having to explain himself; "no, I don't support the war; no, I never liked Bush; no, I'm not anti-heath care...". Perfect strangers ask really intrusive questions about his personal politics, right off the bat. Since American politics are so hotly discussed worldwise, I suppose people feel they have a license to take up those topics with a real-live American in their midst. Fair enough, if you broach the topic gently, but I've seen people get aggressive.

I'm Canadian, but no one has come up to me with "what's your stance on baby seal clubbing? Does a minority government accomplish anything? What's your role in NAFTA?" I'd be peeved, though.

I admire his patience. It sounds like you're often forced to exercise the same thing.

Johnny Vagabond

I'm with you on this one -- it's a back-handed complement at best. I once met an Englishman in Amsterdam who told me it was nice to finally meet an American who didn't "babble constantly". He then proceeded to rant nonstop for twenty minutes about how the Atlanteans had colonized the world in 10,000 BC...

Leigh Shulman

Absolutely true. No country in the world has a perfect history or government. And individual citizens cannot be held responsible for the actions of people and events out of their control.

(Personally, I don't mind shooting guns. But have only done it at a range and wouldn't want to have one at home or carry one.)


I have to admit that a lot of people have said to me they assumed I'm Canadian because I'm nice. I have no idea what that means because I've met a lot of obnoxious Canadians.

In fact two of them today tried to complain that Ecuador wasn't as cheap as Thailand, wtf?

Leigh Shulman

I have to admit, Anne. Part of me now wants to ask the next Canadian what they think of baby seal clubbing.

I'll admit, it doesn't happen that often anymore, and like Johnny Vagabond says below, that kind of obnoxious questioning generally come from people who are perhaps not the most on target themselves.

And I hate to say this, but I think when people meet me, they don't really know where I'm from. But when asked, I do indentify myself as American.

Leigh Shulman

I think I know the same guy, Wes. Except he was Dutch. Still in Amsterdam. He owns one of the coffeehouses there. He told me how America is the poorest country in the world and how most of the people are starving on the streets, but how the TV shows all these photos of people eating big turkey dinners.

Perhaps those Americans know the Atlanteans?

Point well taken. A person, no matter where they're from, will either see the world in an even handed way or they won't. And those who are more likely to see stereotypes are perhaps a stereotype themselves.

Leigh Shulman

Did it kind of make you want to say, "Then go back to Thailand?" Cuz that was definitely my first thought.

I have a personal pet peeve about Canadians who wear flags on their bags simply so people won't mistake them as Americans. But I've also found it's generally the younger travelers without much experience who do that. As people mature, they mellow and see more shades of things.

The two Canadians complaining about Ecuador, I'm willing to bet, aren't that experienced with travel, and thus they talk about how much cheaper another place is to show they've been elsewhere. But the complaint shows they're not used to travel yet, and not used to kind of working through the differences in cultures with more ease.

(And that's the story I have made up about this. I'll stick with it)


Nothing makes me more angry when traveling than when I hear this statement. I heard this ALL of the time when I was in Oz. Drove me crazy!!! Of course there are parts about the US that I hate, but there are also parts about every country I hate. I am proud to be an American and I won't tolerate people generalizing an entire country.

Ana O'Reilly

This is very interesting, both the post and the responses.

Unfortunately, generalizing, stereotyping and prejudice are unavoidable. I'll give you one example: you wrote "Asians are bad drivers..." and my immediate reaction was "but they are!" Then I thought, well, maybe not all of them, or only the ones I've seen on the streets in the USA and Canada. Maybe the way they drive is considered perfectly fine where they come from but it's not so good in the West. When you repeatedly see people from the same country doing ore or less the same thing, you tend to generalize (especially if you don't know very much about them)

What I'm trying to say is that however much we try to resist it, we'll all be labeled in one way or another. Just like many other nationalities, Americans have a somewhat bad rep, especially in certain countries, probably because of foreign policy. I know how maddening that can be because each individual is not directly responsible for their ruler's decisions.

As and Argentinean living in Texas, I've been called a Nazi many times or, because I'm white, people would question my ethnicity "But you're white! you can't be Latina!" (CAN'T!!??). It used to drive me up the wall, now I think it's not my problem if they're ignorant.


Great post! I actually experienced something similar before I even left the USA! I grew up in Texas, and when I went to a super liberal college in Massachusetts, I found myself fielding questions about being a Texan the same way I field questions about being an American when I'm abroad.

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