Monday, January 10, 2005
Last night I conned Rachelle into abandoning our hostel room in favor of the common area so that we could sit at a table to play double solitaire and simultaneously watch some soccer and drink an adult beverage.
It worked. We left the room and set up shop. As our first game began, a guy at another table started ignoring the other 2 sitting with him and struck up a conversation with us.
We'd heard about this guy from an Arizonian couple that'd been on a 3 day trek with him. A crazy Brit who made it his goal in life to destruct all of the bamboo rafts in their group (he succeeded). Basically another crazily hysterical fellow from Britain. Making his acquaintance had been a goal of ours (a sedate inactively participitory goal). And there he falls right into our lap almost literally.
At first it seemed to me that he really wanted to talk to us, and from the get-go his questions and all were not serious, but a bit probing. Obviously trying to feel us out and get to know us a bit.
You might be asking why he'd want to get to know us so badly. Well, aside from the obvious (our.....Rachelle's striking good looks) it's pretty simple. And his main reason became fairly obvious with one of his questions early on:
"So, how come Americans don't travel?"
Uh.....we tossed out some reasons (excuses) that sounded accurate but very.....lame. Here's some quick background on this guy: he's 36 and has been traveling since he was 18. In that time, he's spent a considerable amount of time in London only 3 years. That's a lot of traveling; travel thru Asia, the Middle East, Europe and all.
How many Americans has he seen in that time (before this week)? Seven. Get that? Only seven Americans in 18 years of travel. Simply said, that's pathetic. In the last week he's met 5, and it's the first time he's spent some time with Americans.
Granted, he hasn't been to the US (yet, it's in the plans), but let's take a quick look at what his previous opinion of Americans was. Thought they were loud, braggadocious, senselessly competetive ("yeah, you have a nice car but mine is bigger". Though he admits some Britons are like that as well), and insulated. Unfortunately movies have helped him develop that opinion. No other way to really counteract Hollywood until he comes over to the States. Very nice guy though. I was very impressed with him seeking us out to actually discover what this rare animal, Americanus Isolationalisticanus is like (unlike 3 others in our hostel who we heard bitching away the other night about how they hate Americans though they don't know any, and don't want to know any).
Very sad. We've heard words said that around 10% of Americans have passports. That number may be higher, but the estimates on this website put it at under 20%. Don't read the comments. They will only make you mad (idiots). Just read the stats.
It's all starting to make more sense. People don't like us for many reasons, but having never met us, they have not been given any solid proof to contradict the media and movies (hooray for Mikey Moore!). They don't know that yes, Americans are very nice caring and friendly people. Granted, we do have many loud self absorbed assholes, but what country doesn't?
Moreover, here we are the most powerful country in the world right now, with a staggering ignorance of the rest of the world (just like the world can't really know us until they meet us, the same goes for us. Can we really make intelligent decisions on what a family in Bangladesh needs or wants without having talked to them?). Fine, the general public doesn't need to know, right? But who elects our leaders in? Who votes them in or out based on their voting record (we'll ignore all those for now who take the easy/think-free way and vote only along party lines)?
For god's sake, where had Bush been before he was elected to office? Mexico (is that correct? Help me out. I don't feel like searching right now)? Very sad.
My point. Hm.
Fine, many people feel no need to travel and prefer to stay at home and not learn about the world (yes, there is a LOT more to this world than the US. And yes, the rest of the world is just as important as us). But what the hell?! Is that the only reason people don't travel? Our excuse last night was that our society teaches us that working and preparing for retirement is what's important, not enjoying your life while you are young (alive). He scoffed at that. As I do. So you retire 5 or 10 years earlier. You missed out on what, 30 years of living for that? What if you don't live that long?
For fucks sake! How screwed up are our priorities? Horribly, I'd say.
There is no defense. The strongest and most powerful and influential country in the world, with the people most able to travel (yes, you are. For shites sake, my brother who makes no money was able to travel around Europe for a couple/few months. With only his money. White collar workers? Your excuses ring hollow in my ears. Been there, proved it wrong) is the country with very little overall knowledge about the world it is ruling.
On a lighter note, we mentioned to this guy a certain Larry's opinion that China may be the next country to take over and lead for a while (for those who just choked, laughed, scoffed... It's true. One day the US will not reign supreme. History repeats, ya know?). After snorting some beer out his nose he made it clear that if that event looms, that we need to get our asses in gear and step it back up. Funny.
A little worked up I am. True dat.
It's really not that hard to travel. Getting a passport is relatively painless (unless you take bad pics. In that case, customs folks merely laugh at you. Trust me on this) and travel agents can do wonders if you want to go that way. Overall, however, we have it very easy. Most of the world has people that speak english, and many travelers also know some english. Which makes our lives much easier.
Check it out.
Time off...yes. That is something that really sticks in my craw, and I think it's crap. Many other places (UK, Australia, NZ, Holland, etc) have businesses (and an outlook on life) that sees great benefit in travel and time off. For some reason our country places little to no emphasis on these things and puts too much weight on making money and being a 'good employee'. In the UK, it's now becoming common to take a year off before university! How great is that?
I guess what it comes down to is that many countries whose citizens have the capability to travel encourage travel and time off and having a life outside of work. That is a rare occurance in the US. And I have a very hard time swallowing that. Working and having no life for 30 years and looking forward to retirement is... fine for some. But not for me. Our country needs to shift its priorities. Work and money are not the most important things in the world. And yes, you can have a family and travel and all that without working 60 hours a week.
As for travel time...it does take more time to get across an ocean than to fly to Florida (though flying across the US you still lose a couple days to travel). But I've done the Europe trip without quitting my job as have many others. More than possible.
The 36-year old doesn't have kids nor a wife. Not everyone makes the Disney choice of giving up their dreams/whatever b/c getting married and having kids is the purpose of our lives.