“I have way too much luggage again.”
I’m standing in a crowded airport terminal waiting to fly from Taipei in Taiwan to Guangzhou in China. The hour is incredible. I keep my sunglasses on to shield myself from camera flashes and someone seeing how tired and black my eyes are. The amount of people in the airport is mind-boggling.
“Aren’t we in global recession? How can this many people afford to fly?”
In any event, I make it through the hordes, through customs, and enter the fancy terminal laid with enough Hermes, Celine, and Hello Kitty for any generation. My mood starts to pick up as I meander towards Starbucks and a reminder of home for my taste buds.
Rolling along at a standard American pace, I suddenly get knocked into a wall and pushed off of, much like an Olympic gymnast’s bouncy vault thingy, by no less than 10 grown men. While I may be crude and foul-mouthed at times, I consider myself a gentleman in most respects so this raucous encounter stabbed my fragility in the heart.
“Where the hell are they going?”
I look through my tinted lenses in time to see the dudes line up, sort of, behind the long cue at McDonalds.
“Where’s the fire?”
You see, every nation I’ve visited does things differently. Whether it’s facial or hand gestures, public courtesies or even the way they walk, it’s foreign. This encounter in Taipei Airport wasn’t the first time I’ve been knocked around in a Mandarin-speaking nation. Patience is a virtue, and it is something severely lacking in China and the territories she controls.
There are no lines; there are blobs of yelling people at the entrance to every shopping mall, restaurant, and cinema. People bump into one another just to get ahead in the walking race. While we saw many a TV piece regarding Beijing training its population for decency during the Olympics in 2008, they never really explained how difficult it is to have space in a country of billions. They basically said it was a cultural issue. Well let me tell you, if I lived in such a crowded place I’d probably bump and push to get my own space too.
Something I’ve noticed often in Russia is how people still walk with their eyes facing downward much like the stories from Stalinist times. In Japan, I find the majority of people start talking very quietly and politely but they are 10 feet away and it’s difficult to hear them. In Canada everyone says hello. Traveling so much really makes me wonder how Americans are viewed by other nationalities.
To the French we may be vulgar, to the Russians we still may not be trusted, and basically the whole world imagines that if you spend enough time in America, you will become obese and obsessed with central air conditioning.
When you fly into America, the first things you see aren’t always that pretty – Newark, New Jersey, the suburbs of Detroit and Chicago, Queens, and an endless supply of strip malls and fast food restaurants.
We are viewed as a powerful country that steps into almost every world conflict to have a say or to send missiles. We are the country of excess and teenage girls walking in a five-across formation through the halls of their local mall not letting anyone pass as they skip to their matching Mercedes.
The point I’m trying to make is pretty simple: Ask not what Americans are, but show what kind of American you are.
Much like any other nationality, we have a determination to follow along in unwavering lines of things you should do. Buy a house, have kids, wear Abercrombie, and someday get a reality show are some of our modern agendas.
Even though it can be hard at times, like when you’re the idiot in line waiting for Starbucks behind a blob of Taiwanese businessmen, wait your turn and be your best self.
Break away from the herd and don’t just be a Taiwanese, an Azerbaijani, or an American because of your culture. Be you.