The first time I traveled to a non-Spanish Speaking European country was in my early 20s. I had lived in Spain for a year after leaving Cuba when I was four, but most of my memories of Spain are visiting zoos and bitterly cold wind engulfing my little face. This time around traveling to France, Germany and Amsterdam, I didn’t know what to expect. I had bought the book: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Europe – to make sure I didn’t mess up greetings or customs integral to these countries’ way of life – we all know Americans have been known to commit serious faux pas.
I noticed in France, when I spoke English, some of the waiters/waitresses or store clerks weren’t very receptive. They’d answer me, because they were forced to, as I was a paying customer, begrudgingly nonetheless. As my friends and I traveled through these European streets we realized there were a lot of Canadians wearing backpacks with their flags visibly stitched on. Why would they do this? I wondered. On my fourth day in France, I finally asked a blonde book-wormish looking girl staying at our hostel and she said: “Oh, we don’t want to be confused with being American.” “Why?” I inquired. “Because of Bush, you know, nobody respects him.” It was 1999 and George W. Bush was well on his way to becoming the Republican nominee. Now it all made sense to me. The Clinton era was coming to an end and the Republicans were assuming power with Bush at the helm; the sentiment was that he was a self-fulfilling tyrant with no education; felt by these traveling Canadian citizens, and shared by the people I’d come to meet in the countries I’d soon visit. My traveling companions didn’t fare any better with the French citizens. Jen, my neighborly, pet-loving, wouldn’t-hurt-a-living-creature, blonde friend from Syracuse was almost assaulted by the subway clerk when she asked if she could use her American dollars to pay the train fare. “Noooo! French Francs! French Francs! French Francs!” At first glance, it seemed as if this clerk had a bout of severe Tourette’s; screaming at the top of her lungs at Jen, but it was clear she had some serious animosity towards Americans. I started speaking Spanish soon after this incident in bakeries, banks, hotdog and crepe stands – anywhere I had to interact with the public. I readily admitted I was Cuban and my exchanges with the French citizens were pretty smooth for me after that.
My early experiences in France recently came to mind as I read this Washington Post article I came across:
Here we are in August, no travel plans in sight because of my freelance status, and I was having extreme vacation-envy from friends posting their fabulous photos on all my social media feeds. But, I hadn’t thought about what this article points out: Americans traveling overseas are having to explain why Trump is the GOP candidate for the upcoming 2016 presidential elections OR apologizing for the outrageous statements he’s made through the course of his campaign. I feel better about my stay-cationing activities. I don’t have to explain to anyone the state of our political climate because we’re all facing the same crisis. But, when you travel abroad, foreigners expect you to come up with an answer as to why America would realistically elect someone “like him.” For me, this would get annoying and intolerable really quick. It’s like running into “that” neighbor, acquaintance, enemy, ex-boyfriend/ex-girlfriend or work colleague in the street or any place you frequent and engaging in idle chit-chat, and all the while it’s happening, you’d rather be anywhere but there: long lines at the DMV, the dentist wreaking havoc on your mouth coupled with his sardine breath, Times Square during tree-lighting season; you’d rather do all these things rather than talk to this said person(s). So no FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) for me, you can take the weight of Trumplaining – off my shoulders and I will visit Jones Beach with it’s 20-foot high drown-worthy waves, and freezing black water. Have fun travelers!