How to Travel in the Trump Era
While I was recently living in Mexico City, I was at party with a bunch of locals. I started talking to one of them in Spanish. They heard my accent and ask where I’m from.
Ugh, I don’t want to get into it.
“New York,” I reply , trying to distract them with the glamor of the Big Apple.
“Please don’t mention....”
“Oh, you’re an AMERICAN.”
Their words and body language unnecessarily emphasize my nationality...and not with the warmest tone either....
“Yup,” I respond, not giving any indication that I want to continue on this topic.
“You know your president...” and thus begins the tirade of heated opinions and grievances about my country's policies and global influence. They talk to me like I had personally influenced those rules, or that this rant is somehow going to fix the problem.
“What do voters see in Donald Trump?!” they asked, with an incredulous stare.
It seems to be that once I admit where I’m from, it becomes an open invitation from outsiders to talk politics.
I’ve heard it all.
“Your president is racist!”
“Your corporations are ruining our environment!”
“There are as many Starbucks as taco stands in our village now!”
The list goes on.
Then there are the litany of stereotypes we as Americans hold: we are arrogant and illiterate gun weilding big mouths with equally as large waistlines.
Any Canadian accidentally accused of being an American will bat it down like a cat pouncing on a limp moth. Justin Trudeau seems like a white night to America’s orange scaled fire breathing dragon.
An American Abroad
Most foreigners tend to interact with Americans more through our television + music than with actual individuals. And to be fair, we do put on a weird show.
American media can be viewed and is gobbled up by a large chunk of the global population people. We have culturally capitalized a huge percentage of the world. They see our values; they hear our music; they watch our president. But they don’t see much of us in person.
Most Americans vacation domestically since the country is so vast, and it is often expensive to leave it. To this day, close to 40% of Americans hold a passport. Meaning that those of us who go and travel have a larger responsibility to represent 60% of people who might never go to Canada, let alone fly over an ocean ( ...and Cancun does not count as leaving the country. I’m not sorry). This keeps Americans in a bubble and makes us more susceptible to believing that the world is dangerous ( which it isn’t) because we aren’t making our own experiences and judgements. Our isolation might make it more difficult for us to adopt to cultural differences when we do leave thus inadvertently reinforcing the stereotypes that the world already holds of us.
Furthermore, there has also been a slight decline in foreigners traveling to America, which means that fewer travelers are getting a “boots on the ground” perspective of what is happening here. Some foreign travelers have been so turned off by our current affairs and have postponed their road trip across America to 2020.
In tandem, it is also important to recognize our global bulldozing throughout history and the residue it has left in other countries: the quasi-wars of Korea + Vietnam, the Philippines as our first and only colony, and the “will they won’t they” with Puerto Rico. That is just our military + political presence. That isn’t mentioning the years of McDonald's encroaching onto every corner of every major city or being able to hear the beats of Nicki Minaj on the radio on any remote island.
America’s influence is still strong and has a history of forcing other countries into submission, and this orange airhead isn’t helping our global relations any more.
*Eye Roll* Why Are We Talking Politics?
Some locals you meet might not care, whereas others might want to talk about it.
People may approach you for a myriad of reasons, and it is important to not brush them off. They are allowed to be curious, especially considering what they see on the news. The world is often told different, and sometimes more accurate, news than what we get in the States ( Mainly because news is still respected as a reliable source of information in other countries. It is not for viewers entertainment with some loose facts thrown in. We have basically turned our news cycle into reality TV “ Info-tainment Nation”, and it’s entertaining as fuck). So try to gauge what their level of interest is first and read their body language and tone to see where they are at.
Most will just be curious; others might be sympathetic towards you. Some cultures might think that discussing politics is a sport and want to engage for fun. Others might be unnecessarily frustrated with you. I have heard stories of Americans getting verbally berated or denied Airbnb stays due to their nationality. These locals just want to express their stance or spew their frustration ( because Trump, either in person or through twitter, has said some incredibly polarizing ( horrific ) statements about other nationalities, so I feel yah).
The unfair assumptions that Mr. Trump has thrown at outside groups might be then thrown back at us when we go abroad, especially since it is easier for us to travel to other countries than for them to get into ours. It is instinctual to throw backfire when you have been thrown it yourself.
Humans oddly don’t have the instinct of,” oh wow this is painful, I don’t want anyone else to feel this way.”
Instead, we want the place to burn.
What I do in this situation is I hear them out first before I make any assumptions as to what they are going to say, to prevent escalating the situation. I ask where they get their information and work backwards from there. I am typically in agreement with the accusations but still want to avoid conflict as much as possible.
You Are All the Same
It is quick to make an assumption that everyone from one country is all the same- Mr. Trump has clearly expressed that dumbfounded assumption about other countries. As travelers, we know that isn’t true. We know that each nation is a collection of complex individuals who don’t all singlehandedly represent their country. Humans wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if we were homogenous.
So if you bump into someone who makes that same assumption about Americans -“ YOU ALL VOTED FOR TRUMP” - you can encourage them to reflect on the diversity in their own country. You can remind them that people don’t want to make quick assumptions about their country based on the news. However, any individual who might perceive our population as a singular entity might be equally myopic in other ways as well. It’s best not to entertain them.
But as travelers, we know that the world is made up of more kindness than malice, and our fundamentals are often overshadowed by the few, but glaring, differences.
So what you can do is be louder than our president and the intolerance that he spews. When Trump’s twitter and policies are separating families, trying to build walls, and preventing groups from coming in, we can share meals with locals, be kind to strangers, and return with stories of how generous the world actually is.
As travelers, It is our duty to go the extra mile and show that we are not all like him.
Know your boundaries.
I personally hate talking about him when I’m home, and definitely, don’t want to talk about him when I am trying to enjoy my time away from it. So, at the end of the day, you should know what your comfort level is and when you don’t want to engage. Remember that you don’t have to get roped into every conversation about him.
So I have a few back pocket responses when someone else wants to go down that road with me.
What to say:
My president doesn’t represent the whole country. Pour me some more wine, please?
I don’t give him my energy by talking about him. Hand me the vodka.
I didn’t vote for him, and he doesn’t represent me. Please pass the mezcal.
I would rather not talk about it. I’m trying to enjoy a vacation. Sips cocktail.
Tell me about YOUR politics. Hands them a beer.
And other things to keep in mind:
It is important to research the country and its politics that you are going to travel to and our influence + history with them. You can research the country you are going to by visiting the State Department website for accurate reports, warnings, registries and general information. I would also suggest researching travel blogs and travel sites that focus on the area to get a day to day perspective. I personally love picking up history books, so I can have more context to the area and how the society has evolved.
MAKE THE WORLD GREAT AGAIN
I encourage you to always be an active listener when someone is in alignment with him- it is important that you maintain your traveler’s curiosity and listen. Regardless of whether you agree or not with any other individual’s stance, we should always be open to sincerely hearing someone else’s perspective. Just because our election caused a deep divide amongst Americans does not mean that attitude has to cross the border. Disagreement doesn’t have to result in conflict. Having a genuine conversation or sharing a great meal with new people tends to have a more meaningful impact than someone reading a newspaper headline about our country.
Maybe just to make things clear, you can wear a tee-shirt once you get off the plane that shows where you stand, but that would still open you up to conversations about it.