–Just a quick note: Please consider skipping personal fireworks to save stress to pets, wildlife and prevent wildfires. Thanks!–
There aren’t many holidays more patriotic than the 4th of July, and it will be the last holiday I spend in the United States for a long time. From my experience last year, a good portion of Germans are culturally aware enough to know when major US holidays are. Although Germans are generally not overtly friendly and don’t partake in small talk, I still did receive a few remarks and well wishes last year in Berlin. There was even a festival not to far away from my homestay that lit off fireworks, so I did manage to celebrate in my own little way.
Reflecting on these memories and recent events has made me realize that not many talk about outsiders opinions of the United States or cultural differences. I thought I would take this extremely patriotic day to share my experiences as an American abroad.
I spent the majority of last summer in Germany so it’s only natural that this is where most of my insight lies. Germans, as a whole, are very welcoming to Americans (in their own little “antisocial” ways). In fact, there seems to be a collective hunch among Germans that Americans look down on them for their actions in WWII. Any time this got brought up, I would just laugh and say that many Americans can’t even remember who our vice president is, so the likliness that they’re holding a half century old grudge is unlikely.
The only overt animosity I received while in Deutschland was from an older man who, after hearing our group speaking English, asked a friend where we were from. After hearing that we were all mostly from America, he piped up with, “Ahhh! George Bush land!” and laughed. He began a rant about our invasion of Iraq and claimed we were a nation hungry for war. My group for the most part ignored him and he shut up very quickly after one of our friends (a big, burly army veteran) politely told him off.
While this man was clearly just looking to get into a political debate (a favorite pastime of Germans), his sentiment is shared by many in the country. Not everyone agrees with America’s policies as of late. As a world leader, others look to us to make decisions with world interests first and American interests second. As Americans, we do not share the same priorities and it is this conflict that leads to varying levels of criticism of American policies.
I don’t think a lot of Americans realize how conservative our country is. Even our most “socialist” candidates are merely moderate in comparison to a country like Germany. Therefore, I would strongly caution conservative Americans against pushing their opinions on others as some are prone to do in the US. Although most of Europe is extremely tolerant by nature, preaching about guns, gays or muslims has the potential to end up very badly.
It is standard in my university that before any student studies abroad, they have to take a safety class. That safety class is basically meant as a reality check that the rest of the world doesn’t think we are as amazing and perfect as we do. The world is a very big place and there are many different ways to live life on this planet. In order to be comfortable and successful at traveling abroad, you must shed your American viewpoints and look at other opinions and ways of life, not in comparison to the US, but simply as different.
Now that I have thoroughly cautioned you all – get out of this country and see the world! Do things you never thought you could do, eat things you’ve never heard of and see natural and manmade wonders that the TV can do no justice. Traveling abroad is so good for every aspect of the body, and getting a chance to take an outsiders look at our lives at home and reevaluate priorities is an opportunity not many get. With all the garbage in politics and terrors our media spreads, it is easy to forget that there are still so many good people out there – you just haven’t met them yet. So go abroad and be thankful to the country that provisions you the freedom to do so. To me, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness definitely includes the opportunity to eat Schnitzel and Knödel in their country of origin until I can no longer see straight. You deserve no less.