The American experience

June 28 - July 5, 2006
Gulf Weekly The American experience

It is an odd time to be an American abroad, particularly in the Middle East.

Gone is the era where characters that look as if they stepped out of the Great Gatsby sit languidly in European cafes sipping coffee and discussing art, literature and philosophy. Now we are more likely to try and see as much of Europe as possible on a two-week holiday, never spend two nights in the same hotel and then return to our hectic lives with blurred memories of ancient monuments and museums. Modern life has removed much of the romance from travel.
American expat life is quite different all together. There are the expected challenges of moving to a new country and learning a new culture and possibly language but being an American often adds to those challenges. Perhaps some will find this shocking but America is not a universally loved country and often American foreign policy is not well received abroad, where I happen to live.
As an American you are often treated as though you are an ambassador for your country and asked to explain decisions made in Washington or justify American intervention. This can be difficult, especially when I don’t know the answers myself.
Most of my experiences abroad have been wonderful. The majority of people realise there is a difference between a government and its citizens. People understand that the president of the United States does not phone me up and ask for my opinion before he makes a decision. Personal relationships develop that transcend nationality and that is one of the best things about living abroad.
At the very least being an American is an opening to conversation. Sitting in a taxi in Tanzania you chat amiably with the driver. He asks you where you are from and you say that you are an American. “Oh”, he replies. “My brother went to America, did you meet him, he looks like me?”


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