When I first moved to Washington in 1996, Canadians warned me about the place.
They recounted all the old stereotypes about the United States:
It’s a nation of war.
It’s the self-appointed, arrogant “world’s policeman.”
It’s a nation of great disparity, not just between “have nots” and “haves”, but between cultures.
As a Canadian journalist, I wanted to keep an open mind.
Knowing I was likely to work here for four years, I wanted to learn everything I could about American culture — all its disparate cultures — so traveled to all but 10 states. (Some travel was for work; some for play.)
Sadly, I met few Americans who have traveled much of their own country, no matter what their income or life circumstances.
Sadly, I’ve met few critics of America who have traveled here either.
Americans are also not known for traveling much outside their country, hence some of those easy stereotypes.
After returning to the U.S. from Asia via Canada in 2004, and living here since then, I have not changed my first impressions of Americans.
There are many good people here.
They are unfailingly friendly.
Travel anywhere in the States, and you’ll find someone wanting to share their life story.
Whether you want to hear it or not. (I’m thinking of a looooong trip on a Greyhound bus, west from Miami, to go scuba diving in the Florida Keys.)
Americans are (usually) kind.
No matter where I’ve been in America, whether working or traveling on my own, most Americans have extended hospitality in such an open and big-hearted way, I am often astonished.
Even the KKK. (I’m thinking of the time I asked the white-hooded, white-robed men marching in the streets in Texas what type of guns they were carrying — legally — and they happily told me, AK-47s. As my friend Jack would say, “You can’t make this stuff up.”)
The white supremacists in Idaho, however, asked me to leave — politely.
No matter how ugly the story — Columbine, Death Row, prison overcrowding, gun laws and gun shows, death penalty cases … Americans are happy to help. This is genuine hospitality, not contrived.
This confounds critics.
Outsiders make money writing books about why Americans aren’t liked outside their own country.
Americans make money writing books about why they’re hated around the world (hate is in their titles; it’s not my word choice.)
It’s the subject of documentaries.
I wonder if the political blogosphere would even exist if not for the animosity toward America, and by consequence, Americans.
Or if mass media — “old” or “new”, privately owned or publicly shared — could survive without the animosity some Americans show other Americans.
I am thankful to have had the good fortune to live in a number of countries, to have traveled to many countries, and to observe, experience, and be part of different cultures.
I am grateful for the opportunity to travel around America.
And I’m grateful to Americans for taking me in.
Some of my very best friends in the world are American, and it hurts me when I hear hurtful assumptions about my adopted country.
I married an American, whose family has only been kind and unbelievably generous and sweet to me.
I didn’t marry his government.
(Written in gratitude, last of a seven-part series.)