Tuesday, August 17, 2010

We Are Citizens of the World

I recently traveled to a country I have never been to, where the people speak a language I do not. My biggest concern about this experience was making some kind of mistake that would insult or disrespect the people or the culture I was going to be the guest of. I did not want to be, or to be seen as, an ugly American. Personally, I think I succeeded, but as I was traveling with a group, others among us did not. Indeed, they made no effort to in the first place. I suppose it is pretty telling that when we returned home friends asked us if Mr. and Mrs. so and so created any problems. I guess you don't have to leave home to be an ugly American.


Whether we accept it, or like it, we are all citizens of the world. Whether we are at home or abroad, how we treat other people, their customs and traditions and their homes, as it were, is important and we have an obligation, I believe, to leave those places the same or better than we found them. Suspicions and prejudices are born out of negative experiences; one ugly American, or whatever nationality you may wish to plug in here, can ruin it for the rest.

People all over the world accept a kindness, a courtesy, respect for their living space and an effort to avoid intrusion. What they remember, however, is anything in opposite to that, or ugliness to be specific. That is a different and negative kind of branding in this world of the global economy.

I made the effort to be a citizen of the world. And in doing so I had an unforgettable experience, conversations I would not otherwise have had, reactions from people I did not expect and a feeling of welcoming and mutual respect. Sadly, in order to do this I had to distance myself from my fellow travelers. Even more sad was the fact that they were so caught up in whatever it was they were caught up in they did not even notice.

Perhaps if these wearying travelers could have reflected upon what they were doing and how they were being seen, they might have had a chance to join the community of world citizens. And such a positive change in behavior could have been brought home and applied here where it is sorely needed as well.

Alas, it was not to be. Too bad because the benefits are great!

LS