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“It’s a big bad scary world out there!” Are you sure North America?

| 227 comments | Category: off topic, travel

Edit: I wasn’t expecting this post to cause so much debate, but like the one linked just below, the reason I wrote it isn’t to be “anti-American” as far too many crybabies are claiming, but because you guys need to read a different perspective and understand how us non-Americans think for a retrospective look at yourselves. I like America and will visit it many times in future, but I don’t plan on living there for reasons given in this and the previous post.

Also note that this post isn’t about gun laws, but that is one mention of something us non-Americans find insane. I also mention some issues I had in Canada, which is why this title is “North America” and not America. And no, of course I don’t think this about “all” Americans. Please read the ENTIRE article before over-reacting.

When I last explained 17 cultural reasons why I probably wouldn’t move to America, there’s an important one that I didn’t emphasize, which continues to confuse me:

Why is it that Americans seem to be in a constant state of fear about the world?

This is about both day-to-day life and especially about how bad other countries are. My time in North America was indeed the one place I’ve felt the least safe out of an entire decade of travelling to over fifty countries, for a few reasons I’ll give below, but also simply because of all the fear mongering the states does so well anyway.

I see one consequence of this aspect of American culture to be its need to have so many such easily accessible guns, which creates obvious terrible events that do nothing but promote even more fear.

A terrible tragedy hit a school in Connecticut just a few days ago that you will likely have seen in the news, where many children were shot to death. While perhaps discussing this would be topical, and somewhat proves my point, I actually already had most of this post written before that ever happened. It’s just another one of many similar stories that are unfortunately not that uncommon in the states, even if the terrible body count happens to be higher this time.

The reason everyone has so many damn guns in the first place is because of America’s fear of everything in the world, that has never been challenged as it has elsewhere. Or when they sometimes claim the guns keep them safe, and other countries are more dangerous, this makes me even more confused.

This illogical fear that America has of other countries has baffled me for as long as I can remember, as I see it as one hell of an exercise in cherry picking bad things happening abroad and blissfully ignoring those happening back home.

Rio and Egypt – too dangerous to visit?

Right now I’m in Rio de Janeiro, and when I say this to Americans, they tell me to watch my wallet, and presume that I must have a got-robbed story from having spent an entire year of my life in Brazil. Actually it’s one of my favourite countries and when you learn to act more Brazilian you’ll find it’s a lot easier to blend in with less worries.

Sure, I’ve heard a couple of stories of people getting mugged here in Rio (most cases I’ve heard have been American tourists who have been very naïve about walking around a poor part of town almost bragging about their wealth in accessories they flaunt; something they’d be unlikely to do in poor districts of American cities), but these add up to a lot less stories compared to how many I’ve heard of tourists getting mugged in New York City.

In a few weeks I’m moving to Egypt, and I’ve been very regularly getting people asking me if I’m scared to go, as there are protests in particular parts of Cairo. These aren’t protests against foreigners, attacks on random people in random places or anything of the sort. They are protests in particular parts of cities, aimed at dissatisfaction with the government, and its policies (more complicated than that, but definitely not directed at foreigners like me). If I see anything dangerous looking, I’ll walk the other way.

So no, I’m not scared. I’m watching the news and will see how things develop as Egypt tries to find its place in the world. I definitely plan to be cautious, but I have to be cautious and street-smart no matter where I go. If things take a turn for the worst, I’ll re-evaluate my travel plans, but as long as I keep my wits about me, I see this more as an interesting time to visit the country, while it’s in such flux, and there are such discussions about its future. It’s not a warzone.

Cherry picking stories for biased information

Mainstream news in America makes me want to weep for the world. All you ever hear about coming from other countries is how terrible a place they are.

Faux Fox news is by far the worst of all of them for doing this, and you can see the ridiculous extent they bring this to in this discussion on Amsterdam, which is a “cesspool of corruption and crime and everything is out of control; it’s anarchy!”

I’ve lived in Amsterdam and would merrily walk or cycle home at 3AM with a hat made entirely out of €100 notes before I’d even show people that I have a smartphone a single block away from where I was living in Chicago.

As soon as something bad happens (and statistically, bad things are just as likely to happen anywhere), it’s portrayed as that country being dangerous. But rape, murder etc. also happen in America and the causation of it implying “America is dangerous” is never similarly drawn. It’s more a vague idea that the world in general is mega dangerous, and other countries are simply more dangerous.

My North American moments

Some of my scariest moments that couldn’t have happened elsewhere I’ve been have actually all been in North America. Many times this is a direct result of America’s fear philosophy when you see so much guns and the nonsensical war on drugs. Ironically, all these measures to make things better by letting people easily “protect” themselves with guns actually make things much worse!

In San Francisco, a complete stranger I wasn’t even talking to showed off his gun to me on a bus. He was talking to himself and looked like he needed serious mental treatment, and was probably living on the street. I came across a lot of people talking to themselves without anyone caring for them on such buses and hoped nothing would make them snap. While uncared poor people with conditions can happen anywhere, I never expected just how easy it was for anyone to get a gun in America until I saw him with one.

Is it any wonder that America has the worst statistics in the world of any developed country for gun related murders? When there are apparently 88.8 privately owned firearms per 100 people, and over 40% of households with firearms (so some people have several!), then yes, a foreigner like me is scared shitless to be walking the street in a country that thinks the zombie apocalypse has already begun, with its fair share of mentally unstable people who can access them. With over 30,000 firearm related deaths per year, how scared do you think I am of my increase likeliness of being a statistic when I’m in America?

It’s not just guns though. And not just the United States. The day I left Vancouver last year, the streets broke out into chaos, with one of the worst riots of the year anywhere in the world… about a game of hockey. Not fighting for freedom or a new government, but because they lost a game. It’s like the punchline of a really bad joke.

And on my way in from America, I had a terrible invasion of privacy when Canadian border control told me to wait for several hours in a separate area, while they took everything out of my bag and searched through everything I own in the world just in case I may be smuggling in drugs.

I wasn’t, and I don’t do any kind of drugs, but even if I was, what the hell business is it of theirs what I put in my body? A sniffer dog or a quick search while I’m present can already see if I’ve got a huge enough stash to be doing a drug run for profit, but every nook and cranny of what I owned was scoured just in case I had a few tiny grams. America’s and Canada’s war on drugs is just about the stupidest use of law enforcement and immigration resources I’ve ever come across in the world.

They took apart my CD cases, opened up pockets of the case where I was storing a few hundred dollars (and I should just trust them that they won’t steal it), looked at all my private possessions (literally every single item I own on the planet), and I couldn’t even be there to supervise it. When I came back, my bag was just left open, outside with all my stuff out on a table, some of it (including the cash) light enough that could have been blown away with the wind, since all this was done near where the car was parked rather than somewhere more secure… which is where I was waiting for hours like a prisoner on trial.

I thought you needed a warrant to go through people’s possessions, or that you could at least let the person be present when you do that. But I guess North America’s obsession with drugs means you can throw such basic rights out the window. While I wasn’t afraid for my life here, I was afraid for my rights. If anything goes, why not just take my money (that I never counted precisely because I never expected people to be digging through my bag), or plant drugs on me?

Ransacking all my possessions was just about the worst welcome to a country I’ve ever gotten. And it’s all because of an incredibly illogical and inconsistent fear of how bad drugs are.

Fear-based society

Back to America – my first job abroad was teaching Mathematics to teenagers in the states. I was only 18 at the time myself and because the other teachers were much older than me, it just made more sense for me to hang out with the students two years younger than me in my off time (none of which were in my own classes).

One day the guy who runs the school called me in and said he saw me lying on the grass beside the students. (Shock and horror!!!) I didn’t understand what the hell the problem was, so he made me sit through a video… on inappropriate sexual behaviour. I wasn’t holding hands, kissing, or you know, raping anyone, and I still had to sit through this rubbish (in true cheesy American video style).

I found out that the United States has the worst case of fear of anywhere I’ve ever been in the world. Children are constantly over-protected from the world – from germs, from strangers, from sexual predators “lurking around every corner”, and any time a news article comes up of something bad happening… anywhere, parents go all out in doubling up the protection.

Since there is no filter on the bad news, you just see every possible angle and possibility for something bad to happen and scramble to try to prevent it from happening to you.

You turn on the TV and you get brainwashed by all this fear. It’s bad things presented to you out of context. Bad things have always happened and always will happen, but when we have news reporters to tell us any time it does, as if this somehow increases the likeliness of something bad happening to you, you start to get pretty damn pessimistic. Statistically, good and bad stuff just happens. It’s how the world works. Don’t obsess over things outside of your control.

When I see parents in the states overprotecting their children, then I see a part of their childhood getting robbed. No scraped knees, no wondering around discovering nature by themselves unsupervised, no meeting as many new people as possible – because everyone is out to get you. It’s just making the next generation even worse off than the current one.

The world can be a very safe place with a bit of common sense

In all the time I’ve been travelling around, nothing absolutely terrible has happened to me. I’ve never been robbed, or beaten, or tortured or anything like that. Some say this is pure luck, but where I come from we have a saying: Every man makes his own luck.

I don’t drink so I can keep my wits about me when I’m out alone, I learn the local language, so I can be aware of everything happening around me, I find non-verbal integration of a culture can help me blend in, and I don’t walk around with a bloody SLR camera around my neck all the time to stand out like a sore thumb. I am careful about what I eat and drink, and read up on the country before going and try to make local friends. I’m a little sceptical at first if a stranger is being “too helpful”, but still open minded about human generosity.

This is how I live my life EVERYWHERE. Ireland, America, the Philippines, Germany, China, Brazil, and how I plan to do things in Egypt too.

Then again a few unfortunate things have happened to me, but I simply take them in my stride and try to get through them. I’ve been locked up by Federal police, ran out of money and had to sleep on a rock, and have many other stories for another day. Shit happens. I’ve gotten out of each jam by thinking clearly.

It’s not fear that has kept me alive. It’s being careful, and looking at the world logically, while keeping an open mind and trying to stay positive. Just because there are a few bad people out there doesn’t mean everyone is out to get me and I should treat every stranger as an enemy until proven otherwise. A well known Irish philosophy is that a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet. You only need a little bit of healthy scepticism.

So don’t be afraid to go to another country based on biased accounts you’ve heard about it. Don’t be afraid of the world around you when you see bad stories on TV, because maybe that fear is what is keeping people so motivated to keep buying guns, and not trust one another in the first place.

What do you think? Is the world really that scary a place, or are we perhaps getting information overload with biased negative points of view, because sensationalism simply works better on TV? Coming from someone who has visited many places, I definitely think it’s the latter and we should have a bit more faith in people and those from other countries. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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  • David from NC

    A lot of really great points. I anticipate that most of your American readers are not the gun-toting sort, though, so be prepared for some complaining about lumping all Americans together, in this post.

    • http://www.facebook.com/dominick.odierno Dominick O’Dierno

      Why would you expect that? I am one of his readers and I am “the gun toting sort”.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I definitely don’t think most Americans are the gun-toting sort. I do however think that too many (not all) Americans are the fear-toting sort.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000078279823 Bob Smith

        I’m american and I havent noticed that among people I’ve met. I’m almost 50 and I’ve never touched a gun or come across any violent situations. My kids along with other kids in the neighborhood play and ride their bikes in the street all day. You mentioned yourself being “scared shitless” for no apparent reason. I think you are the fearful type and are projecting your neuroses on everyone else.

  • Vanessa C

    What would you change about your upcoming trip to Egypt if you were a woman?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Of course I would change certain aspects. The same way I would if were a woman travelling alone in South America, India, China, Italy or anywhere else.

      But I’m not a female traveller and can’t appreciate that perspective, so guessing wouldn’t be productive.

      I’ve met many brave women travelling by themselves who are much more clever than I am, and still manage to have excellent cultural experiences, and have talked to solo female travellers who have been in parts of the Middle East too.

      My lack of imagination is no limitation on what they can do.

      • http://www.facebook.com/liz.williams2 Liz Williams

        I found the non-top sexual harassment irritating, but I didn’t feel that I was about to be raped, and in fact, on the couple of occasions when I did actually get lost down the proverbial dark alley (in Luxor), the men I asked for directions were kind and helpful.

        I am in almost complete agreement with you on this article. I’m a Brit, and have travelled to probably 25 countries. I used to live and work in C Asia. I like the US, but I am on my guard a lot more there than in, say, China or Kazakhstan. However, nothing bad has happened to me, either.

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

          Glad to hear it Liz! You are proof that a bit of common sense and keeping your wits about you can beat fear-based stereotypes any day.

      • George Millo

        I’m not a woman, so I don’t mean to be presumptuous, but it seems to me that while travelling as a solo woman is relatively more risky than travelling solo as a man, the dangers are still grossly exaggerated for most parts of the world. I really resent the implication that all men are creepy weirdos and rapists and women travelling solo should be afraid of us all.

        • Vincent

          I agree. I live in Canada and people here are developing the same bullshit fear complex about foreign places. I just think traveling around the world is the only way to get out of the box were all in.

      • Lisa Patron

        Well said. I’ve been to 99 different countries, and am now living and working in Kazakhstan. Alone. What a trip it is to be here. I was living in England for 2 1/2 years but had to give it rest! I was becoming a cynical cu next Tuesday. I have such strong opinions about the countries I’ve visited, but I’ve realized it’s my experience alone. Verbalizing it starts a cyber war. And, I will admit I’m pretty blunt and not as articulate as I could be at expressing my experiences. My adjectives can be pretty brutal.

        Perspective is and has always been my favourite word. I do appreciate your insight, and your perspective.

    • http://gigigriffis.com/ Gigi Griffis

      I’m a woman who travels solo around the world and while I certainly practice more caution in certain places (the Muslim world being a notable example), I also agree that America’s fear is overblown. In fact, I feel more vulnerable walking down the street in America (and getting cat-called at and having men throw actual temper tantrums when I didn’t want to come up to their apartments) than many of the other places I’ve been (I had relatively few problems in Central and South America, none in Europe, none in Africa, and none in Asia). In general, people are kind, helpful, and would love to connect with someone new. :)

      • tianakai

        Agree. This may have to do with the States having a different sense of what sex is, at least this is what I hear when travelling and living abroad.

        • Vincent

          America is a funny country Tiana. There are scared shitless of a man (bin Laden) who lives in the mountains some 30 000 kilometers away than they’re scared of a criminal who may be lurking next door. America suffers from a disease I call the “fear complex”.

        • Keith Cassinger

          Funny, as an American I have never had any fear of going anywhere here…I have lived in many places. I think you people have an overblown sense of what Americans are like really.

    • http://collegeinfogeek.com/ Thomas Frank

      If you want a great female travel perspective, I definitely recommend reading the blog Legal Nomads.

  • Kody

    As an American, I completely understand where you are coming from. As a middle class citizen, I was blessed to have had opportunities to travel the world as a student, and my perspective of the world has changed significantly. I really do believe the media is a real problem here in America. I’ve tried to explain to my Midwestern friends and family that the world isn’t as evil as they think. I’ve spent most of my time focusing on the Middle East, and it is sad to know that most of America have the wrong story about these people. It is also amazing how people who have never been there do not believe my firsthand experience.

    I am 23, and I do believe there still is hope with my generation! Many young adults my age are much more open minded and are studying abroad. Let’s hope that real world experience will trump the ignorance of the media.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      As they say in the Middle East, insha’allah!

      • Ayesha

        Not everyone says that. Only Muslims since Allah is our god. Ah, never mind…

    • David from NC

      I think the most mind blowing experience in my life was when I first got to a high enough level in a foreign language to understand their news broadcasts. I was both blown away by how little they spoke about domestic affairs, and how much they talked about those of the US.

      It would be nice if the US at least had one fully-available network dedicated to International news; and not just on the bad stuff that happen abroad, and on the views of foreign radicals.

  • Allen Redding

    I was just discussing this with my fiancée. She was concerned because I want to travel, and she is petrified of the idea of going anywhere outside of the country and has sent me numerous articles and stores about unfortunate events that may have occured to travelers abroad. I have been slowly wittling her down though and hope to get her over her anxiety. She has family in both Italy and Trinidad, It would be a shame for her not to ever see them because of her fear.

    • Allen Redding

      Also to add to my last comment, there is a sense that we are isolated from the world. As if we are in our protective bubble here and if you step out you may regret it. For instance, I donate blood regularly and each time go in I am asked the same questions such as how much time have I spent in various countries in the last X years/months. In fact most of the questions center around how much time I have not been on US soil instead of general health questions. There is defenatly a fear of the unknown here, and “better safe than sorry” seems to be the rule here.

  • acutia

    @benny You may want to check out the work of George Gerbner on the relationship of media violence on people perceptions of the world as violent and then how that inturn effects their behaviour. One theory/catchphrase he uses is called the “Mean World Syndrome” which is kind of a more theoretical version of what you’ve recounted.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    I’m “cherry picking” based on first hand experiences, not filtered accounts I see on TV ;)

    America’s not that bad at all. I just wanted to emphasize that it is in fact the country I have felt the least safe in to prove a point. I can just as easily cherry pick examples where I’ve felt very safe in America, but I can’t think of any that wouldn’t apply in other countries too.

    I agree that perceptions are crap. For instance, in that link you gave, when the blue graph is compared to the red graph, it almost seems like America is one of the best countries in the world for homicide rates.In fact there is obvious skewing by the peaks drawn in very bold ink that drowns out the MANY countries below America’s level. This is indeed very selective presentation of data.

    Also, since you were so kind to quote one of America’s founding fathers, allow me to do the same:
    “He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither” – Benjamin Franklin

    • John Mooney

      Thanks for the response. While not as extensively traveled as you, I’m no xenophobe. I lived in Europe for a few years, and have traveled to the Middle East and China; despite that, I wouldn’t want to be a citizen of any other country.

    • http://www.facebook.com/dominick.odierno Dominick O’Dierno

      He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither” – Benjamin Franklin
      This quote was in direct reference to the need to keep government legislation controlling aspects of your personal life as small as possible,

    • http://www.bzemic.com/impossibleInstinct/ steve ward

      The one thing that struck me as wrong with your post was that people buy guns out of fear. I dont think that the case, although with that said yes some people do, then again you dont have to be scared to shoot someone just sane enough to know how to use it.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/7OZ3VUMNMDQMFYSENAKZCHIFWI Darklight

      That quote from Franklin doesn’t exactly help your argument. Many Americans, though a shrinking number (I suspect), do not want to give up their constitionally protected right (freedom) to own firearms in order to gain perceived security.

      If you look at that quote the way you seem to, then why did the incident in Canada bother you? Those officials my have been searching for weapons as well as drugs you know. Maybe they just invade people’s privacy to keep you safe.

      • http://www.facebook.com/erika.butler.77 Erika Butler

        I think he’s talking about stuff like FISA and the TSA.

  • George Millo

    I think it’s worth bearing in mind that when George Washington and Thomas Jefferson said those things, the most powerful “arms” of the day were muskets that were hugely inaccurate, cumbersome and could only fire a handful of rounds per minute.

    • John Mooney

      You’re absolutely right. The weapons available to a tyrannical government to oppress its people are far more deadly now, both in absolute terms and relative to the meager assault rifles we are allowed to have.

      • Margaret Hall

        But… But… I though the US was a democracy? The way to remove a government in a First World civilised country is via the ballot box, and you damn well do it before they become tyrannical.

        All those Americans who say they need their guns to protect themselves from their government paint a truly awful picture of the country to the rest of the world.

        • http://www.facebook.com/liz.williams2 Liz Williams

          It just seems nuts to me. The US government can pretty much nuke your house from orbit – they don’t need to go anywhere near you, or engage in a firefight. I agree with Margaret – if you’re all fired up for some kind of guerilla mountain warfare, it doesn’t say much for your belief in democracy.

      • George Millo

        You are deluded if you think that any amount of citizen-owned firearms will provide you one iota of protection against a government which has Predator Drones, M1 Abrams battle tanks and the most elitely-trained and highly-funded army in all of human history.

  • Nik

    Have to say this is hands-down one of the most interesting blog posts I’ve read anywhere online for a long, long time. I love the way you’re just telling it as it is, even though it might rub a few people up the wrong way.

    Although I’m not an American (I’m English) I still feel there is a lot of bad press out there about a lot of countries-an example would be Greece, as they are suffering terrible economic problems at the moment. I went there this summer -around various places, including Athens(I travelled around and didnt just stay in a holiday resort). All I saw on the news/TV in the months leading up to my trip was how terrible things were in the country, how fascists were taking over the streets and that crime had risen to ‘shocking’ levels never seen there before.

    What I found was totally the opposite-warm, friendly people-great food and culture and it was a great experience. If anything, there were less homeless people about than London and no protests in sight. I never witnessed any crime, nor saw anything disturbing. In fact I find a night out in central London more intimidating given the large groups of drunken morons.

    It’s really sad (and quite irritating) to think of the large amount of people who decided not to go to Greece on hoilday this year because of the wildly inaccurate and sensationalised scare mongering that goes on in the mediaand missed out on a amazing opportunity to see a beautiful country. Sadly, I think too many people are put off places without good reason.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      PRECISELY. This is how I am viewing Egypt’s current portrayal. The media doesn’t care about the consequences of what they do, as all they want is sensationalism.

      The entire country could be fine, but there are demonstrations in a single square so people will cancel their flight even though they’d never have gone to that square. It’s a terrible shame for people who would otherwise expand their mind, and for a country that relies a lot on tourism.

      Your experience with Greece doesn’t surprise me based on what I’ve heard of the Greeks. I always suspected it would have been just fine to visit despite the doom and gloom image we see when we turn on the bad-news stations.

      • Nik

        Absolutely Benny-much like Egypt I guess, I found that most Greeks were so welcoming because tourism is such a vital part of their economy. People will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and want foreigners to come to the country. Having talked to a few people as well, I found them to be very open and honest about what is going on in their country-they are willing to admit things are not great at the moment but Jesus, it’s not like Armageddon has arrived on the streets of Athens like the media would have you believe…

    • Nithin Vejendla

      Same here! We were told that Greece was in a bad place, it was dangerous etc, and when we got there, nothing. We stayed in an apartment, dressed semi-touristy, and used the metro there. It was a great experience, and the lowered prices and less crowds really helped!

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=689826040 Dan Yen-Chiu

        When I was in Greece, we arrived a few days after some huge riots. The city was wonderful and people were friendly, no hassles. The day after we left, there was another huge riot at the square across from our hostel. Talk about timing!

        • http://www.facebook.com/liz.williams2 Liz Williams

          Their economy is up the creek at the moment but they are a great bunch of people.

  • johanna flanagan

    I once met an American woman in my home city Glasgow trying to hail a cab on a street where cabs were unlikely to pass by. I asked if she needed any help and pointed out a taxi rank just a few minutes along the road. She grabbed her bag tightly and looked like she was about to dig around for a can of mace. I’m a 34 year old female teacher with nothing particularly scary about my appearance or manner (as far as I’m aware!). I was walking in the same direction as the taxi rank and asked her where she was from and if she was enjoying her vacation and quickly became clear that she was terrified of me. It was the one and only time that I’ve actually seen someone look at me that way.

    • http://www.facebook.com/dominick.odierno Dominick O’Dierno

      I’m in Glasgow now. I’ve been here for a month. A guy at the pub on Saturday night took issue with me being an american in his pub, but I cut him some slack since he was obviously drunk. Other than that everyone has been rather nice.

    • http://www.bzemic.com/impossibleInstinct/ steve ward

      Doh, I would of thanked you and enjoyed your questions

      • PRINCE

        for the last time you stupid americunt, its “would have” not “would of”.. these really irritating vocabulary and basic grammatical errors are a result of wrong irritating american accent(nasal squeaky jewish accent and retarded and uneducated southern drawls). DAMN!!

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/7OZ3VUMNMDQMFYSENAKZCHIFWI Darklight

      Are you sure that she was American and that she understood what you were saying? I wasn’t there, but if I were in a foreign country and a person there came up to me and started talking, I might just reach into my bag and pull out… a dictionary!

      • PRINCE

        I believe she was speaking English. So why would the american not understand it, disregard the different accents, that’s not a big deal – everyone has a different accent

      • http://georgemillo.com/ George Millo

        *facepalm*

  • http://twitter.com/KevinMuldoon Kevin Muldoon

    I’m currently staying in Bogota but heading to Rio on 31st December.

    Colombia gets a bad rap but I’ve always felt safe here, much safer than I did in parts of Chicago or Las Vegas. Even when people are drunk here you see few fights and most people are just smiley happy drunk.

    I’ve met a lot of amazing Americans and always loved my trips to America but their view on guns is one reason why I wouldn’t want to stay and raise a family there.

    • http://www.facebook.com/1tomass Thomas A Johnston

      I relate! I moved to Bogota from Las Vegas 4 years ago and now live in Medellin!

  • http://www.facebook.com/crisgladly Cris Gladly

    Benny … I super appreciate this blog post. A lot of truth in it. I can only offer you my own perspective as an American. I am about to turn 40 next month and I have never been out of the U.S. yet. The circumstances of my childhood and previous marriage kept the world from me (literally) … and now that I’m on my own again, it’s a matter of finances in my new life, starting all over again.

    I got my first passport as my divorce present to myself and am eagerly awaiting the day I can use it!! … but here’s the thing, so many Americans never leave the U.S. and we live in a nation with the ILLUSION of freedom (especially freedom of press) You said it yourself in your post … when all you see is a lie (or at least a skewed perspective), you believe the lie after awhile. It’s all you know. (And most of America still foolishly believes our media presents fair, unbiased “facts”). I’m fortunate to be both media-literate and worldly in mindset, even if I’m not worldly in travel experience. Most of America is not like me though. And so, yes, FEAR is absolutely the adrenaline that runs through the veins of this nation. It’s sad. And there are good reasons so many people in other countries loathe us. We are an ignorant nation, in the literal sense. And the acquisition of STUFF is valued far, far more here than the acquisition of experience. And what is the best way to keep people buying? … keep them home and keep them scared. And then they fill the void of their lives with “stuff”. If people don’t think they’re missing out on anything, there is nothing to miss.

    I love my country. There are so many great things about living here (our gun laws are NOT one of them, I find our gun control, or lack thereof, abhorrent), but for as big a we are … we are a small minded nation in many ways.

    But I love the world, too. And I am dying to see it. Because I know I will not fully expand as a soul on the planet until I do.

    I think a bit of mercy (or at least realism) is needed. People simply don’t know what they don’t know. Most Americans aren’t ignorant b/c they’re assholes or scared on purpose … they are ignorant b/c they have a highly inaccurate and limited worldview. Posts like this help expand it. :)

    Safe travels to you!

    • http://jadenomadtravelwear.com/ Karen Chow

      I’m also turning 40 next month! You should go travel, use that passport! It’s affordable to travel if you couch surf or stay in hostels, so you should go do it! It’s fun!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andreas-Nettmayer/100002154897707 Andreas Nettmayer

      The first thing any American can do is realize our media is stupid. Apart from PBS and a few other places, it’s all sensationalism all the time. If Americans realize that, it’s okay, but most don’t. Any yes, every US citizen needs to leave the country and try to learn some other language. You always come back with somewhat of a broader perspective, even if you prefer home, English, and so on.

    • Whitney

      Funny, I’ve lived all over the US and don’t know anyone who has fear running through their veins. I know people who have fears but I also know people who have even more fears in Europe or elsewhere. I have family in Europe and Latin American and I’m a 1st generation American. Also, I don’t know anyone who thinks much of our media or government. Americans don’t travel as much as Northern Europeans or Commonwealth countries but we also have a huge and interesting country where the weather is always good somewhere, even if it’s just Hawaii and California and Florida. I appreciate some of what you say here but I wish you’d realize how you play into the completely inaccurate generalizations that people have of us around the world. Your comment got 30 likes because this post is all about portraying America as negative as possible. Oh well, I have no idea where you live but I’ve lived in 7 different states and every time zone and have no idea what country you’re talking about.

      • Truthsayer

        You’re in denial that’s all. Replace the word fear with ignorance. Regardless who causes the ignorance about the world (be it fear or something else, I’m thinking government propaganda) Americans are the most insular and ignorant people round. Speak to a white American in his 40s or 50s, living in the Midwest or the South or New England, and most foreigners would be horrified to learn most Americans, even the ones all over the coasts, have their impression and knowledge of the world stuck in the 1960s, many still have Cold War attitudes about the world, it’s hilarious, it’s as if they never moved on LOL, and their idea of themselves are stuck in the 1980s when the US was the king of the world.

        I don’t see how America is going to survive or compete with the world with its population mostly ignorant. This is why much of the world is scared of the US. It possesses nuclear weapons and they are controlled by a group of clowns and retards who are ignorant about anything beyond their home state.

        • Whitney

          If you think that most diverse country in the history if the world is the most insular and most ignorant, you haven’t been to many places or maybe you went to a few countries and just stayed in a Western bubble. The only other country in the world where you can find similar levels of diversity is Canada and maybe Singapore. As I said above, Americans don’t travel as much as a few (not all) Western countries but this is mostly a matter of geography not fear or ignorance. Your ridiculous generalization of the most diverse country in the world as the “most ignorant” shows what a hater you are. If you’re argument wee true, there’s be no need for such ridiculous exaggerations.

          The entire basis of this post is ridiculous collectivist thinking and collectivist generalizations, which almost invariably come from left-wing Europeans like Benny, who have a collectivist view of the world. People in almost every country can make the individual choice to find the type of people they want to spend time with. I choose to spend time with people who have an interest in the world but would also have to make this individual choice in Greece, England, Canada (especially rural Canada), or Queensland. I have no desire to prove that this Western country is “the worst” and then declare that “I’ve won.” I battle my own personal daily challenges and then declare “I’ve won.” I’d like to see more Americans travel and encourage people to do so in constructive ways by offering helpful tips but making false, exaggerating, and insulting comments about 310 million people or the over 400 million people in Europe is

        • Whitney

          The most diverse country in the history world is not the “most insular and ignorant” country. You should really talk more with people around the world. As I said above, Americans don’t travel as much as a few (not all) Western countries but this mostly a matter of geography and the fact that the US has varied climates. I see about equal or greater levels of fear and ignorance when talking to people in Europe or Australia or elsewhere.

          It’s revealing that these collectivist efforts to generalize this or that country as “the worst” almost invariable come from left-wing Europeans like Benny because of their collectivist view of the world. It’s interesting that many leftist people in Europe have this pressing desire to label Americans as “the worst” at everything. Just take Benny’s two posts as examples, the “scariest, the unhappiest, the most stressed out” and to take your comments, “the most insular, the most ignorant.” It foretells an inability to view Americans as individuals. I make an individual choice to surround myself with people who have interest in the world, who are happy, who are healthy, and I’d have to make an individual choice to do the same in England, in Italy, in Alberta, or in Queensland. This need of people on the left to declare that America is “the worst” and then declare some type of victory is lame. I have no desire to prove that a country collectively

        • Whitney

          Also, I find it interesting that you changed the whole nature of the post by substituting ignorance for fear to suit your hatred. The two words mean very different things although there may be some correlation in certain cases. I don’t know anyone else who’d called Canadians ignorant. You only talk about Americans here but this post is addressed to North Americans. FAIL!

  • Jackson

    I completely acknowledge Americans rights to own guns, the best protection against a tyrannical government…as the quickest way to enslave the people is to disarm them, as the US founding father well understood.

    However, what actually made me fidgety about the guns in the US, as a Northern European, was how trigger-happy the law enforcement seemed to be.

    For example, I just missed seeing a shooting in Los Angeles bus station, where the police shot a person who had pulled a knife on them.

    Maybe its a cultural thing, but I can’t imagine police shooting anyone in my country for a knife, they’d rather use any other means (usually just talking the suspect down, for as long as it takes) to calm the situation.

    • http://twitter.com/rhymeswithjoey Zoë

      My brother was innocently killed by a cop. You’re completely right about some jurisdictions being trigger happy.

  • Geoff in Estonia

    Hi Benny,

    I’m not usually too picky about typos, but I thought that you might prefer to say “sexual predators” rather than “sexual predictors”. I imagine though that those sexual predictors can be a bit scary too when they’re lurking in dark corners… ;)

    “Children are constantly over-protected from the world – from germs, from strangers, from sexual predictors “lurking around every corner”, and any time a news article comes up of something bad happening… anywhere, parents go all out in doubling up the protection.”

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Fixed.

  • Derek

    I’m not sure about China, where you visited, but I know Japan is very strict as well on drugs. Was China similar? And how do you think it compares to the U.S.’s aversion to drugs?

    • http://www.facebook.com/joseph.lemien Joe Lemien

      I don’t know about Benny’s experiences, but I have a lot of experience with China and I can easily tell you that China is far harsher on punishing the use of illegal drugs than the United States. People don’t normally get executed in the U.S. for selling marijuana, but that happens in China. Foreigners are a special class of citizen though, with special treatment. Normally foreigners get different punishments from Chinese citizens (although there have been a few high profile cases of foreigners being harshly punished).

      • Derek

        Yeah, I think I misunderstood Benny’s point with this and the last post about America. My first thought was how many countries are worse.. but I guess his point is more that we think we are the best, and how we have a very hypocritical viewpoint.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=689826040 Dan Yen-Chiu

      Nothing beats Singapore and Malaysia

  • Trainer

    My American daughter went to Egypt alone last October, met some of her friends there and had a great time. This week she is flying to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Next March it’s Mumbai where she will take a 9 hour train ride to meet a friend she made in the states in his hometown. I’m so proud of her and her travels. We do have some safety measures in place- people need to know where she is, she finds out immediately where the American Embassy is etc.- but hasn’t had any issues and her life is greatly enhanced by her travel. Of course, growing up I always told the kids that the best vacation would be being caught in a revolution. :-)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      We need more open minded parents like you! :)

  • Xavier Alfonseca

    From an American Perspective, I don’t think this is the case. I think most of the fear of other countries comes from the fear of another rising world power, that a nation like China would present a danger to us. Not that we’d be in danger if we went out.

    Sure, we get that message too when we’re presented with images of other countries, but I don’t know anyone who believe that. And with political conflicts and failing economy, even those who did are starting to become disillusioned to the fact that the US is not a perfect nation. Besides, most of those are specifically for war or tragedies in other nations.

    As for our fear-based society, I say both agree and disagree. I definitely agree that it was out of line for the guy who runs the school to treat you like that and it’s disappointing, but just because “bad stuff happens” doesn’t mean it’s a reason to disregard it just because we seem to be too uptight.

    I love my country, and while it isn’t perfect, I don’t believe I feel less safe here than in *most* other countries.

  • http://twitter.com/edsmilde Ed Smilde

    It’s sad how much different it is for kids here today than when I was a kid, which wasn’t event that long ago (90′s). I could spend all day all over the neighborhood and my parents wouldn’t know where I was. Now they have to keep track of their kids 24/7. (People who have seen “The Sandlot” know what I’m talking about…)

  • Andrew Moorehead

    The majority of gun deaths in American are due to police. I guess if you grow up in America you know what to do to avoid trouble, just like you do when you’re in Brazil. One problem with my travels currently is that I can’t go out of the country because I’m a “convicted felon”. The reason for this is that I was arrested for something that wasn’t even wrong, and when the arrest was over, the police lied and said that I had been violent with them. Since there were three police there at the time and me, with no other witnesses to tell the truth other than myself, I had to take a plea deal and go on probation for a year and a half, which hasn’t even started yet. The reason for these lies of theirs was because of a man that has lived in that city and worked at that university for over 20 years, who was afraid of me for absolutely no reason whatsoever, who told the police that I was a dangerous person (I’m not). The point is that you’re right, there are a lot of fearful people here, and the police seem to be a great deal of that population.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1053572552 Emily Purvis de Roblesnarciso

    As gun-owning Texas-born woman, the most warnings and “Wow! You’re BRAVE!!!” comments that I got about traveling in South America were from foreign-born Latinos. BTW–guns are handy against rattlesnakes and wild pigs, too. Not every danger is on two legs. Guns are a popular topic in my country so you hear about them a lot but in foreign countries where they are very, very restricted, most of the middle-aged or older adults that I know personally are gun owners, too, including England, Perú, Spain, Ecuador, and, of course, Mexico.

  • cvo

    This is really a gross over generalization of American culture. If anything, I think people who come to the US from other places get brainwashed by the media and end up afraid to use their smartphones. Its easy to say, “Americans have guns, they must be afraid” without looking at the cultural underpinnings behind it, as well as contemporary use today.

    If anything, America is a libelous country. So, you’re damn right you can’t lay in the grass next to these students, not because we’re afraid you’re gonna sex them up, but because we don’t want anyone to think you might want to do that and thus hit us with a lawsuit. So, American institutions tell you things that MAY go wrong to cover their ass, not to scare you .

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      lol, I don´t see the difference. Fear that I’ll sex them up and fear of lawsuits. It’s all FEAR. I just want to lie down in the grass :)

    • Ve

      “So, American institutions tell you things that MAY go wrong to cover their ass, not to scare you .”

      This is true, definitely.

      • Nithin Vejendla

        I agree, we’ve become a society that doesn’t want take responsibility if something happens, which is why people try to cover their ass in case of lawsuits.

  • http://www.facebook.com/coryjroberts Cory Roberts

    Yes, I suppose the fact that Rio de Janeiro has a homicide rate of 55 per 100,000 and the US has an average homicide rate of 4.2 per 100,000 has nothing to do with the fact that the US is safer! Quit whining and get over the fact that you got searched at customs.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      You are comparing a city with one of the largest favelas in the world with an entire country of hundreds of millions of people. Particular cities in America that are relatively more dangerous would be a better comparison, such as Cleveland (18.6) or Cincinatti (21.6).

      A factor of 2 or 3 is much more honest a comparison than what you are making, and it shows an abuse of statistics when you compare a country and a city like that.

      • http://www.facebook.com/coryjroberts Cory Roberts

        Abuse of statistics? I thought you were the one who has an irrational fear of the United States based on seeing one crazy guy in San Francisco. The US is as big as Europe, generalizations like that just don’t work.

        • Ve

          He’s commenting on how Americans are “irrationally fearful” of many countries and giving us something to compare to the fear to. Many, if not most, Americans have not spent a significant amount of time outside of the U.S. Not that other countries are paradise, but many Americans need some perspective.

          We are basically the most influential country in the world…with the 2nd highest child poverty rate in the developed world, highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world, 25% of the world’s prisoners are American, approx. twice as many preschoolers are killed by gun violence than policemen, highest divorce rate in the first world, etc…like I said, other countries aren’t flawless and many are worse in quite a few aspects, but some perspective is needed.

      • Diesel

        Don’t forget Detroit haha, though I agree. I have never once felt threatened here.

    • Ve

      Agreed, you can’t compare a city to a country. Please at least pretend to have a basic understanding of statistics when trying to “defend” America.

      #BlackWomanFromTheSouthSideOfChicago #FeltSaferInAnyGivenCountryThanAt”Home”

      • http://www.facebook.com/coryjroberts Cory Roberts

        You’re telling me that I can’t compare a city to a country and then you’re saying that you feel safer in any country other than Chicago. Either you’re a hypocrite or you need someone to tell you Chicago isn’t a country.

        • Andrew Moorehead

          Chicago isn’t a country.

          • Ve

            And I didn’t use “statistics” to defend attempt to prove a point. Benny commented that he abused statistics, and silly me, I thought that such a point was obvious and didn’t need to be blatantly re-stated. Likewise, Benny made observations and didn’t [mis]use statistics to make his point.

        • Ve

          Ok, I’ll spell everything out for you Cory, don’t worry.

          In your attempt to use “statistics” to defend yourself, you need to compare city to city, or country to country. I used no statistics and Benny clearly noted your misuse of statistics, therefore I felt no need to expand on that since it was blatantly stated. Benny similarly commented on his observations without [mis]using statistics to make a point, as he has not visited every country in the world nor has spent ample time in the U.S.

          And if you want something statistical about Chicago, it’s the most dangerous Alpha city in the world (and also has been my home for the vast majority of my life).
          Google what “Alpha city” means if you don’t know.

          Anything else you need clarified?

  • http://twitter.com/chelleomi Michelle Turco

    America is a sinking boat. Speaking of being a terrified American, I’m fairly terrified of living here any longer when any random citizen may be packing heat. For instance, the university where I study recently passed concealed carry on campus. Gun-lovers are talking about putting trained armed guards at schools and movie theaters (mostly in suburbia). I don’t want to live my life feeling like we’re under martial law! The only reason the Founding Fathers wrote the Second Amendment was because of their circumstances and that violent revolution was necessary to free themselves from Britain. This is no longer the case. I think regular citizens should not be allowed to own handguns or assault rifles or anything that was created to kill people, because we all agree that killing people is wrong, right?

    That said, America really isn’t That scary. These events are still rare. Chicago and San Francisco are great cities, but yeah, maybe you need to exercise a little street smarts when you’re in certain neighborhoods. That’s true everywhere. These high-profile events seem to be taking place in mostly suburbia and I think its obvious that many of the problems here are cultural (albeit not video games or gay marriage or abortion). I would agree that we should take our focus off this ridiculous “war” on drugs and maybe put our resources towards helping the homeless and helpless instead of ignoring them. That, and do something about this superhero complex some people seem to have, where if they just think if someone had had a gun in any given place, things would have gone better.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andreas-Nettmayer/100002154897707 Andreas Nettmayer

      Overall crime in the US is on a nice 30 year decline. You’re actually safer now than your grandparents were back in the good old days. Get a grip. This is the exact paranoia Benny is talking about.

  • randomdude

    I’m not going to comment on the (great) post as a whole since I both agree with what you’re saying and disagree with the way you’re saying it. Good points brought up to think about!

    What I will say is that the reason Canadian border control has to be strong is because of weapons, not just drugs. The amount of handguns that are smuggled into our country is ridiculous, and then they are used to kill people in gang violence. And they most all come from the Americans who believe it’s their god-given right to shoot someone who steps on their front lawn. As a Canadian, I will not apologize for your experience. Borders suck, that’s all there is to it. When I went to Britain from France, I was the most questioned, most searched (including luggage) person on the bus I was taking (and I was not the only foreigner), and had to provide documentation, not only for my week-long stay in London, but also for my study-abroad stay in France (which is none of their business in my opinion).

    I had a bad experience at a border (not my first one) but I didn’t judge the country for it. On the Vancouver riot though… Yeah, we’re a little nuts :P

  • http://twitter.com/angelacorrias Angela Corrias

    I am fluent in three languages and comfortable in another couple of idioms, so I read/listen to media from many different countries, and the amount of rubbish I hear/read in the US press is yet to be overcome anywhere else. Obviously I can compare better their news about the countries I’ve visited, which are quite a few, and it’s impressive how much distortion they like to publish. Brainwashing and fearmongering at their best.

    What also amazes me about the US is not just the fact that they feel so much in need of owning a gun, but that the arms industry is so blatantly powerful to impose itself on citizens’ mind and make them think that. After every mass shootings (and sadly there have been way too many), there is the constant fruitless debate on whether it’s good for a family to own a gun or not, with the arms industry (every time!) suggesting that these massacres happened because only one part (the killer) had the gun. Now they have even dared to imply that the last massacre wouldn’t have happened if also teachers had weapons, at a kindergarten! This is seriously out of this planet, I cannot imagine this surreal debate happening in any other country.

    • Wally

      It’s the free press, free to sell as many papers or website hits as they can with distortion and sensationalism. :)

      I am replying, though, because of the kindergarten teacher comment. We had a similar idea come up in the aftermath of 9-11: pilots should be armed. I have the same reaction to both: Now teachers and pilots have to not only be good at their jobs but also expert marksmen, trained to suppress fear and pumping adrenaline and make torso shots on the bad guys in a classroom filled with five-year olds or in a metal tube filled with helpless flyers strapped to their seats?

      You’re right—it’s surreal.

  • jag61286

    As a native American with an UnAmerican outlook on life I completely agree with what your saying! I haven’t been nearly to as many countries as yourself, but have traveled a bit around this world. In all my time spent in other countries it has led me to believe in the greatness of humanity.

    I am an absolute detractor from the media and the fear mongering it takes part in. I think putting yourself out in the world is the biggest way to get past this fear state that is pushed here in N.America, it has been my biggest learning lesson, and I recommend it to everyone!!

  • Stephen

    Didn’t you live in New Orleans? We normally just walk up to people and start talking to them. Well when I first came to Europe I decided to walk up to this man and talk to him and ask him where I should go with my family here in Spain in Spanish. The guy looked at me with fear in his eyes and when my dad tried to talked to him (my dad lived in Seville for years) he put his hands in his pockets and walked briskly away. So, here in the state of Louisiana we are friendly to people we are not afraid of anyone.

    • Whitney

      Thank you Stephen for pointing this out. Reading Benny and the comments here is like what country are you people talking about? The one you’ve made up in your mind? America is known for people just coming up and talking strangers and there is no culture of fear. There are child protection laws all over the developed world and just because Benny experienced this in America when he taught doesn’t mean we have some exceptional culture of fear. Many people in Europe look at you like you’re slightly crazy when you talk to strangers. I don’t think this means that Europe had me “scared shitless” but it just goes to show how stupid all the negative focus on America is here.

  • Josh

    Very timely post Benny. I agree with you wholeheartedly about the irrational fear that many Americans carry around with them. Its incredible how pervasive this attitude is and how you can’t have a normal conversation with someone without a fear-based comment seeping out of them.

    The drug war is a perfect example of what happens when you let fear control you. It started out with an understandable fear, the fear that your children are going to become drug addicts and overdose on heroin. Actually, I take that back, theres something wrong with you as a parent if that happens to your kid. But anyway, from that simple fear Americans tolerated their government becoming a police state that is more intrusive and dangerous than what the Russians had. Its become so bad that even small towns of 30,000 have SWAT teams with tanks and enough arsenal to take over a small country.

    I’ve been back in the US for too long because I’ve started to get used to this lifestyle again. I can’t wait to get back to Brazil where things make sense.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Ugh, I very sadly am going to update that information. Thanks :(

    • Chupito

      I actually think that 11 000 or 13 000 was way more accurate. The 30 000 number, while true, is misleading, especially with the rest of your sentence being about your fear or being one of the statistic.

      When I read that number, I actually thought that 30 000 people were killed, either through murder or accident with a gun. The reality is quite different : more than half of gun-related deaths are suicides. While I do not want to minimize the tragedy that a suicide is, nor the fact that those nearly 19 000 people are no longer alive, I do not think the fact that those people shot themselves increase your likeliness of being a statistic when I’m in America.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Well said! I’m much happier to live in this age than any other :) But when all you hear is doom and gloom on TV, you can think that in the “glory days” things were better, when they were in fact much worse.

  • Ve

    That’s a little deceiving. By “more prosperity” they essentially mean, “less people are in extreme poverty and dying of starvation.”

    There is less disease because of medical advances, definitely.

  • Nick Luff

    Benny, I have a lot of respect for the ideals you promote and the fantastic energy you bring to the wonderful world of language. It’s for this reason that I’m a bit surprised you’d write an article about ‘North America’ (as per your title) and suddenly describe observations about America. Especially when I’m certain you know the difference between America and North America. Sure, I admit you added two sentences about Canada’s challenges with a single (i.e. happened once) and very unfortunate hockey riot, as well as issues with border control, but do you truly feel this gives you the right to suddenly describe your point as being a ‘North American’ issue? Do you think Canada has similar associations to American violence and issues related to gun control? Seriously? I’ve traveled to every other place you mention in your article and I agree with so many of your points… but why do your friends here in Canada deserve such negative energy?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Please keep in mind that although the majority of the heat and arguing here is about gun laws, this article is actually about FEAR.

      Canada is arguably a much safer place than America in a lot of senses, and I don’t know but I imagine it’s way less crazy about handing out guns, but there is still that fear there too. My experience in Canada is much less extensive however, as I spent most of my time there in Quebec, which I’d consider culturally a different country, even if it’s not politically one.

      But yes, fear is a North American issue. The gun side-bar will distract people and is turning this whole discussion into just that for most people, which is infuriating because they think this post was about their 2nd amendment, when that’s only the tip of the iceberg as far as I’m concerned.

      No negative energy by the way. Always love hanging out with my Canadian friends! :)

      • Whitney

        It’s interesting also that you you’re so well-traveled and you can’t see that Europe is the only continent where so many people (not all) come off as very blunt, or rude, as us fearful North Americans would say. You’ve even mentioned this and so you know that you’re supposed intended audience, North America, will feel a lot of negative energy from this post, but you deny any responsibility, because you have Canadian friends. You’re being incredibly unfair to the US here but this post is truly insulting to Canada which simply doesn’t have many problems with violence partly because they don’t have this huge black underclass the way we do and they don’t have an army of 12 million illegal immigrants that live in a world much more probe to crime. I’m not here to say the uS doesn’t have many problems but you’ve done such a good job trashing the US and Canada that some counterpoint is needed.

  • http://jadenomadtravelwear.com/ Karen Chow

    Hi Benny. I totally agree with you that Americans live in fear, and that they are missing out on having amazing life experiences. When I first moved to Portland OR 9 years I was surprised at how few people were well traveled compared to Ottawa, Canada, where I moved from. Now, I’m used to living here, but I’m quite un-American (don’t watch TV, socialist, etc). Have a great trip to Egypt! I have a lot of Egyptian friends, and I’m jealous of your trip. It’s definitely on my list of places to go.

    • Whitney

      Hey Karen, I don’t know if you noticed but in this great anti-American article, Benny insulted your country too. Also, Portland, Oregon isn’t socialist enough for you? I don’t think Canada is socialist just because they socialized healthcare. Canada is actually one of the most free market countries in the world and has passed the US on free market ratings.

  • http://twitter.com/TheEricProblem Eric N Wilson

    Good article, and some good comments to go with it. As I’ve been telling anybody who cares to listen over the past few days, when the culture breaks down on us, it’s not usually a single point of failure so much as a network of mutually detrimental short circuits.

  • Phoebe

    I was just having a conversation about this very same thing minutes before I read this. I’ve been living in California my whole life, and I have never been out of the country…. and I can say that what you say is true. We DO live in a constant state of fear… I promised myself that I would not let fear conduct my life, but I am definitely always aware and skeptical about my surroundings. I have friends that are afraid to even get gas after the sun has set. I would walk to my car at night with my phone in one hand and my keys in the other…but things like that can often take away so much from life, and I hate that.
    It’s amazing to see how we interact with strangers, because often if a stranger starts speaking to us it’s perhaps awkward and gets our guard up. (I don’t mean to generalize, this is from what I’ve seen) This is, obviously, coming form the SoCal perspective. But you’re absolutely right about the news…i’ll hear commercials on the radio for the news that sound like they’re movie trailers.
    It’s better just to stay positive, while still being aware. I no longer get my news from the TV, and I make a point to interact with strangers.. I’ve made some great friends that way.
    Nice to have heard this point from another perspective. Keep up the good work, I’m always rootin for ya :)

  • John Mayson

    As a 6′ 6″ (198 cm) tall man I’ve never felt scared in any part of the world. Having said that, I do feel much safer in Asia than I do in my own country, so I see where Benny is coming from. And it goes beyond access to firearms. Canadians, Singaporeans, Malaysians, Cambodians, seem more peaceful and happier and less likely to follow me into the parking lot and assault me because of a perceived threat to their manhood.

    Stay safe!

  • http://www.facebook.com/randybvain.torques Randybvain Torques

    I know USA mostly from films, as I don’t watch TV. I would be afraid to go there because of what I saw on these films that is self-righteous policemen and “good guys” who believe in shooting and killing and “taking law in their hands”. Or other government people scared of me and putting me down as a prevention, either.

    Anyway, some of your observations are as if you were writing about Poland. We don’t have guns but I think we live in the same culture of fear. Every stranger might be an enemy and attack you because you believe or not believe in God, because you have differrent political or cultural or historical views. I think this is the same self-righteousness like in the United States and the same evil-doing justified by having others thinking the same and backing every crime “for better good”; their good, of course.

    In the UK when I look at someone a little longer, they smile and say hello, in Poland – they ask if I have a problem or if I want get beaten:/

    • hkfun

      Randybvain, I hope you you don’t think that films are an accurate portrayal of the US!
      I never realized what a distorted view of America Hollywood has given the world until I moved to Asia. I met MANY people who had gotten a very odd view of the US from watching tv or movies. Multiple people didn’t even think I was American at first (they all thought I was British for some reason) because, and I’ll quote one lady, “you’re nice and kind, but all American women are rude and selfish.” When I asked her why she thought that, she told me I wasn’t like the ladies from Gossip Girl and Sex in the City. Of course I’m not saying that your perception is that off, but it could be. Most American movies and tv shows are made for Americans, so we know what’s reality and what’s “just tv.” What the don’t think about is that not everyone knows the difference.
      I understand that if you’re not in place, you can only go off of the information you’re given, like from a movie. And I know that many people have expectations crushed by reality. I’ve heard about people who love Korean dramas so they move to Korea and are very disappointed when reality doesn’t match tv (for another example). So I guess all I can say is try traveling there if you can or get to know traveling Americans. That way you can determine for yourself the good, the bad, and the ugly.

    • Whitney

      I think it says a lot that your view of the US from films is the same as Benny’s who’s lived here. I feel like Benny write this post after walking through the roughest neighborhood of Chicago and after watching GoodFellas.

  • Bernt Snuggerud

    As an American, I have to say, you are correct. I have to smile though, because reading this reminded me of my ex-girlfriend. We were talking about all the places we want to visit, and she was always fascinated by ancient Egypt, so naturally that was a place she REALLY wanted to visit. She told me about when she mentioned that to her dad that he just about freaked out because “its not safe” . She calmly told him that even if its not safe, it still wouldn’t stop her from having the experience of visiting there.

  • Roberto

    Actually you’re not describing fear but paranoia.

    A couple of months ago I went to Brussels for the first time and I kept reading about how a dangerous city it is. Guess what? I finally noticed everyone talking about danger were Americans. Once there I went to a few non-touristy places; at first I was still a bit wary, but in the end I went to a few non-touristy places with my DSLR (which I keep in a backpack when I’m not shooting) and the only feeling of unsafety was the slight natural anxiety about a new place and people you don’t know, but I certainly didn’t run into any risk at any time. I felt safer than in Madrid or London, places where I’ve lived for a while.

    I also remember reading longer ago about the dangerous pickpockets and junkies around Oslo Sentralstasjon before I visited Norway. Used to rougher places they were no more than laughable: being almost teetotal, experience tells me that anyone high is not likely to harm you because their reflexes are never up to par with yours.

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    I’m with you on our ridiculous media (fuck Fox News) and silly overprotective parents and scared-of-anything-sexual puritanical BS. The gun thing is…complicated, to put it mildly.

    And yes, border patrol (both U.S. and Canadian) is absolutely out of control. Did you know that in the U.S. the border patrol is allowed to set up checkpoints anywhere within 100 miles of the U.S. border and stop and question anyone they like? Horrible. That shouldn’t be legal.

    Oh, and the TSA needs to disappear, they shouldn’t even exist.

    Good article, good luck dealing with the comments, hehe :D

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  • Stephen Schreck

    I feel you pain Beeny! I am going to Egypt in a few months, and everyone thinks I am crazy ( my family included). Look forward to reading about your experiences.

  • Louise

    I couldn’t agree with you more. However I can see this “culture of fear” exapanding to other countries, especially France.

  • http://www.boomeresque.com/ JustOneBoomer

    Knowledge is a great cure for ignorance. When out and about here in the U.S. or abroad, you need to know what you should and should not do and where you should go or not go depending on the time of day and who you are with. In the U.S., some neighborhoods are safer than others and I have no reason to believe that the same is not true elsewhere, including in Brazil, the U.K., Saudi Arabia, etc. My husband and I traveled in central Mexico last year. When we told our friends and relatives we were going, most asked where they should send the ransom money. In Mexico, Mexicans told us where they thought we could go safely and where we should not. If you visit my home town of Philadelphia, I can provide you with the same info. I have traveled to many countries and have lived in Mexico, England and Colombia in addition to the United States. People fear what they don’t understand. Period.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Agreed.

  • Mark

    Benny: I like your blog but to make a vast generalization like this is unfair, disingenuous, and just plain wrong. You’ve characterized an entire continent to a whole group. There are many people who do not own guns, are non-violent, and voted for Barack Obama!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I don’t recall saying people didn’t vote for Barack Obama. Considering he won twice, that wouldn’t make much sense, would it? :)

      Once again, a reminder that this article is about FEAR not violence. Too many non-travelled Americans talk fearfully about many countries they know nothing about. I’m sure I am generalizing, but it is an incredible majority in my experience.

  • http://twitter.com/taite taite

    Do you really think Canada should be lumped in with USA on this? Canadians tend to have a very different perspectove on gun control. The examples you chose are of a riot and an airport security check. These are fine, but I dont think enough to base a well-informed opinion on. Security checks are done everywhere and are fairly random. I’d be interested in seeing some stats to know if security checks in Canada are worse or more feequent than other countries. As for the hockey riot, that was bad….for the people there, it must have been as scary as a European foorball riot. :)

    Sorry for my typos. Typing on the phone.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Once again (again), this article is about fear, not gun control ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=689826040 Dan Yen-Chiu

    You say that cherry-picking is a bad method of deciding where to travel, yet you cherry-picked one extreme, isolated example of chaos in Vancouver to characterize Canada. C’mon!

  • Andrew Moorehead

    You obviously weren’t paying attention. Police will fudge the facts to avoid getting in trouble, and they’ll get away with it. This skews the statistics. Also, a lot of people die by suicide, but there are manifold ways to do that other than with a gun. The abstract doesn’t imply that this article won’t even contradict my point, so why bother reading it?

    • Andrew Moorehead

      Okay, the statistic was actually that the majority of police/criminal-related deaths are due to the police rather than any criminal or armed bystander.

  • http://twitter.com/T_Prada_G ♫Tori L

    I think I agree – I am american and always at witness to.this fear from people around me. Sometimes positivity would be a nice change. . . And it is not just fear of tragedy its…. “You will never find a job” “society is horrible these days” ok get over it… my sister thougjt it funny that when we had the hurricane everyone wss freaking out but when venice got flooded, the people were all happy and swimmimg in the water. I think ibwould rather live in a place like that.

  • Olivia

    I liked this post, but just a little fyi – if you link to another post and I think I’d like to read that one too and it links to your home page, you’ve lost me. Now I’m pissed off and I’m not going to bother to try and search for it.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      FYI, in future please be specific about the link. Fixed it after looking through the post.

  • Guest

    Sorry about your bad experience with at our border…my family has never received that kind of treatment, but that might be because we’re Canadian. I do find that our officers are much more friendly, in general, than the ones going into the US. I also agree very strongly with you on guns. In Canada our gun control in much stricter than in the US and my family never worries about our safety, even walking alone at midnight in our neighbourhood. Mostly the only time we would would be downtown..anyways, enough rambling. I really admire what you do. Greetings from Winnipeg!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Luckily my first ever entrance to Canada by air was much more pleasant. Immigration officer endured my French and ensured that I could keep using it for pretty much my entire time there!

  • http://www.facebook.com/danielle.l.schultz.7 Danielle L Schultz

    I think some of the problem with talking about the U.S. is that practically anything you can say is true, we are such a vast and diverse country. For example, I live in a university-town suburb just north of Chicago, and every single person I know supports gun control and would like to see private ownership of guns completely banned. And I think most people who do love their guns want to use them not against the bad guys, but against our own government, to keep it “in check”–otherwise known as right wing crazies.
    For every homeless, uncared for person, I can match you societies, non-profit groups, and even government programs that try to support and care for (but cannot compel treatment) people who need it. My mailbox has been filled with discussion from many concerned parents and autism support groups this week in the wake of the Connecticut horror.
    I have lived in major cities in the U.S. my entire life (Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington DC) and the only crimes I have ever experienced were two times I’ve been pickpocketed.

  • Delwin

    It’s a little hypocritical of you to assert that Americans are irrationally afraid of everything, and also that it is the most dangerous country you’ve been to.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I don’t recall saying Americans are “irrationally afraid of everything”. I think they are irrationally afraid of other countries, and embracing fear for far too many aspects of their daily lives.

      And even if I were to say that, how would it be “an irrational fear” (since you say using such a term is hypocritical, as I do it myself) for me to say that a crazy bum with a gun right in front of me (not on a TV screen) scares the shit out of me? This to me is incredibly rational.

      Widespread use of guns is something to fear in my mind. A political demonstration in a square abroad, or stories of mugging that are just as likely to happen back home, is much less deserving of that fear.

      People can be wise when they travel and they can avoid all sorts of dangerous situations, and I feel I’ve demonstrated this with a decade of sound travel. But this certainty in your own abilities to stay safe becomes much harder when anyone (without already committing a felony!) can walk around with a gun.

      This isn’t me being irrationally afraid. That’s a good reason for America to have won the #1 spot of fear in my list. I’ll be renting a car every time I go to America in future, because I’m genuinely afraid to walk home at night. This is not the case for me in many other places.

      • Whitney

        Well, I’m glad you have the money to rent a car for no reason. I live in Washington, D.C. And walk home many nights all by myself as a female and nothing’s ever happened to me for like 10 years, nor to anyone I know. Not that’s it’s something to brag about, but to prove a point, Washington DC used to be the murder capital of America a few years ago. Funny, how I only know one person who ever got held up and the guy ran away when he told him to fuck off. Thank you for sharing that this is the only country you won’t walk around in at night. MIT really shows where you’re coming from in your views of the US.

      • Whitney

        Also, it’s worth pointing out that the only time I ever got attacked was in your beloved Amsterdam.

  • http://twitter.com/HappyCat716 HappyCat711

    Now this is a great post! Thanks Benny. Truer words have not been spoken. I am a traveler and wish to do more. While sharing my aspirations with friends and coworkers, they told me that I would be raped, murdered and mugged in every country that I have mentioned. The only safe country is the good old US of A. Really??? I am not fearful! I can’t wait to get out there again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ChaseHW Chase Williams

    Great post Benny! I’m currently planning a global trek not too dissimilar from yours. Thank you for providing such quality information. Keep up the good work!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/VLCK76IKGA5V2QRY7CVTWUY3GY NateC

    I’m American. I don’t own a gun, have been to Egypt and am going to Rio in January. Please replace “Americans” in your article with “many Americans”.

    Also, is it just me or is the whole “Oh my goodness, I didn’t expect this post to be so controversial” thing strike anyone else as disingenuous? It seems to me that the exact purpose of the post is to get a lot of comments, page views, and links (negative or positive doesn’t matter). That’s unfortunate, because normally I really like the content of this blog.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I didn’t say “Oh my goodness”, and the purpose of this post is to share my frustrations about many things including my upcoming trip to Egypt and constant messages from “many Americans” that I should cancel it.

      When I write EVERY post, I hope people will share it and discuss it. As does every blogger. No need to demonize this.

      Although, I’m not interested in all this hatemail I’m getting. Not sure why you’d think I was. I share thoughts in many posts that are off the topic of language learning, such as drinking, scepticism, travel anecdotes, Star Trek conventions, location independent living etc., but the only two times I’ve written directly to the country representing the majority of my audience, the post is received like a slap in the face rather than the retrospective outside point of view that it really is.

      Yes, America’s sensitivity does genuinely surprise me. This post is way less controversial than the one I wrote a year ago, which I started by saying that I expected people to get angry when reading it. It’ll be a while before I do this again because I’m already sick of the knee jerk reactions I get, but I’ll continue to write honest posts on many topics related to my travels.

      • Whitney

        I’m sorry but I’m having a ball reading theses comments, you can’t see how someone would think you hate the US? Really? Americans make up most of your customers and you still talk about us this way? Then, you complain about the blowback?

  • Rebecca Anderson

    I am an American and am currently about to finish my 3.5 months long solo trip in western Europe. Last year I spent 3 months solo in Japan. I am also a female.

    One thing I noticed was that with the exception of the UK how (overall) little police cars I have seen. They were not all over the place like in American cities. That said I did see some armed patrolling military men in a few places in France and found that a little bit scary.

    In many European cities and towns I have been to I gradually began to stay out longer than I think I would in the US. Hard to tell as I don’t live in a city back home.

    I think as far as safety is concern while travelling, you will probably be fine if you use common sense and have awareness of your surroundings. Things happen anywhere; someplaces unfortunately more than other places. Someone I met at a hostel was mugged in Paris. While I was glad she was alright, I was wondering a little bit in my head why she was wandering the streets (I don’t think she was alone) in what appears to be a rougher part of Paris at 11pm at night?

    I agree with you about the fear that is common among many Americans and how many Americans have need for control. So they attempt to fulfill that need by doing things such as purchasing a gun, placing arbitrary restrictions on their kids, getting ridiculous during presidential elections etc etc I personally find that watching the news or reading the newspaper gives me a lot of useless anxiety and so I don’t do those things. If something is important enough to know about, I will find out about it.

    I do not think having no guns and more strict control would once and for all solve the problem concerning shootings as there are many layers to it but it is scary to think that people might be carrying a concealed weapon which is legal in my home state (with a permit) especially with the mental state so many people are in.

    Anyways, these are my thoughts about the subject. I don’t think America is a bad place or anything but it has its good and bad points with many many variances depending on where in the States you are. And I am learning that it is quite a unique country.

    Enjoy Egypt! :)

  • that one guy

    As an American living in Israel for almost two years, I can tell you
    that I feel safer in Israel than in the US. The politics and news
    surrounding Israel is INSANE and make Israel sound like a warzone. But
    the reality on the ground is much different. I’m slowly trying to wean
    myself off of reading the news, because it’s just so damn sensational
    and stressful.

    Benny, the Middle East is an utterly fascinating
    place, and I’m sure you’ll have a good time in Egypt. Prepare to eat a
    lot of delicious food.

  • http://amanofnonation.com/ Kevin Post

    I greatly appreciate this article Benny and will be sharing it with friends, family and colleagues here in the states. My family about shit themselves when I went to Iraq by myself in 2008. I use this example a lot because although my own country occupied Iraq, and I’m not joking when I say this, it was the friendliest place I have ever been. One would think that because I have a U.S. passport then as a result I would be treated like a scoundrel/imperialist but that was NEVER the case. I was invited to weddings, strangers’ homes for delicious meals, driven from town to town and even picked up farmers hitchhiking to the same destinations we were.

    People around the world never cared that I was American, they cared that I was a nice person to meet and spend sometime with.

    Now that I look back the only people giving me grief are my own countrymen when I show them my passport with any form of Arabic script on it.

    • Whitney

      Exactly, the only place where I’ve been verbally beaten down for being American is Europe!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000120726961 Tim W Burke

    Do you find the mass media in the US to encourage this fear? In other countries, are there Honey Boo-Boo, Jerry Springer, “24″, or glamor shows that encourage envy or loathing? (Not American re-runs overseas, but programs created to “represent” the viewer’s nation?)

  • http://profiles.google.com/jondcurry Jon Curry

    Benny, I’m American and couldn’t agree more. If your curious about the reasons, these things are well explained by some US intellectuals, like Noam Chomsky. In fact he has a pretty important book and a movie was made about it (available on YouTube) back around 1989 called “Manufacturing Consent”. Pretty interesting documentary (though long). In a nutshell the US is the most important economic player in the world so that provides an enticing place for thought control. Not like a conspiracy, but kind of like Coca-Cola through clever advertising creates positive associations with the product it sells. This is thought control. Similarly US media benefits from a frightened population. NBC, one of our major news networks, was until very recently owned by General Electric, a major defense contractor. Fear of minorities, who are often immigrants or dark skinned, is a great funnel for our profit driven prison system. Corporations exploit cheap labor in the prisons. The drug war certainly is insane from the perspective of reducing drug usage, but it makes perfect sense when you consider it’s real purposes. Profits for the prison industrial complex. Cheap labor that can be exploited by major corporations. Keep people scared and they are comfortable funneling more people into this system.

    Very sad, but really to be expected when you look at the institutional structure. The drive for greater profit just creates a natural tendency in this direction. I’ve basically turned off my TV. That helps a lot, but that’s not the only source of fear. I talk about your lifestyle a lot with friends. I can’t tell you how many people similarly express the idea that what you do is dangerous. This propaganda is just extremely effective. Unsurprisingly. These people aren’t idiots. They aren’t spending billions on advertising and billions on news story selection/Hollywood story writing for nothing. These people are good at what they do.

  • John

    Troll much? Website hits must have been down this month.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Highest typical daily visits they’ve ever been. You can accuse me of being a traffic-hungry troll, or actually read the article and think about what I said.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chandler.hill Chandler Hill

    Hi Benny. Good on you for writing this and, especially, the other post you did on American culture. I can only begin to imagine the hate mail you must be getting…

    As someone who’s originally from Vancouver, I wanted to ask you about your thoughts on (Anglophone) Canada.

    You mention the horrors of border control. I agree wholeheartedly. Even though I hold a Canadian passport (I should also mention that I’m as white and English-looking as Prince Charles), landing at Canadian airports has always been one of my worst travelling experiences. The last time I went there to visit my relatives, my German girlfriend and I were forced to undergo a lengthy grilling as to the ‘nature of our relationship’ and our ‘intentions in Canada’. Not a nice welcome for her.

    Aside from that, my view is that Canadian culture is essentially that of the United States, on sedatives and anti-depressants, neither of which are apparently strong enough. Many (but not all, thank god) of the things you write about the US apply to Canada too. What annoys me the most, however, is that on top of it all, Canadians are so bloody smug! They seem to think that just because they do most things slightly better than the Americans, their country is the greatest place on earth. The nearly 200 other countries, which they could also be comparing themselves to, don’t exist.

    It all got to be a bit too silly for me. I left Canada when I was 18, and have been living in Berlin for the past four years. I am much happier in Europe.

    Anyway, I didn’t mean to rant. What I really want to hear is your opinion! :D

  • Randy

    I am a resident of the United States living in a large city (Houston, Texas) and I had my first opportunity to travel abroad in 2010. We went on a tour in Germany and I admit that I was a bit nervous about it before we arrived, but it was mainly because I didn’t know what to expect. Since then, my wife and I have been to Israel, Greece, Vienna, Hungary, Italy, and we are about to go to France. The only place that I felt a bit uncomfortable was during border crossings between Israel and Bethlehem. I’m anglo, but my skin is dark and the guards at the border weren’t particularly kind to me as we came back into Israel. But I am not afraid to travel and I’m not fearful of other countries. I have found that being friendly to others works wherever you go. Also, learning a bit of the native language is always appreciated. I now have friends all over the world and I love traveling.

    So, I am careful when I travel abroad, but I’m also careful in Houston – with good reason – watching the news last night, there were reports of a shooting and a robbery at a store not far from our home.

    I would also say, however, that I don’t know anyone who is afraid to travel. Most of my friends feel the same way about it that I do. They will travel internationally any time they are fortunate enough to do so.

    Finally, regarding your being forced to watch the video and the fear regarding inappropriate sexual behavior – i think you can blame that one on fear of lawyers (of which I am one) and lawsuits. There have been a plethora of lawsuits on this topic and it is a very sensitive matter, forcing companies to adopt policies on sexual harassment that include education requirements such as watching inane videos like the one you were forced to endure.

  • Lorcan

    Hey Benny great article. I agree and it’s a shame the US is such a fear-mongering state but that’s really just a link in the chain of problems that country has and I imagine alot of the peope would be oblivious to their countries problems.

    Best of luck in Egypt, do you know how to play backgammon, I’m sure that will help you blend.

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said about the US (I haven’t been to Canada yet). I even agree that there needs to be more regulations on firearms, but the way most want to go about it is wrong. It is extremely easy to get ahold of illegal items here in the States, so making the ownership of firearms illegal only gets in the way of law abiding citizens. If someone really wanted a gun, they’d still be able to get one.

    But yeah, as a US citizen who loves to travel, it bothers me just how much fear is in the country and how that fear can make even your hometown scary after dark. I really need a couple of months away after this most recent wave of fear.

    It’s also quite sad how few kids I see out playing as well. Parents act like blades of grass are blades of steel.

    And they wonder why all the kids are fat and can’t pay attention…

  • Liza

    I hated reading this post. I hate reading any posts that stereotype a given culture. And haven’t you already aired your grievances with the US in a previous post? I don’t know how to respond to this. I am American who has lived in 6 different countries, and speak 7 languages. The thing is there are thousands of Americans like me who don’t fit into your narrow idea of what an American is. I really enjoyed reading your blog until this point. You may have lost a reader today.

    • Luz Blanca Ramos Martinez

      I’m with you on this one. I am an American born and raised in a monolingual family and who has lived in 7 other countries and who speaks 4 other languages fluently and have another three that are getting there. I also personally know at least 200 native-English speaking (only) Americans who learned Spanish as adults and speak it fluently, another 100 that did the same with Mandarin and another 50 that speak both fluently. Those are just people I know personally, not to mention the dozens of others who speak other second languages fluently.

      None of them are gun-toting crazies and none of them are living fear-based lives — in or out of the U.S.

      I also lived on a ranch in the middle of Wyoming and, let me tell you, you need to have a gun for the grizzly bears and other wild animals that come in and attack the livestock. You can’t really lump the whole country together on this one. Each state has its own gun ownership laws and some are filled with lots of ranches, farms and wilderness.

      And, really, if someone’s going to whinge about the fear-based media pumping propaganda into American minds, they need to take a look at the propaganda their getting in the media in their own countries … and the stereotypes about Americans that are in those media outlets.

      Plus, if you don’t like what you are hearing from the Americans you are talking to about your travels, then you are talking to the wrong ones. Find other ones to hang out with.

      • http://www.facebook.com/matjnewton Matthew Newton

        Try and forgive him.. growing up with a foreign country literally everywhere, dominating most aspects of your life, does get irritating and can lead to the occasional rant.. but deep in our hearts we know what America is and means to us (things like the internet, youtube, facebook and wordpress)

    • http://www.facebook.com/nicolle.roesner Nicolle Roesner

      Tthere are 300 million people in US, and it’s to think about that a lot of them has some mental issues. Everything starts at their own school, with their own friends. As Benny said in his other post about the US, people don’t actually care about how you are feeling. I’ve spent three months in Washington DC while it was winter there and I must say I’ve never felt so alone in my whole life, being a Brazilian as I am.

      Then you go to school and you don’t have a lot of friends, you are the weird one, the geek one, the one with terrible taste for music, with bad taste for clothes, you have a weird family, all this crap… People start gossips about you from nothing! It’s ridiculous! If it wasn’t true, there wouldn’t be so many movies and TV shows about popular kids with the nicest clothes and cars and tastes and friends in the world. Almost every teen movie is like this with the weird kid wanting to be a popular kid.

      And if it’s not, well then… You know the story of Columbine, right? The boys were bullied so much that there was a time they thought:”Hey, let’s kill all these bastards that mocked us at least once!” I’ve read stories about a girl hanging herself because the popular kids just didn’t like her for who she was! It’s pathetic!

      I’m an undergraduate in International Relations, so I have this weird passion to visit all the world and talk as many languages as I can. Every time we start a class about International Relations Theory, or the 20th century and the “American way of life” or the 9/11, it’s the same thing. My classmates may even like the american movies and clothes, but when it starts to be about politics and economics, everybody agrees with these things: americans think they are the best; they think they HAVE to interfere in other countries’ business; they think that EVERYONE wants to attack them with a nuclear bomb; they think that the only way to protect themselves is to invest billions of dollars in the army and in guns.

      That’s just the way the world sees americans as a people, just as the world sees brazilians as a people who loves carnaval, football, samba and beer. That’s not true… I hate carnaval; I only like the English football league; samba? no way! a thousand times Bossa Nova and I like much more an orange juice.

      Of course there are exceptions, as there are in every place you go, me being an example of one.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ryan-Schiavone/14002203 Ryan Schiavone

      Can’t resist commenting.

      Liza and Luz, congratulations on your linguistic and traveling achievements, I read the resumes you both felt the need to put in your first paragraphs. Truly, bravo, and may all your pursuits be as fruitful.

      That being said I’m not sure if the three of us read the same article. Liza writes she ‘hated reading’ this post- all I got out of it were Benny’s firsthand experiences (tough to argue), the U.S. media’s terrific job sensationalizing the news (well-documented), and very true statistics about gun ownership and murder rate in the U.S. And there’s a connection to general U.S. feelings of paranoia, evident to travelers like Benny who come here. I actually thought and hoped he would go much further. I add that the specific demographic I find this particularly true for are suburban and rural middle-income whites. Living in New York City, except for Staten Island, it seems the situation is different. :P

      I can’t speak for living on a ranch in Wyoming under siege by grizzlies, but I grew up in northeastern Connecticut, farm and gun country all around, and never felt compelled to defend our paddock with terminal intensity. We used things like fences. But whatever. (As a last line of defense our house had a roof-mounted howitzer. Those damn coyotes weren’t taking us without a fight.)

      I think Benny can and did speak for himself eloquently but I’ll only add that the U.S.’ ignorant, racist media is no force to dismiss. As English is apparently one of your languages, pick up Barry Glassner’s “Culture of Fear.” And check out “Bowling for Columbine,” they’re useful places to begin. I say begin, because with even a modest amount of intellectual curiosity you’ll go further down the rabbit hole.

      You two claim to SPEAK seven and four languages, respectively, but have you learned to LISTEN, READ, and THINK in any of them?

      Finally, cultured, well-traveled world citizens such as yourselves should know better than to refer to U.S. citizens as “Americans.” I shouldn’t have to explain this.

      • Whitney

        Ryan, you make Benny look like George Patton. I’m a cultured, well traveled American and you do have to explain to me what I should refer to myself as. Im just a racist idiot that needs to watch some Michael Moore movies and I’m not cultured enough to live on a farm where there are not even any wild animals that can mount a fance.

  • Nick

    Great article. I’ve been telling people here
    in the US that I want to go to Mexico next year and almost every single
    person makes it out like it is a guaranteed death sentence if I step
    foot in the country. It’s crazy…Yet another reason why I prefer
    Europe.

  • Brad Kinney

    I found your site and was at first excited. A fellow traveler…how cool. Then I read this. You make so many false assumptions, So many gross generalizations…just wow! Americans are full of fear? Really? We own guns because we are afraid? What nonsense. Obviously you don’t understand our culture.

    In general Americans are not frightened of the world. They are disinterested…they really just don’t care a whole lot about what is happening in Ireland (insert just about any other country here).

    As for gun ownership, no one I know owns guns because he is afraid. America’s history is very different than Europe’s. Up until about a hundred years ago this was a very rough, dangerous country. And if you lived anywhere but the east coast you had better own a gun. This mindset was handed down; and this, along with a healthy distrust of government is why Americans own guns.

    I lived in Europe for many years, I’ve traveled all over world, and I have met others with your point of view. The truth is, you will probably never understand…our history, culture, and mindset is probably just different enough to make that impossible. You may be speaking from ignorance rather than malice, but the fact that you label many of us who take issue with what you wrote tells a different story.

    In summary….Fuck You!

  • Charlie Harper

    I spent the latter half of November in Egypt and Jordan. In advance of the trip everyone I told about it (3 exceptions total) asked “Why?”. After all the negative comments my wife and kids started getting scared about my safety, as if I was going to a war zone.

    Popular media in the states rarely reports world events unless there is bad news. before my trip I read a news report that said the Ritz-Carlton on Tahrir square was boarded up because of protests at the US Embassy. When I arrived on Tahrir I discovered the hotel had been closed for renovations before the revolution and had been boarded up for ages; not a fair representation of the real story.

    In reality, the Egyptian people were gracious and welcoming. They were immensely gratified at the basic Arabic I had learned prior to the trip and went much further to accommodate my Dad’s dietary issues than anyone in the States I’ve ever seen.

    I would love to give my countrymen an idea of the broader world that awaits them if they could just take a chance on a new experience. People are gripping so tight to what they have that they’re unable to open up to something new.

  • William Gray

    Ah, how do you start this without a but? Or a qualification? Or a litany of reasons explaining why you spend a small measure of your time here? I don’t know. So I will say that his first article about the United States irritated me. I read it when he wrote it and decided to give a pass. Seemed the right thing to do when someone wrote about folks smiling too much. Or tipping too much. Seemed the right thing to do with someone who has no foundation in our culture, though profiting from it, and tearing it apart after a couple of months of experiencing it.

    Kind of seemed fair. An outsider looking in. Or at least someone worthy of listening. I no longer feel this way and I am saddened becaused of it. It started with his blanket aproach to countries and people. Brazilians are great because… Deaf folks are great because… If you watch him at a deaf school in the U.S. he makes a sweeping statement that is positive towards deaf folks. But the woman in the video takes exception and brings it back up later on as a sort of dig. Which Benny never understood.

    The thing that bothers me the most is that he never says he may be wrong. This is an educated man that has been around the world. But he is always absolutley confident in his valuations. This is dangerous. When anyone challenges him he falls back upon intent rather than what is said. Or cherrypicks positives to cover up a negative, that I believe, he never intended or understood he wrote. I just believe he is blind. That his own success fogs any kind of self awareness possible to him.

    • William Gray

      I have only posted to two websites. One for the Chicago Cubs and now this one. What made me give an opinion is that Benny misquoted Benjamin Franklin in a response to someone. That man was talking about gun laws. Now, I don’t own a gun nor do I understand the need. But I do know the quote Benny used. It was originally a comment upon libery and freedom. And how giving up the former harms the later. And those that do it deserves neither. So for the last couple of days I wondered what happened. I thought, maybe, I misremembered. So I looked it up. I didn’t. What I did find were paraphrases of the quote. On wikipedia. One of which Benny used. So it bothered me because I don’t think he was being very honest.

  • hkfun

    Benny, I enjoyed reading your article and the “lively” discussion it brought up. I am American, and wasn’t offended in the least (although I have rather thick skin).

    I agree that we do have a culture of fear. Also, I know that many people from other countries (especially European countries, it seems) don’t understand why we love our guns so much. I think it’s helpful to take a step back. It’s easy to dismiss certain aspects of another’s culture that seem odd or wrong, but you have to ask yourself why. How did that particular attitude or behavior evolve?

    In America’s case, I think a lot of it comes from our history. If you look at our history, from the first settlers who died in droves from starvation to the pioneers getting whacked by outlaws, wolves, disease, and angry Indian tribes, it’s no wonder we have a culture of fear. Right now I’m reading the memoirs of my great, great uncle who was a cowboy in the old west. Man, that’s some rough stuff. There was no stability, no law you could count on, no structures that worked. If you couldn’t defend yourself you could get hung by some horse thieves who liked your ride or your family murdered by psycho outlaws. Maybe the law would help you. But then again maybe they wouldn’t.

    Yes, things are different now. But do you see how such attitudes could develop and linger? I don’t know if you’ve read anything by Malcolm Gladwell, but I was fascinated when he talked about how much you’re affected by your ancestors. Some studies have found that tribal herdsmen have bigger tempers than farmers, probably so that they can better protect their flocks. Gladwell wrote about another study that showed Southern Americans, who tend to be descended from Scottish tribesmen and herders, have much bigger tempers than Northern Americans, who tend to be descended from English or German farmers. Now, these are people who may be several hundred years removed from that part of the world, but the temperament remains. Basically, it’s hard to change.

    There are so many other factors that contribute to this, so it’s complicated. So when you hear something crazy like a riot or a mass reaction you don’t understand, try to dig deeper. I’m not saying that these attitudes or reactions are wrong or right, I’m just saying it can help to know why a person thinks the way they do.

    Sorry this was so long. All the best.

  • Mercy

    I am a young American woman who wants to visit the Middle East. When I my grandparents found out that I was learning Arabic I thought I was going to be disowned. I was a similar story when they found out that I was going to Guatemala. I might add that I felt perfectly safe for most of my time in Guatemala. There were only two iffy moments (one was between two Americans who were a part of my group and the other was when the airport got locked down). I expected this attitude surrounding my travel plans to places perceived as dangerous but I was completely blindsided by the amount of anger and concern when I announced that I was going to stay with a family in Germany for four months. I got all sorts of “but what about you know … all that stuff … that happened in you know … World War II”. I was shocked. My experience here was not at all like those people thought. In fact I met a very nice girl from Israel who has been living here as well. I also took a fascinating class on American politics and I was great to see my country from the point of view of foreigners.

  • Brandy Bell

    sing it, Benny! I love your take on this article and feel that you present both sides evenly and rationally… As a US born citizen, I have to agree with your sentiments. There’s a reason I’m living in Spain instead of stateside… however, in the defense of the country, it’s one of the more geographically diverse and beautiful places I’ve yet visited…

    • Whitney

      Thats great that Spain is working out for you Brandy but there are no two sides in this article. Its all negative towards the US. I wonder how all you pro Euros feel about all these right wing, largely anti-immigrant parties taking over in Europe? Wow, maybe America isn’t a place that has some unique culture of fear?

  • Cooper Nagengast

    Greetings Benny,

    As an American, born and raised in Los Angeles, I wholeheartedly agree with just about everything you said. We are a culture steeped in fear, perpetuated by our mass media, but most especially by our terrible education system. Many, if not most, Americans have little experience with people of different backgrounds, faiths, or cultures. Our last president, the wealthy son of a former president himself, had famously never been outside the country except to Mexico once.

    (Many) Americans are simultaneously possessed of a superiority complex as well as a profound fear of the unknown–which is a lot. We don’t speak other languages, we don’t have passports… we cling to our guns and our bibles, by and large, because to us the world IS a big scary place, especially since so many of us have never been there.

    I do think some of this has to do with perhaps our geographic distance from other countries, but mostly with our shoddy and dysfunctional education system. We have raised generations of children who lack critical thinking skills. These people then grow up to raise more ignorant children of their own, and so on. We seem to be stuck in a fear-and-ignorance cycle across much of the continent, and I’m not sure what if anything can be–or will be–done at this point.

    As for someone’s comment about needing guns to overthrow a potentially tyrannical government: those days are long gone. You could rouse every citizen in the country with a semiautomatic and there’s no way they could take on the Pentagon. Does anyone genuinely think that a “well-armed militia” could take on aircraft carriers, tanks, and drone bombers? We need some sensible gun restrictions. Such as outlawing all private ownership of non-hunting rifles, for one.

    TLDR: I’m an American who agrees with you, and thinks our education system should take some blame.

  • http://ramblecrunch.com/ Renee

    We’re Americans (and also naturalized Canadians) who recently moved to Mexico—after RVing through Europe & Turkey for a year— so our daughter (11) could immerse in Spanish. The Mexico we have discovered bears no resemblance to the awful, dangerous place portrayed in the media. Most of our friends were horrified that we’d come here. But so far we’ve found Mexicans to be amongst the kindest and most hospitable people on the planet.

    Many Americans are terrified by what they hear on the news. I’d love to see more people turn off the media & start traveling abroad.

    Just my $.02.

  • Mike Beder

    Very insightful article – couldn’t agree more and I’m similarly a frequent, enthusiastic visitor to the US. Happy to shout you a coffee when you visit Sydney!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jdgannon Jonny Gannon

    Hi Benny, I really enjoyed and agreed with this post, just as I did your other controversial American post. I lived in Mexico for a year and hardly met any Americans whilst travelling around (presumably because they think it’s the death capital of the world). However, I also encountered this fear philosophy from a lot of Europeans, specifically from my country (the UK). The amount of times people would ask me about drug wars, gun crime, muggings etc. and even post BBC articles about narco wars on my facebook profile WHILST I WAS THERE was incredible (and I’m sure my parents appreciated it…) However, as you said with Amsterdam, I have never felt as safe as I did in my Mexican hometown (Aguascalientes). I’m as pale as you can be (Irish/English blood!) and any Mexican could be forgiven for thinking I was a stupid, rich gringo to be taken advantage of. Was I ever mugged? Attacked? Nothing of the sort, in the 10 months I was there. Meanwhile, I had friends living in various European cities…Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Granada. ALL of them got mugged at least once, and in many cases numerous times. A female friend of mine in Paris regularly gets followed home by weirdos. And the week I returned from Mexico was the same week that those disgusting riots occurred in London (August 2011). Where I studied in the UK (Southampton) had a rapist on the loose last year as well as several well-publicised murders in the area I lived. And people STILL seem concerned about safety in places like Mexico?! It baffles me how blind and misinformed people can be about places, but I guess it’s only by going to these places that you realise this…and that itself is a big step that many people don’t manage to do. Merry Christmas all. Jonny

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/7OZ3VUMNMDQMFYSENAKZCHIFWI Darklight

    I’m afraid that I disgree strongly with your opinion about guns in America. We have the right to bear arms in order to challenge tyrannical governments. Europeans should surely know that this is a legitmate threat.

    I agree completely though with your sentiment that many Americans are fearful of other countries. I suspect that this is simply because many of us haven’t travelled abroad and must rely on others’s testimonies. Unfortunately, that often comes through the media which tends to emphasize the ugly things.

    I’m sorry that you had a lowsy experience at the Canadian borders, but that can happen anywhere. My friend told me how her father always made sure that the kids left all electronics at home when they travelled to Mexico. An Indian co-worker told me that if I ever travel to India I could bribe the officals into letting anything in as long as I hand them a 50.

    Might I humbly suggest that you consider that some Americans look your fear of gun toting individuals the same way you look at their fear of traveling to (for example) the middle east?

  • Brigitte Lyons

    Hi, Benny – I agree with everything you’ve written here. It’s hard to admit this, but I’ve internalized a lot of the fears presented by our media (and protective parents).

    It comes up in the most annoying ways, and I’m always being challenged to rise above it. I live in Sacramento now, which feels more dangerous to me than my old neighborhood in Chicago. Why? Because people don’t walk around! When I leave the house, I rarely see other people out and about. It took me a few months to feel okay with being a lone pedestrian. After going on daily walks in my hood in Chicago (where there was gang violence just a few blocks away), I felt so stupid to have this irrational fear bubble up in Sacramento.

    Another observation since moving here: I felt safer on the subway in Mexico City during a trip there 4 years ago than on the light rail out to the burbs on a recent Sunday morning. As a tall white woman, I got a lot of curious looks in Mexico City, but on my light rail ride here in Sacramento, I had to endure the leering and muttering of a man who was obviously mentally ill. Not surprisingly, it was only after traveling abroad when I realized how shamefully we treat people with mental disabilities and who are homeless.

    An the fear of American people only gets worse when you leave the cities. Then you meet all the people who are afraid of cities in general. Who would never visit places like Chicago or San Francisco, for fear of being mugged. I have family members that carry their money in those traveler’s pouches when they visit! It’s crazy!

  • http://www.facebook.com/chrislewispac Christopher Lewis

    Benny, do you not realize how in the same post you criticized the “culture of fear” in America after having, only paragraphs earlier, talked about how you are scared shitless to be in America? Don’t be so sensational. The statistics do not tell the whole story and you are just another journalist reporting a half truth that you purport to despise For example, your home country of Ireland has a population density almost THREE TIMES that of America. The Netherlands, almost 8 times that of America. Similar population densities to America exist in places like Congo, South Africa, and other places that are not see as so developed by foreigners.

    Now, think about all that open land and you quickly realize there are a lot of people living in what is still very much the wild frontier in America. Many of those guns are legitimately used as protection against ANIMALS like bears and to protect livestock from predators like wolves. Those also tend to be the people with multiple guns because they actually do have a reason to be afraid of a bear eating them or their livestock (aka their livelihood).

    Sure, there are a lot of guns in America and for many reasons, one of which I stated above. Also, most Americans believe in reasonable control of the sale of lethal weapons. However, America was founded by frontiersman who ventured in to dangerous places with no other protection from harsh wilderness. It is very much a part of American culture and modern American life for a large number of its inhabitants.

    America has done well for itself and I although I would like to live abroad I often find great concern with how little appreciation for American culture exists in other countries. I travel and enjoy learning new languages and cultures and if I just visit a place without an unbiased and heartfelt attempt at understanding their culture I would be seen as just another American jerk-of-a-tourist. But, for some reason it is fair game to take random statistics and fear-monger an entire group of cultural explorers into thinking that if they simply take out a cell phone in the streets of Chicago they might get assaulted and robbed.

    You and I both know this is sensationalism at its worst and such a large country should not be judged by your few experiences in San Francisco and Chicago. Every American that I know would laugh hysterically at the thought of judging America by visiting San Francisco.

    Sincerely, Chris

  • jinxlerai

    Hi Benny, I’m an American and I think you make a lot of really good points in this post. I’ll come clean and admit that I was a bit irritated by your last post about the negative aspects of the States, but I really can’t find anything to argue with in this one. Your observation about the “fear society” in the US is, I think, a very accurate one. Hopefully more Americans will read this and realize that the world isn’t such a big scary place as our country has convinced us it is. Thanks for posting your thoughts! Hope you had a lovely holiday with your family.
    All best from Jinx

  • BrandFlakes

    This article is what I have been saying about the U.S for years and I am an Creole American. But, not all Americans are like this, it’s more so a certain type of American. The “majority” have been drilled to fear and loathe anything that the do not understand, most of which happened in two periods in America’s history, the Reconstruction period after the Civil War and the Red Scare of the 50′s. Both of these timelines have engrained the fear of the unknown in most of the “majority”, in which they never have been able to overcome. SMH

    Oh and lol at some of the Americans on this blog who got their feelings hurt at a simple observation. Most of you don’t seem to have a problem bashing other countries (especially France) on your political blogs, but when someone gives some light criticism their inferiority complexes kick into overdrive.

  • Wally

    I don’t mind your criticism of America on your blog (I am American), but do you apply that critical lens to your own culture? America is a complicated place and we city folk disagree fundamentally with country folk about the definition of American and where we are headed.

    The gun violence part of your post is reasonable, and many of us share your same concerns. One can even own a gun and be worried about the criminally inclined, the mentally imbalanced and the 500+ kids a year who shot themselves or a playmate to death after finding a firearm that was improperly secured.

    If you don’t want to live here, that’s your call. At least you came and experienced it for yourself. Which I think is the point of some of your posts: Get out and see for yourself!

    PS—I think I wound up at italki and Yabla thanks to your recommendations somewhere in your blogs. Great sites…thanks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lisa.herger Lisa Boucher Herger

    Wow! I love this post. Here’s a little anecdote from the New Year’s celebration I just had in Vienna,.Austria: while watching the amazing fire works display which everyone in the city contributes to, I commented to a friend from South Tirol that almost all of these fireworks are prohibited for personal use in the US. Her puzzled comment, “guns are allowed but fireworks are not?” I had never thought about that particular incongruity :-)

    • anon

      Even better… Kinder eggs are prohibited and actually seized at the borders because they could be unsafe for young children, but their parents can have guns in the house…

  • Samantha

    I do agree with a lot of what you say in this article, but started to feel maybe you were being the cry-baby when you were complaining about the US/Canada border control – I really can’t agree that it is against your ‘rights’ for your possessions to be inspected thoroughly – it’s an airport, and since 9/11 security across the entire world has increased. I’m sure it was annoying and fair enough to be worried about the cash, but some things we need to put up with when travelling. Frankly, I like seeing tight airport security (and for the record, I’m not American if you were wondering)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Your entire comment is invalid, because this was a land crossing, and there was no airport involved.

      • Samantha

        Sorry about that, I misread your article – having said that, even though now I’ve realised you weren’t at an airport I still think its fair for your luggage to inspected even at land crossing, and don’t feel your rights were violated from what you wrote – the fact it was a land crossing doesn’t change my opinion overall.

  • Mion

    I’m an American and I would feel MUCH safer sleeping alone on the park bench in the middle of Spain or Finland, than doing the same in my own country. The crime rate here in the US is ridiculous and the amount of guns in this country terrifies me.

    It’s hard for me to explain this next part, so bear with me. I think the reason why gun control is such a hot issue here, is that the rabid pro-gun people (think NRA and hardcore Republicans) have done a magnificent job at tapping into that ‘fear’ part of people’s brains. They use a mix of nationalism, ”what-ifs”, anecdotes, distraction and fear of the unknown. They keep people worried and thinking that this country is on the verge of collapsing into tyranny and dictatorship. This sounds crazy but just look at the rhetoric they use:

    - ”They’re coming to take your guns!” Implying that once the guns are gone, your other rights will be crushed by this mysterious ‘they.’
    - ”Owning a gun is American!” Implying that gun control is inherently anti-American and, if ‘they’ refers to countries perceived to be our enemies, gun control is a step to becoming like that enemy country.
    - Constantly comparing Obama to dictators (particularly Castro or Hitler), accusing him of being communist, Marxist, fascist, etc. Keeping people scared and thinking we’re on the verge of a dictatorial takeover and that the only thing stopping it is a 100% armed country.
    - Attacking foreigners as America-hating radicals when they criticize US gun laws. Piers Morgan is a good example… he’s a UK national and has been repeatedly attacked as anti-American and accused of wanting to make this country more like UK (wich goes back to my second point – preserving what is seen as a uniquely American right).
    - Distraction. Every time there is a shooting, people come out and start saying ”We can’t talk about gun control, it’s too soon!” And they tell us that guns aren’t the issue – that the real issue is video games, TV, the media, mental health, etc. Anything to turn attention away from the REAL issue, which is GUNS, and focus it on thing that either have no relation to the topic or aren’t as huge as the gun part.
    - And, finally, the NRA has tapped into a hero fantasy. Everyone has fantasies where they save the day. The hardcore pro-gun people probably have fantasies where they’re going about their business when a gunman starts attacking, they pull out their Glock and shoot the gunman, and the person becomes a hero. Doesn’t everyone want to be a hero? The NRA, gun manufacturers and their rabid supporters tap into that.

    So, even though every single credible piece of evidence shows gun control as being effective at saving lives, all of it gets rejected because of the aforementioned points.

    I hate this culture of fear in the US. It’s just so sad.

  • http://gigigriffis.com/ Gigi Griffis

    Cheers! I am an American and I have been disillusioned with this very thing for years. Even something as simple as having a package shipped to me while I’m couchsurfing gets everyone in a tizzy. “What if your host steals your stuff?!!?” Seriously? Why does everyone have to be plotting our demise all the time? Most people are wonderful and kind. And my couchsurfing host didn’t steal my computer, for the record.

  • Jesus Hernandez

    Your stupidity and ignorance about America amazes me. You talk about us living in fear of other countries, and then you (from another country), talk about your fear of the United States. WTF? Instead of being so worried about America and your perceived problems with it, you should worry about your blood pressure and risk of getting type two diabetes you’re fat and as f***.

  • tianakai

    Very interesting. I agree on many fronts. Being from Miami, you just grow up knowing to not leave things out in your car or go in certain areas, so when I got older and travelled alone I already knew to be cool but cautious, not naive and to not put myself in sketchy situations like some American friends have done.

    Keep in mind you are a man, not a woman, so many of your experiences are based on that. I have been to Egypt several times and can handle the dudes there since, once again, Miami trained me very very well. I know of white women who visited and had an awful time because they just floated around wearing dresses in shady spots, or even pants and a t-shirt. It doesn’t make a woman feel safe when guys are cattle calling and the woman is in a place she doesn’t really know much about. That’s just culture, if you are not used to that it is very rude and disgusting, if you know it’s coming then you hardly notice it or curse at them.

    Also, I think Americans flaunt more in the States than abroad. The American tourists I see abroad sometimes look lost, big-eyed and excited to be there more than flaunting. They are always nice and happy when someone helps them. Since moving abroad, I realize how nice Americans are and how easy we are to talk to… especially when comparing us to Italians, or Florentines to be more specific.

    Oh, and Fox news is the worst… you should watch ‘Out Foxed’, a documentary about how ridiculous they are, which gave me even more reason to despise them.

  • http://twitter.com/rhymeswithjoey Zoë

    I know what you mean. I think the fear we create in the US is a self fulfilling prophecy. Common sense is enough to keep one out of trouble. Then again, this country is full of idiots haha.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sofie.esther Sofie Clara Esther

    I think you probably should have just specified America, seeing as you only mentioned Canada once. Also, I’m assuming you were crossing the boarder TO Canada? Those boarder workers are actually mostly American. My mom and I are Canadians but we still get heavily questioned whenever we drive back to our home city from Seattle because sometimes the boarder guards think we might have a drug-smuggling business in America or something like that. One time they made us get out and I was like 8 and they asked me if my mom was truly my mom, or if she was taking me away from my dad, and what hotel we were staying at, and what places we were going to…ridiculous. All I could say is “she’s my MOM.” The boarder is such a joke.

  • Chupito

    I hope I won’t seem like a cry-baby but I strongly disagree with this article as far as Canada is concerned – which is funny because I thought most points of your “17 reasons” article, which you was only about the USA, were also true about Canada :)

    What surprised me the most it that you felt the least safe in North America. I’ve had a lot of conversations about “how safe Canada is ?” with travellers, temporary or permanent immigrants and prospective travellers or immigrants, yet I had never read or heard that before in my life. Every single person I’ve met and discussed this with considered that Canada was safer than their home country. Of course, I acknowledge that those people are not representative of the general world population (they were mostly people between 18 and 40 coming from France, Algeria, Lebanon…) and that there are safer countries in the world but Canada usually is well-placed in world ranking about safety. With 93% of the population feeling satisfied about their safety, it is also hard to argue that Canada is a fear-based society.

    I also find it a bit ironic that you point out at “Cherry picking stories for biased information” only to do the same when describing your moments in North America. For instance, the riot in vancouver is an isolated incident (though other similar events have happened in the past, they are relatively rare and far-between). As for bias, you present the riot in Vancouver as
    1) an example of “your scariest moment” while at the same time dismissing the riots in Cairo as not particularly dangerous to you. If you can simply walk away from the riots in Cairo, why could not you do the same in Vancouver, especially when we see a lot of passerby that don’t seem scared or in trouble in the video you linked too (even the guy who choose to intervene rather than walking away successfully faced the rioters) ?
    2) that could not have happened elsewhere in the world while obviously, riots do happen in other countries too. Now obviously, you could argue that hockey-related violence does not happen elsewhere in the world (and I agree that Canada could win the “stupidest riot ever” title) but there is a huge bias since hockey is not really that big in most other countries. Other sports however are important elsewhere and sadly, they also lead to violence. A football-related riot in Egypt in February last year caused the death of at least 74 people when a fight occurred between the fans the al-Masry team and the fans of the al-Ahly teams ;
    3) one of the worst riots of the year anywhere in the world… when no one died in this riot as compared to many deadly riots of the same year (for instance, 5 deaths in a riot in England).

    The search you had to undergo at the Canadian border is equally non-representative. I have crossed the border into Canada 10 times by bus, car, foot and plane and only had a very superficial search of my car once. On the other end, I had a very thorough investigation of my possessions on one of my only 2 visits to England (including a very thorough investigation of my toothpaste tube for some obscure reason). Yet, I do not draw conclusions about England.

    What I think basically is that the feeling of security or insecurity depends much more on who you are asking the question too than what place you are talking about or the nationality of your interlocutor. I had people telling me that “place X is dangerous” in Czech Republic, Australia, Canada… with France being the only place where random strangers have actually walk to me to inform me that I should not feel safe (seriously, WTF France ??). On the other hand, I had people dismissing gunshot in their part of the city as “not dangerous if you’re not in the gangs” or telling you that country X is not dangerous if you take “include here a super long list of measures”. (Un)Safety feeling is very subjective and it has nothing to do with being Canadian, Irish or otherwise.

    (Also, on an unrelated topic, I have never commented before but I have read A LOT of your articles and find them very interesting and I will certainly keep reading your blog).

  • Dianna

    It’s just a stupid question… with no offense !

    Why “generally speaking” the americans tend to see racism in everything ?

    I’m asking it because I got intrigued with a lot of comments in YT by them. For exemple: I was watching some videos of Miss Universe and some americans commented that the latin countries are more racist (or something like that) just because their Misses are “white” and they supposedly have more “brown” people. I tried to explain that latin america is so multirracial as north america, but i think it didn’t work. I also though for one second: but how they can see racism in it ?? It’s just a video of Miss Universe…
    But this is just an exemple, I’m intrigued because I have read a lot of those comments in videos that there are nothing to do with ethnicity or something else by them.
    Obvious that it’s not everybody that comments those things, and it’s not just americans, I read those things from europeans, asians and latin americans of course! However, they called my attention. It could be just my impression but for some reason it intrigues me…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andreas-Nettmayer/100002154897707 Andreas Nettmayer

    “You can’t do this to me; I’m an
    American!”

    I means, really, “You’d better be darn careful about what you do to me because my country has millions of lawyers that would get pleasure making the next ten years of your life a legal nightmare!” Unfortunately, though, the US doesn’t advocate for its citizens as strongly as, say, the Swiss or Israelis. But the phrase lives on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andreas-Nettmayer/100002154897707 Andreas Nettmayer

    I don’t read any of this as anti-American, but I’m always amazed how much the rest of the world cares about the US. It’s totally out of line. The US is the third largest country, but only 5% of the population is in the US. The EU is a bigger economy. Believe me, the EU has several dysfunctional characteristics. Russia is highly militaristic. I guess, I just don’t get when every problem in the US has to get discussed to death but large problems in the EU, Russia, China, Japan, ect barely get any attention. The US is a different place with a different culture. It seems most of the world is tolerant of other cultures and at least not outraged with every problem every country has. The exception is the US. I really just don’t get it. And at the very least, I’d think someone like Benny who can do so much outside of the anglosphere would be the least likely to be obsessed with the US. You don’t get Americans flaming online about Italian corruption, the inability of the EU to do anything about unemployment, Chinese treatment of ethnic minorities in the West, ect. Or, to the point you do, they normally have a direct interest in the country. With America, though… anyone anywhere in the world seems five seconds away from lashing out into a tirade. The world’s obsession with the country is just hard to comprehend.

    • Whitney

      Great post Andreas but it’s really just Europe that always wants to obsess over problems in the US. They think that we all need to be insulted because our government got involved in Iraq and they want to show us that we should take care of problems in our country before we go to change Iraq. That’s all good and well, but because Europe is so collectivist, they can’t see that most Americans don’t even like the policies of Washington. Even without the war, Europeans have always put down the US. it does seem to be an obsession among Europeans especially. I’ve found that other parts of the world, except Europe, can see me as an individual much more than any country in Europe.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andreas-Nettmayer/100002154897707 Andreas Nettmayer

    You’ve identified the cultural connection between freedom and guns in the US. But the US, more so than anywhere else in the world (save perhaps France) is founded on science and enlightenment thought. Data rules, right? Is our gut feeling that guns ensure our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness and frame our core ideology that sovereign people unite for create government to protect their life, liberty and property serving us well or poorly? The data correlates: more guns do not equal more safety. The NRA is lying to us all. We aren’t stopping tyranny by stocking up on arms either. Pause for a second and thing of the closest the US has been to tyranny in its history and the role guns played.

    1) African American Civil Rights movement: peaceful non-violence, not guns, won the day. Jim Crowe laws were not overthrown with arms.

    2) Japanese-American internment camps: Did the japanese-americans resist horrific attacks to their liberty with arms? No. The US government suspended their rights regardless of who was armed and who wasn’t.

    3) Patriot Act: Did we all get together in early 2000s and say “you’ll have to climb over our second amendment rights to violate our fourth amendment rights!” Nope. The US government wasn’t restricted in the least.

    4) NDAA. Did the US government worry about an armed citizenry when contemplating passage of the NDAA? Nope.

    It seems to me that, if anything, the right to bear arms is counter productive in ensuring liberty. It leads to accidents, helps guns fall into the wrong hands, and possibly even lulls a great deal of the country into a false sense of security in believing that their right to own guns will ensure the republic’s freedom when in fact it does none of that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/HapkidoJB Jesse Buell

    As an American, I find a lot of your observations to be depressingly accurate. There is a lot of paranoia in the United States, and there are certainly too many helicopter parents. We’re already very isolated as a people in that many people never leave the country, and the rampant fear only makes things worse.

    Ditto on the news – it’s all garbage.

    As for traveling, I definitely agree. You just need to make smart decisions when you’re abroad, which is no different than back home. Life isn’t as scary as we sometimes make it out to be.

  • Andrew Arens

    This is a really bad post. Firstly, I thought the whole idea of “tolerance” was to avoid painting any group of people with a broad brush. Congratulations, you accomplished this.

    Secondly, I lived in Europe for five years and many Europeans, not all, act just like the Americans you describe. It’s almost like every country has ‘em! Imagine that. The Europeans I speak of don’t even know a lot of the countries, and definitely not capitals, on their own continent. Latvia and Lithuania? No difference. Vilnius, never heard of it. They look down on Eastern Europeans as barely European. You would probably fall into this category of thinking that they barely deserve to call themselves European.

    Thirdly, Brazil is dangerous. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t travel there, not at all. However, forgive people for having some apprehensions about visiting a country with such a high crime rate. My brother and his Norwegian wife went there for their honeymoon. One time a child tried to steal a purse, and another time, strangely, a drink. Surprise, not everyone wants to deal with that. But yes, Brazil has wonderful things to offer.

    Fourthly, European infallibility abound. It oozes out of you. Americans are just so xenophobic, if only they were like the open minded Europeans. The Euro crisis makes this almost funny. America has the West’s first non-white president, while Europe can barely stand to live next to one another. Scotland is voting to separate from the UK, Catalonia wants to break away from Spain. Major protests in Belfast now over the Union Jack. Flanders and Wallonia in question. Greeks dressing up in Nazi uniforms to greet Merkel, the giver of their free money. Gee, some cooperation and tolerance going on over there. Seems like Europe fears itself more than America fears, let’s say, Argentina.

    However, I don’t implicate Europeans or Europe for that. I just want you to realize that. I want level-headedness to prevail for you and understand that America is no different.

    Fifthly, not everyone is as rich as you. Not everyone has enough money to live in Brazil and Egypt. Yes, really.

    Finally, you keep claiming that Americans need to “see other perspectives”, and that’s why you did this whole redundant post. They already do, just like you do. You’re not so different. This may surprise you, but people have different opinions. You don’t speak for the world. Don’t act like you do.

    • Neil Gratton

      Just to take issue with a couple of points you raise … Europeans are a VERY diverse bunch; there is far more diversity (linguistically, culturally, historically) across Europe than across the USA, so please avoid lumping us all together. This is even less helpful than a post lumping all USA citizens together (which I’ll acknowledge is a bad move for most purposes).

      Secondly, it really doesn’t take much money to be able to live abroad; it can take effort, flexibility and open-mindedness, but not much in the way of capital. For example, there are many many countries where an English native with just a little (or even no) training can make a living as an English teacher (at least, get by financially) – I strongly suspect (though haven’t tried either in person) that Egypt and Brazil are among these. If someone is well motivated to live abroad, they usually would be able to.

  • http://twitter.com/Kendawg_McRad NinKenDo

    Don’t lump me in with you like that Benny, I’m not an American and I absolutely abhor gun control. There’s nothing insane about having guns and.or being able to get them and it disgusts me that I can’t even read a blog about language learning now without being told my ideas on guns are insane and that I must be some American hick to hold them (Yes, you didn’t call me an American hick of course, but you’re just about the only one and you came dangerously close by implying that all non-Americans share your views on this matter.) Very, very disappointed in this article.

  • https://twitter.com/Callahaan T M Callahaan

    It’s true that fear runs strong here in the USA. Our education system is heavily influenced by xenophobic politicians. Powerful, for-profit lobbies control my country’s interests and they benefit from the voters’ lack of education. I’m sure you can appreciate the correlation between lack of language learning in this country and poor education. There seems to be a belief that if there is no villain, there is no hero.

    Let’s take Fox News for example. Their parent company owns the for-profit education contracting company Wireless Generation. WG sells, for millions of dollars, tests to public schools. When the teachers union of the Chicago public school system went on strike, citing unfair evaluations via WG’s standardized tests, Fox News villainized them for their opposition. Fox is categorically opposed to unions, so this situation was especially favorable to them. Rupert Murdoch makes money when the tests are sold and then has a news station to attack his opponents when they dont want the tests.

    As you can see education is only an element of education in this country. I know it sounds confusing but as the example above shows, the actual education part, the part where you learn how to think critically and independently, isnt even a part of the equation. The teachers union, Wireless Generation, Chicago government officials, and Fox News are at the forefront while the students literally sit around the house or run around the streets.

  • Canadian

    I appreciate your right to post your opinions, but please, please do not lump Canada into the same ‘fearmongering’ category as the United States. This is all too common with foreigners who let the overbearing influence of the US affect their perception of Canada. I am sorry to hear you had a bad experience once with our border security but if that is the only bad experience you had while in Canada I hardly see that as a reason to include it in this post. You are incorrect in stating that Canada is running the same “War on Drugs” as the US. We do not. Marijuana is practically legal in BC. We do not have the same gun culture nor the same culture of fear. The Vancouver riot was ridiculous, there was a huge public backlash, everyone involved was arrested and all charges have now been laid, and the police even held a ceremony recognizing those people who worked to stop the rioters.Canadians are not ‘brainwashed by fear’. You perpetuate stereotypes and create new ones with posts like this. I respectfully ask you to please consider the consequences of your writings before you post. A world traveller like yourself would know this.

    • Whitney

      I feel bad for all Canadians who had to read this horrid generalization of Canada. Benny makes the US look as bad as he can but he saves his most ridiculous generalizations for Canada. I’m an American and I’ve never heard of any American or foreigner say they felt fearful in Canada. If Canadians are so afraid, why do they go up and talk to strangers all the time. Why do they have such a welcoming immigration policy? Why do they have some of the most diverse cities in the world? Why do they travel so much? This post truly shows a verbal bomb thrower at his worst and he claims he genuine shock at people’s reactions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lordmorrisonofcoventry Jim Morrison

    Almost every government in the world controls and brainwashes their subjects but I do think this has happened in the U.S. much more than in most other countires. The U.S. government has participated in countless wars where they have very often sided with various despicable regimes. They have also been very good at portraying these actions to their people as just and noble. Also of course, they have also been good at portraying other countries as uncultured, wrong or just evil. I grew up thinking that comunism and anarchism were actually genuinely evil things! I now know that although these systems may be abused, they are actually supposed to be very fair. I remain seriously annoyed at the american government for brain washing me and millions of others about these things. I think many americans are now waking up to how they are percieved around the world and are indeed starting to question their governments.

  • Glenn McQuaig

    Thanks for your missions, your clear-headed writing and philosophy of living, and for actually taking the time to SHARE all of this with others. Man, that’s such a nice thing to do and yes, if people take the time to internalize it, it can help make the world a teensy bit better.

    Impressive.

  • Dan Barone

    We can chalk up all the negative attributes of other countries to being “part of their culture.” Well we have a culture too, it’s actually pretty complicated, I live in a large city where 40 percent of the people weren’t born here, our culture is the way it is to accommodate all of that. I’d appreciate if you read this all the way through, just as I’ve read yours.

    I’ve traveled and worked all over, that includes South America. It’s mostly wonderful, and I’ll go back — but I was held up at gun point, and I have heard shots ringing and people screaming. Don’t go tell me about how wrong people are to say South America is dangerous. Duh, yes, Chicago is dangerous too. That’s kind of a silly point, there are dangerous places in any city and your average person, even in Ireland, wants to avoid them. Don’t try to deny that there is higher violent crime in cities in Latin America than anywhere in the world, that is a fact, you can look it up very very easily. Those people you’re criticizing aren’t off-base. In the worst of these cities, the odds are such that the average person will likely be involved in a violent crime at least once a year (sometimes more). People fear Latina America here like Western Europeans fear Romania and that part of Europe. And don’t tell me they don’t, I’ve had too much experience hearing about it from British, Italians and the French. Americans don’t deal with Romanians, hence we go there on vacation all the time and enjoy ourselves. And that’s exactly why Europeans are more comfortable in Latin America.

    And I really do hate your list of reasons you’d never live here — please don’t tell me that you’re being critical to try to help. It’s obviously not true, for all the really wonderful and positive things you’ve done, this is you just putting some negative energy out, making people feel bad. You don’t have to live here, no one said you had to justify it on your website that’s read by people in every country in the world. I would never give someone a list of reasons “I would NEVER live where you’ve chosen to set your roots,” it’s pretty insensitive. And if being sensitive makes me American (according to your list), that’s fine with me. Here’s another fact for you, sensitivity is fundamental to intelligence. Those are the people who notice things and think about them. Not saying all Americans are intelligent, I am saying all intelligent people are sensitive, in Germany too.

    My experience has been that when I travel (especially in Europe), I’m expected to hate my country and hate the part of myself that is American. As a younger man, I went along with it, but now I say, “I like America, we’re not perfect, but no country is.” There’s no reason for me to hate my country and there’s no reason for you to hate yours — you should love your country, it’s the positive kind of pride that helps the world be a better place, that makes for good food and beautiful architecture. That was really instilled in me by a guy I know in Lebanon, it sort of cleared up how I felt about talking about America, and I’m grateful for that. The negative kind of pride is when we start saying that someplace else is worse than my place. And believe me, if Brazil was on the news everyday all over the world, we’d start seeing all the faults there too. I love your site, I think your strategy is simple and genius, but in the future, when you meet some jackass Americans who are giving Europe a hard time, take it up with them; you are seeing the loud minority, I promise you. Just like the Europeans who come over here and refuse to tip (part of our culture), and criticize everything under the sun here, are the loud minority. It’s hard to remember, but it’s pretty important.

    And by the way, my Italian grandparents would kick your butt if they ever heard you saying that I shouldn’t call myself Italian, and I’ll be damned if someone is going to tell my son that he isn’t Russian and Italian, and American. They all matter to us (another cultural difference you may not be able to understand until you moved to another country and had kids). And my cousins in Italy certainly don’t feel the way that you do. I think this is a great site, and I’m planning on buying your clever sounding book and I hope you’ve read all this, I know it was a lot. And, I hope you’re having fun in Egypt. Have some nice, spicy Kushari for me while you’re there.

    • Whitney

      Great post Dan. We all know our country isn’t perfect. As a first generation American, I really found Benny’s “17 points” post really insulting to people who’ve chosen to live here which includes my parents and millions of immigrants. I’d never write a post like that about any country and god help me if I ever do!

  • http://twitter.com/AC_Rebecca Rebecca Rosenberg

    American children are taught a very skewed perception of the world. When I mentioned to a woman I didn’t know well that I was hoping to study in Germany, she worried that I wouldn’t be safe and that I wouldn’t have the same rights that I have in the U.S. She was right about the second bit- I expect I’ll have quite a few MORE rights in Germany!

    Social studies books in primary and secondary eduction depict other areas of the world as primitive, dangerous, immoral, and/or lacking in some way. The pictures of different areas in Africa are all of half-naked tribesmen and starving children. The discussions are of AIDS and apartheid. There are no pictures of modern cities. I’d be shocked if more than a few graduating seniors were aware of large cities in any African country. Latin and South America is similarly depicted, but with their own stereotypes. Small, mountain villages, barefoot children hauling water up the hill, drug dealers killing innocent babies at the marketplace, police officers stopping you to steal your money, and so on.

    Really, the only non-white cultures depicted somewhat positively are Asian cultures. At least the pictures of China and Japan include cities. However, any discussions of China are dominated by hatred of communism.

    A challenge for my fellow Americans: Pick up your child’s social studies books and go through them. See how many positive depictions of foreign (especially non-white) cultures you find, and compare them with the negative depictions and unrealistic depictions. Unrealistic depictions show only a small part of a culture that is not consistent with the majority culture (unless, of course, it is made clear that it is a minority culture and is part of studying the larger culture). A common example is showing rural Rwandan tribes while ignoring the modern Nigerian cities. That can be equated to taking pictures of families on poor Native American reservations and using those pictures to depict American society.

    I propose a new children’s series: Benny’s Adventures in _______. A different story for each country! Using authentic, modern photos, including a few words of the local language for fun, and showing Benny having a grand time without being afraid, robbed, stabbed, or otherwise assaulted! (Contact me if you’re interested, Benny. I’d be happy to collaborate!)

  • http://twitter.com/Xelor Caleb

    So wait, how come people are fussing over about this article? Why is it that some people can’t seem to read the whole story, and go into some sort of racism/patriotic rage whenever some speaks bad about America? As far as I can tell, this article gets it right almost completely. I can’t admit that America is as bad as this article makes it sound, but I definitely can tell the media is full of brain-washing fear as said, and that we act stupid because of it.

    • Whitney

      Nobody’s going into some racist patriotic rage. You don’t see anything wrong with this post because you’re clearly stereotyping just as much as Benny.

  • Tom

    Couldn’t agree more. I’ve been out of the States for 10 years. I’ve never felt threatened anywhere in the world I’ve been EXCEPT in the U.S. I’ve never been hassled by border patrol or customs EXCEPT by the U.S. border patrol, AND I’M A U.S. CITIZEN! The dumb bastards even refused me entry on one occasion because of some of household belongings I was bringing back from Canada. What I had was not contraband, was not illegal, was not anything….but the idiot agent didn’t agree and wouldn’t check. Later, I discovered that they “can’t” refuse a citizen entry. I filed a complaint and got lies and excuses. I filed a complaint with my state senators. They got letters back from CBP that lied and said that I ‘voluntarily” returned to Canada. Nonsense! I have affidavits from the Canadian border patrol agents who checked me through that state they had been told I was being forced to turn back by the same idiot agent that turned me back. The ONLY time I am uncomfortable in the world is when I return to the U.S. Too many Americans are scared to death of their own shadows. Probably why there are over 100,000 Iraqi civilian deaths…..the “soldiers” were shooting anything that moved.

  • http://www.fleetinglife.com/ Christina

    THANK YOU for this post! I recently posted an interview on my blog with a Costa Rican who had a pretty negative perspective on the U.S., and while I thought it would be interesting and thought provoking for fellow Americans to read, I ended up getting a lot of negative feedback sent my way, which I was pretty bummed about.

    This made me feel better :)

  • OCDemon

    Damn do I have a whole lot of things to say about this. No matter how many times i point out that the US has a higher crime rate than Rwanda, Americans are still terrified of everything outside their border. Even someone who had been held up at gunpoint twice and was followed while she was walking home at night still thinks it was crazy that I was THINKING about going to Thailand. Um…where do I even begin? Last time I checked, there were 82 million tourists there, and they seem to be having a spectacular time. But nope. It just won’t sink in.

  • Vincent

    I live in Canada and over the years I grew up watching American programming. Not anymore. I threw out the television nearly two years ago and it’s the best thing to have ever happened. I don’t get mad about the shows or sports that I might be missing. Besides, the amount of negativity that the American-dominated press display about other cultures and countries and peoples is mind-boggling. America’s television shows and social programs are following the same script. Understand that what is going on in America is a deliberate attempt by the elite to brainwash Americans by using FEAR. It works all the time. That’s why I’ll never live in the states. Ever.

    • Whitney

      Good. You sound like an idiot so we probably don’t want you.

  • Green1500

    I’ve concluded that the US…my home land…is suffering from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) on a collective scale promoted by a media that feeds this condition because of profitability. Our extremely high contrast society is a perversion of freedom. What I mean by extreme contrast is the notion that we are the freest place in the world with the highest amount of prisoners, we are extremely wealthy with some of the most diseases. We are a melting pot of culture but only “real Americans” no what’s best. All high contrast conditions. Moderation is freedom…understanding the whole and its parts together…but we Americans tend to filter everything through revolution as if that is the only way to stay free and pursue happiness. The fact that my right to bear arms is really to protect me from my government seems so ridiculous if the statement of “by the people for the people etc.” is the intent. We are washed over with corruption, competition and hard-work ethics as our moral standards…these things are not morally ethical if you believe all humans are created equal…We need a collective realization that the success of our founding is now dated and old world.

    I’m 40… upper lower class income…highly educated, came from a middle class background with an extreme desire to travel, but find the challenges of family sustenance to be the priority. I love aspects of our illusion of freedom we perpetuate, but realize that a different paradigm of a more shared experience…less competition would make a world of difference is reducing our fear levels.

  • Cheyenne

    This is probably the best thing I’ll read all week. Thank you for writing what so many haven’t.

  • iceman

    Hey buddy I hole heartedly agree, and of course you will hear the this never happens where I live. The news ie fpx as you were say they put the gums in peoples hands

  • Neil Gratton

    The thing is, having lived and taught in Britain and Spain, it has NEVER crossed my mind in a shopping mall or a school that someone might come in and shoot it up. I feel safe, and my thought processes don’t go along the lines of “OMG what if, what if …”.

    I’ve encountered people threatening me with knives on two occasions. IF someone had been present with a gun, could well have led to a loss of life, because if someone has a gun there is the temptation to use it. As it was, on two occasions I was able to talk the potential assailants down, and give up their weapons, and both incidents ended with NO HARM TO ANYONE and without any physical contact. That has to be a better alternative?

    Be careful of trusting statistics unless you have ALL the relevant statistics and know the details of how each were obtained. (For example “violent crime” and even “murder” can be defined very differently in the statistics of different countries, and sometimes even between different police forces in the same country).

  • Chase

    This is an old post, I know, but I stumbled onto it and I just had to comment. See, I’m an american, and I agree 100% with everything you said here. In fact, I’m sending it to my mom who practically goes into fits every time I even mention the possibility of leaving the country. I love traveling. I love experiencing other cultures and I just want to see and do everything the world has to offer. So I spend a lot of time researching places I want to go. What I’ve learned is that this world isn’t nearly as bad as the news makes it sound, and the rules of staying safe are pretty much universal. I’ve tried explaining this stuff to her and it just doesn’t sink in. She seems to think I believe I’m invincible or something. Maybe seeing how people outside the US see this irrational fear will help her come to terms with the fact that I’m not just being stupidly brave when I’m not afraid of getting mugged or abducted every time I step off of american soil.

  • Creative925

    I agree, the American media is obsessed with sensationalistic news (i.e. death and destruction) which does create a fear based perception of the world and what is happening locally. I don’t like this at all, it makes one weary. I can’t speak about the media in other countries because I can’t speak the local language when there (so your videos help in that regard). Guns seem more allowed in America but I think talking about guns is off topic, except when our media idolizes the debate. A bad expereince has happened in my family, but it was not gun related. It was domestic violence, a known individual. I have traveled all over America and lived in areas like San Francisco (they are a lot of crazies there on public transportation just like NYC), it is just as safe as anywhere in the world. As you said, use common sense, be logical, keep aware of your environment.

  • Cherie

    Could be the reason I’m afraid to travel to other countries, but you know what I’m going to do it anyways! I’m american and scared shitless of other country’s even my own but I feel it’s a lie and no reason to be afraid to accomplish a dream to find love where others see hate, fear & possible torture. So me and my boyfriend are devising a trip to visit all the places we or others are afraid; I have to prove to myself that there is love all over the world.

  • Keith Cassinger

    Saying “Americans” is referring to almost 400, 000, 000 people. It’s sort of stupid, just like globalizing anything, anyone or anywhere else. But the author makes some good points. But I have seen this fear from the news in every country I have lived in (5 at the time of this writing). The news is full of shit…everywhere.

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  • Annelise Freeman

    I really enjoyed this article. It is so easy to get caught in the hype that the news casters love to spew. I know how crazy things can get. I live in Alberta, a gorgeous province with a very short summer :(. I was visiting Ontario and a friend pondered on how terrible it must be to live in Alberta. Imagine my surprise to find that the media had inferred that the entire province was being strip mined for oil sands. The truth? About 0.1% of Alberta is being mined. Beware the news, “if it bleeds, it leads”.

  • Whitney

    I haven’t traveled as much as you but I have been to every continent and I do find it interesting that Europe is the only continent where people spend so much time thinking about all the negative aspects of America that they can think of and telling others about it. The vast majority of people around the world are happy where they are, even in fairly poor countries, and I can often see what they love about where they live. It often seems that many people in Europe are trying to convince themselves of how bad the USA is. This is the second post where you insult us and then claim some faux concern for setting Americans right. You clearly have no emotional connection to the US and that’s fine. I’ve lived in Europe and have EU citizenship but don’t want to live there. There are many lovely things about Europe and other parts of the world. I don’t feel the need to write articles about all how bad Europe or China or anywhere else is. I won’t pretend to care about Holland or Ireland or Thailand with some “tough love.”

    If I went on a date with a guy and my friend asked me how it was and I only said bad things, that may not be “hate” but I definitely don’t like that guy. That’s what you’re doing here so give up this nonsense that you’re not “anti-American.” If you were honest about not liking America it’d give your posts some credibility. I hardly ever meet any Americans like what you rail on about. I just got back from Amsterdam and everyone here was jealous that I got to go. I don’t watch Fox News but I have friends that do and they were the most jealous of my trip. I went to Brazil and maybe one person asked me about danger. Also, I’m from NY and have a huge family that lives there. I had one uncle that got mugged decades ago and my family lived in NYC as immigrants, not knowing the landscape well. Grow up! You call us cry babies for not liking your posts. Despite your very interesting life, I don’t want people like you in my country with the way you need to mass categorize and put millions of people down. BTW, Switzerland has higher rates of gun ownership than we do and a much lower crime rate. They don’t strike me as scared either.

    • Whitney

      And, as you whine about our War on Drugs you may have noticed that we’re now one of the few countries to have legalized soft drug use, granted not nationwide but in a couple states and it looks like other states will pass this as well. In your previous post too, you only see what you want to see. Brazilians and Thais are great for smiling but not America. Holland is great for allowing soft drug use but not Colorado or Washington. Switzerland is a well run country but we’re the only country “stupid” enough to allow gun ownership. You’re a cliche anti-American Euro despite your extensive travel and ability to speak languages.

  • Whitney

    Great reply. Whats sad is that people here agree with Benny, like the guy who said he only knows America from films. Thank you for standing up the these spiteful posts.

  • Whitney

    I’ve spent a good amount of time going through your comments here and thinking of your two articles on America and you’ve really brought the whole idea of travel down to reality for me. I can’t read your posts, especially how you trash a wonderful nation like Canada here, and believe that you’ve done any meaningful travel. Even though you have stamps on your passport, you clearly don’t engage, at least certainly not with North Americans. You may talk to people but you don’t engage. Thanks for showing me that true travel is really about your willingness to empathize, not what you do. I never want to travel and talk about other countries this way.

  • Whitney

    I forgot to throw in the biggest refutation to all this nonsense. The vast majority of the worlds most innnovative and risk taking entrepreneurs are coming from…oh, wait for it…the United States. Wow, our “culture of fear” has fostered this culture that values entrepreneurial risk-taking like no other nation on Earth. To start a business, especially really earth moving businesses like Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, McDonalds, Walmart (these are jus some you may be familiar with but there are many innovative lesser known companies) takes a tolerance for risk and it’s amazing you can’t see that as someone who has an online business. You’re a true lefty Euro my friend! And I’m not “right-wing” by any stretch of the imagination but I am a free market supporter.

  • Marie Shanahan

    Many, many Americans despise guns and will not allow them into their homes. We have this “gun crazy” reputation that we don’t really deserve. And yes, there is violence, especially in the big cities, but there is also a sense of community and hope in those cities. But for a visiting, Brit, he probably attracted some lower-behaving, individuals just because “uncertainty” was in his body language. People who are content enough to live in a more should we say “earthy” state are very good at reading body language, sensing trepidation and can “smell” a visiting European a mile away. They are “cunning” like that. Intuitive. I’m from Boston and see it all the time. I noticed that even as an American, myself, if you do not walk with a certain “confidence”, people will become “creepy.” But I’ve also been to Britain and must report, I found it to be similar.