I will never forget the first time I was ostracized for being American. I was walking out of a hostel with a friend in Ireland on a mission to catch a bus. It is customary in most European countries to greet people, even if you don’t know them (something America should pick up on). This was towards the beginning of my travels last year so I wasn’t accustom to this yet. I also wasn’t paying attention to anything other than my task at hand, I will admit. I heard someone say hello or cheers or something along those lines but just kept walking. I realized the guy had been talking to me and quickly apologized and returned the greeting. Before I could finish all he said was, “Oh, of course she’s American.” At that point I was not only shocked at his response but also offended. I wondered to myself, “Does it make me “American” that I simply didn’t hear you or just human?”
Almost a year later and many rude, anti-American comments later, I have finally found a way to handle this ignorant mindset that many people have towards Americans: simply defy the negative stereotypes to prove them wrong.
It’s almost difficult to blame people for having negative stereotypes of Americans. Look at the TV shows we create in America: Jersey Shore, Toddlers and Tiaras, The Real Housewives. Musicians like Lil Wayne, Ke$ha, Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z sing songs that idolize money and demoralize women. The “American” culture that is portrayed in our shows and music is certainly not one to be admired, yet this part of our culture is the only thing that ever makes it’s way over the pond. We are portrayed as people who don’t care about anything other than fast cars, plastic surgery, easy women and tanning booths. And then the very few that do travel internationally to foreign countries usually don’t know a thing about the culture, language or customs and expect the locals to speak English. Many of them know more about the history and politics of our own country than we do. Stereotypes exist for a reason – they have to come from somewhere.
I hate when people group an entire race of people into one category. Not all French people are rude. Not all Asians are ridiculously smart. Not all Americans are fat and stupid. With that being said, people are going to believe what they want until someone comes along and changes their perspective. This is one of the reasons I have made it my personal mission to make sure wherever I go and whatever I may be doing to always, completely, relentlessly be a good person. We all meet unfriendly people. We all have to deal with lazy co-workers. We all have people in our lives that annoy us to no end. But I firmly believe this gives us no reason to retaliate with the same behavior. If someone hurts you, show them kindness. If someone is lazy, show them the benefits of hard work. If someone judges you for being American, prove them wrong.
Most recently I’ve had a difficult time staying in tune with what’s going on in the world. When I turn on the news or check out the headlines online, I find myself feeling so disheartened that I can’t bear the thought of hearing any more. It’s hard to see the immense amount of good happening in a world that can be so evil at the same time.
I’m not stupid, I know that kindness isn’t going to take down the Taliban. Being a good person isn’t going to deplete the evil that exists in this world. But I so strongly believe that one person has the ability to make a huge difference. Look back in history and you will see that major movements often started with one individual. Strangely I still remember customers from my first job at McDonald’s that came in with a cheerful, smiling face or the people that gave me a nice tip because I was working on New Year’s Eve or the people that I’ve met while traveling that have inspired me with their love and passion for life. This type of energy is truly contagious.
I urge you if you don’t already to count your blessings. Stop stressing. Help others – financially, emotionally, mentally, anyway you can. Stop complaining. Be happy. Be a breath of fresh air. Ignore those who put you down. Stay in touch with your friends and family. Make people feel special. Eat healthy. Respect your health and your body. Radiate happiness. If you’re a doctor, a lawyer, a mechanic, a student, a barista, a scuba dive instructor or a Mcdonald’s crew member always remember that whatever you are, be a good one. Spread the love people!
On a completely separate note, here’s a quick update on my travels!
I left Paris on the train and headed to the Dordogne region last Sunday. I am now staying with an English family in the Southwest of France helping them run their Business. So far I am absolutely loving the peace and serenity that I’ve found in the French countryside. I’ve already met some amazing people and I couldn’t be happier to be spending the next two weeks in such a wonderful home. I hope everyone had a fabulous weekend and is enjoying the last few weeks of summer. Cheers for now!