“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom” - Aristotle
After spending a lot of time on the road, I started to notice some things. Meeting so many people from so many backgrounds I noticed a pattern. As we compared how things are done in each of our home countries or we shared experiences learning how things were done in this new country we were in, it got me thinking. I started noticing a lot of the same messages over and over again in my comparisons.
When you're in it, sometimes you don't even know when things are different because they're so normal to you.
So today I've got seven observations that I've made about the United States since having left.
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1. 10 days of paid time off (PTO) is absolutely absurd
I actually distinctly remember when I figured this out. After graduating, I lived for a year with a family in Italy and they were telling me about their vacation time and how most of Italy gets all of August off.
I remember my jaw hitting the floor and asking, "You get that much time off, plus other time off, during the rest of the year?" And, and then I thought oh, okay, well that's just Italy. They're great at enjoying life and blah, blah, blah. And as I started traveling more, I realized that it wasn't just Italy. It's mostly just the United States that has only 10 days of time off for the entire year.
It's unhealthy and not normal. I thought that the hustle and the grind culture in the US is something that was everywhere. Stepping outside and getting to see how other countries prioritize a better work-life balance was really eye-opening.
My two favorite countries to spend time in are exceptionally good at this, Italy and Argentina. They have served as a really good model for me as I try not to juggle entrepreneurship, travel, and life and unlearn some of these mindsets and habits that have been drilled into my head about what a life should look like.
I screenshotted a Slack message from somebody that literally said, "Sorry guys, I'm about to go into surgery for the next few hours, so I'll be out of pocket, but I'll be available, as soon as I get out this afternoon."
That's crazy! We don't need you to be available for that! And that's so normalized in the United States that
I it becomes hard to see that not only does it not have to be like that, it really shouldn't be like that at all.
2. Claiming the word America
I've spent a lot of time in Latin America, specifically South America, and they're Americans too, and so I try to be really cognizant of not saying American or America when I'm referring to home. I say the United States, or I'm from the United States.
I know that nationality is someone from France is French, someone from Colombia is Colombian, someone from the United States is "American".
But in Spanish, they have a different word for somebody from the United States, "estadounidense", which I think in and of itself makes a statement.
So I make sure that I'm very cognizant all the time of not saying that I'm American. We just decided to claim that word as our own, as if there's not millions and millions of other people who also fall into that bucket and don't get credited for it.
And I've had lots of conversations with people down here, and more often than not, people don't love it that we have kind of claimed that word as only ours.
And part of this goes back to what I was talking about many times before in the first entry about language and how very specific language matters. And it does make a difference, even though it seems like it's such a small, subtle thing that isn't a big deal to us.
But here's another example where it does matter to other people.
3. Turns out there's lots of governments that are all kinds of messed up
I was traveling a lot in 2015 and 2016 where I was meeting a ton of different people and everybody wanted to talk about the election and it was hilarious and really embarrassing for us that Trump was even running.
It was an interesting conversation to have maybe the first few times, but it was literally everybody that wanted to talk to me about that and it got a little old.
So when he won and it became way less funny and way more of a reality of what was actually happening, I was really dreading having those conversations with people.
But it turns out people can relate more than I knew and they were very kind and empathetic.
As I went through this grieving process, the Brits were right there with me with Brexit. All the Italians were like, oh yep, we've got Berlusconi, we, we know how you feel. All the Brazilians were like, yep, we're right there with you.
And the list goes on. People would tell me about their own leaders and it was, it was really interesting to learn about lots of different governments around the world.
It's a huge bummer that all of us are sharing in this collective distaste for decisions that our governments have made, but in a way it kind of brought us all closer together that we could share in our collective misery.
4. The Pledge of Allegiance to our flag is pretty culty
I just took that at face value as a small child that I had to stand up every day at school, put my hand on my heart, and dutifully recite a robotic chant at the flag. That is very, very culty.
I had never thought of that before until I realized that nobody else does that.
So now I find it to be extremely creepy and disturbing. I think it's become a little bit less of a thing where it's not so mandatory, but that was a terrifying realization.
5. We are number one!
Yeah, baby! But, uh, not really where it counts. We're number one in things like, Mass shootings and medical debt and incarcerations and super fun things like that.
And this kind of bleeds into number six as well.
6. Nationalism vs Patriotism
There is a lot of nationalism disguised as patriotism. We're still living off of the 20th century version of us but we are no longer the powerhouse we used to be.
I don't even know if this is a real quote, but there was a Japanese general who supposedly said, "I fear we've woken a sleeping giant" right after bombing Pearl Harbor. We're taught that quote growing up. You know what we don't learn about? Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.
When I started traveling I met people who are really proud of their country, but doing so in a way where they don't have to put down other countries was quite honestly revolutionary to me. Chanting "USA! USA!" and "WE'RE NUMBER ONE!" is the only thing I've ever known.
And I do have pride in my country. There are many things that I love about the United States, but looking back at the propaganda and things that we are, things that we're told and taught. It just feels much more like nationalism disguised as patriotism, and there's room for everybody at the table.
7. It's not my way or the highway
This has been a very hard lesson to learn for me.
This also kind of relates back to number six. We have just decided so many times about what is gonna be good for other countries and that our way is the best way.
I couldn't get through an episode of Emily in Paris because it was so frustrating that she would go into this company, expect people to speak English to her, and that eventually people would come around to like her way of doing things.
I also just watched another Netflix movie about a travel company in Vietnam. It needed to be bought out by a US company to "save" it. And while the love interest was Vietnamese, which is a step up from the usual narrative of someone white, he was very Westernized. He had spent time in the United States, so he didn't really speak with an accent and he already knew a lot about the culture. But you don't have to be Westernized to be attractive or worthy or interesting enough to be the love interest.
We just think that we've got all the answers.
When I was living in Thailand, there were so many days in the beginning where out loud I would say, "Oh my God, in the United States it'd be like this." Or, "Wow, in the US we'd NEVER do it like that." And I would get so unbelievably frustrated. I heard myself say it enough times where I finally said, "If you want it done like that Katie, then go back to the US. That is not what you're here for."
It was a really great lesson in growth and humility and that there are many ways of doing things. And we don't have to agree on it, but I am in your country and that's how we're gonna do it.
And that's the lesson I have to learn over and over and over again.
A little introspection never hurt
I didn't mean for these to all be negatives. But, I already knew most of the positive things. I mean, we talk about them all the freaking time, don't we?
But as a traveler, I find myself under a lot of pressure to be a representative to the US. People will meet me and draw conclusions - just like we all do, whether we're aware of it or not. And stereotypes exist for a reason. They come from somewhere.
I am determined to be self-aware and informed and generally polite (I mean, I hope I am those things anyway). I refuse to eat at McDonalds - although I have been known to complain every now and then about the lack of variety in options like Triscuits, Oreos, and other processed treats.
Traveling has given me a new perspective of my country and a new way to look at how I do things. While it has opened my eyes to some harsh realities of my country it has also made me appreciate some of the things I love most.
It has give me perspective and because of that I am more patient, more open minded, and more understanding.
And isn't that what it's all about? We're all just trying to move through this world safely and happily together.
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