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The other side of our borders

The United States is part of the world. It’s hard to remember that sometimes in the day-to-day life of an American citizen. We are within our borders, our cultures and this is our frame of reference, of course, like anyone who lives anywhere.

When I step out of our borders, it’s interesting to see America from the outside looking in. When I travel, I meet a lot of people. There are many ways that Americans are seen in other countries. Sometimes opinions are favorable, other times they are not.

I was in a tour bus in Nagoya, Japan in 2006. I was with a chaperone whose name was Miki. She was 25 and it was her job to show me around the city, compliments of a Japanese engineering firm. Through the course of the day, we talked a lot. As we talked, I learned that she lived with her parents about an hour and half outside the city.

She rode the train every day to work. It was also her birthday and her mother had been cooking her favorite foods all day, for a special birthday dinner. She had been instructed to take me to the Nagoya castle, and other sites, culminating in a shopping trip to look at kimonos. As we rode on the tour bus, the elderly guide asked who on the bus was American. I didn’t understand why he was asking that, but Miki did. So, as I proudly raised my hand, Miki quickly pulled my hand back down again and placed it back in my lap.

She wasn’t quick enough, apparently. The guide saw me and delivered a blistering tirade against Americans in Japanese.

When I was in Costa Rica this past week, I was at a small open-air bar on the side of the road in La Garita, meeting up with some friends I had met when I was there last.

The topic turned to the American elections coming up this week. The general consensus at the bar among the Costa Rican customers was that Obama would be re-elected. I asked how Costa Rica as a country felt about our upcoming elections.

There was a lawyer at the bar who said that most Costa Ricans liked Obama, and didn’t care much for Romney. He said that most felt that Romney was too rich to understand the standard of living of most of his constituents or even of people around the world. They felt he was too sheltered and led a pampered life and wouldn’t be equipped to understand how real people live.

On the other hand, they felt that Obama had a sense of what it was to be an ordinary citizen. That he could relate to people. Interesting perspectives from countries other than America.

Sometimes we don’t think about how other countries view our politics or our presence in the world. It’s illuminating to move outside our borders and see the role that we play as viewed by other countries.


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