how the world sees america

Most Americans Don't Have Passports

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"Only one percent of Americans carry passports," Bill Tibble, the manager of Palmer's Lodge Boutique Hostel tells me, "I saw it on CSI." I've heard this "statistic" in interviews, on buses and at numerous pubs. It's taken as proof that Americans are uninterested in the world. Is there any truth to it?

First I checked the facts, which are admittedly fuzzy: seems about one in three Americans carry passports. That’s far better than one in twenty, but still less than Canada, where 2 in 5 carry passports, and less than much of Europe where the majority carry them.

But there are some reasons, other than being self-absorbed, for why this might be:
1) America is huge. You can ski and surf in one state alone.
2) International travel is relatively expensive for us. We generally have to fly across one of two oceans to get off our soil.
3) Americans have less vacation time. We have on average two weeks of vacation a year versus a month in England. So with longer flight times, precious vacation time can get lost in transit.
4) There’s less desire to emigrate from the U.S. than other nations so perhaps less interest in checking out other places to live.
5) Passports haven’t always been necessary for travel to the Caribbean, Mexico and Canada. Now they are, and we’re seeing a rise in requests for passports. In fact, the surge in applications was more than expected, causing long delays in issuing passports.
6) Citizens of small European countries -- the size of, say, Maryland -- have long needed passports to travel across their borders. We don't need passports to travel between U.S. states.

But even if these statistics do confirm Americans are less interested in going to other countries, travel doesn’t always equal worldliness. A spring break in Cancun, Mexico isn’t very different than one in Miami. Same is true for Britons: resort towns on the coast of Spain offer plenty of sangria, but not much taste for the real culture of Spain.

Tiddle's CSI statistic is way off. But what does this perception of American travel documentation suggest? For one, it supports the “Arrogant American” image I hear so often here: that U.S. citizens think everything they could want in the world is within their borders, and that the world is just a bother to be kept at bay (from immigrant laborers to terrorists). Google "Arrogant American" and then try "Arrogant European" then "Arrogant French" then "Arrogant Chinese". The numbers drop off fast.

The "passport perception" also makes the personal political, often to the average Americans' disadvantage. Our current President didn’t travel much before getting into office, even though he could afford to, a number of interviewees pointed out. His perceived insularity reflects badly on all of us.

An Aussie backpacker named Ryan Gordan at the hostel quips: Americans are so insular, "they don't know Australia from North Korea." A favorite comedy TV show of his, "Chaser's War on Everything" (with almost two million YouTube views) showed its anchors wandering around America asking geography questions. The interviewees may have been shown selectively, but no question it wasn't pretty.

Gordan traveled around the world for the past six months, and visited America. Surely he saw it wasn't true? Ryan says he doesn't know -- he couldn't stay long enough to really find out. Commonwealth countries like England and New Zealand offer him a "working tourist visa" which allows low-budget travelers to stay and look for employment -- such as bartending -- so they don't need to find employment beforehand. America didn't provide that option, and he couldn't afford to stay in the U.S. for more than two weeks without a job.

America's "too afraid of terrorists" and "of being flooded by immigrants" to offer a program like this, says Ryan. He didn't say if these were reasonable concerns or not, just that they contribute to an inward-looking society. A New Zealander named Graham Gordon chimes in, "Kiwis have the Big OE [Overseas Experience] and in Australia they call it "walk about" because we're so far away from the world it's quite a big thing to go traveling" after high school or college. The British have their "gap year."

As important as the total number of U.S. travelers is, it seems to me we should consider the question of whether young people -- college students, recent graduates -- see the world, and how they do it. We don't have a standard OE, "walk about" or "gap year," but I know plenty of American college kids who have studied overseas. Then again, when young people in the U.S. are in need of an adventure, we always have our cars and the legendary road trip.

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Comments (49)

Kate:

I'm an American who has had a passport since early childhood. I was privileged enough to have a family with the means for international travel. I have since lived in 2 other countries on 2 different continents (Africa and Asia) and have traveled on all continents except Antarctica--all before my 30th birthday.

I'm mentioning my personal travels so that I can't be written off as someone "making excuses" for my "insular" nature and having no "intellectual curiosity" for the world.

Europeans do not understand the average Americans' economic situation and seem to have an extremelydifficult time understanding exactly how large this country is. Just one of the 5 Great Lakes (which are shared with Canada) is the size of the Republic of Ireland. Just one lake. A flight from New York to LA is about the same, time-wise as a flight from New York to London.

Many Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and the majority fare only a little better than that, managing to break even after putting money into their children's' college funds, paying for health insurance, and putting money away for the proverbial "rainy day" in the case of losing one's job. These are things that most Europeans do not have to--and cannot fathom--paying for thanks to generous social welfare, socialized medicine and free university educations. Yes, the "big screen TV" consumerism is a problem but a family of 4 isn't going to get a week's vacation to Disney World, let alone Paris for the price of that television.

Vacation time is another interesting point. The norm, if paid vacation is even offered, is 10 days paid vacation per year. If taken all at once that equals a two week vacation. But who wants to work on Christmas Eve? Or the Friday after Thanksgiving? Those, except in the cases of generous employers, count as vacation days taken. Also, in many very competitive companies and fields, actually taking all 10 days in a single year is a sign of laziness and is frowned upon. Young workers (especially those who work at entry level office jobs) have a hard time getting their requested vacation time approved (oh yes, did I mention that one must still request the time off?) if it's any longer than 3 consecutive days. Now, I may be wrong but it is my understanding (second hand from a former Austrian roommate) that in addition to the 4-6 weeks worth of standard vacation, that the entire week of Christmas/New Year and several long weekends of national holidays are the norm in Western Europe. I never asked about the protocol of requesting use of vacation days/weeks but something tells me it's not nearly as difficult as it is here.


When you imagine someone living in the US, don't picture them living on either of the coasts. Get out a world map or a globe that indicates several US cities (don't just look at a map of the US--you won't perceive the true distance that way) and look at Minneapolis. They are a 3 hour flight from an ocean. Not a nice, sunny tropical beach...but from any ocean period. Try to imagine that. It gives an entirely different perspective on a traveler's desires and priorities. If you've never seen the ocean (like my mother, who didn't see it until she was 30), you just want to see the ocean and if you don't need to fly across it to see it, then you probably won't.

Also, assuming that most Americans aren't as well traveled as most Europeans just based on passport statistics grossly underestimates the rich cultural and environmental diversity in this country. Sedona, Arizona is so startlingly different from Stowe, Vermont (two popular vacation destinations) that they really could be two different countries. And believe me, it is a FAR more dramatic difference than Paris and Nice. More like Dubrovnik to Zermatt, but in the same country and much farther apart.

Finally, just because Americans may travel internationally less than their European counterparts does not mean that they don't have the desire to. I have never once heard anyone say that they never want to travel abroad. I've heard people say they don't care to see certain places for certain reasons but never once has anyone expressed a desire to never leave the US borders. That is a baseless, closed-minded and frankly elitist assumption and you really should be ashamed.

Thomas (BE):

It's all about priorities. I'm 20 years old and I have been in almost every European country, from Ireland to Russia and Finland to Italy. I don't buy big-screen tv's, fancy clothes... I save money to travel.

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Vacation Time:

The average American gets around two weeks off a year.

As opposed to Europeans who get anywhere from one month to six weeks off a year.

Think about it.

There's no time to travel, and most people can't justify spending the thousands of dollars needed to make it happen.

Will:

Two seperate issues here, albeit both interesting.

Valid points made about Americans not needing to travel for sun etc. Much European travel is simply made up of Germans and Brits heading to the Spanish coast. In addition time off work should be considered with only two weeks common for Americans opportunity for travel is reduced.

However it is probably true to say that America does not have travel as a rite of passage as in the UK (even for those who don't go to uni/college)(one comment above points to CV issues as one factor). Anecdotally during time spent in Latin America backpacking Europeans (virtually all Northern European) and Austrailians were more numerous even this close to the States.

Having discussed this with American travellers they often described opposition from parents to leaving the US. Experiencing another culture for its own sake was not regarded as sufficient reason for travel, even those who I met frequently made unfavourable comparisons with the US.

I'm not trying to start a Europe vs. The US debate here or even one about education levels. I am fully aware that the US is superior in some areas, higher education being one example. What I do feel though that the US itself would benefit from a greater tendency to understand foreign culture.

Bridget:

I am a single mother. I don't have an expensive television. My computer is 5 years old and I bought it when I went back to graduate school. Any "extra" money I have goes towards paying student loans. If there are any generous Europeans out there who will offer to fund a vacation for my daughter and I to see Europe, I will stand in line and apply for a passport with my bags packed.

An American Who Dislikes Americans:

I have countless objections with my countrymen, but one of the biggest ones is the way Americans will argue a point even when all evidence suggest they are mistaken.

True: Canada & Mexico are the only countries easily/ cheaply accesable from the US. True: It takes just as long to fly coast-to-coast as it does to fly to Europe. True: We get little vacation time which is generaly sucked up by family obligations/ holidays. But I still make time and find money to travel abroad.

The fact is that Americans as a whole hardly travel outside of the U.S., nor have any real desire to do so. Doing so would only challenge their (narrow) world views.

ED:

"even though international travel is significantly cheaper for Americans"

Not true. Have you looked at the exchange rates between the dollar and Euro (or Pound, or Yen, or Real, or...) lately? International travel is significantly cheaper for Europeans than Americans.

Also, I notice a conflation between "Europeans" and "Western Europeans" in many of these posts. While it's true that Western Europeans travel a lot, the rest of Europe travels much less. It's ironic to see so much ignorance and cultural chauvinism (both towards America and much of Europe itself) coming from people who would scold Americans for a lack of cultural awareness and sensitivity.

Edward:

Americans don't own passports because they are too uncultured to appreciate travel. Albeit the rising cost of international travel, many European families still take the time to visit destinations such as Brazil, South Africa, or Japan even though with increased tariff rates in EU countries traveling is more expensive. If Americans had to choose, they would much more willingly spend money on an SUV, home theatre system, or big screen television than travel because they have been raised in a culture which only appreciates the material, and not the cultural aspects of life. How many big screen televisions are there in the US??? If a European family had to choose between upgrading to a more posh electronic device or going on a family trip to appreciate diverse cultures and tighten their bonds as a family, it can be said without a doubt that most Europeans would choose to travel.

Just a thought...
Europeans earn less than Americans and travel much more, yet international travel is much more expensive in Europe.

Americans earn much much more, and travel much much less...even though international travel is significantly cheaper for Americans
hmm...

Americans simply do not have the desire to learn anything about other cultures. It is too stressful for them to realise that there is something out there in the world other than the mighty USA. They have an immense superiority complex and prefer to remain in the US waving their noses instead of traveling abroad and realizing that there are over 6 BILLION other people on this planet!

Edward:

Americans don't own passports because they are too uncultured to appreciate travel. Albeit the rising cost of international travel, many European families still take the time to visit destinations such as Brazil, South Africa, or Japan even though with increased tariff rates in EU countries traveling is more expensive. If Americans had to choose, they would much more willingly spend money on an SUV, home theatre system, or big screen television than travel because they have been raised in a culture which only appreciates the material, and not the cultural aspects of life. How many big screen televisions are there in the US??? If a European family had to choose between upgrading to a more posh electronic device or going on a family trip to appreciate diverse cultures and tighten their bonds as a family, it can be said without a doubt that most Europeans would choose to travel.

Edward:

Americans don't own passports because they are too uncultured to appreciate travel. Albeit the rising cost of international travel, many European families still take the time to visit destinations such as Brazil, South Africa, or Japan even though with increased tariff rates in EU countries traveling is more expensive. If Americans had to choose, they would much more willingly spend money on an SUV, home theatre system, or big screen television than travel because they have been raised in a culture which only appreciates the material, and not the cultural aspects of life. How many big screen televisions are there in the US??? If a European family had to choose between upgrading to a more posh electronic device or going on a family trip to appreciate diverse cultures and tighten their bonds as a family, it can be said without a doubt that most Europeans would choose to travel.

ED:

# of US travelers to Europe every year: 11,761,000
# of European travelers to US every year: 10,095,000

% of US citizens that visit Europe in a given year: 3.9%

% of Europeans that visit US in a given year: 2.0%

Anonymous:

I prefer Paris, Texas to Paris, France.

Anonymous:

Oh beautiful, for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.
Oh beautiful, for pilgrims' feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America! God mend thine ev'ry flaw;
Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law!
Oh beautiful, for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine,
'Til all success be nobleness, and ev'ry gain divine!
Oh beautiful, for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years,
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!

Steve Gregg:

I lived and travelled in six countries while serving in the military without ever having a passport, just as millions of Americans have. When we drove into Mexico from Texas back in the '80s, we didn't even slow down when we crossed the border. I never needed a passport until a couple years ago when I played tourist in Italy.

If you travel 200 miles in England in most directions, you'll end up in the ocean. Drive 200 miles in Europe and you can pass through four countries. Drive two hundred miles from Houston and you still have another hour's drive to make Dallas and another hour and a half to get out of Texas.

This whole passport argument shows how little Europeans understand America.

Sarah:

I'd love to go to Europe (we have a bet going in my house as to which of us will be the first to arrive -- my stepfather was in the Navy during Vietnam and went almost everywhere, but missed Antarctica and Europe.) Unfortunately I keep finding fun stuff to do here at home, and in any case the only "vacations" I get are the gaps between jobs, which are used to, you know, find a new one.

I shouldn't say that; when I worked for Disney I got 4 paid days off, which I used to actually see Los Angeles (a city in which I grew up, and never got to see much of, since I was always working or in school.) The one spring break I had in college where I wasn't working, I used to visit Washington, DC. About 25% of US workers receive *no* paid days off (I've yet to have a job where I was paid for national holidays I didn't work on. Now that I've graduated, maybe that will change.)

I have, however, lived in five US states for 6 months or more (plus two more for more than a month but less than 6) and have visited both Mexico and Canada. I still think it'd be more impressive to visit Hawaii or Alaska than Baja or Toronto, but what matters is that I actually crossed a national border, right?

Kate:

I have never heard an American say they do not want to go to Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South America or Japan. Time,cost, and competing desires - go to visit family or friends, go to a state they have yet to see, go relax at the beach or the mountains, go to Disneyworld - are what keeps them from going. I do think many Americans overestimate the cost of traveling to Europe.

Bill Tetzeli:

One more thing, which I think deserves notice. What's gone unmentioned in all this conversation is how far-flung most families in the US are compared to families in Europe. While in Western Europe it's common to have family members throughout the EU, the distances between relatives in America often dwarf those in Europe - even though trips to see loved ones there count as "travel" because a national border is involved, and trips here don't because they're not.
So - you have ten working days a year off, you live in Boston, your sister in Nashville and your parents in Seattle (do you "cosmopolitans" even know the distances involved with these cities?). Forget money, which you don't have much of if your job only provides two weeks off; do you make use of these precious few days to renew and strengthen family ties, or do you sacrifice them on the altar of the good opinion of total strangers? Pfft - please! Is it even a choice?!
If you see all your relatives at least six times I year, I am seriously uninterested in your opinion; you don't know what the ____ you're talking about.

Amar:

Hi Bill, Glad to have you on the site! I've changed the spelling of your name. Apologies for that!

Bill:

Andy,

Firstly the interview with Amar was much longer than the blub "quoted" and you could only understand what I said if you had access to the whole tape :-) Amar is a nice guy and we had a good chat - I do not consider myself a person to throw around "facts" in fact I think I'm over cautious :-) I found my chat with Amar amusing because this whole passport thing seems to be just another urban myth and I'm glad that people like Amar are setting the record straight. If you want an example of how simply things can go wrong - my name is "Tibble" not "Tiddle" - a simple mistake and it's out there on the web and now thousands of people now think my parents gave me a name more suited to a CAT!

I am pretty well travelled, studied abroad and have a job where I get to meet hundreds of people from all over the world every week. Over the last year I have met thousands of Americans and I cannot give you a single example of one I found close minded - a conclusion I reached many, many years ago is that people are basically the same no matter where they come from. We pretty much all have the same instincts, desires, concerns and are all trying to do the same thing in life - survive, enjoy it and get through it without too many regrets!

Bill TIBBLE

NS:

PPl,
Dont you know ? The Europeans are the most well travelled people, the most broad minded people, the most intelligent people... heck, THANK GOD THERE IS THE ATLANTIC OCEAN to distance us from these insufferable culture snobs.

At the heart of hearts many Euros hate/dislike/have a condescending attitude to America and it will always have a way of showing whether we talk about travel, capitalism, religion, sports or just about any other topic.

Madrone:

People also tend to underestimate the diversity (culturally) within the United States,

Hell, as a matter of culture, I (From Northern Californa) certainly probably have more in common with British Columbians, then I do with people from Tennessee

Going from California (or even within Calfornia!) to New York, to Florida, to North Dakota, to Ohio, to Montana, to Alaska, to Hawaii, to Puerto Rico will give a huge range of experiences meeting people with different backgrounds, different customs, different foods, etc etc.

Culturaly as different from Spain to Moscow? No, but often can be more diverse then traveling from many countries in Europe to other countries in Europe, or different countries in Latin America to different countries in Latin America. (No, I'm not saying all European countries at the same, or all Latin america is the same, I'm sayig that all of the United States is not the same and has parallels to the differences in other regions.

Ditto for nature(a big draw for me personally).. Yosemite to Everglades to Te Grand Canyon to Mount Lua to Niagera Falls to the Great Salt Lake, to Bryce Canyons to the Redwood forests (Northern California ones) to Yellowstone to Denali to Death Valley. I can see a lot traveling within the United States

Japanese are some of the most widely traveled people, is it because they have a huge natural curiosity about the rest of the world, different ountries cultures, or is it just because they are on an island, and if they want to travel, they often need to fly over an ocean.

Jim Doyle:

"Distance is not an issue here but instead the actual urge or interest to see something different that exists outside your own country."

Mind-reading. Mindless.

"and out of all the people I've met, Americans are definitely the most insular group. "

You must not be very familiar with Chinese people or their attitudes. Most people have no interest in mixing with barbarians, unless it is a career-enhancing stint of study overseas, almost always in the US. The number of Chinese travelling risen exponentially in recent years because it's easy to increase from nearly zero - it has not been so many years that China was a hermetically closed country.

"The blog is after all titled how the world views America and not how Americans view the world. A contradiction of many sorts considering the fact that American want to argue that the world is also arrogant and ignorant – but as true as that may look it is no excuse, and Americans cannot have it. "

I'm not clear on how your first sentence makes the second a contradiction, but whatever - the point people are making is that many of the criticisms of American insularity are simply uniformed. After all, far more Americans than Europeans have ancestral ties to African, Asian and Meso-american cultures and ongoing connections to those cultures. For that matter far more Americans than Europeans have ancestral ties to a range of European cultures rather than to one national culture - the European integration Europeans dream of having been achieved in the US several generations ago. But your point still holds; it is not good enough to see that other people are ignorant of you. You still have to be knowledgeable of them.

Mitchelle:

The blog is after all titled how the world views America and not how Americans view the world. A contradiction of many sorts considering the fact that American want to argue that the world is also arrogant and ignorant – but as true as that may look it is no excuse, and Americans cannot have it. America is diverse but with the history of colonization, globalization name it - - diversity now goes beyond race or country. Its within but also beyond the American boarders.

Mitchelle:

The blog is after all titled how the world views America and not how Americans view the world. A contradiction of many sorts considering the fact that American want to argue that the world is also arrogant and ignorant – but as true as that may look it is no excuse, and Americans cannot have it. America is diverse but with the history of colonization, globalization name it - - diversity now goes beyond race or country. Its within but also beyond the American boarders.

Mitchelle:

The blog is after all titled how the world views America and not how Americans view the world. A contradiction of many sorts considering the fact that American want to argue that the world is also arrogant and ignorant – but as true as that may look it is no excuse, and Americans cannot have it. America is diverse but with the history of colonization, globalization name it - - diversity now goes beyond race or country. Its within but also beyond the American boarders.

Diana:

Re: gap years, American society is career-oriented at the expense of other experiences. Gaps in your resume, i.e. anything that doesn't develop your career strictly speaking, have some stigma. Employers may be more understanding if you took time off to care for a sick parent, but taking three months to travel is interpreted as laziness or lack of interest in career development. At any rate, that's the perception. In practice, it probably doesn't matter for those straight out of college. Some of my friends went abroad for a year, and it didn't hurt their ability to become employed later on. One of my friends even went to Vietnam for a year after working for five, and he got a job almost immediately upon his return. It probably helps to be an engineer in the Bay area. :) Nevertheless, the mentality deters people from taking extended time off.

Thus, Americans who want to be abroad for any extended period of time find ways to do so congruent with career development, or at times when such is irrelevant. They work their interests into this rubric by participating in study abroad programs, pursuing graduate degrees overseas, joining Peace Corps, or taking work opportunities that send them elsewhere for a few weeks or months. People squeeze travel opportunities into their time off between jobs, or into the summer before they return to school.

I do wish extended periods of travel were more acceptable in our society. The Aussies and Kiwis have a tradition of taking a year or two off to travel after they're been working a while, and I think that's better than the British gap year immediately before or after university. People probably appreciate cross-cultural experiences more at that age than when they are teenagers or twentysomethings. Too often, the people I know who traveled at the younger ages (American and non) learned mainly about local boozes...

Andy:

Pretty ironic opening to this article -- an Englishman watching American TV jumps to a baseless and incorrect generalization about an entire continent full of people. Yet we're here talking about how Americans are close-minded.

Personally, I've found Bill Tiddle to be typical of most foreigners, especially in their willingness to jump on some dubious factoid to justify looking down on Americans. I'm a naturalized US citizen, I've had a passport my entire life, I've traveled overseas virtually every year I've been alive, and in my experience Americans are no better or worse than anyone else.

The Argentina example above is very accurate -- foreigners rip Americans for not knowing Slovenia from Slovakia, or Gabon from Guinea-Bissau, but I'll bet anything that the people Amar quotes in his story couldn't tell you Arkansas from Kansas or New Jersey from New Hampshire.

Ivan Groznii:

Interesting, MD, that you would say that there are more Chinese tourists in Europe than Japanese since there are approximately 10 times more Chinese than there are Japanese. Poverty is certainly one excuse for Chinese not to travel. The other would seem to be their insular society as expressed through their insular government.

The funny thing is, while we (as a people) may not have traveled to as many countries as other people in the world, considering the levels of immigration in the US, a significant portion of the population can talk at great length about other cultures from a position other than that of the casual observer.

A family friend visiting from Russia tried to tell me that America is just so homogenous, that we don't know languages and other cultures. I had to ask her how many languages she spoke fluently (only Russian) and to take a look around at the restaurant at which she was sitting. Besides North Americans, there were Africans, South and Central Americans, Middle Easterners, Europeans and Indians. How many restaurants would that be the norm in much of Europe or the Middle East or India or South and Central America?

JRLR:

Amar, personally, I would rather look into why people DO travel. That approach may well tell us more about why some people do not.

Essentially, people travel because they are curious, open, receptive, interested.

Even people who travel for leisure (e.g. “a few days sunbathing on a beach somewhere”) are curious. They too travel to “see the world”, to know the world. They want to go and live among people who are different, to see where they live and what things look like there, to learn those people’s ways, to hear how they themselves see the world, lead their life as others do, for a while, to eat their food, taste what they drink, to read what they read, watch what they watch, to learn their language, to hear their views on others, to listen to their music, to see how they smile, how they cry, how they love, how they hate. It all goes together: that’s folklore, tradition, culture, civilization, history. It is the past in the present, humanity’s memory here and now, an indication as to what the future holds.

I would think people who have previously posted here “Not American? Not interested what you think…” or “What critics of America have to say does not matter…” or “America does not care what its critics have to say…” seldom feel that irresistible urge to travel and see the world.

People who travel the most never tire of traveling, never have enough of it. They have a sense of how little we are, in this world and in the universe, ultimately alone somewhere between the infinitely small and the infinitely large. Their souls have something in common with those of explorers, discoverers, researchers and all kinds of creative people. Each is that type of circle with its centre everywhere and its circumference nowhere.

MD:

Wow, Bill. You must not have been abroad recently. The number of Chinese tourists have increased exponentially in recent years. I actually just read an article last week about how the Chinese have now passed the Japanese in becoming the single biggest tourist group in Europe. And besides, China is a developing country. Most people there do not have the means to travel abroad. And it is near impossible to get a travel visa (though regulation is loosening up a bit in recent years). And yes, the Chinese do call their country the "Middle Kingdom", but that's cos for thousands of years, they were the most advanced civilization in the world.

I've lived and worked on four different continents (going to my fifth next month!) and out of all the people I've met, Americans are definitely the most insular group. Sure, America is huge and international travel is relatively more expensive, but most Americans I've talked to (I've lived there for 2 years) just don't have the desire to go abroad. I don't think it's financial or time constraint that is stopping them.

Bill Tetzeli:

Mitchelle - "the US may be big but so is Russia, Canada, China or Brazil"

Exactly. And how many tourists do you see from those countries? In the years I traveled I can count the number of Brazilians on one hand. Canadians mostly live along the US border, and south is about the only direction to go (there's currently a show on American TV called "Ice Road Truckers", about the perils of delivering goods to the remote Northwest Territory). And Russia? China? Please; talk about insular. Don't you know that the Chinese phrase for China, "Zhong Guo", means "Middle Kingdom"? You can't get more insular than that.

tony in Durham, NC:

I'd be curious in passport figures for Europeans since they've dismantled their frontiers with the formation of the EU? Are their passport applications falling? Rising? No change?

There is a certain level of intolerance from Europeans that I rarely see expressed in these otherwise interesting articles. Swedes, especially, can be either incredibly friendly one moment (usually over vodka), then incredibly boorish the next (usually over vodka).

You also underplay the cultural differences between coasters (east & west) and the rest of the USA. For all the sameness we have in America, there is still some regionalism that sticks out. Ask a New Yorker how their trip to Utah was, and I bet they'll tell you a lot about how "foreign" it felt.

I think it's a typical self-esteem exercise in other countries to assume Americans are stupid. Indeed, many are, especially our current President and his administration. Hopefully that will change in 2008.

So the joke's on you, savvy Europeans!

Bill Tetzeli:

Henry Johnstone - you're the one who's close-minded, too stuck in your own prejudices to actually pay attention to what the article's saying. Oh, by the way, I was born in New York state, moved to Milan when I was two, lived there for six years and saw most of Western Europe; took time off from college to travel in the Middle East and Far East, four months each; another summer on a Eurail pass the year after; moved to Czechoslovakia in '91 and lived and worked there for three years.

Not only is it more expensive for Americans to travel, with less vacation, but on average we're paid less than Western Europeans. Besides, consider what you call "travel". How often do Western Europeans actually travel outside Western Europe? True, I've met many on my own trips abroad, but at least as many Americans - no points there. Instead of puffing themselves up about their ability to drive three hours from Belgium to France, try instead going from London to the Urals. Got any snapshots of those, Henry? Because that's about the distance we have to travel just to get to your sodden, tapped out ember of an empire, let alone the Continent.

There's also the psychological distance, especially if you're actually living and working abroad. No quick drives home for the weekend, for a brief immersion in your own idiom before having to go back to having to explain and have explained to you _everything_. This compounded with the sad fact that, for all their self-proclaimed cosmopolitanism, most Europeans I've seen who dump on Americans have never been there. The saddest example I saw of that was an English public school brat on a kibbutz I was at, who pontificated endlessly about America (picture Eustace Scrubb from the Narnia books). When I asked if he'd ever been there, he proclaimed, "No, but I took two years of courses on the country!"

In my experience, the louder a Brit proclaims expertise, the less they know. Go to your local pub tonight and you'll see what I mean.

Mitchelle:

Size is not a comparable excuse, the US may be big but so is Russia, Canada, China or Brazil – you get the idea. People are now discovering different parts of the world through the internet and the discovery channel. BUT, Nothing can ever replace the broad knowledge of traveling and experience – not even the claim to living in diverse America. Traveling beyond ones boarders comes with more than good resort places or authentic food, and it is worth every penny spent, besides even if America spanned the length of the entire continent – there is so much more out there.

Wayne Bernhardson:

My opinion is that, because many Americans have been able to travel to Canada, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean without passports, there is a tendency to underestimate their foreign travels. While I prefer open borders and visa-free travel in principle, I think obligatory passports for foreign travel may have a positive effect: because more Americans will have passports, they may well go farther afield rather than just looking for nearby destinations where travel document requirements have been minimal.

Anonymous:

Yes, yet compared to Argentina, Americans know even less. At least Argentinians would know about Latin American nations. That awareness of just some diversity sets them apart from Americans, I'd say, who just know Mexico and Canada and that's it.

Voice of Reason:

I would not bring this up, except that mention was made of the inability, real or imagined, of Americans to produce simple geographic facts. As an American who is reasonably well-traveled and has always had a higher aptitude in geography, I've often been appalled by Americans' apparent lack of geographic knowledge.

However, a former professor of mine, who was an immigrant from Argentina, once told me a story about this very issue. He was talking with some of his friends back in Argentina, and they asked if it was true that "Americans don't know anything about Argentina, or the capital, or where it was on a map", etc. He said that in many cases it was true. His friends, of course, snickered condescendingly. He immediately followed up by asking them if they knew anything about Cameroon, or its capital, or whether they could find it on a map. His questions were met by silence, and he followed them up with "What Cameroon is to you in Argentina, Argentina is to Americans."

I personally wouldn't have tried to make such an excuse, but coming from an immigrant, (who does have his share of criticisms of Americans and the American government) it was an interesting perspective to hear.

Joe:

I don't think it's 'justifying' anything to say that most Americans limit their travel to this country. It's pretty big, and there's a lot of different things to see and do here, too. And yes, I've traveled outside the US quite a few times(I've had a passport since '93, and I'm in my early 50s). But there's still a lot of the US I'd like to see yet, too. Heck, I just went to Portland OR for the first time last month, and as others have pointed out here, the travel time from here in the D.C. area wasn't much different than going from here to London. There's still whole parts of the middle of the country I've never seen (except from a plane), and even though I've lived on the East Coast my whole life, I still haven't been to Maine, Vermont or New Hampshire.

A 3 hour train ride from London could put you in a whole different country. A three hour train ride from D.C. lets you see a Broadway Play. Bit of a difference, I'd say.

Henry Johnstone:

Stop trying to justify to yourselves... (especially the author of these articles) why you don't bother to travel outside your own country.

Distance is not an issue here but instead the actual urge or interest to see something different that exists outside your own country. Look outside the box...jump on a plane and discover a new country. Stop being close-minded.

Passport:

The Dirty Bushies have been repeatedly burglarizing the passports of administration critics. When they come up with identification to replace the stolen documents, those are burglarized too. God bless the Bush mafia. Can somebody please stop them!?

Greenbelt Gal:

Although I have not traveled outside the U.S. since 1991, I made sure that I renewed my passport in 2004.

Why? For one reason: in our security-conscious society, if your wallet is stolen with all your IDs in it, you're in massive doo-doo. I've never had to replace a lost/stolen driver's license, but I don't relish the thought. I don't even have any living "immediate family members" to vouch for my identity.

At least my passport -- stored away in a reasonably safe place at home -- gives me an alternate valid photo ID. Even though I don't want to encourage another flood of applications upon the bogged-down passport office, I think all Americans should at least consider getting their passports just for this reason.

Anonymous:

amazing example anthony!

Anthony:

Concerning what Eric wrote, I'll never forget the time, years ago, when I was standing at a scenic viewpoint in a state park in New Jersey (no jokes!) looking west across a little valley at some pretty foothills in the distance. A young woman with what was apparently a package-tour group from Poland turned to me and politely asked me: "Excuse me...are these the Rocky Mountains?"

I've had to remind English friends from time to time that just the distance from the West Coast where I live, to Chicago, is approximately the same as the distance from London to Moscow. How often do they get over to Moscow?

Amar:

Hey there. I'd be interested to see what percentage of students take a year off between highschool and college in the US versus in UK, Australia and New Zealand. Any leads, readers, commentators? Let me know.

Marc:

What airline are you flying Tunatofu? Southwest and airlines like that get you around the US for under 100, but I don't find anything international for that low. I think it's a big difference.

tunatofu:

Have you priced airfare lately? I can often fly from DC to London cheaper than DC to Orlando! Why travel stateside when I can spend the same money and go where the buildings are ancient and the food is authentic?

I am a mom to my own son and two foster kids (all grown now) - you BET we have passorts! The world is big and we are small and life is short.

As to the whining from folks now required to get passports, one wonders why they complain about being asked to meet the same requirement every other country on Earth demands of travelers. You wouldnt want a Jamaican to come here without a passport, right? So what is the big deal about YOU getting a passport to go to Jamaica?

Eric:

Many of my encounters with Europeans often reveal that they just can't comprehend the size of the United States. The vast size and population spatial distribution (we live all over the country, whereas 90% of Canadians live near the U.S. border) reduces the necessity and ease of international travel. Thus, comparing passport figures between nations is completely useless, no matter how ardently the average European may object.

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