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Citizens of Nowhere and Everywhere

24 June 2013

Meanwhile, over Greenland…

My wife Lisa and I watch a ton of documentaries. It’s not because we necessarily disagree on popular entertainment (we both watch Mad Men and The Killing, and were both big fans of the new Arrested Development season on Netflix), but because we’re both nerds, I guess.

Anyway, we’ve been watching more than a couple political-type documentaries lately. In the past week, we’ve watched both The World Without US and The Listening Project, both of which focused, to some extent, on other countries’ perception of America and Americans. As both of us are American, it was definitely time well spent.

Both documentaries brought up the concept of being a Citizen of the World rather than “just” an American, which is something a lot of other cultures expect us to do. While that obligation is questionable (should we necessarily involve ourselves in the affairs of other countries? [funfact: regardless of our opinions on that question, we do it anyway]), that’s not exactly what I’m talking about today.

As I’ve probably mentioned enough to make it annoying, I recently came back from a couple of weeks in Germany and France. (We always hate those people who can’t stop talking about the time they spent abroad; then we become those people the second we leave the country.) While it was cool to revisit cultures I hadn’t seen in a couple of decades (they’re pretty much the same, except more chilled out), and cool to see those cultures’ perceptions of Americans (they like us, except when our lack of familiarity with the language holds up the line at the bakery or the grocery store, but even then they’re polite), the airport is always what gets my imagination running.

As I sit there in the international terminal at Stuttgart or Atlanta or DFW, I always start feeling a huge sense of possibility. With just a few minutes’ conversation, a flash of my passport, and a swipe of my credit card, I could go from any of those places to hundreds of different cultures. I could go see and experience things I’ve read about in books or seen in documentaries, and even things I’ve never imagined. A simple transaction at the Delta or Lufthansa counter could grant me access to experiences I remember until the day I die. Sitting in an international airport does make me very much feel like I could be a “citizen of the world.”

And I’m very aware that my status as an American is what makes that feeling possible. Americans, more than anyone else, have the largest percentage of their citizenry with the disposable income to easily take international trips whenever they have the inclination and the time (followed closely by certain European countries). We, more than anyone else, have the opportunity to understand other places by putting our feet on the ground in foreign lands and poking around until we learn something.

And I, for one, think that’s pretty cool.

So where’s the most interesting place you’ve ever traveled to? What did you learn while you were there?

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