As of today, all Americans now required to show a passport to fly to Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean on ...disconcerting news for the majority of Americans who do NOT own a passport. A fact I find mind-boggling considering I've had a U.S. passport since I was 3 years old.
Depending on what source you read, only about 15% to 25% of Americans have a U.S. passport. European people and media here say that statistic proves we are a nation of close-minded, untraveled, American-centric people.
Meanwhile, a new study released today by the Travel Industry Assocaition says that there has been a 17 percent drop in foreigners visiting the United States since the 9/11 attacks, costing the country $15 billion in lost taxes and 200,000 jobs. The United States was ranked as the world's "most unfriendly" country to foreign visitors in another survey of travelers.
Frankly, I'm tired of my European hosts telling me how stupid and pathetic we are as Americans. Allow me to defend the good ol' U.S. of A.
First of all, we just cannot compare the European and American experience with regards to the passport issue. It's apples and oranges.
The reason why most Europeans own passports is because, until recently, people needed passports to travel from one European country to the other. Nowadays Europeans can travel freely from one EU country to another. But a few years ago, that was not the case. It would be like requiring Americans to show a passport to travel from one state to the other.
Second, I accept that Americans do not travel as much as Europeans. But that's because the U.S. is such a HUGE country. From Alaska to Hawaii to, um, Delaware, we have every imaginable climate and geography imaginable. From mountains to beaches, from deserts to forests. We have 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and other territories, each with it's down distinct culture, foods, dialects, accents. 300 million people all united by ONE language and ONE flag. In Europe, people travel outside their country because they have to: you can't go to the beach in land-locked Austria, and you can't ski in Greece. And when Europeans -- especially British -- travel, it's often on cheap pre-packaged holidays where you sight-see, eat, sleep, drink and shag with the same little group of fellow countrymen everyday, all sheep being herded by a perky tour guide carrying a colorful umbrella.
Third, Europeans cannot begin to comprehend the SIZE of the United States. The entire European continent would fit inside the United States east of the Mississippi! It takes a minimum of 3 days to DRIVE across the U.S.; you could drive across Western Europe in one long day. It takes about 6 hours to FLY from New York to Los Angeles. If I were to fly 6 hours east from London, I would end up in somewhere in Kazakhstan, about halfway to Tokyo! And that's only the continental United States we're talking about.
Just because Americans don't own passports does not mean we don't travel. Many Americans travel a lot, but most of it happens to be within our border. And the more adventurous might travel to the Caribbean or Mexico. A passport simply wasn't needed to travel to those areas...until today. Conversely, although I'm probably more traveled than the average American when it comes to world travel, I've only skimmed through my own country. I still have at least 13 states to visit in the USA!
Fourth, many Americans just aren't interested in traveling to Europe when they read or hear about many Europeans' mightier-than-thou, Cambridge/Oxford attitude towards Americans. Just as Americans make stereotypes of Europeans (i.e. snooty Frenchmen, anally-retentive Germans, etc), many Europeans have stereotypes that all Americans are Bush-loving, God-fearing, gun-totting folks with southern accents who drive Hummer SUVs, wear cowboy hats and look like the cast of Desperate Housewives. After Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in 2006, I actually had a middle-aged, educated Englishman tell me, "I didn't know the U.S. had so many poor black people." The entire world has this image that all Americans are rich and white whose sole purpose in life is to make money, wage wars, buy lots of stuff and consume natural resources as fast as possible.
Fifth, I'm sick of foreigners complaining about the requirements to enter the United States, such as requiring a fingerprint and photograph upon arrival. Big whoop. When I went to India in 2004, I had to shell out $150 for a tourist visa! Jordan requires photograph and a $30 visa to enter, and another $15 to exit the country. And not that anybody is vacationing in Iraq these days, but the last time I went to Baghdad I had to pay $88 for a visa and submit to an HIV BLOOD TEST!...and that was after waiting two weeks for the visa to clear from the Iraqi embassy in London.
Sixth, I'm also sick of Europeans whining about how most Americans only speak one language. Europeans in continental Europe need to speak more than one language by necessity. If you are a farmer in Italy hoping to trade your produce with a wholesaler in Switzerland, you better know at least a few words of each others language to seal the deal. Imagine if potato farmers in Idaho used a difference language from consumers in California. It's also a myth that all Europeans speak more than one language. We've traveled extensively through Europe and the vast majority of people in rural areas only know their country's language. In northeast Italy, we met a bus driver who spoke LADIN...not Latin...LADIN, a language spoken by just 30,000 people in the ENTIRE WORLD. Rather than adapt and change with the times by learning, say, ITALIAN, these folks choose to stick with their dying language and make everybody else adapt to their needs and wants. (For the record: I speak Spanish fluently, basic French, a little Arabic and a few words in Italian and German).
Seventh: I don't have a seventh.
I apologize if this sounds like a neo-conservative, over-the-top rant. But for once I just felt the need to defend my homeland. The U.S. gets a lot of crap thrown at it these days, some of it deservedly (i.e. Iraq and environmental policies). But much of it is just ridiculous, hypocritical European snobbery, like French complaining about "Le McDonalds" when, in fact, the French are the single largest European consumers of McDonalds food. Anyway, that's my two cents for the day.