An American Abroad: What It’s Like to Travel Under Trump
Sometimes, I’m proud to be an American. When repping my country abroad, I’ll admit to rubbing the domination of the USA Women’s Soccer Team in the faces of cheeky Brits and wine drunk Frenchmen.
But for some other things, aka Trump-related things, an entirely different emotion radiates from within. Shame.
In a time of worldwide populist, divisive and powder-keg politics, the USA, and Trump in particular, perfectly showcases what can go wrong when fear and hate are used as the base of a political platform. Not at all surprisingly, this xenophobia doesn’t pair well with college-aged travellers keen on leaving their comfort zone and learning from different cultures.
Now, in a classic baking and vinegar exploding volcano fashion, what happens if you’re an American abroad, and Trump is the global face of your country?
A little background about me: I’m from Minnesota, USA, but attend university in Lugano, Switzerland. I started back in autumn 2016 (so exactly when Trump was first elected to the presidency).
The day after the election, the entire campus (which is predominantly American and uber progressive) descended into melancholy silence – I honestly don’t think the dining hall has ever sold as many muffins and ice creams as it did that day. People were heartbroken, and two large questions loomed over everyone’s heads: How did this happen? And more worryingly, what does this mean for us?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve since then I’ve added the ‘Novelty Canadian Passport Sleeve’ to my Amazon cart just to back out at the last second before purchasing. I mean there’s no way that flimsy thing can actually solve all my travel woes, that’s just crazy talk… right?
The truth is that besides the classic assumptions of being loud, entitled, and generally occupying way too much space, Americans now have to add “Oh, and I didn’t vote for Trump,” to virtually every introduction with a local in a foreign country.
Hostel beers are now accompanied by qualms, questions, and mostly helpful dialogue.
The French and British want to sympathise: “I mean Macron and May too! Am I right or am I right!”
The Brazilians want to raise awareness: “I mean Trump is bad but look at our guy! I mean seriously! Read something other than a US news source and you’ll see that our guy is way worse!” (And it’s true, he is a lot worse.)
However, it doesn’t matter how much I dislike Trump, or how I didn’t even vote for him, because when push comes to shove I have to begrudgingly admit that yes, “My country elected a sleazy, rapey, dishonest, unqualified, racist, and bigoted TV personality to be President.”
Whatever company I’m in will then nod slightly and murmur softly, “Man, Americans are crazy.”
Then I order another drink and usually add, “America is fucked.”
Talking about politics and sharing perspectives is important, don’t get me wrong. But Trump’s presidency has elevated the tension exponentially. I feel like sometimes people are looking for an argument. They want me to defend my country and defend Trump – just so they can prove how small-minded I, as an American, am. They don’t want to accept my agreement that, “Yeah, Trump is a bozo with small hands, and it is a shame we elected him.”
Now all of this being said, there isn’t necessarily an innate hostility towards Americans as much as there is genuine curiosity. They somehow think that by simply being American I can answer the still stupefying question, “But if no one seems to like him, how did he get elected?”
Fear? Russian meddling in the election? Because Hilary was a woman? Because Obama was black? I usually just shrug and continue to get my drink on, mostly because I’m too ashamed to admit that it was probably a combination of all the above.
Although sometimes you arrive just a little too late to the bar and people are already so plastered that any mention of US politics quickly devolves into an entire bar shouting “Fuck Trump.” (But I mean of course I still join in!)
Fun? Yes. Helpful dialogue? The jury’s still out on that one.
And now, a special note to all non-Americans: If you do meet an American abroad, I’d say there’s a 90% chance that they’re not a Trump supporter. The simple explanation being that Trump supporters are too busy staying at home, watching Duck Dynasty, drinking Coca-Cola, and breathing really loudly through their mouth. Oh, and if they do leave the country you can bet your ass it’s on a Carnival Cruise ship.
The more heartfelt explanation being that while Trump built his platform on a message of exclusion, and fear– Americans who travel abroad, stay in hostels, and take the time to interact with locals have an impossibly hard time getting behind his hateful rhetoric.
My four years in Switzerland is very quickly nearing its end, and I can only hope that in some sort of cosmic link it also signifies the end of Trump’s office, and the beginning of a better reputation for Americans abroad. I mean, I for one can’t wait until the first question I’m asked is no longer “So what are your thoughts on Trump?”
Besides, if your goal is just to get me riled you’d have much better luck asking me my thoughts on the ending of Game of Thrones.
Cover by Samantha Sophia; inset via the author.