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Published: February 8th 2009
I am laying on a beach in Montego Bay, Jamaica. To my left, a heavyset man on his fluffy white bath towel sips gingerly from his pina colada as his pasty white man-boobs develop tell-tale red splotches. Past him on his horizon of a belly, countless other American folk bake in the sun, either sporting extremely large straw hats or torsos idiotically slathered in tanning oils, but all similarly sprawled out on bath towels that are blinding white, riddled with offensive quotations, or a neon color bright enough to assault the eyes. Conversation in English surrounds me, the American accent tinkles over every crashed wave, and the Bob Marley wafting through the air is becoming increasily untolerable. "Is everybody having fun today?" "Hey there sport, pass me the beer, will ya?" "Well I´ll be! He looks just like a Maine lobster!" I look down at the menu a beach-boy has handed me for the cafe behind us. Overpriced hamburgers... cheeseburgers... bacon cheeseburgers... Caesar salads and onion rings... french fries and grilled mozarella sticks... grilled chicken sandwiches... There is no attempt at variation, there is no attempt at any real defined cuisine. I am thankful at least that my parents opted out
of paying Margaritaville down the tourist drag a visit.
This trip home to the States for Christmas is a bit special in many ways. My whole immediate family, not large or difficult comprised of my two parents and their two children, has not been physically all together since June 2007. For the past half year all four of us were living on four different continents. I have not been home to Houston for two years, the last time being December 2006, my first Christmas after moving abroad. After a nostalgic week of suburbia life, Tex-Mex, mom taking care of me, and valid auto insurance, (I hadn´t needed to drive a car myself since I left the States) my family decides to embark on a good old, fantastic Caribbean cruise through ports in Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Mexico. I don´t think my family is really just THAT lazy, but it is all too easy when you live half an hour from the Galveston port-of-call.
To be honest, it is going to be a bit of stretch for me to find anything interesting to describe about the entire week in the Caribbean. Because there isn´t really anything I could tell
you about the Caribbean that you did not already know. You know what pristine beaches look like, you know what the sun feels like, and you know what excessively-burned American tourists look like. The smells are nothing new, the sights are nothing new, and I´m sure you don´t need me to describe the taste of Jamaican jerk. The Caribbean will always remain a beautiful vacation destination for North Americans, but for me, that´s about as far as it will go. In fact, I would venture to say that a vacation in the Caribbean is really just a vacation in America transported to a little, pretty, sunny slice of beachy fun. I can confidently say that I believe I learned close to nothing new in these three separate countries we visited, especially as we visited on a cruiseship itinerary. (It´s as close as we can get at what one man once described to me as "Japanese tourism," spending one day in each city and trying to cover as many cities in a week as possible.) Perhaps I would even say it was a bit mind-numbing, but with all due respect this is exactly what many people want on their vacations every
winter. No thinking, no learning, no nothing. And that´s cool too.
I have not been in an enviornment with this many Americans in nearly three years. Any Americans I have been in contact with overseas, have been obviously overseas Americans which greatly differ from domestic Americans. The average American traveller you meet, whether this reflects favorably or poorly on us, is likely more interesting, more open-minded, more educated than the average American you meet in America. Sadly, it is a reliable trend that the Better Ones are the ones that tend to make it out a bit. However I always beam with a little pride when I meet people that say they find Americans to be the most fun and the most entertaining when they travel - a lot of this, I should add, they attribute to the fact that with an American, you always have something to talk about be it the NY Giants, Michael Jordan, Paris Hilton, or the RHCP. So maybe we aren´t the coolest, but in as modest of a way I can manage, at least everybody knows about our celebrities, cares about our politics and economy, listens to our music, and watches our movies.
So with this in mind, I will not bore you with details of what we did, what the water looked like, and where we went. Instead, let´s talk a bit about the creature that is "the American." That creature that is emulated in every American Pie movie exported, in every news piece about an unfavorable political figure, and in every half-hour session of the latest news on E! I have had two solid weeks now of observation after being removed for three years, and here are a few things I want to note:
1. Only people of our nationality feel it is necessary to definitively state that "Man, we were so DRUNK, it was AWESOME!" We like to state that we are drunk, just to state that we are drunk. There doesn´t need to be any follow-up, there doesn´t need to be any conclusion. And strangely, we are also proud that we are "so drunk." Other nationalities also describe extreme levels of inebriation, but usually it is part of a cause-effect story. "Bonjour mon ami, wow yesterday I got so drunk, I cheated on my wife avec une putain!!" "Que paso amigo, opa last night I had so
much tequila, six of my amigos teabagged me!!" Nobody relishes in Intoxication like Americans do.
2. Spring Break in America really is, Spring Break. It´s so funny to me that a lot foreigners I meet while travelling all wonder about our Spring Break. They all watch the Real Cancun and American Pie, and they wonder if this is how our formative 18-22 year old lives unfold. Yes, we really do have that magical week of every March where people go off and do ridiculously stupid things, some people actually have broken up with their boy/girlfriends just for that week. And you can vary your levels personally, but for that week we really do just drink, party, hook-up on some foreign (likely in the Caribbean) island, or as always, Mexico. Social dynamics for many people are also yes, just like in the movies. Our high schools are very socially conscious, and we do have the jocks and the cheerleaders, the math nerds, the racial groups. It´s just the way it is. And yes, we have fake IDs and we do hold massive high school parties just like you see in Superbad when our parents are out of town. Note that
all the while, we like to exclaim how DRUNK we were.
3. America is a country of extremes and excesses, as if you didn´t know this one already. We all know we have the fattest people in the world (I was reminded of this again on a cruise boat full of people in their best swimwear.) But what I want to clarify here, is that we also have some of the absolute fittest people in the world as well. I do not think it is fair that other countries always take to POS documentaries like Supersize Me and think our entire country is like that. Personally I honestly don´t have any obese friends, and only a small few couple that I would consider overweight. I myself don´t smoke, run often, and wear the same size jeans as I did in high school. And I´m not uncommon - if it is any country in the world where females are very into athletics, it is America (followed closely perhaps by Australia - which incidentally, is apparently the next World´s Fattest Country.) Americans are not fat and ugly (our offical party line), in fact sorry to say this but we are probably
the most hygenic people in the world, and we do have the best teeth. OK, but we do have those people that are so fat they sue airlines for making them pay for 2 seats.
4. Americans talk too much. So far in 3 years abroad, it seems Americans are the most into their "freedoms," particularly their freedom of speech. I´m not pitting us against some of those Europeans, mind you, in the sexual and exhibitionist freedom categories. Wouldn´t you agree that when you meet Americans, we have a certain youth to us, a real curiosity in our questions, and we do try to engage when we talk to you? We are not shy, we are very friendly people and it shows that we have grown up immersed in a society where we think we have the right to do anything we want (this goes negatively as well.) In fact I´m sure most of us have seen an American act totally out of bounds, as if international rules don´t apply to him (not unlike when the Aussie or Brit gets drunk abroad.) Well, on another level, we also have a tendency to go out of bounds with our open-ness
of conversation. Americans will tell you every detail of anything, even when you don´t want to know. When I was back in Houston, I went to my bank to reactivate my US accounts and move some money back from Asia. My banker of course asked for my story and when I gave it to her, 2 years working abroad and a year traveling the continents, she just went wide-eyed and proceeded to tell me her entire story. "Oh, I wish I could do what you were doing, and I intend on it too still, but I had a baby when I was 19 and then recently the father left me and so now I need to hold down this job until I can go back to school I want to get my masters in this or that and then I plan on being my own woman blah blah blah..." I just sat there and nodded. "And so what is the international ATM withdrawl fee again, please?" Nowhere else in the world would somebody volunteer their entire life story of hardship and social suicide to a complete stranger. Americans talk too much, and don´t even get me started on our slang
and filler words.
Well this is going to sum up my two weeks back for Christmas in the U.S of A. (the Caribbean really is just part of us anyways.) I feel no need to further write another entry here. While I would never, ever trade in my American passport, this is not the only self-deprecating schpeil
I´ve written. A bit guilty that I was actually supposed to be writing about a vacation in the Caribbean, how about I link you to a Grand Cayman blog
that I found interesting comparing ex-pat life in Bermuda with that in the Caymans, particularly fun after my latest blog about ex-pat life in Hong Kong
Merry Christmas, see you in South America...
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