Where are you from?

Traveling is different now. Or maybe it’s just that I’m in Japan. (I’m currently on the Shinkansen from Nagoya en route to Tokyo).

For the first few days when people asked where I was from, I’d answer, “I’m originally from Minnesota, but now I live in Hawaii.” When I asked the same question of a traveler they’d answer: “Phillipines”, “Thailand”, “Spain” or “France”. Why was I giving a state? Because I usually answer the question from within the US, so a state makes sense? Because that is the boundary that matters in the States? Or because I wasn’t eager to be associated strictly with being “an American”? Probably some of each.

My answer evolved throughout my trip. I switched to “the United States”, and that didn’t work at all. “Where?” “America” “Ohhhh! America!”. Smiles, nods. And then I switched to “Hawaii”. That got even more smiles and exclamations. All Japanese know where Hawaii is. And they love it, regardless of their feelings about America in general. So I went with that.

The reason that traveling seems different this time around, is that when I tell other foreigners that I’m from America I don’t get the “what the *%$& is up with your government?!?” expression, which is odd, because for most of my trip the US government was actually closed for business. When I talked to folks from Spain, Thailand, or France and made some reference to our politics being a big mess, they’d respond, “yes, …well, it is the same with us”  and shrug.

That, I have to admit, was refreshing. Perhaps it’s because the US is in such a conundrum, but I’ll take it. I think also the world (mostly) approves of our President. That helps too. There were some questions about whether the US would really default on its debt and take the world economy with it. Did we realize that that would affect the rest of the world and not just the US? What could I say? Yes, rational Americans realized and understood that, but the rational Americans didn’t seem to be in control anymore.

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