Happy Talk: Americans vs. the World
The problem with traveling, someone once said, is that you take yourself with you wherever you go. We all dream of escaping, but accomplishing escape is far more difficult than advertised.
Which brings me to the following public service message: Are you planning to travel to a foreign land in the near future? Better sharpen up your views of the homeland, because "America" is topic number one these days, at least among foreigners who come into contact with American tourists. However you choose to spin your country's current policies/zeitgeist/economic situation, there's a greater chance than ever you'll be lured into these types of conversations. And there's an art to handling them well.
Another thing I noticed during a recent trip to Brazil: the willingness of foreigners to offer advice, solicited or un-, to what they consider the sick patient of the Western world. I was told that Americans need to learn to slow down, ditch the materialism, revisit our war of all against all, learn to swivel our hips when dancing, etc. It wasn't anything I hadn't heard before, but there was something new about the confidence with which the prescriptions were delivered. For whatever reason, the sense is that Americans are finally ready to listen to someone else in the world for a change.
And far be it from Americans to deny it, at least on the evidence of recent books like "The Geography of Bliss," by NPR's Eric Weiner. This intriguing volume, part travelogue and part meditation, takes as its subject the happiest and unhappiest places on Earth, as determined by numerous studies on the subject. Weiner traveled the globe for a year -- to Iceland and Bhutan and beyond -- in search of something he might take back home: the secret(s) of happiness.
Are we in the midst of a tectonic shift here? How foreign are the notions of foreigners to you these days? And have you learned anything new about life -- specifically, what makes a life happy -- by traveling to places far from home?
By Scott Vogel |
January 29, 2008; 11:55 AM ET
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