Monday, 25 November 2013

LOL Americans! Lazy transatlantic stereotyping

That hackneyed argument that "Only a teeny weeny percentage of US citizens have passports, and THAT's why US foreign policy is so bad!" is such utter bollocks.

1. Passports are expensive.
Up to $165, to be precise.

2. Foreign travel is REALLY expensive.
Unless you happen to live near the Mexican or Canadian border, you're looking at a long-haul flight, another several hundred dollars. Add in accommodation and holiday spends and you're probably looking at around $1k.

3. America is fucking massive.

Texas alone IS BIGGER THAN FRANCE. (Do you like how I managed to get abortion access propaganda in there?) You can travel for several hundred miles without crossing a state line, never mind an international border.

British people sneering at USians, using lazy kneejerk jibes to tell off their transatlantic cousins for being so insular and parochial, seem to imagine that foreign travel - for everyone, no matter where they live in the world - is as easy as booking a £25 Ryanair flight to Budapest or hopping on the Eurostar for a dirty weekend in gay Paris.


4. The stats quoted are usually plain wrong.
I've seen figures ranging from 30% down to 3.5%, but State Department figures show that around 42% of US citizens have passports - not counting the millions of immigrants, the vast majority of whom have passports by definition.

5. Who's making policy?
Sure, popular opinion has an impact on government figures, but that government is overwhelmingly made up of people with high levels of disposable income - those who can afford to go on fancy trips to Europe and the Caribbean and Asia and even the Middle East.

6. What policy? 
Over the last couple of hundred years, there have been two competing impulses in US foreign policy: interventionist and isolationist. Those who want to Make The World Safe For Democracy by punching dictators in the face with intercontinental ballistic missiles, and those who want to encourage the world to become free by being a "city on the hill", a shining example for others to follow. (You can argue about the purity of motives for intervention, and indeed for isolationism, obvs.)

Auto-anti-Americans using the passport argument are almost always complaining about interventionist policies. Surely a nation of people who can't be bothered to get passports or go overseas, who think that the US has everything and more than the rest of the world can offer, would be more inclined to an isolationist standpoint?

And when Americans do get it together to get a passport and make it to London, are we nice and welcoming, congratulating the intrepid travellers on their international spirit? Are we fuck. We bitch and moan about their pronunciation of Leicester Square ("Lye-chester! Hohoho! It's such an obvious intuitive spelling, only a colonial dolt could get it wrong!"), about the fact that they have the dashed temerity to take pictures of themselves outside Harrods, about their unpardonable rudeness in not having been born with a tube map tattood on their brains and thus occasionally having to ask for directions.

Basically, we're quite smug in the notion that Britain/England/London is the best place on earth, and also get really pissed off when people want to visit.


There's this nasty tendency in the British left to snigger across the pond, taking some cold comfort and a sense of superiority from the failures, both real and perceived, of US culture and politics.

"LOL no passports!" Because poor US citizens should be blamed both for the fact that they can't afford a thousand dollar holiday, and for geography itself.

"LOL their healthcare is terrible!" Because it's not like the Tories are privatising the NHS or anything.

"LOL they're fat!" Because... oh god, I can't even go there.


  1. Well, to be fair, us NZers find it mind blowing that so many USians never leave the country - and it costs us far more, and takes far longer, for us to get anywhere. Never mind that, there are the people who have never travelled their own country!

    But yes, we very quickly fall into the same arseholeish stereotyping, and ignore their enormous underclass. So there's that.

    1. True - I mean, I'm sure there are cultural reasons for not travelling as well, but ignoring the economic reasons (at the same time as going "ooh, isn't it terrible that there's such massive wealth disparities in the US") just seems willfully stupid. (Not calling you stupid, willfully or otherwise, obviously!)

      Would you say that international travel is loads more common among Aussies/NZers than US/UKers - or is my perception skewed because, having never been there, I only ever meet the travelly ones?

  2. Just adding to the top part of your list -- up until relatively recently (I'm 32 and was able to do this for at least a few years post-university), shorter-term, tourist-style travel from the US to Mexico or Canada didn't necessarily require a passport. Rules have changed, and eventually things will even out -- but right now, the number of US residents without passports is not an accurate indicator of the number of US residents who have never traveled out of country.

    1. Thanks, that's v interesting - I think I did come across the rule change in my research for this post but didn't think of the implications.

  3. Well, to be fair, us NZers find it mind blowing that so many USians never leave the country - and it costs us far more, and takes far longer, for us to get anywhere.

    Well, Google tells me that people in NZ get a minimum of four weeks paid vacation a year. Most people in the U.S. get zero paid leave---no paid vacation, no paid holidays, no paid sick leave, no paid parental leave, nothing. So in order to travel, it's not just the cost of the travel, but the (much higher) cost of lost income as well.----La Lubu

    1. Man alive, I had no idea - I knew sick leave and parental leave were extremely rare, but no holidays? Jeez. Thank you for the info.