Since arriving here last Fall, Londoners have referenced the low percentage of Americans with a passport in casual conversations with me numerous times. Since so many people use this line and are aware of the statistic, I sometimes wonder if they memorize it in schools or recite it on the news at 6PM daily bizarre
The numbers vary with each delivery, and it’s always used as a segue to argue an offensive political point–and almost always a good clue that this person is not good friend material. The first couple times, you get trapped in the inevitable political conversations because you think you’re headed for a casual conversation about travel, but then you find yourself in the throes of a political discussion. Not fun.
SO after going through it yet again last week, I decided to get to the bottom of the numbers and offer a bit of advice to you all since I’m seasoned, by now, in dealing with this trap. Hopefully you’ll never need it.
The closest I’ve gotten to a valid number of Americans who travel internationally is a guy’s site that uses Gov’t numbers regarding the number issued per year and the 10 year expiry date to guesstimate ~60m of the ~280m residents hold a valid Passport. By his estimation (assuming that some Passports expire earlier than 10 years after issue), this means ~20% of American citizens hold a valid Passport. Hmmm…from his analysis and passion for the calculation, I wonder if he’s an expatriate faced with the same situation as I?
Regardless, the passport line is generally used as a segue to political debates and I’m not one who appreciates this type of social discussion. Not pretty. Especially now. So, if you travel abroad and find yourself in a conversation with someone who insists on going there, here are a couple pointers to move through it without becoming too inflamed or battered.
Make the point that, if abroad at the time, you are an active traveler and value cultural differences. Speak about your most recent trips and travels. Make a mad dash to drive the conversation toward the topic of travel, in general.
Sometimes folks, for whatever reason, really just want to “take the piss out of an American” and debate. Not good when you’re looking for a light social conversation. You’ll know this is the case because they’ll drive the topic back to a political slant and refuse your attempts to steer elsewhere. A la “Americans do not understand or even appreciate what other cultures outside the US have to offer”. You may not know it yet, but they’re headed to a political debate on the War in Iraq. If you’re completely willing and able to go there, do. If not, I’ve established an angle that seems to work well:
Start with “Have you ever had a class or a meeting and been the only one to show up? [They won't follow]. Let’s say class. You show up for your class and 20 others decide to sleep in. The professor’s upset and decides to lecture those who show up on why it’s important to be in class. [The lightbulb will click.] Sometimes I feel that way in Europe. I wish that more Americans had an interest in international travel, I really do. But, even more so, I wish that Europeans were more accepting and polite to those of us who do venture over so that we’ll have a pleasant experience and inspire an interest in others. I respect you and your culture, but let’s not debate.” Then, segue to another topic you prefer.
If all else fails, you can also reference that the size of America and the size of Europe are roughly the same and that American states are roughly the size of European countries…sometimes this will offer them a taste of perspective and get them off the hunt for a political debate.