What It’s Like To Be An American Abroad


“Kathleen, re: More or Less American?…thoughts from the edge. In stark comparison to others covering this beat, I love your candor in describing the realities of this world (don’t forget to compute the cost of home leave…yes, there are snakes in the tropical forests, and so on), but I must respond to your latest essay.

“I was born and raised in Canada to an American father. Thus I am a birthright dual-citizen. I, my lovely wife of 50 years, and our four kids have been expats in Portugal, France, and the UK for 17 years, while employed by a very large U.S. defense contractor. We still travel to Europe two times a year and are actually leaving again tomorrow afternoon. I am absolutely smitten by the European lifestyle and we don’t even drink! We use our Canadian passports as much as possible overseas and always when the terrorism alerts are posted.

“I really enjoy my U.S.-born friends but when they travel they are tempted to express their vaunted ‘American Exceptionalism’ pride in an often-disgusting form of ‘loud arrogance.’ Most could benefit in viewing the iconic ‘Ugly American’ movie. Many are certain that the way to help stupid and/or rude Parisians to understand ‘American’ is to yell.

“Raising the buffoon factor, the sad truth is that for a growing sector of the population, the United States is no longer even a rich nation and U.S. public primary and secondary education is no longer even a world-class contender. Although many foreigners can recite from memory the latest figures from League Tables, sadly most U.S. travelers don’t even realize that someone tracks this stuff.

“I used to travel for Ford Motor Co. to Baltimore in the late 1960s, before its harbor zone gentrification, so I know that you must have had some exposure to the underbelly of U.S. life. Since we are allergic to snow, we now live in the Deep South and our real estate is dirt cheap, occasionally even trumping some of your international deals. Since we missed the housing boom we didn’t have much of a 2009 bust. Mobile homes must make up half of our housing units, and they depreciate like two-week-old Lincolns. Our cities are stuffed with payday loan shops and ‘buy-here-pay-here’ car dealerships.

“Our state is a U.S. leader in the percentage of residents receiving federal disability income and, especially troubling, in the number of children in foster care. I hire a parade of part-time welders and mechanics for US$9 to US$10 an hour and am ridiculed by friends who pay carpenters and electricians even less. Nuclear families are vaporizing before our eyes. So many grandmothers are becoming addicted to meth that the remaining patriarch now is often a great-grandmother. My wife volunteers for the state child protection services and spends much of her time hauling the urchins to their familial visits with mom in rehab and dad in jail. Foster parents are tempted to take on ever larger numbers of children and harvest the US$430-per-month-per-child stipends to meet obscene payments on their new SUVs while shopping for the kids’ clothes in thrift stores.

“Note: The county I’m describing has a very low African-American population so this is not a racial rant.

“Honduras doesn’t look too different from here. Kids may soon be wading the Rio Grande and riding trains south chasing a better dream.

“Thanks for your great country descriptions.”

–Robert S., United States

“Kathleen, this is just a quick note to thank you for your essay entitled
Do I Feel More Or Less American Living Overseas?‘ A great post accentuating everything about the red, white, and blue that personifies who we are as a people.

“I am humbled by your words. And I hope they help Live and Invest Overseas readers to remember that, whether we live in the States or abroad, nothing is promised to us. America is the Land of Opportunity not guarantees.”

–Michael H., United States

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