A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

retraining Americans: less of the ugly, more of the quiet

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 7, 2006

In honor of Election Day, when conscientious voters try to sift through the muck of campaign rhetoric in hopes of finding decent representatives who will make our nation’s ideals live for all, rather than for the small subset of the world’s population blessed with American citizenship, I thought it timely to point to an initiative designed to make those of us who travel abroad less grating upon those who live there.

Business for Diplomatic Action, a non-profit which describes its mission as “enlist[ing] the U.S. business community in actions to improve the standing of America in the world with the goal of once again seeing America admired as a global leader and respected as a courier of progress and prosperity for all people,” an admirable goal if perhaps based on a too-rosy view of America’s historical image, has developed a “World Citizens’ Guide” to keep Americans abroad on the straight, narrow, and non-offensive path. (The organization’s website is www.businessfordiplomaticaction.org, not www.bda.org, the British Dental Association.)

Some of the guide’s advice is really quite good, such as:

“Live, eat, and play local. Once you get to know other Americans, don’t start ignoring locals you knew before. Most people [abroad] believe that Americans have the most fun when they are in their own company. Prove them wrong. The world is full of interesting and exciting things, people, and places you might never have heard of. Take some of it in.”

and

“Dress for respect. Americans are fundamentally a casual people. Jeans, t-shirts and sneakers work for many of us much of the time, but there are people in other countries that believe such casualness is a sign of disrespect to them and their beliefs. Check out what is expected and bring scarves, headwear, or whatever might be required.”

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Several years ago I was nominated by my university’s Middle East center to speak to the university’s study abroad students about what to expect while abroad. The two points I emphasized – and for all students, not just those bound for ‘my’ region – were precisely those covered above: get out of the expat enclave, and leave the holey jeans at home.

I disagree with its super-sensitive-to-Muslim-sensibilities focus on headwear, though. Formality and modesty in the broader sense are what Americans miss, not checklist gestures like headscarves.

The guide does make a few mis-steps, as with:

“Keep religion private. Globally speaking, religion is not something you wear on your sleeve. Often it is considered deeply personal – not public. Some may have no knowledge of the Bible, nor is it appropriate to tell them about it unless you are a professional missionary identified as such.”

On the contrary – religion around the world can be a very public aspect of someone’s character, identity, and orientation. Perhaps the greater issue is teaching Americans to recognize the way signs of devotion and religiosity are manifest in particular cultures – as well as teaching us that non-Christian religions are just as American as those that feature the Bible.

And finally, the guide’s ‘did you know’ boxes include a big and very amusing goof for those of us mutalabnaniyyeen:

“In Lebanon, people do not ask about someone’s religion because that would mean they are categorizing someone.”

right. or because they can find out the same information by asking their name and where they live.

On the whole, though, its a good resource and a needed effort: http://www.worldcitizensguide.org/files/WorldCitizensGuide.pdf

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2 Responses to “retraining Americans: less of the ugly, more of the quiet”

  1. Intlxpatr said

    I love this entry, LD! We have a scale – 5% will go out and explore, 85% will go out if you make it easy enough (hire a bus, arrange a meal, arrange a tour, etc) and 10% won’t leave the compound/American Club/base no matter how easy you make it. I’m so proud of you for being in the TOP 5%!

  2. very nice blog!mary

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