| September 29, 2005
The Milestone in London, my current favorite hotel in that
city, attracts McKinsey consultants and executives, tourists
who have crossed on the Queen Mary II and are pausing before
their return to the U.S., quiet types. Observing them, I found
myself thinking about us, Americans abroad, those creatures
Mark Twain called Innocents Abroad.
We are not so innocent, I thought yesterday in Poland where
I had the uncomfortable sense that a youngish, round-ish American,
by accent from south of the Mason-Dixon line, was instructing
his Polish colleague on a methodology to circumvent both government
and corporate guidelines.
This week the Marriot in Poland attracted a large group of
technology salesmen who have inhabited the lobby teaching
their global colleagues on the arts of beer drinking and the
high five. They are typical Americans, I guess,
brash, rather loud and very alive. Watching them, I found
myself smiling. They are a group into which I have never fit
though have always recognized. Occasionally I have wished
I knew how to belong; their superficial comradeship seems
In Buenos Aires, the Americans tended to quiet, interested;
the loud ones were Latin. The Americans I met there seemed
to be head down, focused and very serious. Just an observation,
now that I am looking back on these months of travel.
In Mexico City, the Americans were boisterous as they huddled
carefully into the larger hotels, making sure they kept the
chaos in the streets at a distance, guarded by the security
details wandering around attempting to be inconspicuous, subsidized
by the heavy room rates they were paying.
In Greece, the Americans we noticed seemed intent on having
fun, loud but not obnoxious. Our fellow countrymen were leaving
that role to the Brits, who seemed intent on drinking as much
as they could, generally succeeding.
In the Far East, it seemed we were particularly quiet. That
part of the world belongs more to the Brits than us, though
its been a long time since they wielded the military
power there but their presence is still felt everywhere; the
Brits have left their mark, almost indelible now on places
like Singapore and India. They ruled and their rules still
reign. They seem to stride the streets with the right of ownership,
a sense that all these places are still part of the Empire,
even though the Empire no longer exists; the sun setting on
it nowadays right after Lands End in Cornwall.
Americans dont seem to feel like they own the land,
though we do act like we own the businesses, which is what
Often traveling I feel I am not a tourist, not a resident,
more a traveler, interested in understanding the place. One
of the things Ive realized is that its necessary
to observe carefully if you are going to understand it, as
opposed to it being a stage upon which to act your role
rather what I felt when I was observing the Americans in the
lobby of the Marriot in Warsaw.
The expatriates I know are mostly working people, like the
man from Dubai who was agonizing over whether to move his
family home even though he didnt feel America
was quite home any more. He wanted his children
to have a childhood like his though he was not convinced that
was really accessible for them, today. He was pretty sure
he would stay in Dubai. It was safer, in the end.
There is an adventurous woman in Singapore who is using her
expatriate time to discover all the places she can get to
easily from the city-state, an opportunity to reach out to
touch the world in a way she couldnt if she were living
in the states.
Were an interesting group, we Americans. Observationally,
I think were better travelers than the generations before
us; many of us who are out there on the foreign roads have
been there before and many of us have learned much from the
countries through which weve passed and from the people
we have encountered. Were more ready to revel in the
differences between places, especially as those differences
grow ever smaller.