Sign The Guestbook
View The Guestbook
Archived Guestbook
Submit An Article
Staff List
Privacy Policy


Weekly Features
Letter from New York
Mathew Tombers is Managing Director of Intermat, Inc., ( a television company which executive produces programs and consults with industry companies on a variety of issues. Intermat, Inc. is currently involved in approximately thirty hours of television in various stages for a variety of networks. He is one of the Executive Producers of OFF TO WAR, a ten hour series for Discovery Times and for a one hour on international adoptions for Discovery Health. He has consulted a variety of companies, including Ted Turner Documentaries, WETA, Betelgeuse Productions, and Creation Films, Lou Reda Productions as well as many others.
September 29, 2005

Americans Abroad…

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 comforting.

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 it’s 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 don’t seem to feel like they own the land, though we do act like we own the businesses, which is what we do.

Often traveling I feel I am not a tourist, not a resident, more a traveler, interested in understanding the place. One of the things I’ve realized is that it’s 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 didn’t 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 couldn’t if she were living in the states.

We’re an interesting group, we Americans. Observationally, I think we’re 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 we’ve passed and from the people we have encountered. We’re more ready to revel in the differences between places, especially as those differences grow ever smaller.