‘Tis the season for travel – but be careful

Just because something is legal here, does not mean it is legal there

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

Summer is the time most of us travel and experience new things.

A summer vacation is a major investment of time and money and can be stressful in all kinds of ways from relationships to physical health.

One aspect of travel that you may not have considered is the legal dynamic.

We have all heard horror stories of inattentive or careless tourists being caught in the legal machinery of countries from Turkey to North Korea.

Almost anything, from traffic violations to inappropriate clothing can get you into a legal mess that might take months – and piles of money – to reconcile.

Some are unintentional or accidental, but all are preventable. It just takes a little preparation and maybe a bit of homework.

Many streets in Europe and Asia were built long before cars became common. This can be a shock to most car-centric Americans. Photo: Morf Morford

Many streets in Europe and Asia were built long before cars became common. This can be a shock to most car-centric Americans. Photo: Morf Morford

Our legal landscape has changed, so a few more precautions are necessary that you may not have considered.

For example, marijuana is legal in the state of Washington – and in all of Canada

But you better not have it when you cross the international border.

Or on a military base, or in a national park. Marijuana is as illegal as it ever was on federal facilities.

Back when we in Washington voted on legalizing marijuana, many of my students had visions of a smoke-filled free-for-all.

They didn’t realize that when the government controls something, they set the guidelines – and they may not be very forgiving.

The Washington state laws are few and simple;  (1*)

Keep it here

Even if marijuana is legal in a neighboring state – or Canada – DO NOT have it with you as you go there.

When it comes to marijuana, use common sense and treat it like alcohol – don’t use it in public and use it responsibly.

You can see the fine print on Canada’s marijuana laws here – https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-medication/cannabis/laws-regulations.html.

And then there are guns….

Most of us, as Americans, take gun ownership as a “God-given right”.

God’s will, however, at least in this case, ends at our border.

A gun, or even a bullet in some cases, can lead to serious jail time and lifelong legal consequences.

To put it simply, The Second Amendment does not apply in foreign countries.

You do not want to have the experience of the American gun owner who thought she should (or at least had the right to) bring a gun with her on a cruise (more on appropriate behavior on cruises on page 3) to the Cayman Islands and now faces a ten year prison sentence for breaking their gun laws. -https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2019/4/7/1847452/-The-Second-Amendment-does-not-apply-to-other-countries?

The stereotype of the “ugly American” of the 1950s or ’60s has given way to the “stupid American” of the 21st Century.

We Americans are notorious around the world for being oblivious to local – and sometimes standard human – expectations of behavior.

In virtually all of Asia and most of the Middle East, taking one’s shoes off as you enter a home – or in many cases – a public place like a restaurant, museum or house of worship – is a standard act of courtesy – one many Americans resent.

We demand, yell and complain when someone five thousand miles from our home does not understand – or anticipate – what we might need or want – or even because they do not speak our language.

For whatever reason, Americans are not good at being “guests’. And sometimes that can lead to awkward – if not hilarious – situations.

If you travel abroad, Americans are easy to pick out in a crowd or on a street. Besides the fanny packs, sunglasses, dark socks with sandals, and Hawaiian shirts—Americans are almost always loud.

And for some reason American men – especially older ones – tend to wear shorts – mostly ugly shorts.

And please avoid the “American uniform”; tennis/running shoes, jeans or shorts and T-shirts.

Fitting in with the locals seems to be a challenge for most of us.

One of my favorite things to do in a foreign place is hit a second hand store and get some (literally) locally worn clothes.

The size, scale and age of buildings across Europe and Asia can be boggling to many Americans. Note the size of people in the courtyard.  Photo: Morf Morford

The size, scale and age of buildings across Europe and Asia can be boggling to many Americans. Note the size of people in the courtyard. Photo: Morf Morford

I don’t know why, but many Americans like to wave around cash in public in foreign countries. Do you do that at home?

Besides being rude and arrogant, it is an invitation – if not a wild welcome – to pickpockets and scammers.

Learn a few local phrases like hello and thank you. Most shop keepers are likely to know English, but they’ll appreciate even a little bit of effort on your part

And if you go on a cruise, remember that your cruise might have an international port-of-call that is likely to have more strict laws regarding guns or drugs. But for most, if not all, cruise lines the laws regarding weapons of any kind (even dive knives) must be checked or are prohibited entirely.

In other words, when it comes to bringing weapons on a cruise ship, just don’t.

As the Celebrity Cruises website put it “Guests found in violation of such laws are subject to arrest and prosecution by the foreign jurisdiction (and perhaps United States or other authorities as well) and may be prevented from re-boarding the ship.”  -https://www.celebritycruises.com/company/customer-support/help-and-faqs/pre-cruise/before-you-board

Two important principles; first, everywhere you go as an American, you represent the rest of us and our country – please don’t be rude and presumptuous, and second, your whole reason for traveling is to have a good time, isn’t it? Take your eye off “what’s wrong with” other countries, relax and enjoy your experience.

 

(1*)    Full details on Washington’s marijuana laws can be found here – https://lcb.wa.gov/mj-education/know-the-law