Americans abroad

When we travel, we are guests

By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index

My wife and I recently went to Canada and had an experience we’ve had before; running into people we did not know, who felt compelled to create noise and havoc, and, as might be expected, veered into public hazard.

If you’ve ever been an adult watching a child do some precarious act, then you know what is inevitable and has to happen; injury, damage or catastrophe. The progression of results is obvious to any of us, but the child seems oblivious.

My grand daughter had a favorite ceramic Beatrix Potter teapot. She was quietly playing in her room and then, for whatever line of reasoning that fills a three-year old brain, she decided that it would be fun to see how hard she could bang it against the hardwood floor. She did it several times and then I heard a heart-wrenching scream – her favorite teapot was in a few hundred shards.

Asking why she would do such a thing would, of course, be a pointless exercise with a three-year old.

Asking why an adult would do such a foolish, self-destructive thing fills our headlines and newsfeeds.

We almost expect toddlers to be the biggest threat to themselves and what (and who) they care about – but we do, in general, expect adults to have at least a baseline of public behavior.

But even that, apparently, is too much to ask.

Both of my recent experiences in this category were right alongside the Canadian border.

Several months ago my wife and I were waiting at one of the smaller, almost rural border crossings in western Washington on our way home from a Canadian vacation

Crossing the border, is, by necessity, an orderly, secured process. US Border Patrol staff are armed and there are cameras, sensors and barricades everywhere. The process is very simple; you get in line, have your documents ready and answer a few questions.

It’s a basic, routine process. For most of us at least.

On this particular day, one older white man with Washington license plates two cars in front of us apparently didn’t get the memo. He honked his horn, gunned his engine, opened his windows and yelled with his hands waving frenetically. This is not what one is expected to do in line, with cars on both sides, in the presence of armed security personnel.

He put us all in danger and, as you might expect, got pulled out and received “extra” special attention.

More recently, we were camping at a family-oriented county campground.

There were many children and several babies, most in tents, with a few trailers and recreational vehicles.

Most were Canadian, but the largest group, with the largest RV, had Washington state license plates.

This was in a time of extreme fire hazard and with a publicly stated policy of a “quiet time” after 9 pm.

Again, this group apparently missed the message.

They had a wild party in the public area and, long after dark, were loud and disruptive. They had several children running loose around the campground and had several cars racing around the (very) small campground.

The kids apparently had some kind of screeching or screaming contest.

This went on for several hours and then they quieted down for a bit, for a few minutes, as they set up their own personal fireworks display – a little after midnight.

With dry grass and fire-vulnerable trees everywhere, you had to wonder where any adults were.

And you had to marvel that no one was (apparently) injured and the whole place was not set on fire.

America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between. – Oscar Wilde

In both cases, the nitwits at large were Americans apparently determined to live up to the stereotype of the crude and rude American who holds no allegiance to basic rules of decency and assumes that laws and standards of basic public behavior don’t apply to them – even as, or maybe even especially as, guest and visitors to another country.

You probably know a few people like this. You might have even voted for a few. These are people who are convinced, with absolute certainty, that they are smarter than anyone else – now or ever. On every topic.

Consider this; 50 years ago car manuals told us how to adjust the valves on a combustion engine, while recent ones tell us not to drink the battery acid. Now some among us complain that we have the right to do anything we want with our vehicle and its various fluids, and the government has no right to tell us what to do.

Perhaps they see themselves as pioneers of freedom and self-expression. And in a way they are. But most of us see them as grown-up toddlers, thrashing around and causing trouble for all the rest of us.

It seems obvious to me, that, like watching a toddler on the verge of catastrophe, they are “leading” us where none of us, perhaps even they, would ever want to go.

From barbarism to civilization requires a century; from civilization to barbarism needs but a day. – Will Durant