Deep thoughts while on the road...
01.31.2009 - 01.31.2009 0 °F
Forty-three days and 8000 K on the road will lend to some deep thoughts. I don't mean to offend anyone, rather open your eyes to some of my observations and thoughts. Clearly I won't be running for political office after this ramble : - )
While most of you were glued to your TVs when Barack Obama took office, Dave and I were asleep in the back seat of our car at a New Zealand Department of Conservation fishing campsite. At 5:30 a.m. our time (the day after from you), radio reception was poor at best and satellite television was not an option, but as the day went on we heard endless chatter from Kiwis and other foreigners about their expectations of Obama.
Everyone from a gas station attendant to a couple of ten year olds we met tasting wine at a winery (we found it odd too!) were intrigued by America's new president. No pressure Obama, but the world is watching you very closely as global economies crumble in the wake of the US recession. The world (or at least the people we've met) want the US to tend to its economic and domestic woes as it should help them. They want our help in terms of aid, but desperately want us to pull out of Iraq and other senseless wars. I am amazed by everyone's knowledge of the US, its president and its history. For Dave and I still don't know much about New Zealand's leader and we've been here for six weeks. Do you? Think about it. Why does the world know more about the US than most of us, and why are we so remiss to educate ourselves about news in other countries, and not just in a time of crisis?
Also, just a personal plea to Obama....please re-train our border patrols and make it easier for foreigners to visit our wonderful country. (Of course, some officials may be fantastic already, but we've gotten some nasty feedback.) Since 9/11 the US has inflicted higher entry visa fees for most foreigners. As a result, US citizens now face reciprocity and get charged the same fees for entering other countries.
We have heard over and over again that the US is an unpleasant place to visit. Not only is it a challenge for many people to now get a visa, but if they do, upon arrival they have awful experiences with customs and the border patrols. These travelers are often treated like criminals from the onset. I understand our border patrols must be firm and attentive to detail to ensure criminals don't enter our country, but there needs to be a balance.
Entering New Zealand was one of the most pleasant experiences I've had. The customs official was so kind, yet inquisitive, likely getting the same information the US officials are trained to attain, but his manner was gentle. Customs officials are often the first people foreigners meet and they can set the tone for an entire visit.
After Israelis serve in the military (3 years for young men and 2 years for young women) they often take time to travel and they do so in large groups. We met many in South America and some in New Zealand. The Israelis would talk to us when approached, but otherwise kept to themselves. As an American Jew I was so curious to learn about their life and I would hope they would be curious about my life, but this was not the case. Most are very reluctant to open up, although we met one nice couple who was willing to talk politics and about the challenges their country faces.
Our new German friends asked us what we thought of the Israeli travelers. I was torn to answer the question, as I didn't want to bash the Israelis, but I must admit it was something Dave and I had talked about at great length. I was raised to believe in Israel, its mission and its people, and I want the world to understand them and appreciate the country, but after seeing their behavior in South America and New Zealand, I know why so many people misunderstand them.
In South America store owners and hostel owners would often complain about the Israelis being loud and argumentative and always trying to barter for a lower price. It made me sad that this was the impression they are leaving, rather than that of nice 20-somethings who are just short on cash because they have recently finished military service.
In the hostels, at bus stations, and at sites and hikes travelers talk, but Israelis often don't participate in the conversation. Perhaps it is a language barrier, although most speak English. Dave's philosophy is that due to centuries of fighting and terror, the Israelis have a sense that antisemitism is so widespread they are in constant fear of being targeted. I agree, but wish they would open themselves up more to project Israelis in a positive light and to help educate the world that they are people just like you and me, and good, educated people at that.
AMERICAN WORK ETHIC AND VACATION POLICIES:
My favorite topic! Two weeks is the standard amount of vacation Americans get off every year. After traveling just three months I have a new appreciation for just how hard Americans work. It is part of our upbringing to achieve and excel in the workplace and to ultimately make the world a better place, but are we doing that with just two weeks off a year? Are people as productive as they can be by giving their employer their maximum potential? Aren't people just burnt out?
Our friends in Europe think we have it all wrong. As a standard they get one to two months off a year and they can often apply for a year sabbatical every five to six years with no fear of losing their job. Best yet, they are encouraged to take the time off to either travel, fulfill a family obligation or to educate themselves further either in school or by doing a different type of job. The French, German and British we have talked to about this plan say it makes them better workers, and happier people! Sounds like a win-win situation. How novel!!!
Just a quick note about my health for those of you who have inquired. If you know me best, let's just say my trip should be sponsored by Imodium. Unfortunately, my sour stomach has traveled with me. Since I spent most of 2007 and 2008 in the gastrointerology office for a multitude of tests that showed basically nothing, I may try to find an Eastern medicine professional when we are in Asia. My western medications just aren't working. Perhaps a simple leaf or herb is the cure to all of my tummy problems!