One of the French Border Patrol agents asked me why he doesn’t see many Americans traveling. He said “are they scared?” Feeling instantly defensive and panicky and that SOMEhow I am now a representative of the United States. (My brain flashes to Bruce Springsteen’s jeans, red bandanna and “Born in the USA” playing in my head) I answer too quickly. “NO, not scared. Well maybe it’s the economy.” He scoffs and says “zee econoMEE is bad all over” as he pounds my passport with his stamp.
I leave his station quickly as we are running to catch a flight. We are not running because we didn’t leave enough time (We were 4 hours early) but because the French make their airport rules up as they go along, change them at will, and take as many breaks as possible.
Once on the plane I processed the incident, got a little mad, and thought of all sorts of things I could have said to defend my fellow Americans. Unfortunately he is right. Americans were few and far between with the majority encountered in England. I am wondering, are we scared? I think about how many people are shocked that we travel to Mexico even with the warnings. (I always tell them that statistically you have more chance being shot in Tucson than in Rocky Point).Then I think about a radio newscast we heard in London where they said “gun violence is double what it was last year” as they went on to describe 4 shootings to date in London. Yep, FOUR. Double last year, so two.
I CAN tell you that I appreciated the optimism and polite manners of the British, the “enjoy life” attitude I felt in France, and the pride and sense of family I felt in Italy. We were soaking in thousands of years of culture and identity.
What is the American identity?
We were told before we left not to stand out as American so not to make yourself a target for those who hate us. We couldn’t have been more obvious with G’s big black hat, dinner plate belt buckle and boots. A lot of people even guessed Arizona.
We had good luck with many helpful citizens of all nationalities and were beginning to think the warnings were just our government/media or both trying to put fear in us again. Only one time I felt uncomfortable at the waiting room of Ciampino airport in Rome.
There were two very long lines for passport checks. Many women had head wraps and long gowns but their faces were exposed. G always plays with the children in line everywhere we go. These children did not smile at him and mommas quickly reprimanded the kids for looking/peeking at G. Simultaneously in front of me, an older woman was holding a place for her family in the our line while the rest of her family spread out between our line and the line next to us. She would wander over to the family and then when our line was shorter, back to our line. I let her back in and smiled. Dead eyes. No smile. She did it several more times and each time I conceded. I noticed a rich rust color on the tips of her fingers and marveled at the intricacy of her scarf as I nodded, smiled warmly, and stepped back to give her and a gigantic suitcase enough room. We all made it through just fine and all flights gathered in a hot secured waiting room that was lacking in seating. G was breaking the code of the children and soon a few were smiling and playing with him per usual. A flight was called and the families lined up to board. One little boy, who had been allowed to shake G’s hand, waved goodbye and his father smiled. I saw my old woman from the line again, we locked eyes and I smiled. She ALMOST smiled back as the corners of her mouth started to turn up, caught herself and looked away. Who knows from where the hate I saw came from. It could be well deserved for all I know. I do know I am a proud American now more than ever. Proud that G wore his hat, boots and Harley shirts. G who isn’t ever afraid of anything and knew this BEFORE we left. Smart man that G.