I stamped your mom's passport

In the past week, two different UK people have mentioned the statistic about what percentage of Americans have passports--one thought it was 5%, another thought it was 10%. I just looked around online and it turns out the figure is closer to 18% or 20%. Which, to me, looks pretty darn good. That's 1 in 5.

My two friends brought up the statistic much in the same way that people trot out that "did you know that you eat x number of spiders during your lifetime" statistic. It isn't necessarily true but it's pervasive. Over here in the UK, it's used partly to support the notion that Americans are a lazy ignernt bunch who can't be bothered to visit other countries because we just think we're better. This is why we don't know anything about the world. And why we shoot people all the time.

Only I don't think that's fair, and I've decided that I'm done hearing that statistic. Here are the reasons why that's not fair:

1. Have you seen how big the US is? It takes enough travelling to see our own country, let alone anyone else's. If a plane leaves an English airport and flies for 3 hours, it's pretty much guaranteed to end up in another country. When I get on a plane in Utah and get off three hours later I'm in Kansas.

2. When my family drove from California to Alaska, we had to go through Canada. None of us had passports, and no one asked to see them. So you don't always need them for Canada.

3. If you include all 50 states, the US can supply pretty much any kind of vacation you're looking for, as long as you're not looking for an international adventure. We have skiing, sunshine, beaches, mountains, long flat stretches of nothing, big cities, etc. That's not to say that our versions are better than what can be found elsewhere, but they're a lot cheaper and a lot more convenient.

4. We don't have as much vacation time as our UK cousins do. A typical job gives you 1 day per month. A great job gives you 2 days per month. That's not a lot of time in which to go see the world.

5. We don't have gap years where we go build bridges in Thailand or feed the yaks in Tibet or whatever people over here get up to before they head off to drink themselves silly at university.

6. As a general rule (please don't email me with exceptions) only well-off families can afford to take all their kids abroad on family vacations. For us middle-classers, that just isn't going to happen. The best you can hope for is to save your pennies and go on an educational tour during high school (coolboy), or perhaps do a study abroad in college (me), or get called to a foreign mission. That's only 2 out of 5 kids in my family who managed to make that work. And then you have the people who are legitimately poor, and passports really aren't high on their priority lists.

7. Travelling abroad is really, really expensive. It's especially expensive for Americans to visit the UK, where the dollar has half the value of the pound. And yet, the UK is pretty much the #1 overseas destination for Americans.

8. It's a lot more feasable for a UK person to wake up on a Friday morning and say, "Screw this, I'm going to Paris for the weekend." They'll even find some great last-minute package deal on the Internet. So of course they'll have a passport at the ready for that sort of thing. We Americans only get passports if we actually think we're going somewhere with them (or if we're just optimistic about that sort of thing.) And we don't plan last-minute trips to Paris unless we happen to have thousands of dollars lying around that we just don't want anymore.

9. For us, I think it's more daunting to just head out there and cross the pond (on either side). It feels like a big commitment, and there's the idea that this may be our One Chance to do this so we'd better make sure it's perfect. I think, though, once you've been once it gets in your blood and you find other opportunities for more travel. It's just a matter of getting out that first time.

10. There is no 10. There is just me saying I'm done hearing about the exaggerated passport statistics thing. Let us have no more of it.

Editor's Postscript:

I've done some more thinking about Point #9. I think this may be where some of the Ugly American behavior comes from, not that I'm condoning Ugly Americans. But if you run across an obnoxious American abroad, it may well be that this is their first trip outside the States. So it's kind of no wonder if we're a bit loud and excited and clueless. I mean really, how cool were you on your first visit to a different country, huh? You have to get the hang of it.

And anyway, some English people shouldn't talk, because loads of them go to places like Ibiza or the Canary Islands and then proceed to spend the whole time eating English breakfasts and watching English television and going clubbing with other English people. That doesn't actually give you any big "Lookit meeee, I'm a world traveller!" points.


The McCulloch Family said... [reply]

I have gone to Canada LOTS and didn't need a passport. I totally agree with you. I AM TWELVE HOURS OF FLYING TIME AWAY FROM MY PARENTS.
Seriously. I'm closer to the freaking UK than my own mom.

So you tell your friends we don't leave the country because we're normal non-richey people and becuase who we haven't explored our own own dang country yet. I mean, I still have only been to one island in Hawaii and haven't even gone to NYC yet.

TannerJ5 said... [reply]

So The really funny story is how my cousin burned two passports, two weeks apart, by her roomate lighting a candle that was conveniently located under them.she and her brother had a heck of a time trying to fly to Ghana.

CoolMom said... [reply]

As much as I love Europe, there are many places in the US where you can experience great diversity. Some of my favorites are Washington DC (American history), San Fransisco (Chinese food), New Orleans (Creole food), the South (people who have excellent manners and good food), California (the best Mexican food), etc. There is a lifetime of things to do and eat. Even Utah is a great place to visit, although I can't say much for the food. As Louis Armstrong says, "What a wonderful world."

blackjazz said... [reply]

Perhaps the reason this is quoted to you is that many people in England unfairly imagine a typical "tourist" to be like the southern cop from one of the Bond films (who appears in a later Bond film as a tourist) - a bit slow witted, gum-chewing, overweight, Japanese camera slung round his neck wearing a loud shirt and a sun hat and not knowing much about life outside the US. It comes as a surprise (to some) that not all americans are like that. And they can't be if they don't have passports. Of course George Bush hasn't helped us to overcome that image... "More and more of our imports are coming from abroad!"

It's therefore shocking to find that so few americans are tourists of any sort outside their own country.

Also, I'm not sure if the comparison is accurate. For example, in Belgium everybody carries ID cards all the time. (It's the law.) Even before the borders were relaxed in Europe (but not in the UK) they could travel to other European countries using their ID cards instead of proper passports. In countries like that I would expect the % of people with proper passports would be as low as in the US.

blackjazz said... [reply]

OK - for the film buffs, I've found the details of the cop I meant. He was in Live and Let Die and in the Man with the Golden Gun. It's Clifton James playing Sheriff J. W. Pepper. (Jay-Dubya)

goldilocks said... [reply]

i agree with all your points...nothing to add

Miss Hass said... [reply]

I love my passport. That is all.

Rachel said... [reply]

EVERYBODY needs to read this post. Especially self-righteous Europeans. It's for all these points that many Americans also don't learn a second language. Who needs to when you have a whole CONTINENT of people who speak your language?! Bravo, Nem. Bravo!

Nemesis said... [reply]

Jen, you really made me cry when you said that you've only been to one island in Hawaii. I'm going to forward that on to those Katrina victims so they can stop whining. Also, thanks for backing me up!!

Hey, I know which cousin that is, Tanner! She and I had a class together our freshman year at BYU. Good times, good times.

Mom, word. I am hungry now and want to go to all of those places.

Blackjazz, you would have to bring up G-Dub. Sigh . . . that was a good one, though!

Thanks Goldilocks. You know how it is.

I love mine too, Hass. I think we should do a study to see how many people only have 1 trip on their passport (possibly excluding missionaries, I haven't decided). Because my theory is that once you've left the country once, you're more likely to do it again.

Aw, Rachel, you're making me blush . . .

Abby said... [reply]

I agree with all your points. I'd love to go to Europe more and explore New Zealand but I don't have enough money or time to do it. I'm already out of vacation days between trips to see family and friends.

I was once in the London tube and heard two blokes in my carriage yaking away about how they hated American tourists. Little did they know they were right next to one.

As someone who works in a tourist destination, I can understand their hatred (it makes it a pain to get to work), but that doesn't mean I won't try to help these people learn their way around.

Saxon said... [reply]

I've been to Scotland, Wales, France, spain, portugal, Austria, Germany, hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Italy, Greek islands, Greece, Canada, America, netherlands, belgium and poland. Does this give me big "Lookit meeee, I'm a world traveller!" points?

Although despite all this I'm only fluent in two languages, English and geek :-)

Maggie said... [reply]

The laws to get into Canada have changed in the past year and now you need your passport. I only know that because I had to get my passport to go on my honeymoon in Victoria, BC. Before then it didn't matter at all. On our honeymoon each car was stopped coming off the ferry and each person had their passport checked. Granted the check was more of a, "do you have a passport?" rather than a, "Does your passport really tell the truth?" You still needed to have it.

Stupidramblings said... [reply]

I have passports stamped on 4 continents. Does that count?

CoolMom said... [reply]

Cooldad and Spitfire just made the Alaska to American trip by car (in record time I might add) and all they wanted to see was a drivers license. They were more concerned about the Kindereggs. Not sure why. Bytheway, "your mom's passport" has stamps in it. Ha.

Stupid, FOUR continents? I'm impressed. I didn't know Independant Study has gone International!!! Or do you also travel in your free time?

Anonymous said... [reply]

England, Germany, Italy, Greece, Greek Isles, Spain, France, Belgium, Holland, Austria, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Labrador, Iceland, Canada, Korea, Japan, VA, NC, SC, FL, AL, GA, LA, CA, AZ, NM, OR, WA, UT, ID, TN, KY, TX, OK, MD, DC, NJ, NY, MN, IL, CO, WV, NY, MA, HI, MS, AR, NV...

I'm an American that's been around and don't care what others think. That's part of what makes me American.

Nemesis said... [reply]

Hi, Dad--sorry, I mean "Anonymous." :-)

April said... [reply]

Well said, Nem. I really think money is the biggest factor for most people in the U.S. Maybe if we didn't have to worry so much about health insurance and paying for our education, we could find spare money to travel the way we'd like.

The McCulloch Family said... [reply]

'I'm an American that's been around'. Dude, you sound like a something other than a world traveller when you put it like that.

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