Recently, I had to take a trip to the American Embassy in Bangkok to get new pages added to my passport and, while there, I fell into a surprising conversation with a group of Americans who no longer live in the US. Their negative opinions about the country they used to call ‘home’ surprised me somewhat, especially as it took place in the waiting room of the US Embassy.
I arrived at the US Embassy at 1pm, dutifully filled in the form requesting extra pages, handed that in with my passport and money (yes, they now do charge you for extra pages — a service that used to be free) and settled down to wait. A few minutes went by then a man sat down beside me. I tend to be on the overly friendly side and also easily bored (the big screen TV in the waiting room just wasn’t doing it for me) so I started to talk to him.
Turns out he’s lived in Thailand for 16 years, has a Thai wife and daughter and, although American, hates the US and “would never live there again if you paid me.”
Now you might think from this that’s just one disgruntled American, so what happened next surprised me. Before I could properly answer him, another man sitting behind us said “Yeah buddy, me too. Last time I went back to America was three years ago and that was for a funeral. If the guy hadn’t died, I wouldn’t have gone back then either.”
Within a couple of minutes another man and a woman had joined in and, right there in the US Embassy waiting room, we had an entire group discussion about what’s wrong with America, how it’s a country in decline, and although everybody agreed they were proud to be American, none of them ever planned on living there again.
Their main complaints were the illegal invasion of Middle Eastern countries like Iraq and Afghanistan and how that’s costing America hundreds of millions of dollars a day, which the US government is borrowing from other countries. All of this will have to be paid back by present day US citizens, their children and grandchildren. On top of this, the US has the most expensive healthcare system in the world, an education system in crisis, a high crime rate and now, a rocky economy and falling housing prices.
Now I’m a naturalized American citizen as I’m originally British. I have two citizenships and I’m happy enough with both of them but, if ever forced to choose, I certainly wouldn’t choose the American one.
And it’s not that I don’t like America it’s simply that a lot of the rest of the world doesn’t. This I put down to George Bush and his policies overseas, many of which have continued with Obama. What used to be a country almost universally loved under President Clinton, is now a country almost universally hated. With this comes the sad fact that, even though somebody might not hate you, they do hate your country and you are lumped in with that.
Traveling on an American passport is not as safe as it used to be either because of the ‘war’ (if that’s what you can call it!) in Iraq. And yes, sure, Britain was also involved in that war but most people outside America still seem to put most of the blame on the US and very little on Britain. That means traveling on my British passport is often a whole lot safer.
The safety issue was also brought up in the wayward conversation taking place in the Embassy’s waiting room, as many of them disliked being treated less politely as they once would have been when they had to show their US passports.
A few years ago, presenting an American passport was usually an invitation for big smiles and a hearty “Welcome to (whatever country you happened to be going into).” Now it’s more than likely going to get you a grunt, a rifling through your passport checking visas, and then a quick thrust back to you with barely any eye contact.
What started out as a quick trip to the US Embassy ended up being an eye-opener in how a growing number of Americans living outside their country now view America. Like I said, it was never that they weren’t proud to be American, but instead was a validation for me of how I see the country from outside it. A country that is declining rapidly while the rest of the world is catching up and, in some instances, overtaking it.
A country that will continue to decline as its citizens have to use tax money needed for education, healthcare, crime prevention, infrastructure and the environment to pay for repayment of an Iraqi debt now in the trillions of dollars.
A country that will see itself low down on the list of developed countries within the next 50 years, while its citizens wonder what went wrong and where it all started. Very sad really, but not altogether surprising.