Sunday, October 15, 2006

Musing: Not As Seen On TV

NotasseenontvI met this nice couple on the train to New Orleans. He is from England, she is from Bulgaria and they are living in Bahrain. Go figure. Anyway, we happily passed our time together over dinner by chatting about everything from the food to geo-politics. When they told me this was their first trip to the US, I asked them about their impressions. The first thing they mentioned, of course, was how big the country is. This is something I have often heard from foreigners, so I was not very surprised. What did surprise me was the second thing they said: “The people are so normal!” I inquired further, and got the following explanation: “We expected violence in the streets, homeless people in every doorway, protests everywhere and constant threats to our safety... Just like we see on TV!” And there you have it, America as seen by foreigners on CNN.

My new friends went on to say, “There has been none of that. People are friendly, we haven’t seen any trouble and we are surprised at how few police there are.” The reality just doesn’t live up to its media image, does it? This got me thinking about my own traveling and my expectations going forward. I’ve heard a lot about how “unsafe” foreign countries are and I have often been admonished to be very careful on The Voyage: “They just love kidnapping Americans, you know.” After all, isn’t that the bulk of what Americans see on TV about other countries? Well, I’m not going to be stupid and foolish -- or at least not any more than usual -- but I’m also not going to travel in continual fear of what I’ve seen on TV. Sure there is danger in the world. Sure there are bad people in other countries. Sure you have to take some care while traveling. But you also have to remember that some things are “not as seen on TV.”

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