I love to consume large amounts of information and ideas. Occasionally, I stumble on sites that really get me thinking about certain topics. Whether my reaction to some of the ideas are positive or negative is not relevant, because what makes me curious, or gives me a desire to debate, is inherently good for my intellectual appetite.
Among the many sites like this which I frequently visit is HappierAbroad.com. This is a site run by Winston Wu, who I believe is one of the more controversial figures on the net. He has a large amount of critics, and this is readily apparent if you look up his name. I first heard about him from from a post on an internet message board several years ago, where there was a thread with about 100 responses of people making fun of him. This piqued my curiosity, because when I see a bandwagon of people tormenting some poor schmuck on the internet (or anywhere), my first instinct is to take a step back, avoid the “mob mentality”, and find out what’s really going on. As it turns out, Winston actually has a very large fan-base, and many people who are intrigued by his writing and insights which are very politically incorrect. Interestingly, I was introduced to his writing through his critics.
I decided to visit his site, HappierAbroad.com, even though it was touted as something very negative, stupid, pathetic, etc. What I discovered was actually a very interesting point. Winston, an Asian American from California, became fed up with prejudices, racism, and a horrid social life in the U.S. So, he went abroad hoping to find love and companionship within other, more accepting cultures. And he came to the same realization I once made: the social culture in the U.S., Canada, etc. is extremely lacking. There’s an abundance of material-obsession, and people are generally disconnected from each other. I’ve come to find forming relationships with Americans versus South Americans, Europeans, or even sometimes Australians and the British, is about twice the effort. This left me totally perplexed. And it left Wu perplexed, also. He believed it was an epiphany: that Americans who feel isolated and lonely should try to visit other countries, where people are friendlier, and in a way more spiritually evolved.
This drew a lot of fire. It’s amazing how many enemies Wu has. I see a lot of smearing going on against this guy. But I think his personal life, and other things he is generally attacked about, are completely irrelevant to his main point. I have yet to see somebody successfully rebut his thesis that the U.S. social culture is extremely inadequate, and I really do admire the fact that somebody finally stepped forward and revealed the emperor’s new clothes. Nobody really wants to talk about the fact there is a six foot wall of ice which separates people from each other in this country, and that making friends and surviving a clique-based culture can be enormously stressful.
But I think you need to visit other cultures to really understand and contrast this feeling. There’s a lot of theories and about why it seems Americans have these attitude problems. My personal theory is that we are a much younger culture. Many European countries were established hundreds and thousands of years ago. They have gone through countless wars and turmoil. And, this has really forged their spiritual development. Behaviors with value and ethics are continually passed down to new generations. Although many other Western developed countries still have incredible amounts of corruption and problems, I don’t feel like the corruption has tainted the core of these cultures– because in general, I’ve found the individual citizens of most other countries to have a startling difference of depth and character versus what I see in this country. Having traveled a lot, and as a guy who frequently stays at hostels, I’ve met many people from places like France, the Ukraine, Great Britain, Italy, Romania, Australia, Belgium, The Netherlands, Switzerland, etc. The difference is unmistakable when you really take time to get to know foreigners, and contrast their personalities and attitudes with North Americans.
So is it that Americans are too spoiled? Too young? Too materially obsessed? I don’t know what it is. But, I believe we can change and become more adapting to others, more open-minded, more friendly, and more willing to express ourselves and meet new people. I don’t think myself and Winston Wu are the only ones who think American culture feels like a giant high-school; with clique based popularity systems reaching from school and into the workplace, the neighborhood (with soccer-moms vying for the best yard, the best mundane looking house), the social life, and even into the retirement home.
If you don’t feel convinced by this idea, then I’ll share with you what was the nail in the coffin for me. The proof that these criticisms about the U.S. are correct: a couple of years ago I was in France. I was in a small to moderate sized town in Provence, I just arrived and I do not speak French. I had a map in my hand, and I was desperately lost trying to find my hotel. Everything was completely alien to me. It was rather stressful.
Suddenly, a car pulled up to the curb. Inside was a beautiful woman with brunette hair. And I mean this girl was a stunner. She waved to me from the car. She spoke English and asked me if I was lost. She then offered to drive me to my hotel.
I went into her vehicle, and my American sensibilities acted up: nobody is really friendly unless they want something out of you. And, if it’s an attractive woman, that’s definitely a warning-sign because most very attractive women have exclusive personalities and will rarely talk to you, let alone open a conversation with you and offer to drive you somewhere. I just made the worst mistake of my life, as a naive American in a foreign country. My feeling was that I just landed into a tourist-death-trap. She was taking me to my death. My kidneys were going to be stolen. I would be sold into slavery. Or, at the very least, murdered in some warehouse.
As I talked to her and made idle chit-chat, my mind raced. I had to escape somehow. I studied the map as closely as I could, and tried to determine what street we were on. I had to figure out whether we were really on the correct route to the hotel or not. If, by any chance we were not, then I would need to escape at the next red light, and try to get out of the car.
Suddenly, she pulled up to the hotel. The real hotel.
My kidneys were not stolen,
I was not murdered,
I was not robbed at gunpoint or sold into slavery,
In fact, she gave me her phone number.
The consensus back in the states was the same among my friends, including my parents: I was crazy to accept a ride like that in a foreign country from a stranger.
But I was forced to ask myself, was I really crazy, or is it that everyone else is crazy?