Two years in the Peace Corps gave me a greater understanding of how foreign nationals see our country.
For instance, I once had a Dominican friend tell me that if you broke your leg in "Nueva York" (aka Estados Unidos) that "they" would give you a million dollars. When I tried to explain to him that he had it backwards, that "they" would make you pay a million dollars, he didn't understand. The United States was a place where they had too much money.
My Dominican friend was not unique. All the Peace Corps Volunteers in the D.R. had similar stories.
While the Dominicans have this idea that America is a land of boundless riches, other nations have a very, very different impression of America.
A company that promised sightseer tours to the Bronx that included a New York City "ghetto" has stopped the bus rides under protest from an outraged neighborhood.Too many Dominicans are functionally illiterate and without access to electricity, so they can be excused for getting their information second-hand from other people who are misinformed.
Three times a week, the $45 ride took visitors past food-pantry lines, a housing project and a park a guide described as a pickpocket hangout.
Tourists were told they'd get a look at the Bronx that reflects one of the darkest chapters of the city's history, the 1970s and `80s, when the tour website said "this borough was notorious for drugs, gangs, crime and murders."
The Bronx lost hundreds of buildings to fires intentionally set by landlords to collect insurance money, hence the phrase, "the Bronx is burning."
Tourists from other developed nations, on the other hand, can get their impressions of America more directly. So it shouldn't suprise you that they come to America with very different expectations.
The ghetto tours of the Bronx above are not exceptions.
Passengers paying $65 a head Saturday signed waivers acknowledging they could be crime victims and put their fate in the hands of tattooed ex-gang members who say they have negotiated a cease-fire among rivals in the most violent gangland in America.Recent Hollywood movies are filled with depictions of the world of violent gangs, so it shouldn't be a surprise that 1st world tourists have come to expect that in their visits here. In fact, seeing that world might be the primary reason for coming here.
If that sounds daunting, consider the challenge facing organizers of LA Gang Tours: trying to build a thriving venture that provides a glimpse into gang life while also trying to convince people that gang-plagued communities are not as hopeless as movies depict.
Now think about that for a moment. Many sentimental Americans might think of their nation as a place of waving fields of grain, apple pie and the flag. Other Americans might think of Disneyland, southern California beaches, and football.
But an increasing percentage of foreigners, when they think of America, think of ghettos plagued with gang shootings.
If that wasn't bad enough, it gets worse. Much worse.
But in Detroit, the tours go on, in an unofficial capacity. One afternoon at the ruins of the 3.5-million-square-foot Packard Plant, I ran into a family from Paris. The daughter said she read about the building in Lonely Planet; her father had a camcorder hanging around his neck. Another time, while conducting my own tour for a guest, a group of German college students drove up. When queried as to the appeal of Detroit, one of them gleefully exclaimed, “I came to see the end of the world!”"Ruin Porn" has become a small but significant business in Detroit. Is that really so weird?
When you visit Rome as a tourist you want to see the ruines of a collapsed empire. The only difference between Rome and Detroit is that our ruins are still somewhat new.
The world's view of America is varied depending on circumstances. Latin American nations probably have a view of America as a land of plenty based on their experiences from family members sending back remittances.
Muslim nation often have a very different and negative view of America based on their experiences of family members being blown up by our drones, or shot by Blackwater mercenaries.
However, the view of America as a fallen Romanesque empire is something very, very new and probably not something Americans often consider.