An International Perspective

Save the time when my family and I took a day trip to Tijuana, Mexico, I had never traveled outside America’s borders until 2007. In 1998, my father added to his VHS collection two documentaries — Banned From TV I and II. Since I had access to my father’s video library I took advantage of this privilege and watched both. Just as the title of these documentaries declares, the graphic images contained on these VHS cassettes were not suitable for TV as they depicted some of the most horrific events one could imagine — people burned alive; a woman being struck by a train; people being shot to death, etc. What was common about the images was that most were taken outside the United States.  By viewing these documentaries I was fed one idea — America is safer, less violent, and more free than other countries. Had I not challenged this idea by traveling, I imagine I’d be worse off. Travel has taught me things about the world and its people that have made me smarter, stronger, and more compassionate. Twenty years after having viewed those videos I know that the world is safe, less violent, and more free than America (in many cases). The headlines describing gun violence alone is enough to underscore this idea. Interestingly enough, the Swiss have just as many guns as Americans, but far fewer incidents of gun violence. Then, there is the issue of cannabis. Recently, while in Spain and Switzerland, I observed several people smoking cannabis while walking the streets. Even though America has recently relaxed the cannabis laws, smoking ‘herb’ while going about one’s daily activities is still not allowed in America. Prostitution is another issue. I observed women selling sex on streets in these countries. In Switzerland, there were even signs painted on the ground to delineate the area where sex workers operate. Prostitution is illegal in every state in America except Nevada. Then there was the selling of beer at McDonald’s along with the culture of allowing citizens to drink in public places that caught me off guard. Finally, when I visited a beach in Portugal, I was surprised to see women remove their tops. Where I was, was not a nude beach either. Free education and health care in many countries is another example of the freedoms that we lack in America. All in all, after having traveled I’m less convinced that American freedom is greater than the freedoms experienced by the citizens of the other nations. However, one thing is for certain. Were the countries of the world more dangerous, violent, and less free than America, I doubt I would have enjoyed my travels as much as I had.