Culture Clash

Culture Clash

First off, I should say that I really enjoy every time I get to visit the States.  This trip was no exception.  However, I had to take a few days before sharing this story with you, because I needed to figure out exactly what had happened.   The following is about a very brief, yet noteworthy experience I had recently while traveling.

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We pulled off the I-95 at Augusta, Maine.  Any of you Maine readers know the rest stop with the moose next to it.  That’s the one.  We stopped there for the excellent bathroom, sorry, restroom opportunity it affords us.  I walk up the steps toward the entrance noticing the giant American flag outside and a group of people talking away off to one side.  Neither of these things are all that unusual.  I go in to the rest stop for an uneventful 5 minutes or so.  Upon exiting, as I am walking down the stairs intent on heading toward the car in the parking lot, I suddenly feel a hand on my shoulder.  I did not care for this.  I don’t like it when strangers approach me from behind.  I keep walking, the only person I know around here is a meter ahead of me, maybe this person will stop holding on to me once he or she realizes that I’m not someone they know.  The grip intensified, like a vice, and I felt myself being pulled backward.  Unable to continue my forward motion I figure I should turn my head slightly and see what this person wants.

So I did that.

It was an  older guy in a camo outfit.  “I have a flag for you.” he said to me.  “Do you want to take it?”

“Not really.” I replied.  I wasn’t a fan of how this stranger approached me, and I didn’t want to lug his flag around.

“Well, have a nice life.” he said gruffly, quite a bit put off at my refusal of his country’s flag.  Then again I wasn’t wearing anything that would prove to him that I wasn’t American.

“You too!  Have a good one!”  I said.  I was still completely clueless as to why this was happening.  I was trying to be as nice to a guy who creepily came up behind me and offered me something free.

When I travel, I am very wary of people who come up behind me and offer me free things.  It usually leads to more trouble or signing up for credit cards, which is pretty much the same thing.  It’s also good sense to not take anything from strangers because I don’t know where it’s been.

All of that was good advice, so I thought anyway.

He lets me go and I jet off toward the car.  Later on, I found out that the person I snubbed was a member of the American Armed Forces, or whatever they call themselves.  He was a serviceman none the less and I had very accidentally snubbed him and his country in one second of poor decision making.

I thought he was going to take advantage of me in some way,  therefore I needed to be careful as similar things have happened when I was approached in different countries I’ve been to from time to time.  This is a first for America though.  I could do a whole blog series, or write a book on the strange things that have happened when I travel.  Alas I am getting off topic.  Let’s get back to it!

The thing is, where I come from, when I think of war veterans, I think of the black coat with gold buttons all over the place, medals everywhere and perhaps shoulder tassels and a matching black hat.  When you wear camo the only thing that proves to me is that you are a regular person who  likes hunting. He had no awards clinging to his uniform that would denote anything different from what I saw.  I gave him the same kindness I would to a stranger in the street, which was less than what he was expecting I guess.

If he had perhaps come at me from the front and said something like “Hey!  I’m a veteran! we’re giving away flags because of whatever reason.”  I could have said something like, “that’s cool!  Thanks for serving your country.”  but because of the way it happened it lead to suspicion, since he did not identify his position of authority, and I had no way of knowing what he might do to me or make me sign up for.  I am aware now that he was only trying to promote national pride within his country.  I’m sorry it didn’t work out better for both of us.

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