Crossing Borders

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
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Crossing borders is simultaneously one of the most important and one of the most trivial things imaginable. It's trivial because millions of people cross borders every day. In Western Europe it's barely more complicated than driving across a state line. Getting your passport stamped is regarded by many customs officials as a nuisance. But crossing borders is very important because once you cross a border, you become subject to all that country's laws.

As a geologist, you may find yourself well off the beaten path, going to countries not often visited by tourists or going to areas not often seen, maybe even prohibited. You may find yourself in contact with people who have never seen Americans and who have odd ideas or serious misconceptions about Americans.

Popular American Misconceptions

Things to Avoid

Watch for Surprises

Don't Get Paranoid

Some Things That Can Help

Keep a Low Profile

Americans are notorious for being loud and rude around the world (Germans are next on the list). In my experience 90 per cent of the problems Americans encounter in other countries can be traced to body language. So don't act like a stereotypical American.

A True Story

After I got back from my military tour in Bosnia, I read a book of interviews with people involved in the peacekeeping effort. The interviews were conducted after I left, so none of my fellow soldiers were in the book. One Bosnian told how he had the impression, from the movies, that Americans were loud, lewd, and crude, and he was surprised to find them polite, hard working, religious, and decent. This man had been our interpreter and we were the people who had changed his image of Americans. He was quite fluent in English and I had no idea he had come to us with such misconceptions. You never know when your behavior will make a strong impression on someone. How we behaved will affect not only his impression of Americans, but his childrens' and his neighbors', and that in turn will affect Americans I never met, maybe who have not even been born yet. How you behave in another country will have effects far beyond the conduct of your own field work.


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Created January 11, 2000, Last Update May 30, 2003

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