Patriotic Party People

They are a special breed.  You meet them in hostels and and tourist hot spots and volunteer hubs the world over.  They play hard but rarely work hard.  This is often their first time abroad. They are rebelling from very structured backgrounds.  They party a lot.  Too much.  And its often on their parents’ dime.  They are on a quest to find themselves.  Being away from home has them feeling insecure. So they over-compensate by big talk.  Often political talk.  And its typically deeply nationalistic.  It’s harmless patriotism gone harmful.  In every conversation they need their country to come out the victor.  It is nauseating.

Before you think I am singling out a certain country as the source of these patriotic party people I want to emphasize that I have seen all kinds of them.  From pretty much everywhere.  After all, it only takes a crude surplus of time, cheap beers and inexperience to have the perfect conditions for an (often young) traveler to start sounding off about how their country is the best and so clearly superior to the host culture for a litany of reasons.  What typically sets them off is a bad experience.  Someone was rude to them.  Their girlfriend / boyfriend back home broke up with them.  They embarrassed themselves in some way.

Their rhetoric is often deeply critical of the local situation.  I have often met them in volunteer contexts such as English language schools or humanitarian construction projects.  They are there as volunteers and visitors but they quickly let everyone know how much they wish they were home and how everything is better at home.  They disagree with how things are run locally.  If you have visited their home countries and dare to challenge their overly rosy picture of life there they quickly learn to despise you.

How do you help them?  I have found that very little works.  The answer is certainly not to try to fight them.  If you contradict them or try to humiliate them with superior knowledge of politics or (if you have it) a stronger understanding of their country and its place in the world, you will only put them on the defensive and intensify their vitriol.  One option is to ignore them.  But this may not be an option if you are working on a small team together in a volunteer context or if you both are staying in the same small hostel.

What sometimes works is befriending them and gradually showing them the benefits of toning down the rhetoric, letting up on the combative spirit and actually enjoying the host culture.   They are behaving the way they are because they come from a place of insecurity.  So if you can provide them with the security of friendship and a local connection, chances are they will appreciate it.  Surprise them the next time they start ranting about how bad the food / TV / service / transportation is locally and invite them to a local sporting event.  Bring your most mature local friend (briefing him or her on the patriotic partyhead’s tendency to be crudely nationalistic) and show the young irate one the time of his or her life.  Treat them extraordinarily well.  Hit the best local eatery after the game.  Introduce the young nationalist to some of the coolest locals you know.  Show him or her the  benefits of savvy, global do-gooding: Amazing local friends.  Ease of travel.  Adventure minus the agitation of stupid fights.  The buzz of experiencing the beauty of a culture that is not your own.  Get creative.  This may be your only chance to make an impression.

You may fail.  But chances are that regardless of the outcome they will remember the experience.  This, their first trip abroad may be a lost cause but the next time they set food overseas they may have a different perspective.

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Bjorn Karlman

8 thoughts on “Patriotic Party People”

  1. Good points. I found that a lot of the behavior you talked about has to do with the “culture-shock” spectrum. I believe anyone unfamiliar with different cultures will go through what you describe at some level or another. It is natural to compare unfamiliar experiences with familiar ones. And, thanks to what I call the “Glenn-Beck-effect,” we view past experiences more positively regardless of how unhappy it may have been. I know I definitely fell pray to this my first time overseas, and even later to some extent in Taiwan. I think what is ironic about this, however, is that no matter how frustrated a person is with a host culture, when they return home… typically they speak of the host culture with such high regard.

    1. yeah, it CRACKS me up how much this happens (people getting home and then praising the place they were visiting even if they moaned about it relentlessly while they were there)… we romanticize travel experiences a lot…

  2. I think this is me! Minus the patriotism, big talk and party. lol.

    spending a couple months here in costa rica is definitely a journey to self-discovery. I’m glad you’ve befriended me Bjorn!

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