Slaying myths through travel

by Eric Lucas

 

I was just doing my part for immigration control, dispelling myths.

“You mean people down in the States don’t all have medical coverage?” My Canadian companions asked with jaws dropped.

“Afraid so,” I explained. “You can get cancer and have to choose between death and bankruptcy.”

This last fact is, well, an actual fact; it happened in my family. And here I was, in a candlelit lodge at a ski resort in the Canadian Rockies, perched astride a mountain in a World Heritage Site that’s one of the top travel attractions on earth, demonstrating for the umpteenth time that what really matters about travel is broadening narrow horizons rather than seeing gorgeous stuff. As Marcel Proust put it, the real act of discovery consists not in finding new places but gaining new eyes.

In this case, the new eyes belonged to my new friends. They were 40-ish Canadian professionals contemplating a move to the United States—Arizona, to be exact—so they could enjoy the free-wheeling, gun-slinging, success-nurturing ethos of my home country, and escape the stifling rigidity, monotonous courtesy and suffocating taxes of Canada.

So they thought. Then they asked me to straighten out their misunderstanding about US health care. Surely it isn’t true that people forego medical care because they can’t afford it? After I explained the realities of life in a barbarian country, they looked at each other like parents who’d just found porn on their teenager’s iPod. In Canada, you get sick, it’s covered. Period.

“Maybe we ought to reconsider moving,” Lisa said, smiling uneasily at me, as if I were a Hottentot attending a soiree at Queen Victoria’s court.

Thus I prevented another knock on the US door. No money-grubbing Maple Leafans thinking they can immigrate down here with socialist notions.

Meanwhile, I’d say I learned more about the realities of Canadian health care, except I already knew. I’ve been to Canada hundreds of times; of the thousands of Canadians I’ve met, not one would trade their homeland health benefits for anything you can find here in the States. So, travel in this case has dispelled two myths:

• Canadians hate their health care system. Not true!

• Americans enjoy great health care. Not true!

I’ve opened such windows hundreds of times—every time I travel, I gain understanding I’d never have at home. I’ve been to Serbia and Croatia and heard both sides of that centuries-old feud, which makes the Hatfields and McCoys look like tiddlywinks. In China I learned the story behind the still-lingering bitterness over World War II. In the Caribbean I discovered the extent Hugo Chavez threatens everyone around him. Travel much, and myths fly away like moths.

• New Yorkers are rude. Not true!

• China is a communist country. Laughable!

• Mexicans are lazy. Not true!

• Poland is backward. Not true!

• Europe is a paragon of health and progress. Not true!

In fact, clearing away the cigarette smoke during dinner in a splendid Vienna bistro last fall, watching four parents slowly murder themselves in front of their toddlers, I found myself remembering the sign that greets travelers in most California airports: “Welcome to America’s Non-Smoking Section.”

A year before that, traveling through what may be the world’s loveliest country, Sweden, I discovered to my shock that rednecks are not confined to suburban America. Driving around Lake Siljan, we were stuck behind a caravan of punks in ’57 low-riders blasting Metallica out the window, pitching beer cans and butts into the roadside ditches.

“Huh. Just like Kentucky,” I remarked to my wife, Leslie, who is of Swedish extraction.

She furrowed her brows at me.

“You can’t judge a country on the basis of one thing,” she advised.

Exactly. In fact, no matter what that “one thing” is, it’s certain to be false.

So obviously if one travels everywhere, maximum truth will be revealed. Myths will be slain. Everywhere is a big place, but I’m working on it.

 

Eric Lucas lives in Seattle; learn more at his website, www.TrailNot4Sissies.com.

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