What is it like watching the US presidential elections abroad? Six individuals share their stories that include encounters from foreign media filters, casual conversations, and classroom discussions. Their experiences reveal how internationals view Americans as reflected by candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
My curiosity led me to stay in Mexico during the 2016 US presidential election and watch it unfold from a foreign lens (I voted through overseas absentee ballot). I will touch upon my experience last but wish to start off with stories from France and England. China is the only non-European country I was able to reach from an American student’s perspective (others didn’t respond for security reasons).
Jathan Caldwell: Atlanta, GA
It was yesterday in a museum of evolution when the topic of American politics was served on a Parisian plate. While observing the bones of dinosaurs, I was bulldozed by a completely random, unasked, and unexpected shout about none other than Trump himself. “Hey, look!” sneered a guy with a very thick French accent. I swerved around and stood to glance at some disgusting plastic specimen of conjoined twins (note, both males with blond hair). “It’s Donald Trump at birth! (he guffawed, looking at me, then at his two laughing kids) What an idiot. Stupid Americans right?!” My first reaction was: yes, what an idiot. Yes, how stupid of Americans to introduce this man anywhere past the muck of a superficial entertainment industry. Yes, it is a catastrophe worthy of the mockery of a casual French family. I liked that moment because I felt right. But the tide quickly changed, and I felt some balance effortlessly teeter my emotions and soul towards some other state of mind.
Why is this the eighth time Paris locals have thrown up politics with the sole focus on Trump and his stupidity. (apparent) verbal womanizing, and recklessness? Granted, I can’t stand the guy, but there’s an equally furious feeling towards our other gift from above, Mrs. Clinton. You take a stroll and ask any Parisian about their opinion on Hillary, and they’ll note (a) she’s a savior and (b) that they’re terrified of a Trump presidency. French news hardly ever dares to speak of the trove of WikiLeaks revelations over the internal corruption of government officials, DNC members, and Clinton, much less connect that to any relevance in America’s election. The general opinion has been locked and safely guarded, from what I’ve seen.
Observing the volatile teetering of polls in the States in the past few days has especially contrasted that situation with this city’s solid groupthink. It is slightly superficial, but it is a decisive complex labeling process. From having conversations with my French teacher, a millennial, and other French people here, it seems that each candidate is not only readily “adjective-labeled,” i.e. Trump as “con” and Clinton as “presidential,” but also connected to a particular global outcome. Trump will lead to the end as we know it and Clinton will progress everything that has already been fought for. But let me be honest; groupthink is stereotyping many people in an unfair way. The beauty of Paris is observing their sincere intentions to be a progressive interact with pertinent global circumstances. Immigration, above all else, has led some Parisians to identify with some of the sentiments of the anti-establishment campaign of Trump. Many Parisians have strong feelings towards controlling the recent influx of refugees. Recently the biggest Syrian refugee camp in France in Le Callais dubbed “The Jungle” in rather bad taste, was emptied out per the earnest request of many passionate French, leaving these refugees scattered and divided. It was a moment that really captured this heart-wrenching crisis and the difficult political maneuvering necessary to alleviate it.
The Parisian take on the constantly revolving totem of politics is respectable in their (said) appreciation for human rights, but I’m afraid that the overall grip has not yet moved far enough to classify manipulation and corruption as in itself a threat to conscience and global progress.
Pierce Guillet: San Francisco, California
I didn’t notice too much discussion about the election, but they were sad Obama was leaving. They had this huge love for Obama, which I think was almost delusional.
Elon Wood: New York, NY
Paris hates the idea of Trump as an entity. I didn’t talk to one person in Paris who was down with anything Trump. They not only endorse Hillary but even like Hillary. I don’t think their sentiment is a neutral thing: ‘Hillary should win, and you guys are stupid for supporting anybody like Trump’– that seems to be the Paris sentiment
Next, we went to the Netherlands. We hung out in two places: Prague and Amsterdam. In Delph, we were in what they call a coffee shop (a pot shop). In the Netherlands, pot is legal all around. If you go to Colorado, you go into a pot dispensary. But if you want pot in the Netherlands, you go to a coffee shop- which is a pot shop. But remember, the American idea of pot is like, “oh they’re stoners,” but in the Netherlands, it’s actually kind of sophisticated. It’s like a pub from Oxford mixed with the American stoner idea– if that makes any sense at all. So I’m with five of my friends from MIT (which are all liberal and smoke). We are talking to these guys, who realize that we are American. The first five minutes just get really dicey. It’s a toss up when you’re in Europe. You can flip a coin, and it’s a fifty-fifty chance that either Europeans will say “America is great” or “America is a D*** terrorist state.” I totally got that vibe in the coffee shop. This guy blazed out, “If you talk about terrorists from the Middle East blowing up the twin towers, Hillary Clinton is the biggest terrorist that’s ever touched this planet. Have you not heard of what she’s done? She’s done horrific things.” Then he said something sexist. “Plus how can you think that you can have a female leader ever? Ever?” This was said in the Netherlands, which is a highly advanced country! This was feedback from a young guy. That’s an isolated instance that took me off guard about Hillary Clinton and certainly the kids from MIT. This guy was very aggressive with his attacks against Hillary.
Amsterdam is certainly a multicultural hub with international young people. It’s like New York City/Vegas of America. If you just melded Vegas with NYC but made it a smaller city, that’s Amsterdam. Prostitution is legal, pot is legal, and the whole 9-yards! In Amsterdam, many of the international people we bumped into in some locations expressed annoyance with Trump and didn’t really know much past that. In Amsterdam, it was a totally mixed bag [of thoughts and opinions on the US Presidential candidates]. The first question many people asked is, “do you like Trump?” and I think that was their engaging metric. In comparison to other places, nobody started with that question. In Delph, they wouldn’t begin with questions; they would just start with opinions about the election.
In Germany, there is a very strong dislike for Trump. There are parts of the Berlin Wall that are free to graffiti by anyone still to this day. So a lot of these parts have sayings like “Dump Trump,” “We already built a wall, look at our failure,” “F*** Trump,” “#NoWalls,” “Don’t make our mistakes in history.” So the German sentiment from the ground up equates Trump to Hitler in a very real sense. So the people at the ground are probably going to think Trump is more like Hitler than the people on the top who know a lot about him and know he is obviously not Hitler (or not yet). Berlin has been through massive warfare. Berlin is a very international city and is known as the city of youth in Germany, which means that in Berlin, there’s an intense dislike for Trump: that was extremely apparent. Even if they didn’t like Hillary, they think along these lines, “America is making a mistake, and we’ve already made this mistake. If you guys decide to make this mistake, you are all just complete idiots.”
To the Chinese students, Trump is the manifestation of America. When they think America, they think Trump. Chinese students would often say, “We think Trump meets the profile of an American- big fat loud white man.” A lot of the Chinese students didn’t think that Trump was a super big turn for America. They Imaged it was pretty much what Americans wanted. They believe that Trump is a threat, but not to them because China is an emerging superpower. I don’t think a lot of the Chinese students that I’ve talked to are really concerned about Trump. Many of them I’ve spoken to have seemed to move past America– if you will. There’s still some who want to move to the USA to get an education, work, and learn English. These are all graduate students. These are not pub conversations but classroom discussions. They see Trump as a bad thing for the USA but believe China is going to be fine. At the end of the day, China is not the one electing Trump. China is looking down its nose at America, and probably it’s because I conversed with highly educated people.
China is very male-centric. They don’t seem ready to say, “hey elect Hillary.” Even the women in the towers of scholarship say, “no males should be at the help.” So they’re not ready to endorse Hillary, and they’re not ready to endorse Trump because they think he’s a complete buffoon. The Chinese students I talked to almost have a neutral stance. A lot of Chinese students look at this and say [with their attitude], “your democracy sucks. This is what your democracy has led you too.” Even some Chinese professors were pointing to us American students and said “This [the U.S. presidential candidates] could show a deficiency in your democracy. Maybe you should revise things. Your democracy is leading you to a tyrant, yet Americans make fun of the Chinese for having a tyrant.”
They’re legitimately scared for the West. Just from reading the news in the UK, from the ground up everybody is anxious. Especially after Brexit, it was a huge move for the UK. Right now, the UK is very concerned. They don’t like Trump. They think that Brexit is forcing the UK to redefine itself and decreasing in power and hegemony. They see America is now facing her angst. Most of the UK seems to support Hillary. In the educated quarters of Oxford at least, many of them support Hillary. I remember one conversation we had: it was a friend who was talking to a guy working at the Rolling Ritz and me, and he shouted, “Hey look! Women are taking over the world. And it’s a good thing. Look! The leader of UK: woman. The leader of America, going to be a woman. There’s not a problem. Women are taking over the world, and we need that. Women are easier going and do not want war.”
Morgan Craven- Dallas, Texas
I am lucky enough to have spent two election cycles abroad. First in 2012, when Barack Obama and Mitt Romney ran and again during the primaries for 2016. For both elections, I was in Italy, and I was struck by how knowledgeable they were of US government systems and candidates– Maybe more than some Americans! People have enormous adoration for Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton and stay actively engaged in the outcomes. You know that “American” stereotype foreigners make fun of? Uneducated, inarticulate, fat, and racist? Unfortunately, about half the country this year is politically supporting someone that brings that stereotype to mind in other countries. Whether we see it or not at home, people abroad are watching.
Julia Adams: Austin, Texas
England & Ireland
One conversation I had was with a really nice older woman in England who showed me the way to the nearest grocery store. She’d been to Austin before and asked if Trump was really popular there. I said that Texas had had their own guy, so Republicans were mainly putting up with Trump. She talked about Hillary and how she didn’t seem like a good option either. Later in Ireland, I took a taxi to the Airport. The taxi driver talked about how Hillary gave him the chills and bold-faced lies she’s told and how if the Republicans had any other candidate, they’d be a shoo-in. I think I’d characterize it all as morbid fascination.
Britney Lopez: Orlando, FL
Every airport I was at had the US elections playing on the news. My first day in London, I went to see the Wellington arc, which at that park, there was a nude bike meet up with about 100 nudists on bikes, which they were going to all ride together for a couple of blocks. One of the nudists on a bike had the words, “dump Trump” painted on him and a portrait of Donald near his butt. Paris and Munich or not so much into what was going on with the elections in the United States, but every country had their eyes on Orlando for that week of the Pulse Shooting.
When I was in London, I left Orlando the day after the pulse shooting. I saw Orlando on all the newspapers [in London]. On the street and the train, I would see people reading about Orlando. To every cathedral and church I went to tour, they had a vigil for Orlando. This was days before the Brexit vote. I also witnessed some campaign events for Brexit. It seems as if the countrymen were more for Brexit than the urban residences were for remaining in the European Union. What appears to be third-party English people, they leaned more towards Brexit because they thought it would be a good change more than it would be a benefit. So you have the conservative party and people in between voting for Brexit versus the far left. However, the campaigning to remain in the Union was far less and then it was to leave. From London, I took a train to Bath, and as I was getting more into the country, I saw more campaigning materials for Brexit. There were hardly any campaigning materials out to remain in the union. Also, I was in England when British lawmaker Jo Cox was stabbed and shot. There were vigils for her along Parliament, and everyone made it more about her than about politics. Everyone respected her position in government and paid their respect.
Charity Ana Lewis: Atlanta, GA
Mexico City, Mexico
Donald Trump made his speech in Mexico City the same day my mother and I arrived. I didn’t get a chance to watch it until three days after and evaluate the speech for myself. As one would imagine, a different vibe is felt in Mexico than the vibe of Americans who hate Trump. In America, anti-Trump sentiments are announced out of a moral principle against hate speech, racism, and prejudice. In Mexico, Anti-Trump sentiments are deep. The media, the protestors, and my family from the country describe Trump’s visit to Mexico as a disgrace. They are insulted on how Trump gave a warm speech in Mexico with President Enrique Peña Nieto, and then the next day, spoke harshly about Mexico in Phoenix. Two of my cousin’s friends who attend La Universidad de las Americas (Puebla) mentioned this was the conversation in their international relations class.
As for Hillary Clinton, the news sources acknowledged the danger of the Clinton emails and other records she is being held accountable for. Nevertheless, as the election day is comes closer, many Mexicans are more embracive of Clinton as a safe option for Mexico’s future.
The closer the election day draws near, the more people ask about my thoughts concerning my country’s presidential election. For instance, I was invited by a friend (a high school English teacher) to come visit her class. She wanted her students to listen to an American accent and ask questions about American culture. Common questions involved what I enjoy most about Mexico or what I thought about the US presidential candidates. One question struck me deeply and had me choked up more than I expected. One student hesitantly asked if the stereotype of Mexicans being criminals is true. I had a hard time answering this question. When I came up with the words to say, I mentioned how it depends on which state one is in: whether it’s an educated or uneducated area, since educated areas are less likely to have prejudices against Mexicans. ( I get receive mixed reactions when I tell people I’m part Mexican).
It’s difficult sometimes to watch Trump’s speeches with Abuelita (grandmother in Spanish). I usually laugh at some of his statements, but its not funny to her. She is appalled by his statements, his character, and the threat he poses to Mexico.
From my observation, Educated people such as professors, business leaders, and those politically informed seem more worried about what a Trump presidency means for Mexico than others I’ve talked too (based on economic issues and immigration). Others have expressed offense at Trump’s comments but also shrug their shoulders since they’re not the one’s voting. They just beg me not to vote for Trump.
My observations are only a few highlights from the sea of political discourse in Mexico. I hope readers have found these stories not only engaging and humorous but also help Americans rethink how the US communicates itself to the world. Travelers must keep their eyes, ears, and hearts opened in order to learn. I am thankful to be an American citizen and for the privilege to travel around the world; doing so forces me to listen.