When living in Latin America, you might occasionally get into a conversation with another foreigner spending time down here.
Now, as I wrote here, you have some foreigners who are overly optimistic and others who are overly pessimistic about life down here.
Those who will defend every bad thing down here and make it seem like this region is basically perfect to those who hate and spit on everything to do with Latin America.
In any discussion with the former, you realize soon enough that it’s best not to critique ANYTHING in Latin America.
Even the slightest criticism that is perfectly within reason will provoke some foaming at the mouth reaction where said gringo is in sheer anger at whatever you said.
These folks tend to get more defensive than even the insecure local!
Regardless, there’ll be a certain phrase they throw at you every once in a blue moon that’ll sound something like this.
“This ain’t America! This is x Latin American country!”
Now, to be fair, I feel that sometimes such a statement is perfectly reasonable.
And other times it basically excuses shitty behavior by some local.
All depending on the context of course.
Let’s break that down by what I mean.
When I was spending a few months in a Bolivian city called Cochabamba, I was working for this NGO.
Anyway, there was some young American guy around my age that happened to be working in the same office as I was.
And, similar to me, he seemed to be traveling around South America at the time like I was if I remember right.
Overall, he was a normal dude and easy to get along with.
But, being honest, he often had complaints about Bolivia that did seem a bit unfair.
In which he’d basically just complain about how “they don’t have x from back home down here!”
One of them being Chick-Fil-A.
Now, to be fair, I get why any foreigner would make such a criticism.
I think it’s perfectly normal within reason!
After all, you are from a certain country and miss something from back home.
Or you visited a certain country before returning home and miss whatever they had in the new country you visited.
It’s perfectly normal!
For example, I also always miss certain food places from back home.
In Mexico City, while we do have a few Wendys here and there, they are largely more difficult to find unless you are in the right neighborhood.
I also miss Jimmy Johns, Taco Johns, Long John Silvers, etc.
And plenty of local restaurants in my hometown.
Miss them all!
But I accept that they don’t come with living in Mexico and that’s alright.
I’ll just have to enjoy them whenever I get back.
And I do!
Anytime I go back home, I always make sure to cross off each of them off my list before returning to Mexico.
Similarly, I once met an Argentine woman named Tami in Buenos Aires that you can read about here.
She spent some time living in the US and always told me how she missed some brand of peanut butter that she could never find in Buenos Aires.
So is it wrong to complain about something as simple as missing x product or fast food joint from another country that might be home?
However, I can understand why someone would push back a little bit against someone like this.
Especially if the person in question was like the guy I mentioned before who I met in Bolivia.
For him, it wasn’t just Chick-Fil-A.
And the way he expressed himself didn’t come across as if he was just missing those places.
He gave off the sentiment that Bolivia as a whole is a shitty country for not having Chick-Fil-A and other things common back home.
So I wouldn’t go so far then as to say Bolivia or any country down here is shitty for lacking some random fast food place we all miss.
And, to be fair, maybe Bolivia does have Chick-Fil-A somewhere.
I have no idea because I never eat there anyhow.
Regardless, it is true that you do have that type of foreigner who literally expects a copycat version of America abroad.
Where it isn’t just them missing stuff from back home (which is normal)…
But that they carry with them a very snobby attitude that is overly negative over said country lacking something from back home that isn’t that important.
Having said all that, we also have another type of person who, in this case, unfairly reminds us that “this ain’t America!”
Justifying Stupid Shit in Latin America
On the flip side, as I said, there’s the type of foreigner who just can’t handle any criticism whatsoever of anything in Latin America.
For example, I remember being updated on this comment section I was following in an Expat group for foreigners in Mexico.
And someone asked “why is it that it seems like people in Mexico want to run you over?”
Which, to be fair, is a completely normal criticism!
Funny enough, I got updated months ago when this conversation happened in which someone responded somewhere along the lines of how “this ain’t America! Get used to it!”
Similarly, I remember being in Guatemala in a city called Xela many years ago.
There was some American woman around my age from Oregon or Washington?
I think Oregon but I can’t remember right now.
Who would get mad if you made any criticism whatsoever of the country in question.
In this case, I remember making a comment to her about all of the pollution in the city.
Be it trash in the streets to air pollution that’d make you cough a bit.
And, similar to the person mentioned beforehand, her response was a bit defensive and along the lines of “this ain’t America! Get used to it!”
You know what’s more funny than that?
Years ago, I remember being in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
There was a Canadian guy named John who basically had his bag full of electronics stolen.
According to him, it had like over 2,000 USD in electronics.
Or maybe CAD?
I guess 2,000 in CAD is better than 2,000 in USD if getting robbed…
Anyway, I remember seeing how he seemed a little more jaded with Argentina after it happened where we were all in some office space.
All of us being this little group of foreigners that I was part of while living in Buenos Aires.
Anyway, the dude wasn’t bombarding the country with criticisms and being all angry.
He just was sitting back in some chair while looking astonished at everything that was stolen in that bag.
And I forgot what he said in the moment but it was some slight criticism of Argentina.
Particularly with how the police are seemingly not doing anything.
Which, if I remember right, they never did and he never got his stuff back.
Anyway, funny enough, the ol’ “this ain’t America!” comment got thrown his way also.
Even though he’s Canadian.
When someone told the Canadian that “this ain’t America,” I remember seeing his face make a weird and confused look.
A face that read “I’m not American” to “why does that matter? I got robbed.”
Having said all of that, there are some things that come to mind whenever this is said.
First, I do agree with part of the sentiment expressed by this phrase in this type of circumstance.
In which you find yourself in a poorer country in Latin America and you do have to accept that things are not as nice down here generally speaking.
It has to be accepted.
Be it poorer infrastructure to sketchier streets where there’s more aggressive homeless people or more criminals running around.
Along with all of the other crappier aspects to life down here!
Which, as a side point, doesn’t mean that life down here is terrible – plenty of good!
But this article addresses the bad in the context of people saying “this ain’t America!”
Anyhow, it’s true!
Things down here can, in various circumstances (though not all), be shittier.
And you do have to accept that and learn to live with it.
Having said that, it’s not an excuse either.
Because if you do excuse it, you basically are no better than the local who shrugs his shoulders and doesn’t do anything either to improve society.
Be it the local who tolerates corrupt police to not calling out someone for doing some stupid ass shit that makes society worse.
Along those same lines, I also feel such a statement in these circumstances gives off the sentiment of something like the following…
“Well, this ain’t America! This is shit hole Mexico! This is just the way Mexicans are! Too stupid to fix things! Just got to live with it!”
As I said, if you get complacent with shit, you help allow it to exist.
And it doesn’t help to have this attitude that nothing can change under no circumstances and this is just the “way people are down here.”
When, in reality, it’s not the way necessarily how most people are. Just the bad apples.
On top of that, while change is difficult to bring forward, it can be done if various people work at it.
Little by little changes over time anyhow.
Finally, I do wonder at what inspires people to say something like “This ain’t America!” in this context.
As I said, in some circumstances, it’s understandable given that one should always be mindful of how not every society is as rich as the US.
Definitely not Bolivia for example.
But there are certain types of people who make such a statement from my impression that I feel are not being very fair.
First, you obviously have the insecure local who doesn’t like any critique of his country at all.
Second, you have the enraged white knight foreigner.
Who, from my impression, is enraged because he interprets any critique of said country as racist or with a “colonial mindset” in which you basically can’t make a fair critique of any country that has brown people in it.
Or the foreigner is insecure about their own life decision to move to a country many back home would consider a “shit hole.”
In which the family and friends consistently are worried and make judgements about said choice…
And the foreigner might feel a little bit insecure about their decision and so any criticism made by another foreigner who actually lives down here is like a stab at their decision to relocate south of the border.
Because you can’t as easily wave away said criticisms like you could do to those back home by simply saying “ah, he doesn’t live here! It’s not like how the news portrays Mexico! Life is better down here!”
But then you have an actual foreigner who lives in Mexico or wherever making a fair critique and you can’t wave that away so easily.
Consequently, said enraged foreigner feels even more insecure and waves away your critique with the ol’ “this ain’t America!”
Which is ironic because the foreigner who made the critique might agree that life can be better in Mexico or wherever.
They just are open to making criticisms also.
If a cop extorts you for money like one did to me in this article here.
Maybe your bus breaks down on a rural mountain Peru like what happened to me here.
Or anything else!
In my opinion, while you should keep an open mind to how society down here is lesser developed, I also believe it’s fair game to make a criticism about it.
As long as you’re reasonable in what you say.
Anyhow, that’s all I got to say.
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Thanks for reading.