At least the real, silk ones, those which men wear at work, is what Bernard Montaigne was referring to. Over a generous serving of steak and fries à la Française, the manager of Restaurant L'Entrecôte voiced his opinion to me: "There is no more joie de vivre in your country," he said (interpose heavy french accent). "It is all about work, work, work. Wear your tie, go to work." Not that I entirely disagreed with him, but curiosity begot me as to why I meet significantly more foreign travelers than my own folk abroad, so I did a little research on the theory of monsieur Bernard:
Get this. A recent survey by the World Travel Organization shows that individuals born after 1965 in the U.S. travel 3.5 times per year for leisure, instead of the national average of 4.5 times per year. That's nearly twenty five percent less, generation over generation, and why, do you ask? Well, we rank nearly dead last in vacation days (average of 13 days a year, for the record) when compared to similar, industrialized countries which grant up to 43 vacations days a year. Hello? Compound a struggling economy with those statistics and you'll find a slew of employers willing to grant less rather than more, and families needing to work more, rather than less. Did someone say Italy is hiring?
Being somewhat of a math geek, I broke down the percentages for those that traveled locally versus internationally. First, we have to consider that only about 30% of Americans hold passports (which is way better than the teens it was a just few years ago), and that 50% of those that did travel abroad went to either Canada or Mexico. Now compare that to the U.K which boasts a 75% ownership of passports, or Canada, just a border away, with a 60% ownership. When put in perspective, the above numbers mean that roughly 2 in 10 Americans actually travel internationally--beyond Canada and Mexico--compared to 7 in 10 in the UK. Blimey, those Brits are a nomadic bunch.
"Not taking a leap is comforting, because this is the American life," says Matthew Kneppes in his NomadicMatt blog displayed last year on CNN. "Breaking outside anything that is your norm is scary."
I refuse to believe this concept, I've yet to meet someone who didn't want to travel abroad, so I pose these questions: does the abundance of beaches and mountains and prairies keep us grounded to our own continent and culture? Or are those obligations which salesmen know well to overcome--time, money, or family--the true culprits?
Why do we not travel to far-off and wondrous destinations when we have the highest income per capita in the world?
What ties. Those ties that bind.