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If you’re on social media at all, the name Logan Paul has become pretty familiar to you the last few days.

If you’re not on social media, I think you’re lucky. I cringe every time I see this guy. I’m not going to link to his content but I am going to link to a YouTuber who includes some clips of Logan’s videos down at the bottom of this post. Long story short, Logan is a 22-year-old YouTuber with MILLIONS of followers (mostly teens and pre-teens from what I can tell, I had never heard of him) who recently went to Japan and made a series of videos. He came under particular fire for a video that featured the suicide forest of Aokigahara, which is at the foot of Mount Fuji. Unfortunately, Aokigahara has gained the reputation of “suicide forest” as its depth and darkness make it a place where people can escape from their lives and not be found until it’s too late.

Mr. Paul went to record a video there because it is also known as a spooky place, and he found a victim of suicide. Although he blurred the victim’s face in the published video, the fact that he chose to show the body, joke about it, and include an image of it in the video’s thumbnail (visible even if you don’t choose to watch the video) was seen as incredibly disrespectful. He has issued a couple of apologies and folks are split on whether those apologies are “enough”, but while this all went down people realized that other videos from his Japan visit were disrespectful, too. Because I’m already feeling nauseated thinking about this guy I’ll do some bullet points about what he did BESIDES show and joke about a suicide victim’s corpse:
-Buy fish at a fish market and walk around crowded streets pushing the fish in peoples’ faces, pressing the fish against store windows, etc
-Abandon the fish on the back of a random taxicab’s trunk
-Hitch rides by hopping on the back of random trucks and bothering their drivers
-Dress in traditional garments (not in itself disrespectful, but they were thrown on over a hoodie in the way you think of a frat party throwing on a sombrero and a cotton poncho) and shout about “bitches” at a temple where worshipers were quietly praying
-Dress in a pokemon costume and throw a stuffed pokeball at strangers INCLUDING a police officer and a restaurant worker trying to do their jobs
-Block traffic, block bike riders, generally get in people’s faces

Get the idea? Yeah, a generally disrespectful and ignorant person who took videos of his jerkness and posted them for millions of followers who apparently think it’s funny.

News flash: it’s not funny.

I was very fortunate to be able to travel to other countries at a young age. My parents took me to Europe and I saw some amazing sights. To break up this rambling rant, here’s a picture of some of my friends and I on a cruise ship from about 10 years ago, just to prove that nothing ever really dies on social media:

cruisepic

I am on the far left. [image description: Shows a group of 6 white and Latino teenagers walking on the helicopter deck of a cruise ship. Dorothy on far left is wearing a black long-sleeved shirt that shows an inch of midriff, tight jeans, and converse shoes. The wind is blowing her hair. The other teens are wearing jeans and casual clothes, a boy is reaching for a girl’s rear end, and all wear generally carefree or cheerful expressions.]

On these trips I was fortunate enough to visit historic sites, religious sites, and general landmarks. A distinct memory from my first time abroad was jump-roping in line to see the Colosseum in Rome. As an adult, I do cringe a bit- although the Colosseum is not generally considered a religious or sacred site, jump-roping isn’t the best activity to do in a crowd. Anyways, I was 12 and bored.

Here we come to the difference between a 12-year-old me and Logan Paul. The similarity is, of course, that we both make mistakes and do things because they are fun. Of course, I’m not a YouTube star, and the jump-roping might have been captured on film but it’s not on Facebook (only the awkward outfits of my later teenage travels were.) If someone had come up to me in that line and said “please stop jump-roping, you’re blocking the way” or simply “this isn’t an appropriate time or place for that” I would have immediately stopped and tucked my jump rope in my tiny pink backpack.

I have behaved inappropriately in foreign countries– I have had to borrow scarves to cover my shoulders for modesty at religious sites, and I have insulted a host by rejecting food or not finishing a dish. I’ve been stared at or glared at for taking overly touristy pictures in front of sites that deserve more respect and sobriety. But when I learn that my behavior is incorrect, I do my best to change it, and encourage my friends and travel companions to be respectful. This is the difference between ignorance and disrespect- if someone doesn’t know their behavior is bad, they might be ignorant, but if they know it is bad and continue to do it, that’s disrespect. Mr. Paul is not ignorant. He is disrespectful. When people encourage him to behave appropriately or simply stare or glare, he does not stop the behavior. When he is approached or addressed, he pushes back. And that is simply not okay, not funny, and should not be rewarded by fame and clicks on his videos.

When you travel, you are a visitor in another country. Sometimes you will be confused. All the reading and googling in the world cannot prepare you for every custom or cultural attitude you will encounter abroad, especially if you’re visiting multiple places. But observing what people around you are doing is incredibly useful. I doubt that Mr. Paul ever saw anyone in Japan (Japanese or visitor) behaving like he did. When I visited Japan, there were many times when I was ignorant- I didn’t understand a routine with cups on handles to wash your hands before visiting a temple, and I certainly didn’t understand a public bathhouse. But by observing and asking questions, reading signs when they’re in your language, you can learn a lot and not make a fool out of yourself. And when (not if!) you do make a fool out of yourself, you can apologize, and do better next time.

It’s very much possible to be respectful AND have fun while traveling. You can still have cultural experiences, you can still meet people from different backgrounds. During my Japan trip in college (when I was about two years younger than Mr. Paul is now) I was waiting for a train when I pulled out my handheld gaming system and played a bit of Pokemon. Shortly, I was surrounded by a group of Japanese schoolchildren asking if I would talk to them in English about Pokemon. “You play??? Come here, she is playing Pokemon! Excuse me, which Pokemon is your favorite? Which game are you playing? May I ask where you come from?” It brings a big smile to my face to this day. And no, I’m not going to get millions of YouTube followers from having a conversation with some schoolkids. But I am going to have the memory of genuine connection between an awkward white college kid and sweet Japanese middle schoolers over digital monsters.

Yuta Aoki’s video (embedded on Facebook- no login necessary) about Logan Paul’s disrespect- includes clips of Mr. Paul’s videos but does not add to Mr. Paul’s view counts.

 

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4 thoughts on “Ignorant Americans vs Respect Abroad

  1. Nice piece, Doro! I especially appreciated your when, not if you make a fool of yourself. Indeed. Fun things in your future: taking your own kids to Japan, Rome, etc. Thanks for the post. xox

  2. Good points. Glad to read. Having travelled back in the 70’s thru Europe and Africa, I was very cautious of the norms. For example in Malawi we could not wear pants; out came the kangas picked up in Kenya for the duration. He is an example of the “ugly american”.

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