Lessons Learned: Being an American Has Its Disadvantages

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Loud, obnoxious, and arrogant language will help any local identify you as an American.  Moreover, using an iPhone will help you separate yourself from the rest of the obruni crowd.  Americans love their iPhones!  (iPhones are relatively cheap in the US. The same phone that costs $400 in the US is GBP 400 in the UK.)

The longer I stay in Ghana, the more proud I am that I’m an American.  Nonetheless, let’s just say being an American is not always something you want to advertise.

First, you become a mark for scammers and thieves.  Ghanaians probably rank Americans with the Brits and Germans as the most wealthy foreigners.  You can usually find Americans and Europeans in just a few neighborhoods: Cantonments, Airport Residential, Osu, and East Legon.  They get paid expat packages in dollars so they do not bother living in more affordable areas, e.g. Tema, Spintex, Adjincanor.  Women will come out of the woodwork to be your “friend”.  Men will also accost you and try to become your “guide”, cleaner, driver.  The preferred transport method is 4×4.

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In comparison, there are many Chinese and Indians who also live in Ghana.   Unlike the Europeans and Americans, you can find them across Accra in middle to upper class neighborhoods.  They don’t always drive 4x4s; often times, you will see them in Kia Picantos or late model SUVs.

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Second, even though you live in Ghana, Americans have to follow laws set in Washington, DC.

  • I have to pay income taxes on my global income.  Yay!  Helping to fund bombing campaigns across the world.  Brits and Germans only have to pay income on the money they make in their home countries.
  • Americans cannot be involved in bribery.  Thus, while other foreigners race to the front of any bureaucratic line, I’m waiting 2-3 months for the office to find my file. “Oh, I’m sorry-o. We have lost your file.”
  • Americans must respect intellectual property.  Most of the big companies who care about intellectual property, e.g. entertainment, software, are based in the US so you could face a lawsuit when you go home.

Third, the US govt doesn’t provide much investment support to Americans working abroad.  Unless your name is “GE” or “Halliburton”, I wouldn’t expect any assistance with small business loans or negotiating with the local government.  I recognize there is OPIC funding but you have to have a 3 year track record before they will open their wallet.

Lastly, whenever you talk to any foreign national or Ghanaian, they will enquire why your country has to go around imposing it’s will on other countries.  Now, I was all for bombing Afghanistan and killing Osama Bin-Laden.  But, I cannot claim to be an expert on every foreign policy decision the US has every made, e.g. Latin American coups, declaring war on Saddam Hussein (twice), support for Israel.  The moment you announce that you are an American expect that you will always have something to do at expat parties.

Despite all these disadvantages, I’m still proud of being an American.  Don’t get me started why I love being an American…

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3 comments

  1. I love being an American because of all cliche reasons – free speech, freedom of religion, freedom to live your life as you choose. We may not be as progressive as the Dutch, but the country generally believes you should take your nose out of other people’s business, e.g. being gay.

  2. Pingback: Lessons Learned: You Will Be Unprepared for Scams and Corruption | obolobo

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