On the plane from Tallinn to London, I sat next to a young man from America who is spending a semester studying in Estonia as an exchange student.
John (*names and identifying details changed*) had up until that point spent his life in Missouri where, according to him, "Democrat" is a swear word - it's what you call someone instead of calling them a "dick". Basically the same thing, really.
He'd also never travelled outside of US and, prior to heading to Estonia, never even been on a plane. "Is that common?" I asked him when he told me about it and he said, yeah, pretty much. It's a rural region, the closest airport is 4 hours drive away, so people don't really tend to travel. Rural, deeply Republican area.
He said that when he was briefed about his upcoming study in Estonia, people in the US said to him that whenever someone in Europe hears he's an American, they are going to think it's awesome. "You're from America, that's so great!"they're going to tell him.
Instead, most people when John tells them that he's from the US, have replied with, "Oh, I'm sorry."
I laughed when he told me about it, but he said that the first instance was, literally, not even an hour after the plane had landed. He was standing outside of airport waiting for the bus, and he got talking to a young Japanese lady working in Estonia, who replied with exactly that: "Oh, I'm sorry."
John was gobsmacked. He didn't even know how to react to that. Since then, he says, only one person has reacted to the news that he's an American with genuine delight; everyone else has expressed a degree of pity.
Going back to America, he says, is going to be a culture shock - even more so than coming to Estonia was.
The thing is, within his American environment he is already seen as a left-leaning liberal. In a cultural studies class in high school, he told me, they discussed gays' right to marry legally and of the 30-odd students there, only him and one other boy supported the cause - everyone else was against it. One girl ended up crying, many people were shouting at John for supporting the gays' right to marry.
John even voted for Hillary in the presidential election. The word got out and the family, apparently, had been distraught. Many calls were made to his mother along the lines of, "OMG, did you hear John voted for Hillary!?!" - "Yes," she said to the callers, "I did." - "But what are you going to do about it!?" - "Nothing. It's his right to vote for whoever he chooses." She supports her son although she doesn't necessarily share in his political opinions.
I found John absolutely fascinating.
John said that, in America, (many) people think that America is the greatest country in the world. He's grown up in that environment and he's used to thinking, yeah, it probably is.
And now he's outside of US and he talks with people and he thinks, jesus, it's the opposite. They feel pity towards America instead.