PARIS—One of the joys of traveling abroad in an election year is the chance to escape American politics. A chance to be a continent away from the latest poll, tweet, or "key race alert" on CNN.
But in the middle of our increasingly bizarre presidential election, getting away from it all can be more difficult than usual. At a bar in Paris' trendy Tenth Arrondissement a few nights ago, I mentioned to a Parisian man that I was from the U.S.
His eyes lit up.
"Trump!" he shouted, waving his cup of beer and laughing loudly. "Make America great again!”
This is the new normal in 2016: If you go abroad and tell people you're American, you're likely to get a bemused question, a worried comment, or a drunken jeer about the Donald.
At least, that's what more than 30 American expats told me in phone interviews and Facebook messages about the uncomfortable conversations they've had with local friends in the past year.
Most said that locals express disbelief or fear that someone who had suggested banning immigrants based on religion, deporting 11 million people, or defaulting on the national debt could be elected president. Some had also heard concerns about Hillary Clinton—but those tended to pale in comparison to a fascination with Trump.
“He’s looked at as the stereotypical ugly American,” said Keith Redmond, a pharmaceutical executive who’s worked in France for almost 20 years. “The majority of my French friends look at me and they say, ‘Do you really think somebody like Donald Trump is going to get elected?’”
Melissa Watkins, who’s lived in Paris the last two years while taking language classes, said she tends to get questions and comments about Trump from most new people she meets. In her classes, "I'm the token American," she said, "so I hear it all the time."
She meets people from around the world studying French. Those from more stable countries, like those in Western and Northern Europe, tend to take Trump as a joke, she said. Those from less stable countries—including refugees from Ukraine, Syria, and Iraq—are more fearful about a Trump presidency.
Watkins said she's also heard questions from friends about Bernie Sanders—especially from members of France's Socialist Party. "Even today, my teacher asked me, 'Is it really over for Sanders? He still can't get elected?'" she said.
Many French people don't hold back when it comes to Trump. “They think he’s an idiot,” said Ellen Lebelle, a former English teacher who’s lived in France for four decades. She said French people had had similar opinions about Ronald Reagan, but “at least with Reagan I could say he was governor of California. With Trump, he doesn’t have any experience.”
In Europe, the shock of the U.K.’s Brexit vote last week also made many people worried that American voters could similarly buck conventional wisdom (and vote for someone like Trump.)
(When Trump visited Scotland the day after the vote, locals let him have it on Twitter with a wide range of creative insults.)
Some Americans are going so far as to avoid saying where they're from to dodge discussions about Trump. Claire, who works in the Netherlands and asked not to use her last name, said that almost every new person she meets asks her about him. “It’s literally ruining my social life,” she said. “I have some friends who are pretending to be Canadian.”
Watkins, the language student, said Americans abroad already face enough challenges fighting Yankee stereotypes. "Trump isn't making it easier," she said.
Of course, not all expats are annoyed by having to talk about Trump. Marc Porter, a business consultant who’s lived in Paris, is the president of Republicans Overseas France, a political organization that helps encourage Republicans living outside the U.S. to vote. "What’s great about France is that people enjoy a real debate," he said.
Porter, a passionate supporter of Trump, claimed he’s been able to convince French friends that the presumptive Republican nominee would be a good president. “The French have similar problems we do—immigration, crime, unemployment, a disastrous economy,” he said. “Trump’s solutions are very refreshing to a lot of French people who are able to get past his personality, his persona—his Americanness, I guess.”
Joseph Smallhoover, the chair of the Democrats Abroad France group, disagreed. "Most people that I have encountered here are astonished that the Republican Party could have designated him as their candidate and appalled that he might actually get the nomination, that he might actually be president," he said.
The fascination with Trump and his campaign isn’t just in France or Europe. I posted messages in several Facebook groups for American expats asking them whether they got a lot of questions from local people about Trump and the 2016 election. Here are some of the responses, ranging from bafflement and bemusement to shock and horror:
So if you’re an American planning to go abroad anytime between now and November 8, get ready to answer questions about the Donald.
And if he wins? Trump may define what it means to be American in the eyes of millions of people around the world.
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.