Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Interview with Lance Johnson - What Foreigners Need to Know About America from A to Z

“Lance, I am in awe of your vast accomplishments. I’ve spent quite a bit of time learning about you through your website at www.AmericaAtoZ.com. I’d like to transform myself into a “pocket person” and experience your travels first hand. I’m delighted to interview you and to have an opportunity to introduce you to my blog readers and network of colleagues. Welcome!

DMc: The creation of your book, “What Foreigners Need to Know About America from A to Z: How to understand crazy American culture, people, government, business, language and more” came from your love of America and extensive travels throughout the world. Please share why you feel your book is the perfect guide in understanding American culture.

LJ: As I point out in the book’s intro, I’ve been in 81 countries, taught overseas, and experienced firsthand the difficulties my immigrant friends in the US have understanding our crazy culture. I’m not sure there’s a perfect guide that you refer to above because it is such a broad complex topic. But I’ve simplified it with 26 fundamental chapters. For example, the chapters on grammar and speech simply address the errors commonly made by foreigners and how they can overcome them…I keep it simple and the language easy and fun.

DMc: One of your travel tips abroad is to ask people “what they would like to know about America that they were always afraid of asking for fear of offending.” What is the most common question, the most unusual?

LJ: Oh boy, that really varies. For example, when I taught Chinese teachers of English near Shanghai using my book as a text, the chapter on religion brought the most interest. This is not surprising, given China’s opposition to religions. Next in line was the chapter on film and the movie stars they knew a lot about.

A German couple wanted to know why we all get along so well here, given our various minorities. I explained that we didn’t do well at it, then we analyzed why they had that perception. A common question is about our food and table manners, a topic discussed in an entire chapter on food and dining. I think the most revealing questions come from foreigners who probably know more about what is going on in Washington than the average American. I recently met an Italian and his wife who surprised me with endless questions and observations about Obama, Romney, and our government, which reveals foreigners are indeed aware of what is happening here; they wanted my comments on their comments. That is why I have an entire chapter on government.

As a side note on this topic, throughout the book I stress the importance of free speech, individual rights, and religious freedom that are chiseled in the cornerstone of our society, which in turn define how we behave. Because of the recent crudely-produced video that incited Muslim hate of America, it comes as no surprise because in those countries they are told what they can do and say. Thus, it is my guess they think our government and people support saying bad things about their religion, which of course is not true. They don’t realize this was one man’s film and the expression of his opinion, and that in America we are free to express our opinions. (In Thailand I learned that expressing negative comments about the king can land you in jail.)

As I’ve learned in all my travels, if America were a business, it would need a better public relations department…we‘re continually fighting a bad image, another topic in my book. It has an entire chapter on what foreigners think about America, and in many cases they say the same thing: from their firsthand knowledge, America is not as bad as most foreigners think.

DMc: What, if any was your biggest obstacle in writing and publishing What Foreigners Need to Know About America from A to Z?

LJ: This is easy. I wasn’t sure the book would ever be published. Halfway through the 24-month writing process, I started sending queries to literary agents and publishers around the world. The response was generally the same: There’s never been a book like this so there’s not a need for it. Finally, a foreign agent for all the big publishers in the US said he wanted rights to it. I signed a contract and he found a publisher who gave me an advance. Lesson: follow your own North Star and keep plugging away.

DMc: What has been your most exhilarating travel experience?

LJ: “Exhilarating” has multiple connotations, including frightening/exciting/stimulating. Frightening: Last year on a cruise ship from Singapore through the Suez Canal to Rome, as we approached Yemen and the Red Sea, we had to close our curtains a night and the ship ran without outdoor lights because of pirate activity in that area. During the day the captain spotted suspicious ships nearing us and broadcast an alert. Also, during the day we saw an armada of battle ships from different countries along the shipping lanes, which gave us some comfort. Exciting: I’ve traveled the Panama Canal multiple times and still marvel at this engineering wonder that is 100 years old and still working as designed. Stimulating: Visiting Israel, walking where Christ did, witnessing all the Biblical sights that I learned about as a youngster, and learning firsthand that Israel is much less the monster portrayed in the press regarding Arabs there. Like the US, they need a better PR Dept.

DMc: What’s next?

LJ: Would love to take the Orient Express, travel the Silk Road, and take the train across scenic Canada and write about that. (As an actor, I did some filming in Kunming, China, the exit from the Silk Road.) In my travels I send a travelogue to my friends with pictures and brief daily commentaries. In the last one when I sailed from Australia to San Francisco, this was the closing comment I made: “I’ve now been in 81 countries on 6 continents, but the more I travel the more I realize how little I know about the world and all that inhabits it, including peoples, cultures, vegetation, wildlife, and geology. What an eye opener it is to travel. If I were the Creator of Earth, I wouldn’t change a thing. What a magnificent place, and we’d better darn well take better care of it. This is also what astronauts say as they view Earth as a tiny speck cradling mankind. LJ”
I also point this out in the book’s intro:  With all of our cultural differences though, you’ll be surprised to learn how much our countries—and we as human beings—have in common on this third rock from the sun called Planet Earth. After all, the song played at our Disneyland parks around the world is “It’s A Small World After All.”
DMc: A signature request I like to ask every author, illustrator, editor, etc., I interview is for the individual to share with us a tidbit from their lives that the reader will find either humorous or surprising. Lance, can you please share one with us?

LJ: Perhaps the most surprising thing related to my book was receiving endorsements from the US Ambassador to China and the ambassadors to the US from China and Singapore in response to my requests for them. As my grandfather taught me ages ago: You’ll never know if you don’t try, will you?

Lance, thanks for taking the time out to chat with me. I’ve enjoyed getting to you know you! Best wishes for your continued success.

Best regards,


Best wishes,
Donna M. McDine
Award-winning Children's Author
Connect with
The Golden Pathway ~ August 2010 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc.
~ Literary Classics Silver Award and Seal of Approval Recipient and Dan Poynter's Global e-Book Awards Finalist

1 comment:

  1. I love your interviews, Donna. YOu always manage to pull something interesting from your authors--something beyond the gist or the theme of their book. Lance, I want to go on that Silk Road trip with you!


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