A recent email from a Vineyard friend arrived the other day letting me know that he, his wife and their two young daughters would be vacationing in Nicaragua and hoped to stop in to see me on their way to their hotel on the coast. But as soon as he told his friends and other family members about the trip the phone calls and emails started pouring in.

Nicaragua, are you kidding? Isn’t there some kind of war going on down there? You’re taking your children there!??

I swear I never resort to double or triple punctuation marks to express incredulity so please excuse this one-time infraction.

After almost a decade of dividing my time nearly 50/50 between living and working on the Vineyard and Nicaragua I am already accustomed to the incredulity and fear that this country seems to inspire in others. My friend back home sent me a link to the U.S. State Department website that family members had sent him alerting travelers to all the varied dangers that loomed when leaving the United States. Perhaps they were trying to woo him to Disney World instead.

I guess my friend was looking to assuage the grave concerns of friends and family so I clicked on the link and read the travel advisory for anyone foolhardy enough to voluntarily leave the safety of the U.S. and go to Nicaragua of all places. It was actually pretty scary stuff — murder, mayhem, rapes and kidnappings. Certainly not a place I’d choose for a winter getaway, especially with small children in tow.

But wait a minute — I already live in Nicaragua, and after 10 years I’ve never experienced a single moment when I felt in danger in any way. I wish I could say the same for all the time spent in the U.S.

Looking at the statistics, the U.S. beats Nicaragua for every sort of crime by a country mile. But when something bad happens to an expatriot or tourist in a foreign country it becomes tantamount to The Shot Heard Around the World. Anything more serious than a purse snatching becomes national news back home and feeds into the suspicion and fear that Americans have for other places. The mainstream media loves this stuff since it gives readers a break from the daily body count back home, and helps reinforce the notion that bad things happen somewhere else, preferably far away from home and to someone else.

Just after sending my friend a pretty standard soothing reply I read online in the local Vineyard news that an inebriated and abusive hockey dad carrying a concealed weapon was arrested during a game at the Martha’s Vineyard Arena. Things like that just don’t happen in Nicaragua, but not for lack of ice arenas. Call me crazy but it just never occurred to me to bring a loaded handgun to a local hockey match. I understand that hockey can get pretty unruly at times but I never felt the need to express my rugged American individualism by swaggering around drunk with a loaded pistol stuck in my waistband — even if it is legal.

Given all the insanity (is there any other more apt description) I began to wonder about Americans and their commonly held misconception that the world is a dangerous place while the United States is perfectly safe. Firepower seems to trump statistics and with that in mind I decided to ghost write an honest travel advisory for the U.S. State Department. It’s copyright-free and they’re welcome to use it.

United States Traveler’s Advisory 
as interpreted by Robert Skydell

Travelers intrepid enough to visit the United States should exercise extreme caution at all times. Be aware that the United States has a mythic and even folkloric relationship with weapons and violence. Not surprisingly we lead the world in guns owned per capita by a very wide margin. Recently passed legislation has even made it possible for college students attending government funded schools in many states to legally carry concealed weapons into the classroom. Professors on holiday might want to travel under an assumed occupation.

Incidences of mass murder have become nearly daily occurrences. But the randomness of these crimes is particularly difficult to guard against. Please consider avoiding all cities, shopping malls, movie theatres and major tourist attractions during your stay.

The United States is the single largest consumer of illegal opiates in the world, and drug-related violence is a widespread and growing problem throughout the country. Random crime, including car-jacking, home invasion and domestic violence are also such routine occurrences that it hardly seems worth even mentioning in this advisory. To be on the safe side, keep your head down, your traveling to daylight hours and avoid married couples.

Despite the statistics, we in the United States continue to steadfastly believe that our country is perfectly safe and your country (wherever you may happen to be from) is a lawless, dangerous and uncivilized place. To those still intent on visiting the United States instead of say, Belgium, please be advised that we are a pretty trigger-happy lot. We are armed to the teeth and proud of it.

Good luck and please enjoy your stay.

Robert Skydell owns Fiddlehead Farm in West Tisbury.