March 20, 2006

getting along

We have all probably heard of the term 'ugly American' referring to American tourists. Over my travels, I have to say that I was dismayed to see just how common this behavior actually is. So while I don't mean to sound anti-American here, please indulge me in a little bitch session - and take these as tips when traveling abroad. The first thing I notice about many Americans is, we are loud! On trains, in restaurants (especially with alcohol), and in shops and streets. We shout to each other and laugh raucously and loudly, without deference to whether others are bothered or not. And often with commentary that isn't complimentary ("what, is it too much to ask to have salt and pepper on tables here?" "They sure make pizza weird here.") Don't assume the Europeans around you can't understand what you're saying. Secondly, many of us immediately speak English to everyone with a tone of expectation that they will understand and speak English back. Funny how offended we would be by this by foreign tourists in America. Learn a few words and phrases - 'yes', 'no', 'thank you', 'please', 'hello', 'I'm sorry', 'excuse me', 'I don't speak ___', 'do you speak english', and 'how do you say (english word)' are probably enough to get along easily for a long time in most situations. Even just knowing the first couple of those are enough. And if you begin and stumble, most seem to clearly appreciate the attempt and try their best to speak whatever english they know while you fumble through their language as well. Don't assume an unfriendly person or even an unfriendly city makes for an unfriendly country. And maybe they are just having a bad day - it may have nothing to do with you.

One positive note on Americans is that we do seem to be very generous. We are anxious to tip and tip well, even when tipping isn't customary.

This is their country, the more you respect it, the more you'll enjoy it.

I was discussing movies with a guy in Munich (Brokeback is huge in Europe and just opening in Germany.) He mentioned how 'Crash' flopped there, and I said that I could understand that. 'Crash' is about internal conflicts and issues and problems that I would guess most Europeans just don't have or understand. He agreed. I said that with the things that Americans have issues and problems with, Europeans must just think that we are ridiculously silly. He smiled said, "We do. But we like you anyway."

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