|No logos or flags here!|
I ran into one such group of Americans in the middle of fall break during my year abroad. Four of us had traveled together to Florence for several days and we were splitting up - two of us heading to London and the other two further south in Italy - the next morning. We'd had a wonderful time in Florence and wanted to celebrate our last night en vacances together with a nice dinner, so we found a place in the heart of the city and sat down, rubbing our hands together in greedy anticipation of more delicious Italian cuisine.
|I went to Florence to see things like Il Duomo, not to hear|
tourists arguing with each other at the top of their lungs.
The table of girls seated behind us at the restaurant, however, clearly had no such reservations. They chattered away in English, much more loudly than was necessary, and my friends and I rolled our eyes at each other and wondered why Americans so often seemed unaware of the volume of their voices in comparison to the people around them. Did we do that when we spoke English, we wondered? What was it in American DNA that demanded our conversations be loud enough for everyone around us to hear?
|Street art, Firenze-style! (And no one can knock this one|
against the wall...)
The girl gave her such a disgusted look that I nearly burst out laughing, but my friend returned her glare levelly and the girl finally shifted her shoulder away from the wall, then turned and started muttering - not quietly - with her friends about what a pain the French people behind them were. We snickered under our breath and dug into our dinner.
Just for the humor quotient, those few moments in Florence remain one of my favorite memories of that trip, but the memory of the dichotomy between two tables of American girls keeps me mindful of my actions and my attitude whenever I'm traveling. Whether I'm speaking another language and not obviously American to anyone but customs agents or revealing my nationality with the pronunciation of every word out of my mouth, I'm conscious of doing whatever I can to blend in and respect the local culture.
Certainly not all, or even most, Americans are as oblivious to their surroundings or as rude to the people around them as those girls were, but the reputation Americans have as obnoxious tourists in much of the world is due to those like them. The poor attitudes and lack of respect of that minority have painted the rest of us with the same brush and overcoming the negative impressions they've left behind can be challenging. That's why, whenever anyone asks my advice about traveling, manners, following local customs and paying attention to your surroundings are at the top of my list. As an "obnoxious American," I'd never get anything like a real look at what life is like around the world - and that's too much a part of the reason I travel to miss.