Saturday, June 12, 2010

American Traveler - the Bone I would like to pick

Why do we say "I have a bone to pick with you" anyway?

It's the gauntlet to throw down in modern day - at least where I grew up. Considering we don't wear gloves anymore which require removal before physical altercations. Hmmm, maybe not such an educated way of saying "I feel very strongly there's something we need to discuss and you may not like it but tough." I'll think about that one.

Before I proceed: Yes, I am going to target my fellow countrymen/women. Yes, I realized that if I were of another nationality, I'm sure I could be writing this same post about that nationality's countrymen too. But it's my turn to address the "ugly American" issue which I haven't really done in the 4 years I've been posting on this Blog as an American living in Switzerland.

Prompted by the very LOUD, obnoxious, young, American, vacationing girls who were riding the Tram in Zurich the other day. Which could be one of my own daughters someday but I'm hoping and praying not.

The overheard conversation went something like this:

"Yeah, like I'm ever going to see those people again anyway."
"Who cares what they think. I so don't care."
"Yeah, but Switzerland is so totally like a small Country you actually might run into them again."
"OMG, did you see that one guy."
"He was so rude and could hardly speak English."

And so on and so forth. I was never soooooo tempted to get up and walk over and let them know that 1. based on the tram they were on, virtually everyone could understand their very loud, rude conversation and 2. they represent Americans where ever they go but at least they have youth on their side - there is grace given to youth where ever they go in most cases.

I decided not to as I didn't feel like getting told to take a flying leap that day and they got off one stop prior to mine.

Over the years, we've accumulated a multitude of stories of unpleasant tourists. We know this comes in part by the discomfort people have in finding themselves in a country where the language is hard to understand/read. On one hand, it's exciting and romantic but on the other, there can be struggle to communicate or get around in an unfamiliar environment. Some people adapt more easily than others. We just stay quiet and don't advertise we are 'english' speaking when near such 'uncomfortable' tourists. Unless they need directions/help - then I open my big mouth.

My two biggest requests/pieces of advice for those who haven't traveled outside of the country (USA or other):

1. Don't expect or demand that things should be the way they are at home - or make fun of it. You are in a foreign country - they are living, eating and talking they way they are comfortable; it's their home, not yours. You will have more fun in the end trying new things and experiencing their customs/foods/drinks.

2. English has become such a common bonding language that most people speak/understand a good bit - even if you never hear it. For example, most people in Switzerland speak 3 languages but are not going to switch out of their mother tongue to English just because English people are around them. When in Europe, assume people CAN understand you until it's proven they can't.

And I always tell the girls, "Remember, as soon as you open your mouth, they know you're American." People are interested. So they watch. And listen. And form opinions. Just like we do when there are German, Swedish, Dutch, UK, Australian, etc..... visitors in our country (USA).

I know. It takes all kinds and there are going to be those people, yada, yada, yada......... It just really bugged me the other day.

Funny thing was - everyone else was very quiet on the Tram - we were getting such an earful. The other passengers picked up their conversations after the girls departed the Tram.

Bone is clean. I've dusted off the gloves. More pic's later.


Makila said...

Well said. :)

Judy said...

I totally agree with you. I always told our kids to never assume someone in another country couldn't understand English. Thanks for sharing.

liz said...

Oh Susan, I so feel your frustrations. I was seconds from chastising some American young women at Chateau Chillon who were yoodeling & yelling on the castle walls down into the courtyard. My blood reached it's boiling point. Then, as I was about to approach, they helped an old lady with her walker. Sometimes, it's just complicated.

Olson Family said...

Yes - complicated. As life is.....