Tacky Tourists In A Strange Land

by admin on May 22, 2017

Several years ago, my sister’s husband was stationed in Germany with the Air Force. He was born in Austria, so spoke perfect German. They and their 18 month old baby were living off base in a small town, where most of the residents spoke only a little English, so my sister became fluent in German within a very short time.

My mother and I went over to visit one September while they were there. My brother-in-law had to spend a few days on rotation on the base, so the rest of us took a trip to some surrounding areas. These included a small castle that gave several tours each hour. These tours were mostly in German, with one tour per hour given in English. There was a sign posted at the ticket office that explained this and stated that no other tours would be given in English, just the one each hour. We arrived shortly after the English tour had left, and would have had to wait another hour before the next English tour. However, because my sister spoke German rather well, we decided to join one of the regular tours and she would translate for the rest of us.

Another American couple also joined this tour. We assumed, and so did the tour guide, that this couple also spoke German well enough to understand the basics. However, the guide had barely started the tour and was getting ready to move to the next area when the man from the second couple started yelling that she needed to give them the tour in English. The guide explained, in perfect English, that this was not an English tour, she could not give the tour in English because most of the rest of the tour could not understand her, and the couple was invited to wait for the next English tour. But the man continued to yell that he needed the tour in English, that they had paid good money for a tour now. If I remember correctly, my sister even offered to include them in her translation, but that wasn’t good enough for the man, he wanted the information from the guide. The guide then said that she would give them a translation after she had given the German rendition, which the man accepted. However, we soon realized that she was giving the man a very abbreviated version of her German rendition, because she still had to get the tour moving at the proper speed, which didn’t allow for two full renditions. There were still a couple of times when the next tour had to wait for us to finish up with a room and move on before they could come in.

After the tour, we gave the guide her tip, thanked her very much for her patience, and apologized for the actions of the other Americans because we didn’t want her to think that all Americans were like that. She appreciated that, and even gave us a little souvenir in return. 0201-11

{ 68 comments… read them below or add one }

Marie May 22, 2017 at 4:02 am

So, on vacation…

– The Americans will be rude and entitled
– Russians will be loud and take all the buffet food without actually eating it
– Italians will jump queues and be loud as well
– Germans dig holes in beaches
– Dutch people will let everyone know they are Dutch, and also complain about the Germans digging holes
– The French are snobby and expect people to speak French to them
– The Chinese will also jump queues and crowd buffets
– The Japanese will stand in front of everything to take pictures
– The British will not wear sun tan and then complain about getting a sunburn

… and so on.
Of course this isn’t true – but the stereotype does come from somewhere, and it can be fun tourist spotting and guessing where someone is from based on their behavior. Except for the Dutch of course – they will let you know they are Dutch. Like I am doing now, as a true Dutchman(woman).

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Ultrapongo May 22, 2017 at 5:55 am

As a Swede, I would say that we are quite like you Dutch…
But most Americans I have met are not rude and entitled, but the few who are…, well, you notice them… The same goes for the other nationalities, most fly under the radar, but those who don’t are like the stereotypes.

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Brumhilde May 22, 2017 at 5:59 am

I still have no idea why Germans do that. But I have seen it everywhere, including members of my own family.

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koolchicken May 22, 2017 at 6:10 am

Loved this comment. I grew up in a major city that saw a lot of tourists and I enjoyed watching them and getting a good laugh from time to time. Didn’t matter where they were from, they always stood out. But not in a bad way (usually). It’s just the way it is when you come from a vastly different culture. There are often some truths to the stereotypes, after all they come from somewhere. I make a bad American as I’m not loud at all and loud people actually distress me. The rest of my family is very loud though, I spend most of my time with them asking them to speak softly to no avail! My husbands family is Asian and my FIL does love his camera. My father’s family is Italian and loud, they jump the line but since everyone in line is related it doesn’t really matter. My Mum’s side is Irish, they’ve been known to imbibe… Oh, and my Aunt is Dutch, as she’s been known to point out. 🙂

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Mal May 22, 2017 at 7:30 am

I don’t know about digging holes – except for small children but I think that’s based on age rather than nationality – but the stereotype about Germans reserving space on beaches with their towels is, unfortunately, very true. Those Germans who don’t do it even have a nifty term for their reaction to that kind of behavior: “fremdschämen”, meaning feeling ashamed in the misbehaving person’s stead.

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RC May 22, 2017 at 7:42 am

I travel a lot, and am lucky to have the ability to do so. I had to laugh at this list, because whilst I agree that stereotypes do not define the individual, I have encountered more than my share of all of the above behaviours. And I will add my own country to the list:
– The New Zealanders (and Australians) are likely to be young, rowdy, and drunk

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Cattra May 22, 2017 at 10:21 pm

I think you need to clarify that the Australians (and NZ) who are young, are likely to be rowdy and drunk. The older tourists are generally friendly and more well behaved.

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Airelenaren May 22, 2017 at 8:19 am

I’m definitely guilty of hole digging. ^^

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KenderJ May 22, 2017 at 7:00 pm

So am I. What else are you supposed to do on a beach? 😉

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lkb May 22, 2017 at 9:33 am

Many years ago, my husband and I were in Paris and I was chatting with a guard at the Louvre while we were waiting for the museum to open for the day. Knowing the stereotypes mentioned above, I was quite pleased when the guard asked if I was Canadian (known for being very polite and friendly). Nope, I’m from the U.S.

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Dee May 22, 2017 at 11:38 am

In our city we have a large minority population, with very particular habits and cultural tendencies that clash terribly with the “main” population. In the amalgam of cities to the west, each city has its own cultures that clash, including one city’s (majority?) immigrant population that has a bad habit of peeing in public, outdoors in parking lots and in garbage cans. I’ve seen it myself, or I wouldn’t believe it. Across our very large country each province has its own culture, usually areas with separate cultures, each with their own idiosyncrasies. The Dutch are Texan wannabes and don’t like anyone who isn’t Dutch, the French don’t like the non-French and won’t speak English, and so on. From what I’ve heard and seen, they take that attitude to other countries when they visit. And, of course, there are many in those cultures who don’t fit the stereotype but they don’t stand out and get remembered like their compatriots.

As has been said, stereotypes exist for a reason. We’ve found that in the more northern US states the people are more familiar to us, whereas the people in the more southern states are very foreign to us. Same country, very different people. And even the Americans who live a short distance from my home are quite different vs. people in my country who live the same distance away, in the other direction. But I think more culture are the personalities that lead a person to not pay attention to their surroundings and adapt accordingly. In many societies certain personality types are encouraged and others discouraged, thus giving the impression ALL people from that region are the same.

Regardless, the old “when in Rome” is good advice for all; temporary ignorance is forgivable but willful disrespect for local customs and rules is heinous. That’s what should be taught at home before any traveling is done.

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lkb May 22, 2017 at 2:50 pm

Well put, but good for Canada that its residents have such a reputation for politeness! (I’m near Windsor, ON) and encounter Canadians fairly often and from what I can see, the reputation is well earned. Bravo!

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EllenS May 22, 2017 at 1:04 pm

Lol.
This comment reminded me of the movie “Meeting Venus.” Not a comedy altogether, but there was certainly a lot of fun to be had out of the clash of international stereotypes and opera/theater “diva” behavior.

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M May 22, 2017 at 1:37 pm

This is so true, especially the part about my very own french brothers and sisters. I was trying to book a hotel in Madrid this weekend and checking the different reviews. Every second review by the French was about the hotel staff not speaking french. This was especially funny to me because our own hoteliers rarely speak any foreogn languages. One of those cases of cognitive dissonance I keep hearing about, I guess.

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Ajay May 22, 2017 at 8:46 pm

My husband took me to France, sooo many years ago, and we both understood more than we could speak, we would attempt to speak in french and then 100% of the time, every single french person would speak English to us, and would also very gently correct our french, generally with a “well done, keep it up” sentiment afterwards. I found both the French and Italians so delightful in their happy to kindly teach us attitudes.

Oddly enough, I could not understand the bus-tour of Americans that were staying at our hotel, and we supposedly speak the same language…

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Miss-E May 22, 2017 at 4:23 pm

lmao this is the best comment. I grew up in NYC and worked at the ESB for some time, I have seen all these stereotypes play out. Of course I know they aren’t true of everyone but its the ones that so perfectly fit the mold that stand out to you.

I recently went on a glacier hike with a bunch of Japanese tourists who all had selfie sticks. The guide repeatedly said he would give us chances to stop and take pictures but it was dangerous to do so while climbing with axes and crampons. They still stopped and too photos and sat/lay down on the ice (big no-no because that’s how you slide off the glacier and die!).

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Ketchup May 23, 2017 at 5:08 am

Us Dutchies love all things cheap and will try to find the bargains.

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twoferrets May 23, 2017 at 8:31 am

I am only about a quarter Dutch, but it occurs to me that I tell people about it all the time! And the late, American-born but Dutch-descent dad of a friend of mine had a bumper sticker that read “If You Ain’t Dutch, You Ain’t Mutch!”

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Tanya May 23, 2017 at 6:56 pm

It’s not tacky, but it is still interesting to me: I can almost always pick an American tourist because of how they dress (I live in NZ). Europeans not at all, and I can’t tell the difference between a Chinese tourist and a Chinese NZ citizen, for example, based on dress: but the Americans wear clothes that are ‘not right’ to our eyes. To be fair though every American tourist I have had the pleasure of interacting with has been perfectly pleasant, even when somewhat taken aback about local conditions 🙂

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Cat May 24, 2017 at 2:26 am

In Florida, we can always tell the Europeans on the beaches. They are the only people who wear socks with sandals on the beach.

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Lex May 22, 2017 at 4:38 am

‘Tacky Tourists’ applies to ANY nationality visiting ANY country. Customs and behaviours that are indulged in a tourists’ native country are considered boorish or rude to those in the country they visit. We recently spent our honeymoon in western Canada and everywhere we went were coachloads of a particular nationality of tourist. These people had no consideration for the needs of others or any sort of social awareness beyond their own group. They regularly pushed in front of other tourists that were not part of their very large party, they swarmed in reception areas and at viewpoints making it impossible for other tourists or smaller groups to get a look in. They were not at all considerate to the idea that OTHER groups wanted the same experiences. They would ‘hog’ the best photography points to prevent others from getting there. One person would stand there and ‘hold the spot’ for someone else, who in turn ‘held it’ for the next person and so on. They thought nothing of having a single individual queue for the whole group, and when that person had placed their order, the next one would ‘take his place’. They were not aggressive or nasty to others, they were just thoughtless. Or, rather, they APPEARED thoughtless to people of other nationalities. Perhaps this is acceptable behaviour in their native country?

Cognitive Dissonance will happen wherever you go, and it is up to whichever leader or authority figure is in ‘control’ of the party to set the expectations for behaviour. That being said, rude, boorish people will always be rude and boorish and often people will take the path of least resistance in dealing with them – in the OP’s example, by giving abbreviated English summaries. Ultimately the ‘boorish Americans’ in question only did themselves out of an experience by asserting their demands, because instead of hearing the full details, they ended up with a precis.

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DGS May 22, 2017 at 7:26 am

This!!!

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Mal May 22, 2017 at 7:40 am

Lex, I could swear you’re talking about tourists from my home country 😉
I’ve observed that kind of behavior in my fellow Germans (and may have been guilty of it myself before I learned not to be a Lemming), but only if they are abroad as a group – they’d never act that way back at home. I think it might be a sort of “strength in numbers” instinct due to unfamiliar surroundings.

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Liz W May 22, 2017 at 8:58 am

The touring companies are partly to blame for this. Overbooked trips with too much stuff crammed into too little time. I feel for the tourists though they are to blame for the rest of the crap they pull.

I still wish I had gotten the contact information for the two very tiny and elderly British ladies who rescued me from being trampled on the floor of the Louvre. I was sitting against the wall working on a sketching assignment when a large group flooded the tiny room. They were swept against the wall as well and managed to pick me and my stuff up and get the three of us out the door without injury. Very grateful hugs and smiles and thank yous exchanged with complete strangers. I love traveling.

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Asharah May 22, 2017 at 6:21 pm

Lex, I wonder if that was the same nationality of tourists my mother encountered on a trip to Canada. They were upset because the golf course at the hotel had been closed down because it was moose mating season and one of the local males had claimed it as his territory. They couldn’t seem to understand that you just DO NOT interfere with a male moose who will charge anything other than a female moose that crosses his path during this particular time of year. Just stay out of the way and eventually they’ll leave.

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Maria16 May 22, 2017 at 5:41 am

I’ve heard that a German man can be a jerk too. I think apologizing on behalf of Americans for a boorish man is also quite rude and may have made the tour guide uncomfortable, esp as the OP was tipping at the time. If I were the tour guide, I would have felt complicit in the OP’s stereotype thinking by accepting the deserved tip and felt funny about it, certainly worse than I felt about the obnoxious guy on the tour.

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Mal May 22, 2017 at 11:05 am

Of course a German man can be a jerk, too. As can a German woman, for that matter. But in this case, it happened to be an American man.
And if it had been a German, and I had been there too, I would have felt compelled to apologize for him/her as well.

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Maria16 May 24, 2017 at 11:04 am

That would have made me very comfortable as the tour guide and etiquette is about discomfort. I would have possibly, though probably not, felt insulted that you thought I was so dim as to adopt a stereotype over one jerk, when I am a tour guide at a museum and deal with tourists all day and I would have felt embarrassed for you.

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Miss-E May 22, 2017 at 4:25 pm

That’s the truth and beauty of the world: there’s jerks in every country/culture/generation/etc (nice people too). We’d probably get along better if we realized that.

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Dominic May 22, 2017 at 6:41 am

I’ve traveled in Germany several times since my school days, and have gone to many churches, castles, etc., there where no English tour or information is available. Sometimes there may be a pamphlet or card in another language and that is it. It’s funny that people would assume English will always be available, let alone rudely demand it. My second language is German, but my husband only speaks English, so on our most recent trip, last year, I found myself, as usual, translating the German-speaking guide’s explanation as we went, and as often happens, the other English-only speakers soon would gather around to hear my summary in English of the German tour. When I’ve done this, I’ve always tried to keep it short and sweet so the tour guide can keep things moving, and several times they’ve been very helpful and waited, appreciatively, for us to finish before moving to the next room. I don’t think they like “excluding” guests from the informative part of the tour, but for many of them, there’s not much more they can do. Many times the English-language tours at the much smaller venues aren’t very well done anyway (though they sometimes are), so the German-language tour is better, even with me acting as translator.

Final funny story, on an English-language tour of the Linderhof Palace in Bavaria, the guide, who spoke English quite well, would preview the coming room by telling us the name, such as the Lavender Kabinett, the Green Kabinett, etc., and after about three rooms, one older lady on the tour turned to her companion and said, “Do you seen any cabinets in here? I don’t.” Sometimes even a translation doesn’t translate.

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keloe May 22, 2017 at 2:39 pm

I can’t speak about Germany (I have been there several times, but not to castles), but castles in other Central European countries usually have foreign-speaking (by which I mean a choice of two or three non-native languages) tours at specific times, less than non-foreign ones or, in less popular locations, available on demand if you book ahead. The minimum solution is to hand the foreigners their language version of the guide’s talk on paper and just send them with the tour.

Some locations actually prohibit interpreting (there are “No interpreting” signs). I do get that – if someone’s really good at simultaneous interpreting it can be disruptive, and if someone is not, it can hold up the tour. In those cases there are usually pretty good options available.

Personally, I avoid doing intepreting on trips like plague, but that’s because I am actually an interpreter and I don’t like to work for free, unless it’s someone I really like 🙂

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Dominic May 23, 2017 at 6:36 am

That’s intriguing–I’ve never seen a “no interpreting” sign. I can understand that it would disrupt the tour, which is why whenever I have done it, I’ve tried to be very careful not to cause a problem for the guide and other guests, and to not hold up the tour.

Most recently, we were in Dinkelsbühl, Germany, and went on the night watchman’s tour, which is only in German, and largely in dialect at that. In fact, the more he drank, the more he spoke in dialect. Thankfully, we were drinking as well, so I felt I understood him better and better! In any case, I was again translating for my husband, and a group of three young ladies came over when they heard us speaking English and stayed with us for the rest of the tour, listening to the translation. There was plenty of time walking from place to place for me to explain what the guide had been saying, so it worked out well.

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keloe May 23, 2017 at 11:39 am

I have seen those signs in several castles in the Czech Republic. Castles usually involve a lot of talking and not much walking in between, so I get the point. Although, of course, there is also financial side to it – they would prefer for the tourists to pay for the foreign tour instead of going on the cheaper local one.
But interpreting can be disruptive, especially if done by non-professionals. Of course, it can be also helpful and non-disruptive, if whoever is interpreting is also paying attention to the surroundings and the situation (as I’m sure you do). However, if I was running a business like that, I would probably prefer not to rely on everyone acting sensitive. 🙂

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Lara May 22, 2017 at 10:02 pm

The ironic thing about the American tendency to expect everyone to speak English is that few countries are worse about speaking foreign languages than the US. It is perfectly common for Europeans to speak 2,3 even 4 languages, while most Americans only speak 1, or 2 at the most. How many small American towns will offer tours of their local sites in French, or German? Or even Spanish, which is the language of our sister country Mexico, spoken widely within the US?

I grew up overseas in an American family. We noticed a few stereotypical things about tourists from certain places ourselves. There were occasions when we were embarrassed by loud Americans at the next table in a restaurant–but on the other hand, they were usually better dressed than tourists from other areas of the world. Any time we were in an airport or at a popular tourist destination we used to guess, amongst ourselves, where an individual or a family was from based just on their clothing. Most of the time we were right, though not always.

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NostalgicGal May 23, 2017 at 12:14 pm

Years ago my hubby worked for an engineering place, and they sent two engineers from their China office/branch to take over a project-they spent several months here. We booked and took them to the Aztec Exhibit in Denver, long day trip. As we were checking in at the front there were signs in Spanish on the wall and one leaned over and asked me if that was English. I said no, Spanish, and explained what it said. (they had Spanish speaking interpretive guides for those that this was part of their heritage and could go through with one of these guides instead of the audio/headphones in English sets (we had rented those) and there was a woman there with a button on saying she was one of the special guides in Spanish) The look on his face, was some respect… as few Americans speak more than English and he spoke at least three other languages than Chinese, including Japanese, I had found out. We don’t push it in our schools, we don’t make it a required (in a lot of other countries learning another language is mandatory at school) and if it is offered it is so late (high school) that it’s harder to learn and retain. Which is a pity.

I worked at a call in center (you called me to place merchandise orders from the catalog) and a late shift call came in from Wiesbaden, Germany. An American serviceman married a local woman and she called us to place an order. I was probably the only one working for the company that could hold a conversation in German. I proceeded and tried to stay near the script and told her a few times that she was lucky I could speak German, next time she MUST get an English speaking friend to help her if she called in, as she might not get me again. I got off the line and the supervisor was not happy, she had randomly monitored and got my call. We were supposed to stay on script and I told her so, that I had reiterated that the lady not call us again unless she got an English speaking friend to help. So I didn’t get written up. It was actually quite a large order, which also helped…

Even the metric system. I do speak ‘fluent metric’ and online and to friends and acquaintances outside the US I routinely use degrees C and meters and all that lovely stuff and can do the conversions on the fly. (a number of the temperature ones are hard-learned like a multiplication table…). Metric system was voted in as our official system of measure in 1868….

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A May 22, 2017 at 9:04 am

When you are outside your country, you are an ambassador to your country. People like these tourists are the reason that stereotypes exist. And they just reinforce it! Unfortunately, people remember the boors more easily than the hundreds of polite people they meet from the same country.

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Mal May 22, 2017 at 11:09 am

That is very true! On my own travels I’ve been tempted more than once, happening upon a person from my country behaving horribly, to pretend to be from a different country. I do a very convincing “I’m Swedish!” by now :]

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Liz May 22, 2017 at 2:38 pm

This. Reminds of of my trip to Spain in HS, during Holy Week. we were told ahead of time, not just for that week, but any time, no shorts are allowed in churches, and in certain ones, you must cover your head, etc. And also to be respectful and behave.

Somehow and the details are fuzzy as it was almost 35 years ago, but i think my group and two others were together on a tour? So it was my group of however many, mostly girls with a couple of guys, a second group, from an all-boys Catholic HS, and a third group, from another suburban HS, also co-ed. That particular group was rowdy, and not at all respectful of some of the places we visited. So I’m sure the locals thought all of us were the same, even though the other group and us were much more well behaved.

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Swamptribe May 22, 2017 at 9:27 am

I live in Florida, and I can tell you some stories about rude, pushy, inconsiderate tourists. This weekend I was in a local theme park and got smacked in the eye by a teenage girl swinging her souvenir water bottle to attract her friends attention (my eye still hurts, yes, she apologized profusely).

Around here, Brazilians are known for being the most rude in the parks (Disney, Universal). While for everyday it’s tourists from middle America who behave most obnoxiously. The sense of entitlement is amazing with some tourists. I’ve been out going about my daily business and had them treat me like I’m a cast member at one of the parks, making demands and pushing me around.

The thing is, too many tourists, no matter where they are from, seem to forget that they are literally visiting someones home. So, for those people who stop in the middle of the highway because they missed their turn (had done stop in the middle of a draw bridge to point out he sights), or who feel we are all here to entertain them. When we are doing the tourist thing, I always try to remember that lesson, and be respectful of the place we are visiting, and the people who live there.

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Julia May 22, 2017 at 9:52 am

The real problem, IMO, is that being a tourist really puts people off balance. You feel isolated, spend much of your time being confused, and can easily get into the mindset that if you don’t grab what you want you’ll be gypped and left behind. You can be terrified you’re going to miss your bus or not be served your meals. The easiest daily activities become challenges. The food is weird, people’s behavior is weird, the toilets are weird, the power outlets are weird, the money is weird, the smells and sounds are weird. (Ultimately, you start to fear that you are the weird one.)

It is when we travel that etiquette can save our vacations. Despite it all, tourists must remain calm in their vigilance. But this is a legitimate skill, which is one reason why seasoned travelers have more fun than those who aren’t used to it.

I live in a town whose No. 1 industry is tourism (or the US Navy, depending on whom you ask). When I see people from out of town (yes, you are very easy to spot in your new sandals and sunburn), I talk to them because I love getting to know people. While this usually leads to a most pleasant conversation and a few “local tips,” sometimes the people whom I address get flustered. I then smile and leave them alone. I’m being too friendly, which I recognize is a thing. I’m violating their space. Easily done.

However, I was recently in Japan, where one day my party was taken around by a tour guide whom I instantly loved for her knowledge and articulateness. I don’t mean she just spoke English well. She was a wonderful speaker and made everything she said sound fascinating. About two hours in, someone from my party rebuked me for being too friendly with the tour guide. She objected to a compliment I gave the guide and said I was being too personal. Though this deeply hurt my feelings, I reminded myself that I can be too friendly even in my own town, backed off, and tried not to let the whole thing ruin my day.

So even with the best of intentions and a determination NOT to be a rude American tourist, I committed that very faux pas. The incident has reminded me to be forgiving of tourists who demand this and complain about that. There are so many pitfalls when you’re in another culture.

So yeah, the guy on the tour was being a jerk, but I can’t help but wonder what kind of day he was having in this place where he didn’t speak the language and little made sense. Congrats on you, OP, though, for giving kudos to the guide.

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LadyV May 22, 2017 at 1:34 pm

If you’re going to be uncomfortable because you don’t speak the language and everything is strange, then why bother travelling outside your own country? Part of the fun of travel for me is seeing different ways of living. When I went to Germany, even though I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about the language barrier (the college friend I was visiting had a German mother and spoke fluent German – as did my young goddaughter), I took the time to learn some basic German phrases first – especially because I was going to be in a small town. I recommend that to anyone going to another country!

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Csmithy May 23, 2017 at 6:23 am

I think her point was that dealing well with traveling and being in an unfamiliar place is a skill you develop over time. Not travelling at all seems like a sad solution to that problem!

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Julia May 23, 2017 at 4:58 pm

Amen!

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Melissa May 22, 2017 at 10:01 am

I live in a tourist town and find that the majority of tourists are lovely. They try hard to speak English and are thrilled if someone they meet tries to speak their language. That said, the most boorish of our tourists tend to be Americans from other part of the country, who happily besmirch my part of the country while here. They also complain about how expensive it is and how it’s either too hot (in September and October) or how it’s not hot enough (in May and June) when they easily could have checked average temperatures on the Internet.

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AM May 23, 2017 at 9:41 am

Are you talking about San Francisco? I lived there, and your comments about the weather sound familiar!

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Meredithwiggle May 22, 2017 at 10:52 am

I’m an American who visited Italy for a short study-abroad program when I was seventeen. I remember one time I was in Venice and I was looking at postcards in one of the many street vendor wagons. In America no one would blink at a customer taking a postcard/greeting card out of its slot, looking at it, and then putting it back. But I was sternly rebuked for doing just that by the vendor. I felt mortified! I’m wondering now if I had committed a European or Italian faux pas? Venice was the third city I visited though, and I had bought some postcards in Florence and Rome and have no embarrassing recollections of those transactions.

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Mustard May 22, 2017 at 12:55 pm

I think you just fell foul of a grumpy postcard seller who didn’t trust seventeen year olds!

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Ajay May 22, 2017 at 8:57 pm

I’m adding my vote to the grumpy postcard seller – when I was there I had 12 out comparing them all as I wanted my family members to all have different views, the dear man even got me a few more that were different again. I ended up buying them all, they were all so pretty…

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JD May 22, 2017 at 11:02 am

Like Swamptribe, I live in Florida and I sometimes see the results of tourists and snowbirds having aggravated the locals too much, such as the bumper stickers that say, “If you (heart) NY, take I-95 North.” Florida is one of the states that gets international and national tourists, and there can be conflicts of culture. It can get comical or it can get frustrating, but it can definitely serve as a good lesson in how to behave when I’m a tourist.
OP, I would have been upset about the loud couple, too. Granted, they might have been on a bus tour and not had time to wait for the next English tour, but to take the German one then complain that it’s in German seems just silly, as well as rude. They should have accepted the translation offer your party made to them. It was very nice of your group to offer.

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Mustard May 22, 2017 at 11:34 am

My husband always tries to speak a few words of the language in whichever country we are in; even if it’s only ‘thank you’, ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’. My daughter still cringes when remembering the moment he tried to ask the French guide if there were bats in the cave, except he couldn’t recall the French word for bat, so he made do…. and somehow asked about the ‘flying grapefruit’. That, and asking for the ‘house tart’ in Spanish..
We were in Amsterdam a couple of years ago and talking to a guide who, without fail, correctly identified the nationality of everyone in the group simply by observation.

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rindlrad May 22, 2017 at 2:08 pm

Ok, the “flying grapefruit” made me giggle-snort. I once asked for a “head of lettuce” at a vegetable market in Paris in my rough, tourist French. I thought the vendor was going to die laughing. Apparently, they don’t sell lettuce by the head in France. 🙂

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Miss-E May 22, 2017 at 4:27 pm

My father once asked for olives in Valencia, Spain and was giving a plate of squid lol

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Elisabeth May 22, 2017 at 9:31 pm

An old boss of mine was Russian with a very thick accent. One day he and his wife watched the movie Ice Age, and he became fixated on sloths because of the character Sid. His wife booked them a trip to Belize (or something) so they could see some sloths in person.

The problem was, he couldn’t quite say “sloth” properly. So when they got to Belize, he went right up to the concierge and asked “Do you have any sluts here? Where are your sluts?” With his wife standing right next to him! The concierge turned bright red until his wife explained that he meant “sloths”, and was not looking for ladies of the night.

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kingsrings May 22, 2017 at 2:11 pm

My first and only overseas trip was to Japan years ago. On our flight was an couple across the row, and the wife was very drunk, loud, and obnoxious the entire flight and also when we deplaned and were picking up our luggage. At first I thought she was American and I was sooooooo embarrassed and mortified that my fellow countrymen was acting like that. All the horror stories about misbehaving Americans overseas embarrassing our country played through my mind. Then later I found out the couple were from Canada. Whew!! The Canadians can be embarrassed about that one then, lol. ?

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Dee May 23, 2017 at 7:00 pm

I don’t think Canadians are polite as a country. Generally, once you’ve lived in Canada a few years/generations you pick up the typical “Canadian” attitude but there are many large pockets of singular culture citizens in the different provinces where they still live as in the “old country”. Many Canadians clash with each other simply because we are not a homogenous society. That’s okay as it contributes to the variety we all enjoy but it’s also quite problematic when one culture’s norm is another culture’s rudeness. So I wouldn’t say that Canadians are polite as a whole but I do think that those who identify as Canadian, first and foremost, tend to be fairly reserved and observant of others’ needs.

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Minion May 24, 2017 at 10:15 pm

I like to say that Canadians like to complain as a national pass time. Many Canadians are sensitive to the needs of the whole, others are not, like any other country. Since I work retail I deal a lot with the “not” because Canada is not immune to the “entitled” sect of customers.

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InTheEther May 22, 2017 at 3:26 pm

This one is from my dad, but he loves telling the story.

He was stationed in Germany for a year. One evening him and some people from his base were traveling for some reason and stopped at a little mom and pop store (think it was a bakery) to grab some stuff. When they walked in there was some guy trying to order something from the owner. The guy didn’t seem to grasp the fact that the German store owner in the German countryside only spoke German. Apparently he though that upping the volume would break the language barrior, and just kept repeating what he wanted louder and louder, getting more and more frustrated while the owner just kept smiling and saying she didn’t understand. My dad and his buddies just stood in the back and laughed at the guy (he was being a jerk and they didn’t feel inclined to help), and were ready to intervene if the guy went too far. Eventually the guy got fed up and left.

One of the army guys went up and started out by apologizing for his broken German before ordering. At that point the owner stopped him and called her son who spoke perfect English out from the back.

I haven’t been overseas, but at least according to my dad most places you go people are generally great so long as you are polite and at least putting forth an effort with the language and customs.

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NostalgicGal May 23, 2017 at 12:20 pm

This. I am currently studying to add another spoken language and I did learn how to correctly say, “Please Excuse me/Pardon me, I am still learning how to speak (language)” THEN try talking to them. That makes for the other one being a lot more understanding and we can laugh together if I muff it up very badly, and usually they will help me out if I’m not saying it right.

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BagLady May 22, 2017 at 6:51 pm

My significant other served in Vietnam and did his R&R in Thailand. On the way to the hotel, he asked his driver (who spoke English) how to say “hello” and “thank you” in Thai. The moment he said “hello” in Thai to the hotel staff, his fate was sealed — they treated him like a king for his entire visit. They’d seen their share of rude, entitled American GIs, so he was like a breath of fresh air.

I learned from my own travels and the experiences of friends never to assume that people speaking another language in your presence don’t understand your language, so watch what you say! My favorite illustration of this came from a friend’s story about his brother. The brother is blond, Nordic looking and very tall. He was at a Chinese restaurant in the U.S., and a couple of the waitresses got to speculating to each other, in Mandarin, whether he had a large — ahem — personal anatomical part to match his large size.

Brother had spent considerable time in China for business and knew Mandarin. He understood every word they were saying. On the way out, he told them “Thank you, have a good evening” in Mandarin. Their reaction is better imagined than described.

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NostalgicGal May 23, 2017 at 12:25 pm

I did that on my recent bus marathon… two ladies across from me had put on some native music that was very tinny and not enjoyable to most of the rest of the bus and were chattering along at a good volume. I thought carefully on how to word it then excused myself, explained that I was enjoying some listening practice, and pay no attention if I seemed to be staring at them. They were very nice and polite back, and quickly dialed the music way down and lowered their voices as someone UNDERSTOOD THEM. hehehe.

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lkb May 24, 2017 at 9:20 am

My only war story from my dear, departed father who briefly served in the Navy in WWII was similar to this. He was in San Francisco on a day of leave and was taking in the sights while sitting on a city bus. He was directly behind two “old biddies” who were gossiping mightily using Finnish words that would have gotten my dad’s soundly washed out had he used them in northern Michigan, where he grew up.
He was so grateful when his stop came before theirs. He got up and as he passed them, in his perfect Navy whites, tipped his cap and said to them, in perfect Finnish, “Good day, ladies,” and went on — but not before he got a look at their horrified faces. Priceless…

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Yasuragi May 22, 2017 at 7:04 pm

How can you know, really, if someone is from a certain country unless they announce it? Many Canadian and American accents are nearly the same to native speakers. Could non-native speakers pinpoint the country just by accent?
I live in Japan and I would say most Japanese folks can’t tell the difference between North Americans and anyone in the common wealth. If they see a Caucasian speaking English they assume you’re an American.
People with experience in the Asian languages and people know the difference between Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese etc. but I think for the most part people see an Asian face and think Chinese.

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Tanya May 23, 2017 at 7:04 pm

I think it depends on where you come from. Being a New Zealander, I can tell the difference between Chinese and Japanese when I hear them spoken (I only know a few words in each though) and I can tell the difference between written Korean, Chinese, and Japanese from signs and billboards, etc. I would not assume that someone from a country where English isn’t spoken wouldn’t recognise accents (or at least be able to group them).

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NostalgicGal May 23, 2017 at 12:37 am

I used to live in a tourist mecca. One area in all the little burbs that made up the greater metro actually put up signs saying “Watch Out For Tourists” as an incredible number would wander out from between parked cars, right into traffic, and seem affronted and surprised that a car dare drive on the road. The tourist bureau actually bought billboards that said “Remember, You Live Here. To Others This Is Their Vacation.”

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Rose May 23, 2017 at 4:06 am

All this talk about national stereotypes makes me sad. I’m Romany-American, and I travel pretty frequently. I’ve learned to dress as “American” as I can, because there are so many places in Europe where Romany aren’t welcome. I’ve been followed in stores, denied tables in restaurants, and called the g-word, all because some people cling to 18th century beliefs about how my people behave. Having been the victim of untrue stereotypes my whole life, I find I’m less likely to apply them to others; we’re all just people who make the occasional faux pas.

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Airelenaren May 23, 2017 at 1:13 pm

I’m sorry you had such a bad experience. I think part of the problem is that whenever people of an unpopular origin get in trouble, our media make sure to specify that origin as much as they can, so those who are already prejudiced feel confirmed in their hatred. Whenever somebody local or of a popular origin get in trouble, suddenly it’s just “man (35)” or “mother of three”. It’s a nasty bias and needs to disappear. :/

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Heather May 23, 2017 at 8:55 am

I have traveled quite a bit. I think it’s helpful to recognize – to actually say to yourself – that you are in a different place. Things will be different. Accept it and get over it. I think we all seek out the familiar and are disoriented when we don’t find it. I know what I said up top seems so “duh”. But I remember being in Mexico and getting quite upset at how hot I was. I sort of shook myself and said to myself: What did you expect? It’s Mexico. It’s hot. Accept it. This actually made it a bit easier. Almost like giving up a pursuit of the familiar. And yes, to pander to a stereotype, I think it does also help that I’m a Canadian. People assume that I’m nice so they are nice to me.

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UKHelen May 23, 2017 at 9:08 am

DH and I got into a lift in Austria that had three silent, put-out looking people in it. When DH and I started to converse, the three relaxed and exclaimed, “Oh, thank goodness! You’re English! Everybody here is foreign!” Well, yes. You’re abroad, that’s the whole point.

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