I think I’ve figured out why American tourists have such a bad stereotype abroad. In case you didn’t know what foreigners think of Americans, they think we’re loud, get drunk often, are generally unhealthy, and stupid. Not exactly the qualities you want a person to associate with you immediately.
A few years ago I was studying abroad in Heidelberg, when one of my Canadian friends told me a peculiar story that got me thinking. He told me how he had visited Venice and went to the Venetian Opera. Within a matter of minutes he and his girlfriend had managed to pick a fight with some old people right in front of them. One thing led to another, and soon enough they were dragging my friend, kicking and screaming, out of the opera house.
What he was screaming though was, “get your hands off of me I’m American. I’m from Texas!” He also threw an “eh” on the end there. Unfortunately, no one there recognized this. Instead they all averted eye contact and in low voices acknowledged how another “dumb American tourist” had tainted their experience.
I don’t know why but this irked me, and also led me to start creating a conspiracy. You know how they always tell Americans to say that they’re Canadian when they’re abroad? I’m pretty sure this is some evil P.R. campaign started by the Canadians. Every time an American tourist wants to give a good impression they’re Canadian, but whenever something bad happens the Canadian becomes and American and the American just stays the same. This was all wrong to me. So, I decided to start a campaign of my own, to even things out a bit. Now I know all the Canadians out there are going to deny this, but when you ask them face to face, you’ll see that moment of guilt in their eyes. They’ll take a sip of their Molson and try to steer the conversation toward hockey, poutine, or maple syrup. But you’ll know I’m right.
I get bored very easily. This is bad because I then tend to do things I shouldn’t. I’ve also been wanting to practice my German recently. So, what better place to start my campaign than in at tourist information booths. This is the place that handles all the foriegners. The people who work at these places are paid to look happy, but deep down you know that they want to smack you upside the head if you ask them anything. They have very short nerves, but they also have an innate urge to help people, especially when it comes to directions. I guess it’s not very nice to mess with them, but the way I see it, it’s for the greater good.
So, I’ve been going to every information place I can find and asking for a map and directions to random locations. I also stress that I’m from Canada like they always tell us to do. They’ll then seem to cheer up immediatly and try to tell me the directions. I’ll act very confused and point at the map. They smile and tell me, “no, it’s over there.” I’ll still act confused. Their smile will turn to a frown. They’ll tell me to walk in that direction. I’ll start to walk and they’ll still be watching me from the window. I’ll stop at a random place look at the map and stare back at the window with a sad and perplexed look, and just when the come out to help me I’ll bolt down some random alley singing “O Canada”.
I’ve also tested a different method out at the library. In Germany, bringing a bag of any sort into a library is the equivalent of wearing a Marilyn Manson shirt to a church. They just don’t allow it, and they have an “information booth”, or as I say “armed sentry”, at the entrance to remind you of this. I decided to test them out. I didn’t want to use one of the lockers. I just wanted to go upstairs and read, and not worry about locking and unlocking my stuff.
So, I decided to walk straight through, ignoring this irrevelant step. I gave a friendly wave to the man behind the desk who hadn’t noticed my bag yet because I hadn’t turned the corner. I then quickly turned and started a brisk jog.
I heard some yelling in German behind me and pretend not to listen or care. About ten paces later, the info desk guy was grasping my arm and pointing at my bag panting and waving a Dewey decimal card at my eye. He I told him that I was a Canadian student here and I just wanted to use the library. He gave me a foul look pointed at my Obama button and handed me a key to the locker. FOILED! I scuffed guiltily to the locker and came back. He explained to me how he had studied abroad in Canada.
I think he was an undercover Mountie who’d been sent to stop my antics so their p.r. campaign could continue.
I’ll have to change my tactics; I will break these stereotypes and reveal this conspiracy.