How not to be a stupid American tourist

Come on baby, give it up for Uncle Sam.” This is an actual pick-up line I overheard during my two-week trip across the European continent. This particular proposition was smoothly suggested by members of the Delta-Dingaling-Dork fraternity, harassing a European woman on the streets in Amsterdam. It was right then I knew I had to write a column.

Observing this behavior as well as that of other Americans on my travels, I developed a list of travel tips for University students planning on going abroad.

I developed these tips along my journey to Iceland, the Netherlands and Germany. Before you ask, no, I did not spend any of my time in Amsterdam frequenting either hash houses or brothels in the red light district. I was too busy producing eight-hour productions of a five-page play (for the XIV World Congress of the “Fédération Internationale pour le Recherche Théâtrale”) to get high and, to be quite honest, I loathe people whose entire goal in visiting another country is to smoke weed.

After all, the only thing more annoying than packs of loud Americans roaming the streets of any European city are packs of loud, high Americans stumbling through the streets looking for a McDonald’s.

Perhaps I am being too judgmental: Surely getting stoned and eating a Big Mac is an American dream of sorts, and who am I to say those stories won’t become the stuff of family legend for the grandkids. I certainly claim no cultural or social superiority in my own methods of travel; I’m sure I have probably committed one or two these travel “faux pas” over the years.

Tip No. 1: I emphasize this first tip to the members of the Delta-Dingaling-Dork fraternity especially. Guys, just because a woman in a European city is not responding to your suave (and classy) pickup lines does not mean she cannot understand what is being said. Actually, more often than not, the woman understands but is ignoring such American Casanovas. After all, the English language is not a mysterious code completely unintelligible to most Europeans. In fact, the citizens of most European Union countries have spent a lot of time studying English and will, nine times out of 10, know exactly what is being said.

Related to this point is tip No. 2: Just because you’re an American does not mean women will find you the least bit attractive. Please refer to travel tip No. 1.

Tip No. 3: Bike Lanes. Outside the United States, people ride their bicycles daily without fear of death from an oversized SUV careening into the biker’s path. (I speak from experience.) If a bike lane, clearly marked by signs and, most importantly, people riding bikes, suddenly appears, do not walk onto it without looking in both directions. Also, if someone rings a bell or a similar attention-getting device, you might considering doing the following: Get out of the way!

I found the comment of one frustrated bicycle rider in Berlin perhaps the best way to handle the situation. After a group of six American college students planted themselves in the middle of a Berlin bike lane – under a sign with the walking man symbol crossed out – to unfold their XXXXXXL tourist map to find the Hard Rock Cafe (I’m not joking), the aforementioned bicyclist simply yelled in perfectly clear English, “Get out of za bike lane stoopeed Americans!”

Tip No. 4: Not eating at the local McDonald’s or Hard Rock Cafe in any given European city is OK. I realize these are the most visible signs of American culture abroad, but I do not believe T-shirts from a Hard Rock Cafe anywhere have been interesting since 1990. I must give Starbucks due credit for making a move to replace McDonald’s as the newest American blight on the European block. While in Berlin, I wondered how long it would take before the new Starbucks on Rosa-Luxemburg-Strasse (I could not make that up) will be firebombed and reduced to dust.

Tip No. 5: While I realize the tragedy of Sept. 11 still weighs heavily on many people, it is time to stop wearing entire outfits coordinated around an American flag theme while abroad. Come to think of it, it is time to stop wearing American flag theme outfits in the United States. Not only do these red, white and blue ensembles make a county of origin abundantly clear, they also let the world know Americans have bad fashion sense. I would prefer to keep that secret on this side of the Atlantic.

Tip No. 6: Speaking loudly is not better than asking a question at a reasonably audible level. Here again, I refer the reader to travel tip No. 1.

Tip No. 7: Just because a person is American does not mean anyone else in the world wants to be a newfound friend, especially if a person is wearing a T-shirt that reads “America: No. 1 and still kicking ass.” Please refer to travel tip No. 5.

Tip No. 8: Spontaneous and boisterous renditions of the national anthem do not need to happen in the airport before boarding a plane or anyplace else populated by people not interested in hearing the Star-Spangled Banner.

I fully appreciate all the candy bars, commemorative candle sets, Happenings Books, and faux holiday wreaths the American high school choir groups need to sell to bankroll a European adventure. However, I do not think it is necessary for these same eager, wandering minstrels to then sing an assortment of patriotic tunes while sitting in McDonald’s on the Fourth of July in Amsterdam. Not in my most tortured nightmares could I have produced the above scene of cultural treachery.

Tip No. 9: Wearing a baggie with important documents, credit cards, passports and money around one’s neck just helps potential thieves know exactly what to steal. Particularly, the trend of having American flag decorated baggies hanging around one’s neck needs to be immediately stopped. Here I suggest referring to travel tips Nos. 5 and 8.

Tip No. 10: This is my final point, and though I really do no like being the bearer of bad news, here it is: Just because a person is from the United States does not mean any person in another country should care. I refer all readers to travel tips Nos. 1-9. I also suggest people watch National Lampoon’s European Vacation because the Griswold family’s trip across the pond is a far more realistic depiction than most Americans would like to admit.

Perhaps you think by these tips I’m being a bit too caustic in the criticism of my fellow Americans. But after watching countless groups of Uncle Sam’s children repeatedly vomiting and urinating in the streets, making general nuisances of themselves whenever possible and, by proxy, causing me to apologize to the local inhabitants, I think not.


John Troyer’s column appears alternate weeks. He
welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]