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How to Tell Where Somebody Studied Abroad

by Matt Hershberger Dec 8, 2014

For years after studying abroad in Buenos Aires, I drank yerba mate. I drank it the traditional way: loose leaf, from a gourd, using a special straw with a filter at the tip (“called a bombilla,” I’d tell onlookers, being sure to pronounce the “ll” in bombilla as an Argentine “j” instead of the more typical Spanish “y”). It made me, I thought, seem very worldly, and this is why I ignored for so many years that drinking mate tasted a lot like I was sucking a particularly strong tea straight through the bag.

As more years have passed, and as I’ve become (slightly) less pretentious, I’ve stopped drinking mate, and I’ve noticed a lot of other travelers carrying back similar affectations from their trips abroad. If you pay close enough attention, you can tell exactly where a person has traveled solely by what they are wearing, what they are drinking, or by certain quirks. Here are some of them:

Southeast Asia: This person orders “10 level spicy” at Thai restaurants, and claims that it is “an American 10, not a Thai 10,” still oblivious to the fact that an American 10 is still pretty rough on the way out. This person will have a picture of themselves with a baby tiger, and will always point out that the sand on the beach you’re hanging out at could be whiter.

The Middle East (non-birthright):
This person wears a kaffiyeh and is never happy with the quality of the local falafel.

The Middle East (birthright): This person comes back suddenly very political.

Japan: This person eats wet noodles with a chopstick, because they are more interested in showing off their skills instead of keeping their shirt clean. They will never hold the chopsticks too far down, and will also publicly read manga. This person refuses to take sake bombs.

Nepal: This person wears prayer beads and buys a “Free Tibet” bumper sticker. There’s also Tibetan prayer bunting in their bedroom. The fact that they were in Nepal and not Tibet will not phase them in the least.

Italy: This person drinks cappuccinos and does not speak a word of Italian, on account of having spent all of their time with other American students. They can drink wine like a tank (but note: this applies to people who studied in France as well).

Mexico: This person will drink tequila chilled or will actually sip at it. They will complain that Chili’s and Chipotle “aren’t real Mexican food,” and will drink any beer but Corona. They’ll also add a little much trill to their rolled “r’s,” but will actually be pretty decent at Spanish.

The UK: This person will drink cask ales, not realizing that the only people who drink cask ales in Britain are old men — kids mostly stick to cider, Stella, or Carling — and will frequently say that Hershey’s chocolate “tastes like shit” compared to Cadbury’s. This person will also, despite being very in favor of democracy, be extremely interested in the British monarchy, and will get their news from the BBC, claiming it’s “less biased.”

Scotland: Not everyone who drinks scotch has been to Scotland, but you can pretty safely bet someone’s been there if they drink Single Malt Islay scotch. Only fanatics know all the single Malt regions, and Islay — which tastes like a bonfire — is the closest to a caricature you can drink, so basically only Scots and American students drink it. This person will also defend haggis and will be extremely disgusted with both the Monarchy and with the movie Braveheart.

Australia: This person will call sandals “thongs,” and will eat vegemite and pretend to like it. They will also pretend to understand cricket, which is nonsense, because literally no one understands cricket.

France: This person will be very fixated on wine and cheese. So this person’s actually pretty delightful to be around.

Central America: This person’s Facebook posts are a lot sadder than most, and they’ll use the word “hegemony” quite a bit.

South Africa: This person, if it’s a dude, will talk about “being in the bush,” and if it’s a woman, will wear long, flowing skirts. This person is also probably going to end up founding an NGO.

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