Photo: Gloria Atamno
Living in an international hub of Europe like Barcelona, it’s common to meet people from 10 different countries in one night. It’s even more common to feel comfortable discussing a country’s political affairs or status quo within minutes of meeting one another. When respect is the common core, everything’s fair play. We’re a curious breed, travelers especially, because we rather go out and seek the answers than sit in a classroom and have someone feed us their version of it.
So last weekend I was at a pub during a cultural night, and there were easily 10+ countries represented. We all scribbled questions down without names and put them in a hat, to keep the good conversations/exchanges going. I anonymously wrote down with the help of my homegirl Tequila and 3 of her close friends: “What is the most annoying thing about American travelers?”
Now, before you take away my ‘Merica Card, I asked this question not to bash my own people, but rather out of genuine curiosity so I could work on my own habits and share with others to try and better the perception people have of our new generation of globetrotters.
There were about 15 questions in the hat, and with every question drawn, my palms got sweatier in anticipation of another awkward situation I could add to my weekly tally, surpassing quota — yet again.
Finally, I see the reader skim the question briefly in her head, make an expression like “sh*t’s about to get real” and I knew it had to be mine. She proceeds to ask the room full of slightly-inebriated-but-could-still-pass-a-walking-test crowd, “What’s the most annoying thing about American travelers?” There was one other American in the room and we both sunk in our seats waiting for the inevitable jabs. At that moment, I wanted to answer the question so as to take the pressure off people answering, and also maybe trick them into thinking I wasn’t the one who asked it in the first place. But then again, because of the person that I am, my awkwardness, and everything in between, my mouth glued shut and I forgot how to ‘human being’.
There was an awkward silence as people looked around the room scanning the mental balls of audacity to ask such a forward question. And then as if the Queen summoned him herself, a British man cleared his throat, in sync with my bowel movements imploding within, and said, “You know what, I don’t have a problem with American travelers, because they’re at least making an effort to get out and see the world and experience other cultures. It’s the ones who DON’T travel that annoy me. They stay in the same city, state, and country all their lives, being comfortable never trying to learn or experience other cultures. I’ve visited America and met people who have never even ventured outside of their home state and it’s mind-blowing.”
And others started to chime in with mutual agreement, about the idea that people can be satisfied living a life on this beautiful planet, perfectly content without ever experiencing other parts of it. And this applies to citizens of every country.
I definitely wasn’t expecting such an enlightening and refreshing perspective. I was humbled.
If more people redirected their $200 shoes and $400 designer purses towards an experience that won’t get dirty, old, or eventually thrown away, how much greater would this millennial generation be? To experience another culture’s happiness that doesn’t come in the form of an XBOX or Wii is something I want my children to see firsthand. How grateful we’d be for our unspoken privileges! How soon we’d realize that half of our “necessities” are actually just luxuries!
And before the most common excuse comes up: traveling is no longer a matter of money because it’s become more affordable than ever before, and more people are taking advantage of that.
As Americans, we have one of THE strongest passports in the world, just behind The United Kingdom, Finland, and Sweden. Why are we not taking advantage of that? With the simple possession of an American passport, we are able to visit 172 countries around the world. We’ve hit gold! Just by being born on U.S. soil, we have the opportunity to explore this beautiful and dynamic world around us.
So, while I’m sure there are plenty of habits or things that foreigners get annoyed with by American travelers, it was nice to get a stamp of approval that no matter how we might come across, the fact that we’re at least trying is enough. And to that I raise my glass… again.