Anyone who does a substantial amount of traveling in the continental US can tell you that there is a depressing sameness to the vast majority of this country. The background scenery changes, but 99% of the country is a collage of strip malls, gas stations, and chain restaurants that make it almost impossible to determine where you are. It would be fun to blindfold a few willing contestants, take them to some random small-to-medium city, and have them take their best guess at the location. How many people could actually tell Akron from Amarillo?

Since I travel either to see scenery or friends, this bothers me only on the existential level – the vague sense of unease that our culture is losing any sense of regional identity as it is replaced by the blandest kind of conformity. Most Americans have made uneasy peace with the fact that Indiana looks like Kansas looks like Alabama and frankly there's not a whole lot of local color. When we travel internationally, though, we definitely want to feel like we've traveled internationally. We want that shit to look foreign, son. That's why we feel so outraged when the internet reminds us, for example, that the Pyramids at Giza are within spitting distance of a KFC / Pizza Hut. We don't want to see air conditioned chain restaurants; we want our trip to Egypt to be a romantic adventure in the desert, perhaps involving us mounting a camel at some point and interacting with The Natives. Noble Savages or whatnot. Well, it turns out that the Natives in Cairo, a city of about 10 million, drive the same car you do to a job that probably pays better than yours and spend most of their time in public the same way Americans do, which is to say staring at their phones.

I don't think Americans are unique in this respect; I believe that people from all over the world travel with the expectation of seeing something "exotic" and appropriately foreign. When we visit Paris we want to see scenes that come straight from 1960s Hollywood Paris. We want Africa to be one endless safari dotted with nomadic spear-wielding hunters. In Rome or Venice (a city essentially preserved as a museum for foreign tourists) we expect romance and artistic splendor to fill the air (instead of, you know, pollution). And everywhere we expect the local inhabitants to be charming and filled to the brim with quirks and character.

The most "foreign" place I've ever been is not terribly exciting – some of the less populated areas of Brazil. At first I have to admit that I was a bit surprised at how different-but-not-that-different from the US it was. It's hard to fly 6000 miles and encounter an Olive Garden without getting a bit of that "I didn't come here to see this shit" resentment. And the more I thought about it, I accepted the fact that there are KFCs all over Brazil for the same reason there are KFCs all over the USA: because people want to eat there. As much as I hate seeing the absolute worst parts of mass produced American culture infecting the rest of the world, it's the worst kind of snobbery to get upset at Egyptians for liking Pizza Hut because it somehow diminishes the Exotic-ness of our travels. The world is not a movie set designed for our personal enrichment. It would be great if people in other countries told McDonald's to piss off because McDonald's is terrible, but not because it ruins my fantasy image of what Paris should look like.

54 thoughts on “NPF: EXOTICISM”

  • The times that I've traveled to Paris (fewer than the subtle vagueness implies) confirm my suspicion regarding the supposed rudeness of the French: They're not unusually or irrationally rude. They're just not there for our benefit, and see no reason to accommodate us just because we've come a long way to look at the buildings in the city where they work. What an incredible pain in the ass it must be to be a Parisian–to be assumed, by your mere presence, to be part of the tourist board. I do not know why they have not learned, as a unit, the phrase: "I'm sorry, are you a veteran of the WWII European Theater? No? Perhaps an immediate family member of such a person? No? Then go fuck yourself–I'm on my lunch break and I do not give a shit that you couldn't be bothered to GoogleMap your way to the Louvre."

    Americans are incredibly demanding tourists. We want difference, but we also want convenience. We want Otherness, but not Alienation. We really should just skip going abroad and just go to the equivalent cultural representation in Epcot or Vegas. At least in such places, our assumption that we will be catered to is appropriate.

    And the success of McDonald's worldwide is proof of one thing: Ethnic cuisine is charming if you're in-country for a couple of weeks–but if it's all you ever eat, fuck it, ANY alternative will do.

  • I still remember feeling, well, just plain weird when we came across the Starbucks in the middle of the Forbidden City in 2004. Saying that, when travelling to some 'exotic' places, it can be comforting to see a McDonald's and know you'll be shitting the western way…

  • I can understand McDonalds, and I can understand Pizza Hut. But KFC? It is just grease in bags. Don't really understand why it is so popular.

  • Believe me, there is plenty of exotic shit happening in foreign countries. The key to accessing it is to:

    1.Speak the language, even poorly
    2. Have a local friend or be willing to get drunk enough with the locals to befriend them
    3. Get over any American entitlement and live like an Anthropologist.

    What you see as a tourist versus what life is like for locals is drastically different. Of course, you have to get yourself invited. This is not an easy task but supremely rewarding when you can manage it.

  • When Americans encounter Real Foreign, many want to go straight back to McDonald's.

    For instance: An Indian friend was once showing an American around Mumbai. They walked past real squalor, poverty and disease; the kind of thing you simply will not see in the USA, at least not on a city street. The American was rather shaken up, and they went into a Pizza Hut to recover. The American looked around and said, "this is more like what I thought India would be" — just like home, but with slightly different pizza toppings.

    Of course this is just one anecdote, but I don't think the American's reaction is surprising.

    I've been to Cairo. The locals are as modern and internet-connected as anyone in the USA, and only tourists (or people posing for them) ride around on camels. That said, nobody is going to mistake Cairo for a US city. The rich places are much the same, but the poverty is a lot worse, and basic government services that Americans take for granted do not exist.

  • @J Dryden: Indeed. When I lived in Edinburgh, sometimes I could hardly move for clueless tourists (especially in August). I tried to take it all in good humour, and remind myself that my reward for putting up with the tourists was living somewhere so nice that people would travel thousands of miles just to see it.

    That said, I once made the mistake of walking up a certain street just when the Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle finished. I was confronted by a tidal wave of rotund Americans, and had to detour in the opposite direction or be crushed. Fortunately they didn't move very fast, so I could easily outdistance them.

  • @Nunya: Yes, exactly. I've learned more (and had a lot of fun) when I put aside the guidebook and had a drink with the locals. (Alcohol doesn't have to be involved, a tea shop is a great social hub in Middle Eastern countries.)

  • Having grown up in Egypt before coming back to the US, what I really appreciate and miss about Egypt was the chaos. Anything could happen. You want to walk your goatherd right down the middle of the street? Go right ahead. You want to buy industrial strength fireworks? Got $5? You want to divert the Nile into your backyard? We have a way to do that. What a bizarre place. The US, on the other hand, has a law for everything. And snooping neighbors. Don't mow your lawn? There's a law for that. Americans like to think of themselves as live and let live, but in fact we're quite the opposite.

  • @bjk: Yes, I was struck by the chaos in Cairo as well. It comes with that lack of government services I was talking about. Yeah, the gubmint might get in a man's way… but then again, if there's a bad traffic accident in the USA, police and ambulances turn up quickly to sort things out. In Cairo, not so much.

    Really, I think the USA occupies a middle ground among rich countries. It's a lot more orderly than Spain, slightly less so than Canada or the UK, and a *lot* less than Scandinavia or Germany. The Germans have advanced busybody, interfering bureaucracy to levels not dreamed of in the English-speaking world, although it must be said they have a very efficient and prosperous country to show for it.

  • II live in a boring city (Brisbane, Australia) that also serves as a gateway to tourist-magnets like The Great Barrier Reef and Gold Coast and such. You think Parisians have it tough? The clueless tourists milling around here don't just ask directions, they also take the time to tell us how much our city sucks in relation to other cities they have visited. Fuckers. No wonder so many of the people who live here are so fucking racist….

  • "Well, it turns out that the Natives in Cairo, a city of about 10 million, drive the same car you do to a job that probably pays better than yours "

    No, unlikely, especially if you're an American who manages to travel to Egypt. On the other hand, Egypt is a ridiculously accessible tourist destination even for upper-working class Russians, whereas most Americans on the same level couldn't even dream of such travel. That's got to sting.

    As for exoticness I think we ought to get over this idea that touristy things are bad. First of all, if you don't know the local language, you aren't going to have your precious "authentic" experience. In many cases even if you do know the language, you will be treated as a tourist or expat anyway. Second, what is so bad about tourist areas? Who would suggest you go to Istanbul and not see Aya Sofya, the Blue Mosque, Taksim square, etc., etc? Is it really more authentic for a non-Turkish-speaking American tourist to seek out some obscure underground cafe on a narrow street and awkwardly order a coffee, learning absolutely nothing while drinking it? I think people who look for that "authenticity" want some kind of credit without having to work for it, i.e. actually learning the language, culture, history, etc.

  • JDryden: "They're not unusually or irrationally rude. They're just not there for our benefit"

    Thank you for saying that! I grew up a military dependent, then took a job after college that involved frequent travel. My experiences all over the world was that help was there if I needed it, and when I didn't need help, I still met some amazing and friendly and generous people. However, I now work with a 'Murican who insists on traveling…just so it can piss her off? I've never seen anything like it. She and her "boyfriend" travelled through Europe on a tour last year…and EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. in EVERY. SINGLE. COUNTRY was "rude" to her. Every single one. She also travelled to NYC last Christmas to go shopping, and amazingly enough EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON in the entire city was rude to her, nonstop. I suspect she just takes her air of entitlement with her everywhere she goes, and expects major cities to be Disney hellholes where everyone she meets is an underpaid serf employed to tolerate her every whim at every moment.

  • @J Dryden: I've only been to Paris once but I found there what I have found everywhere else I've ever gone: if you are polite, people are generally polite back. I resisted going to Paris because I wanted to avoid Parisian rudeness but in truth, we were only treated mildly rudely by one waiter in one cafe during our entire stay. So I'd go back in a second.

    I am going back to Ireland in a week for a father daughter road trip. (She's in London for what seems to be the obligatory semester abroad) and I don't expect to see or eat any franchise American food but I do look forward to good home cooked food and great beer in some small Irish pubs. Also, Guinness is infinitely better when drawn from a tap that is spitting distance from St. James Gate.

  • @Rosie's Dad; there's just no getting through to Rill Murkkkuns. She knows northern cities are rude because Fox tells her so. She knows all of Europe, north and south, is rude because Fox tells her so.

    Meanwhile, the most passive-aggressive and openly rude people I've met? Deep south. English is not my first language (child of immigrants, travelled a lot; I sound like any generic tv news announcer), but the first thing I get in the south is "YANKEE", followed by a long diatribe about how RUDE Yankees are. (Meanwhile, I'm like, "geeze, I just want to check into my hotel room/get a seat in your restaurant/pay you money for the item you're trying to sell me.")

  • @Rosie's dad; the best Chinese place I've eaten in, in Ireland, was in Shannon. If you like beef, you can't go wrong in Ireland.

  • Holy shit–over a dozen comments in, and no one wants to address Ed's deep desire to mount a camel?

    We're just gonna leave that sitting there?

  • Anonymouse, your coworker reminds me of people who have "rude" encounters with celebrities, which always seem to end up being "I interrupted some semi-famous person while they were eating or having a conversation or just sitting and reading the paper and they were curt and kind of annoyed with me, can you fucking believe that?" Christopher Walken or Juliana Margulies or Patrick Stewart didn't just drop everything to make meaningless chit-chat with a total stranger who just barged in on them, what a bunch of smug entitled Hollywood assholes!

  • @FMguru, I think you nailed it. "Complete strangers trying to catch a bus to get to work are annoyed with me because I'm sprawled across the sidewalk blocking their path and asking them stupid questions–how RUDE of them!"

  • @Major Kong; that *is* ironic.

    As the southerners would say, "I have no dog in this fight". I am the child of immigrants and I live in the south (technically). However, I don't see any downsides to the Yankees; they freed the slaves 150-some years ago, and Yankee states have higher quality of living, fewer divorces, and better job and environmental protections.

    Also, the friggin' war ended more than a century ago and the south lost. They need to get the heck over it already.

  • I've lived abroad a few times – Germany, Ireland, Kazakhstan – and have relatives to visit in other places – Costa Rica, Colombia, England. People are the same everywhere except that they're different. On short acquaintance it's easy to mistake the surfaces and either think that people are sooooo different (ooh, he's got a turban on!) or that they're just the same (is that an iPhone 4S he's taking out of his turban?). Get to know a person or a place, look past the exotic and the global-standardized, and see actual variations on the human theme. It takes time and a willingness to not impose your own prejudices quite so enthusiastically.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    The only reason to walk into an American fast-food joint in another country, is to see how they tailor our crap to be more like their local crap.

    When I was in Germany on a HS German-class trip, it was amazing to see McDonalds offer beer, with the (Pre-Happy) meals.

    And, of course, being 17, I had to order "Ein Big Mac mitt Spaten und Pomme Frites. bitte!

  • greennotGreen says:

    Anonymous said: Also, the friggin' war ended more than a century ago and the south lost. They need to get the heck over it already.

    I was born, raised, and still live in the South, and the sentiments above are mine exactly.

    Also, when I was in Paris for three days with friends we had no trouble with rudeness because one of my friends spoke French and addressed people very politely. The architecture was great, the flea market was fabulous, but my main memory of Paris was desperately looking for a place to go to a bathroom (and finding a unisex one in a restaurant where a woman had to pass the men using the urinals to find a stall.)

    Also in Montpelier I started every day by walking across the square to McDonald's to get awesome coffee for a buck. Not McDonald's coffee, French McDonald's coffee. Totally different animal.

  • "for the same reason there are KFCs all over the USA: because people want to eat there"

    Ahem. Your thesis is right on, but that bit is only fractionally right.

    Granted, the food has that just-right balance of fat, salt, sugar, MSG and marketing that makes us happily hand over small amounts of cash, but there are other, arguably more important reasons. The point of a franchise is that it's a lot easier, faster and safer for most entrepreneurs to open and run a prefab business with a proven, well-known product, business model and corporate support, than it is to start from scratch, whether in terms of financial risk, red tape, management protocols, supplies, advertising, etc.

    I imagine that the more difficult the political environment (via instability, corruption, bureaucracy, etc., at least beyond a certain threshold of order and predictability), the more true that is.

    But beyond that the actual product need only be satisfying, affordable and predictable enough to be worth the 5 minute detour from whatever you were doing, plus some modest amount of your hard-earned cash.

    That's the reason there are so many fast food franchises, in the US or elsewhere.

  • Cinna the Poet says:

    I've been abroad more than the average person, and I love getting off the beaten path and meeting people with different points of view and eating where the locals do.

    Mostly, I've had great luck. I've had the best meals of my life — and been in places too awful for rats to frequent (Omigawd this one place in Kuala Lumpur …) But sometimes you just don't want to deal with the crapshoot that is the local mom & pop restaurant where you don't even know which end of the menu is up.

    So occasionally, I'll seek out a McDonalds and treat myself to a mediocre hamburger and a "Coke Light." You know what you're getting at McD's, and sometimes it's nice to not have the ordering anxiety.

  • FYI Re: KFC in China — it's actually not bad. They have chicken wings that look and taste like chicken wings instead of salty breaded things. KFC introduced grilled chicken in the US in 2009 – but that's already what they were serving in China.

    There are also more KFC franchises in China than in the US (4563 to 4491 but it still counts). So is KFC really American?
    I'm with robert e — the franchising concept isn't an American export and these stores in foreign countries are often as different as walking into a 'burger joint' in the US vs. a 'burger joint' in China (note: you probably don't want to eat at a burger joint in China). I don't think brand familiarity in the sense of expanding familiar restaurants/stores into other regions is an American concept or directly due to American franchising. Admittedly I'm not sure, but you can eat at plenty of Japanese chains in China too and I don't see people complaining.

    Pretty soon we'll have Chinese chains here as well. Major US cities already have high end restaurant expansions of Chinese restaurants. It's just a matter of time until a everyday level franchise type restaurant expands enough in China to build their brand and export to the US.

  • I've been to France, Paris included, many times and never encountered rudeness. It was my experience that learning a few words/phrases in the local language goes a long way. It at least gives the impression that you're trying.

    I have encountered rude Americans a few times.

    In Reykjavik once I was in line behind an older American who was berating the young clerk for giving him change in Icelandic currency. I finally said to him "Sir, you're in their country. Did you think they used dollars here?" I think he had come off a cruise ship and was going on to someplace else. I ended up buying the Icelandic currency off him and then apologized to the sales clerk.

    While in a hotel lobby in Tel Aviv a rather loud, pushy American was yelling at the concierge that he needed a cab to take his family out to dinner. "I asked the girl [security guard] out front and she acted like I was speaking a foreign language!"

    The concierge told him: "Sir. It is a foreign language."

  • I've posted it before, but it made me feel sad when I was in London and the loud American woman in a Mediterranean restaurant asked if they could make hamburgers. FFS, they had great shawarma, and we were in LONDON. They had kids with them, and maybe one the kids would only eat hamburgers, but if that's the case, man, why waste your money going to London and staying in Chelsea? Go to Paducah and eat at McDonalds and swim in the hotel pool and the kids will have just as good a time.

  • I was once accosted for the way I was eating a sandwich in a Parisian deli.

    I was once accosted for the way in which I handed over money to buy bread in Nice.

    Screw France. Minus the testament to empire-building white brutality that is Paris, it's South Carolina with more racism.

  • @Khaled: There's nothing wrong with eating hamburgers in London. It's not hard to find a decent burger there (or a McDonald's, if that's your thing). Not the most adventurous choice, but if somebody wants some familiar food after a day of sightseeing in a strange city, then fair enough.

    OTOH, walking into a shawarma/sushi/curry restaurant in London and demanding hamburgers is no more intelligent than doing the same thing in New York.

  • "Well, it turns out that the Natives in Cairo, a city of about 10 million, drive the same car you do to a job that probably pays better than yours"

    GDP per capita of the US is 53,143 and Egypt is 3,314 ( I can't think of any possible interpretation of your statement that is remotely plausible.

    The vast majority of Egypt's inhabitants do not live anything resembling a western lifestyle.

  • This is a subject I have had a lot of time to think about bouncing around out of the country. I think you touched on something that gets right to the the trick of it, though, Ed. If you want to get somewhere that doesn't remind you of home: Keep Going. That image of Egypt in my head still exists, but it was nothing like I expected and it took a few days to hear about and a few more to get there.

    First things first, though. You have to ask yourself why you came. For me, it is a pretty simple pleasure. The more different a place is, the easier it is to be shaken out of everyday thoughts. Everyone who appreciates the creativity that comes from finding new things knows this sensation, and the stranger the road and the place, the better. But, honestly, it doesn't take all that much difference to shake the etch-a-sketch enough.

    So, Keep Going. Anyplace you can reach in a single day on a nonstop flight from home is going to share a lot of features with the rest of the places in the world that you can reach in a single day. And if you like it someplace, stay awhile. Find something to do that is useful. Or go places where you can be useful. Cart/horse, whatever.

    Not many are going to agree with this next part (or probably that last bit either) and it's only even possible for salty old solteros or kids, but the absolute easiest way to make a foreign place truly exotic and different is to go there alone. That usually means no talking unless it's with someone who lives there. The conversation you have with a local is nothing at all like the one you will have with another tourist. Going alone also means that the day is exactly what you make of it and all the risks are your own to worry about. Nobody will want to hear about it when you get home. You might as well have toxic slides from Disneyworld to show. Traveling alone means you are the owner of an accidentally secret life, like it or not. Just some lines in the sand.

    Regarding domestic travel, I couldn't agree more. Dropping the DFW quote now:

    "…intranational tourism is radically constricting, and humbling in the hardest way hostile to my fantasy of being a real individual, of living somehow outside and above it all.

    To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all noneconomic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful:

    As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing."

  • Our last trip was to Berlin. Ed should like a town that's hip enough to have a "White Trash Fast Food" café. American, but not McDonald's.

  • Bitter Scribe says:

    I've never been to Egypt, but I remember reading somewhere that those shots of the Pyramids that make them look like they're in the middle of nowhere have to be taken from one particular angle. Apparently development edges right up to them, so it's not terribly surprising to me that there would be a Pizza Hut in there somewhere.

  • Bitter Scribe says:

    Conversely, many Americans abroad often assume that absolutely no one around them speaks or understands English.

    A colleague of mine was riding the Paris subway when a couple of other Americans, sisters, took seats across from her. One of the sisters started telling the other about her sex life, in graphically intimate detail. Think of stuff that would have gotten censored from "Sex in the City."

    My friend thought about coughing and saying something like "Nice weather today" in English, just so Ms. Graphic would know someone could understand her. Then, as the woman went on, my friend was glad she didn't know.

  • There's a Jamaica Kincaid quote that comes to mind (paraphrased): "What you have always suspected about yourself the moment you become a tourist is true – a tourist is an ugly human being."

    I lived in San Francisco during the 1980s. Seeing hordes of tourists from all over the world roaming the city I lived in gave me a perspective that, I think, is relatively rare for Americans. I've been to France, the U.K., the Caribbean and Hawaii, and have always tried to not be an ugly human being. It does make a difference.

    Pit toilets still put me off, though.

  • Echoing what others have said, I never found Parisians to live up to the stereotype. Some of them are rude, certainly, just like some people everywhere are rude (and since I moved to DC, I've begun to appreciate a general distaste for tourists). But I learned a handful of phrases in French–"Excuse me," "Do you speak English?,"Please," "Thank you." My pronunciation was undoubtedly awful, but just making the effort and showing that I was, in fact, aware that they should not be expected to speak my language went miles, and they would usually switch to English after I'd made the attempt. Contrast with the girl I knew in high school who went to Paris and came back with two complaints: "Nobody there speaks English!" and "Everyone is so rude!" I suspect those two were related.

    I will admit to having eaten at McDonald's twice in a foreign country. Once I made the mistake of hanging out with a girl from the hostel who was from LA and refused to eat anything familiar. To be fair though, she was pretty hot. The other time was Christmas Day in Rome, when the only things open were McDonald's and one incredibly expensice restaurant.

    I also enjoy solo travel, but only when staying in hostels–that way I can choose between hanging out with Americans/Brits/Aussies or going off and doing my own thing, or any combination thereof.

  • I was walking near Union Square in my hometown of San Francisco, an area filled to bursting with foreign tourists, when I heard a child's voice behind me say,

    "Maman, ils ont meme des MacDo ici!" That is, French for "Mom, they even have McDondald's here!"

    I couldn't suppress a grin.

  • @Nick; my colleagues in Holland were kind enough to take me sightseeing the first weekend I was there. I had a great time in Amsterdam riding on a canal boat, seeing Toussaud's wax museum and the famous department store…and then we got hungry. We were surrounded by amazing-looking restaurants–Italian, French, Indian, Ethiopian–and they offered to take me to McDonald's. I explained that I could get McD's anytime at home, but trying fine dining would make the trip extra-special. They were amazed because my predecessor would only eat McDonald's.

  • Wheres everyone getting this idea that Americans are uniquely bad tourists?

    The first thing you notice when you travel is there are bad tourists from everywhere.

  • I have to confess, I enjoy hitting McDonalds abroad to see their take on the local cuisine. You haven't lived until you've had McCroquette in the Netherlands. Well, yes you have, but it was still fun, if not all that great.

    I spent a summer doing the tour Europe thing, and I have to say that the bad tourists who stood out tended to be American. Of course, that could just be my perception because I couldn't understand what tourists from other countries were saying.

  • There's a spot here in Nanjing where you can stand and see 5 KFCs at the same time. There are so many KFCs that it's an expat joke – "We'll meet up at the KFC" (which is impossible because WHICH KFC?)

    KFC (and chez Mac) are not cheap here. Much better fried chicken can be got from local vendors, and for way less money.

    As a traveling tourist I like to eat local food. As an expat resident I get really tired of local food, (especially Chinese – I never got tired of Thai, and don't think I could!) so I either cook my own or visit "foreign" food places.

  • I think Americans get a bad rap. The only travelers I see getting themselves jammed up are the ones that can't hold their liquor or the ones who came looking for trouble. Up the road a day or two from a city, the law is pretty simple. It's "Don't be an asshole."

    In Latin America in particular, somebody in the room speaks enough English to know when you're talking drunk trash. And the table in the bar with the tatted up young guys – they speak it as well as I do. And they don't take it well to hear their country run down by drunk Englishmen or old gringo sex tourists. You can count the lumps on their fool heads the next day when they tell you how they were jumped by locals for no reason. Dont (pop) Be (pow) an asshole (whammo!).

  • On the surface this one requires(d) a face palm, though there's a bit more to it than appears.
    Brother and I were backpacking in Europe. When we were in Paris, my brother says, "Man there sure are a lot of foreigners here."
    Me, "Excuse me? Uh, you do realise we're the foreigners."
    Him, "I meant, we're in Paris, and everyone around us is speaking everything BUT French." Which actually made it a fair comment to make.

    After I had first moved to Aus, I'd spent my first six months in Perth—about as far away from anywhere as you can get—in that time I'd only heard two non-Aus accents, a Canuck and a Zimbabwean. When I returned to Sydney I was living with a bunch of POMs, so it was something like 8-9mos before I met another American. I happened to bump into a couple of 'Murken students. One was from CT and the other was from the mid-west somewhere.
    We got to chatting.
    Me: What do you reckon about Australia?
    CT girl: I.DON'T.Reckon.An.Y.THING! Now if you ask me what I THINK about Australia, I will tell you. Because "reckon" is NOT a word. Where as THINK is! So if you're asking me what I THINK, I actually find it the most boring country I've ever been!

    She seriously said it like that, and all the while I was thinking, "Ah yes, how could I forget, pretty much the entire English speaking world "reckons", the English use reckon, the Canadians, the Aussies, the SAFers, the Mid-west, the South, West Coast ALL reckon, everywhere BUT New England."
    Me: As compared to…?
    CT girl: rattles off a bunch of places for the privileged classes to go.
    All I could think was, when you get back kindly tear up your passport and NEVER! EVER! Use it again, because YOU are why Americans have such a shitty name overseas.

    These girls had spent their entire time hanging out ONLY with the other Americans in their exchange programme.
    Though this behaviour is common amongst international students, and others I've encountered have told me they had to be conscious of not falling into this trap and made the effort to meet the locals.

  • Ah yes. Local food. I lived in London a few years and grew to appreciate that "English food" got a bad rap. Done right, it's delicious.

    Done wrong, however …. One day I was in the Seven Dials area around lunch time and figured a workers' caf would be okay on the wallet. The place was amazing, in a bad way. The boiled potatoes were bony, the thin sliced roast beef was gray and gristly, the gravy was a brown-colored library paste, and I didn't hang around to see what the white blobs for dessert were.

    I don't know if that place was solely responsible for the bad reputation of "British cooking," or if there used to be a lot more places like that.

  • If people want some local color, NorthEastern PA is a great regional resource. yes we have Walmarts and Home Depots.. but still plenty of home grown assets,-75.0753272,10z

    The Narrowsburg Inn will give you a real insight into the Upper Delaware.. while the Eire Inn in Port Jervis will give you an Irish Table w craft beers experience. The Dimmick in Milford is a draw for many diners..

  • Parisians think they're rude. So do Berliners and New Yorkers. They consider it part of their cultural heritage, big city privilege. Pffft. They're as nice as everyone else.

    Learning a bit of the language is good fun and probably good for the brain, but most of it is paying attention to what's going on around you and figuring out what everyone else is doing.

    The only thing I've seen as funny as Germans trying to use English to communicate with Italians at the Colosseum in Rome was Italians trying to use English to communicate with Germans at my hotel in Berlin.

  • It's easy to visit an exotic place and think it is the same as home if you are remarkably unobservant. We were just in Australia and a lot of the stuff looks familiar, but if you keep your eyes open you'd realize just how different the place is. It isn't just the lack of center yellow lines – they're white down under – or driving on the left. The labor movement is much more powerful there. We even found the Melbourne communist and socialist party headquarters. At first we thought it was a pub being "ironic". We've been involved in wildcat strikes – luckily for us, only a few hours. We've noticed that hotel and restaurant employees aren't on food stamps, because they get a decent wage. The book stores are still thriving, possibly because no one is selling e-books there yet. Watching the schoolkids learning history in their mobcaps and tricorns was terrifyingly cute. Australian schoolkids don't look at all like French schoolkids who look frighteningly formal.

    When you get out to the countryside the place is even more exotic. I remember walking through the Queensland rainforest some years back when a member of our party remarked that it looked an awful lot like New Jersey. Well, that's ecological niche theory for you. There are various slots to be filled and something is going to fill them, but between the stinging trees, the shrinking mimosas, the massive loads of epiphytes on every tree, the exotic foliage, the nutmeg vines and pepper plants, it sure looked strange to me.

    People have been going on about this ever since tourism opened up for the masses. Conrad, in Lord Jim, deprecated the hundred pound round the world package tourists as missing the authentic, but they were no less authentic than all the mandarin speakers swarming Australia now that mandarin has replaced japanese as the second language of tourism down there. Arthur Frommer built a whole business encouraging tourists to go out and not be afraid of seeing things. Having done Europe on five dollars a day as a child, I think the big thing is going out in to the world with one's eyes open. Even your home turf is more exotic than you think.

  • At Anonymouse – Yes.. my husband's cousin used to work for Carnation Feeds and sold horse feed/livestock feed all over the Middle East – to which he traveled frequently. He told us one time a taxi driver he had come to know promised him a "home-cooked" meal – he assumed lamb kebabs or some really fine Middle Eastern cooking at the guy's house or a small cafe or something and was really looking forward to it. The guy pulled up in front of a KFC.

  • You can keep your Julius Meinl and New York Kávéház, the finest cup of coffee one can find in the former reaches of Austro-Hungarian Empire is the McDonalds in the Vienna Airport. A close second would be the Mickey-Ds in Nyugati train station in Budapest.

  • Well, Ed, you might be then somewhat slightly pleased to hear that McD's is pulling out of Bolivia entirely because the wonderful Bolivians have collectively agreed that McD's sucks shit and the business never took root there.

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