How do I avoid looking like a tourist in Europe?
April 19, 2005 9:06 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I are going to Europe this summer and I want to avoid looking like tourists. We are also looking to avoid being stereotyped as stupid, fat Americans.

We will be in Spain and France. What sort of clothes will keep us from looking too touristy? What sort of day-to-day information will keep us from looking and acting distinctly American?
posted by bryanzera to Society & Culture (56 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you leave the jeans, t-shirts and flipflops at home, you pretty much have the clothes-thing licked.
posted by mischief at 9:14 AM on April 19, 2005

Having lived in France for a while, I can tell you that it is hard to not look like an American. I can offer some tips, though. First, dress nicely. French people (can't talk for the Spanish) tend to "dress up" for everyday stuff. Don't wear shorts, sneakers, etc. Wear black, accessorize, and look confident.
Don't yell at the French people. One of the worst things the tourists do when they are trying to be understood is talk very loudly. That will not help you be understood and it's also very annoying.
Say "bonjour" or "bonsoir" (depending on the time of day) every time you enter a store or restaurant, and say "merci, au revoir" when you leave. It's fundamental courtesy there and one of the clearest markers of "tourist" is someone who doesn't greet and acknowledge the shopkeepers upon entering and exiting stores.
If you speak French at all, don't forget to always use the vous form. It's often hard for Americans to remember or differentiate the formal and informal address forms, but it's very rude to call a stranger "tu."
Lastly, don't really worry about it. Most of the French realize that tourists are helping them pay their bills and so actually appreciate your presence. Sometimes they will seem rude, but it's not out of spite. They're just like that. Don't sweat it.
posted by ohio at 9:16 AM on April 19, 2005

t-shirts with the Canadian flag on them.
posted by seanyboy at 9:17 AM on April 19, 2005

Do you want to blend in, or just not be identifiable as American? It's much easier to look like an English or German tourist than to blend in... just don't wear USA specific t-shirts.

OTOH, if you want to blend in, first rule is: no shorts. But personally I feel that blending-in is overrated: people will assume you speak the native language, which is a pain, and you get cut a lot of slack as a tourist that natives don't get.
posted by smackfu at 9:18 AM on April 19, 2005

As one who travels to Europe almost yearly, I would suggest:
1. no shorts
2. No bright colors or pastels, go with brown, gray, whatever.
3. no fanny packs, heh
4. no baseball caps

If you need to check out the map, just duck inside a shop or foyer to open it up. Don't talk super really loud on the trams or trains, and don't put your feet on the seat in front of you.

Also, don't just stroll up to someone and start speaking English, learn how to ask "Do you speak [native language]" in Spanish and French.

Otherwise, most people really do like Americans, but the number 1 complaint I guess is they are too brash, and even in America we tend to act like we own the place anywhere we go. Just take it slow, be nice, and you'll have a great time!

ps. This is just my personal take, but if you really want to experience the place don't wait in line with all the other Americans at the Louvre. Take a stroll through Paris or Nice, go to the smaller bars, seek out new life and new civi, I mean just a little off the tourist map and you'll have a better time.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 9:19 AM on April 19, 2005

Nix the white sneakers, take up smoking cigarettes, wear socks with your sandals.
posted by NorthCoastCafe at 9:20 AM on April 19, 2005

To elaborate on ohio's excellent point- the best thing you can do when travelling to a foreign country is learn a few key phrases in the native language:

- Excuse me
- Do you speak English?
- Hello/Goodbye
- Thank you
- What is...?
- How much...?

Most critical information beyond that can be communicated via pointing or hand gestures.

Accept the fact that you're going to look like a tourist, because you are one. If you initiate communication in THEIR language, no matter how clumsily, locals will be MUCH more willing to communicate and help you out, either responding in English or attempting to meet you halfway.
posted by mkultra at 9:23 AM on April 19, 2005

How does the freakin' hot summer in Southern Europe thing mix with the dark clothes and no shorts thing?
posted by smackfu at 9:24 AM on April 19, 2005 [1 favorite]

I think some part of it is more about your attitude to the trip than anything. If you think of yourself as a tourist, a person going to poke around a city like it's a museum or a little show for them, then you're more likely to come across as one. If you go to a new place actually wanting to enjoy the personality (city-ality?) of the city, then you're more of a 'visitor' than a 'tourist'. Obviously when you only have a short time to visit, you're likely to want to take pictures, point at things you haven't seen before, and generally think of it as a tour rather than an experience.

But if you can, I recommend trying to enjoy the internal feel of the places you visit as much as trying to 'hit all the spots'. Catching sight of the monuments is memorable, but honestly some of my best memories from traveling are little details - street performers by the canals in st. petersburg, and vodka shots in the back room of a pub; a local bathhouse in baku, and the laundry hanging out the windows; the cats in the airport in athens, and the exhilarating speed of the cab ride to the hotel; the tiny elevator where I stayed in paris, and the local bistro where we ate... I mean, of course I remember the parthenon and the louvre as well, but really appreciating and being aware of the whole texture will come across in the way you act, I think. The "big dumb american" stereotype is usually the result of people who see traveling as a checklist of "stuff to see" and in the process seem to miss the individual flavor and beauty of what's right in front of them.
posted by mdn at 9:33 AM on April 19, 2005

It's easy. Be discreet and deferential. Soak things in. Don't walk around asking, "WHERE IS THE CASTLE?" like some loud, annoying fellow American tourists are wont to do. Take some time to absorb the local culture beyond the tourist sites. Visit some cafes on quiet side streets. Learn a few phrases of the local language. If you're really worried about sticking out, ditch the J Crew and go to Bennetton and buy some cheap, light italian clothes. Avoid white socks. Nalgene bottles are also a giveaway.

It's somewhat inevitable that people will realize you're Americans, so make sure you're ready to talk politics. Learn something about what political debates are going on in the countries you're going to visit, too. People in Europe don't so much mind Americans, they mind brash, loud, enthnocentric Americans.
posted by nyterrant at 9:38 AM on April 19, 2005

what Mr Bucket et al said. avoid shorts and funny hats and, say, two big cameras hanging around your neck at all times, learn very basic infidel-language stuff like "Excuse-moi. Parlez-vous Anglais?". "Merci". "No comprendo". "Hablad más lentamente, por favor". "Perdone, puedo usar el baño?".
jeans and t-shirts are OK, even flip-flops, unless you're not going to visit swanky places.
you'll have fun. when you're nice to people, anywhere, they tend to be nice. except for many Paris waitpersons -- but they're not mad at you especially, they're just a glum bunch.
posted by matteo at 9:43 AM on April 19, 2005

My brother-in-law is French (southern) and he would never dream of wearing shorts in public ("children's clothes") nor would he ever wear a t-shirt at home or in public (as he explained to me, t-shirts are "underwear"). So for what its worth, I would go with casual-friday style clothes. Not necessarily dark ones though. Long sleeved, cotton, loose fitting, button shirts with collars in light colours, maybe with stripes or something, are casual and surprisingly cool with all that air blowing through them. Lose the tevas/flip-flops/sneakers and baseball hats - most men wear loafers or nice leather sandals (with socks, as noted). Use a nice satchel, not a day-pack or fanny pack. Second the go to smaller bars, brasseries, etc, sit at the bar, ask about the different house wines, drink Stella, be curious, beyourself.

And the mix with hot weather is that loose fitting clothes which cover are just as cool, if not cooler, than a lot of skin exposed. There's a reason many desert people cover up with long flowing robes -- its actually cooler in very hot, dry conditions. Also, no one goes out between noon and three, especially in the summer. And on preview, what mdn and nyterrant just said.
posted by Rumple at 9:45 AM on April 19, 2005

How does the freakin' hot summer in Southern Europe thing mix with the dark clothes and no shorts thing?

The same as it does in NYC, I think -- skirts and little dresses for the women, light pants for the men, shorts for children and people who are on vacation. And if you're on vacation in the city where I live, you are a tourist. Everyone else in the city will be wearing what they wear to work and to lunchdates. (And, yes, there are some people who can wear shorts to work, but this is less common in Europe than it is in the US.)
posted by xo at 9:45 AM on April 19, 2005

Mostly, just don't be loud. And try to pay attention to how much space you're taking up. Americans seem to need more room to pass others on the sidewalk than non-Americans do for some reason. Don't eat and walk at the same time. Your wife should wear just a bit of makeup -- not overdone, and not nothing at all.

I assume you don't mind if people find out you're American, you just don't want to stand out like one. Europeans, finding out that you're American, will want to know your opinion on American foreign policy. I'm just warning you so that you don't find yourself completely ignorant of the issues and names in the news.

It's not true that the French (at least in Paris) are offended by poor French language skills. They'll be pleased if you at least try.

I feel like I should be able to offer more advice on this topic. I lived/worked in Paris for three months years ago. Something about me always made people think I wasn't American, and they were surprised that when they'd find out I was. But, I've never figured out specifically what made that so.
posted by INTPLibrarian at 9:55 AM on April 19, 2005

I know when I worked in hotels at home the "stereotypical" American tourists could be spotted a mile off - dressed head to toe in green, travelling in large groups, yelling with excitement, loud and demanding. As long as you're your pleasant and laid-back self people will welcome you with open arms.
posted by dublinemma at 10:01 AM on April 19, 2005

My advice is to not sweat looking like an American. I have found that, even despite the current political situation, Americans traveling independently are pretty well liked in Europe. They tend to be friendly and tip well, and locals will probably know you’re from the States no matter what you do. A better way to phrase this question, I believe, is how do I dress respectfully for the culture I am visiting? The simple answer is to err on the side of formality. I think, as an American, it’s hard to overdress in Spain or France. Also, as suggested above, learning a few key phrases of the local languages is a great way to show respect for the places you’ll be visiting. Also, I think it’s the organized tours, where there are 20-50 Americans all together speaking loud English, that tend to emphasize the bad American stereotype.
posted by Staggering Jack at 10:03 AM on April 19, 2005

No camera of any kind will go a long way.

Do ask yourself why you have this goal in mind. Make sure it's for the right reasons or you'll really wish you were a tourist when you look back in ten years.
posted by sled at 10:06 AM on April 19, 2005

My girlfriend and I were in Germany in late 2003, and people would hear our accent and feel compelled to lecture us about Bush and American power. We agreed with almost everything they had to say, but it got tiresome, day after day (this is in stark contrast to the usual courtesy and deference I am used to in Germany--Americans don't understand how strongly others feel about this).

A friend sent me, as a joke, this shirt, and on my next trip I wore it and found that people were much friendlier, and we got that "Bush" issue out of the way straight off.
posted by curtm at 10:10 AM on April 19, 2005

Laurie Anderson addressed this issue in her monologue called "The Cultural Ambassador":
I especially remember an interesting list of tips devised by the US embassy in Madrid, and these tips were designed for Americans who found themselves in war-time airports. The idea was not to call ourselves to the attention of the numerous foreign terrorists who were presumably lurking all the way to terminal, so the embassy tips were a list of mostly don'ts. Things like: don't wear a baseball cap; don't wear a sweat shirt with the name of an American university on it; don't wear Timberlands with no socks; don't chew gum; don't yell "Ethel, our plane is leaving!" I mean it's weird when your entire culture can be summed up in eight giveaway characteristics.
posted by Rash at 10:10 AM on April 19, 2005

I have never experienced the "the french are so rude to tourists" meme, probly cause whenever I'm in France, I smile at people, wait for them to acknowledge me, mispronounce "Excuse, I don't speak French, do you speak English or Spanish?" in French, and wait for their answer. Works like a charm.
And if it's hot, I wear shorts, just like I would at home.
Don't be loud, don't expect people to speak english and don't expect things to work the same way they do at home, in fact embrace the otherness, that's why you paid the big bucks to fly over there.
posted by signal at 10:11 AM on April 19, 2005

Be prepared for some god-awful service from waiters in restaurants and bars. Accept it, and certainly do not start shouting (usually in english) about how awful the service is!

Also, try not to start any conversation with 'parlez-vous anglais?'. You will get more respect for struggling with the language for a while - you'll be surprised how many people actually speak english who otherwise wouldn't!
posted by derbs at 10:17 AM on April 19, 2005

Understand going into it that you won't be able to completely blend in. People will know you are American. Just act with courtesy and have an open mind to the experience of another culture. Oh, and try to avoid wearing anything with a logo. This book helped me and mine when we started traveling.
posted by Mrs. Green at 10:18 AM on April 19, 2005

I lived a year in Paris and recommend two ways you can escape looking like Americans. 1. Misdirection: Dress like glum goths, pothead surfers with dreads, corpse-painted black metal fans, anything that attracts attention. This will then become the chief point of interest, not your nationality. And you'll make friends easier (at least among the members of the local reciprocal subculture). 2. Camouflage: Chinos, neat shirts, and a pack of cigarettes. Easier to pull off, a lot more boring, and you won't make friends as easily.

But even better is to flaunt it. Americans have nothing to be ashamed of. Be yourselves, wear those khaki shorts, and ask for directions for the Louvre. Frankly, it's charming.
posted by Panfilo at 10:19 AM on April 19, 2005

Easy - don't tuck. Americans are the only race in the entire world that tuck T-shirts into jeans. We don't know why you do it. To us tucking is something you do to look smart: you tuck your shirt into your suit pants. But T-shirts aren't smart and jeans aren't smart, so you don't tuck. Simple!
posted by forallmankind at 10:25 AM on April 19, 2005

Bring a jacket if you don’t plan on wearing long sleeve dress shirts. It is easier taking the jacket off if your.
Don't be in a hurry to go any where. Take your time and be prepared to eat the day's last meal very late at night.
Be polite by first making an effort speaking the country’s language you are in.
Being a tourist can be a beneficial so don't hide it like a bad label some have made of it; You yourself do enjoy meeting folks from out of town?
Don't complain if no AC, should have gone in spring while the Europeans live in the larger cities too.
Second, don’t wear white, plus gray socks can be worn dirty.
Remember if you need aspirin, you go to a Pharmacy which can also dispense other prescriptions that would commonly take a doctors permission.
PS, if you smile too much it will reveal your secret, a tourist, yet walking with confidence may have folks asking to meet you, so do both.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:36 AM on April 19, 2005

taking the jacket off if you’re warm.
This guy seems to be knowledgeable too.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:38 AM on April 19, 2005

Forgot, the French like the Spanish language, yet if you leaned it in the USA it is most likely Latin American so be careful using it while in Spain. As it won't translate the same.
Find the "faux pas" words you use in American language as they do not mean the same and may have you looking a fool when used. Like in France, the word “bachelor” does not describe a single 30 year old being away from his job while on holiday even though the English language uses the French word for a single male.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:49 AM on April 19, 2005

No fleece jackets and no white tennis shoes.
posted by tirebouchon at 10:52 AM on April 19, 2005

One more. When you ask if they speak English it may be perceived you are visiting form the United Kingdom. So if asked where you are from? Saying American is a vague response (Mexico Canada are also ) because America is a continent. You are from the Estates de United. This made a big difference of how I was accepted and if the correct change was handed back during a purchase.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:06 AM on April 19, 2005

Small stature helps... Not much you can do about that, but being a petite, thin, dark-haired young woman helped me blend in a lot easier than my boyfriend, a tall, large, fair-haired young man who was too big to fit his legs under the tables of some restaurants. Everyone in Barcelona thought I was Italian (no idea why), the best he could get away with was Austrian, no matter how un-American he tried to seem.

Also, try speaking in the native language but being very polite about it. Something like, "I am here to practice my ________ , so please correct me if I make a mistake" often helps, although usually people will then say that they need to practice their English and would like to try on you...
posted by lalalana at 11:09 AM on April 19, 2005

Ditto white shoes, and if you must wear t-shirts, don't wear ones with logos on them (even if you just bought it as a souvenir)! A member of our group was asked how much (brand name on t-shirt) was paying her to wear the shirt.
I've also found it helpful to be quieter than normal, and to spend a bit of time simply observing - especially in a pub or such. Often people will strike up a conversation with you if you just wait for it (in Ireland this is certainly the case, although the Irish are almost pathologically friendly).
posted by dbmcd at 11:56 AM on April 19, 2005

I tend to agree with the people who said that you shouldn't worry too much about blending in, because you won't. There's no shame in being a tourist - American or otherwise. What's bad is acting ignorantly. Some Americans do that, some Brits do, some French people do... there's no monopoly on it.

Take the time to learn a bit about the place you're going. The culture, the customs. What's the tipping policy? What do people drink and eat? At what times of day? How do the restaurants and cafes work? What's the deal with taxis, trains, buses, metro? Doing this sort of prep is actually fun, you know. It enhances anticipation of the trip and makes things easier when you get there.

And yes, learn some basic greetings, questions and phrases in the lingo. It doesn't matter that you probably won't understand the responses. People appreciate that you made an effort, and you can always follow up with, "I'm sorry - my [language] isn't very good. Do you speak English?" In their language, I mean!

I don't know whether this applies to you, but I always ask monolingual English-speaking people to imagine how they'd feel if a French person casually strolled up to them in their home town and just started banging on in French. They'd be irritated, right? Right. So get the phrase book out if you don't know the language already.

And no baseball caps. Not just because not many European people wear them, but because they're the tackiest, nastiest, ugliest, most inexcusable headgear in the history of the world, ever.
posted by Decani at 11:56 AM on April 19, 2005

A quick note on "rude" European waiters- eating out in Europe is very different than eating out in the U.S. Chefs in Europe take pride in their menus and are not accustomed to American-style "substitutions"- they see it as a slight. Don't ask for things not on the menu.
posted by mkultra at 12:06 PM on April 19, 2005

Where in Spain exactly are you going? I can give you better advice if I know this.

Most young people in Spain are now caught up in an 80s-revival fashion trend that is incredibly ugly: gaudy colors, weird uncomfortable looking cuts,. Kind of like a flash dance thing. Yuck. Stay away from baseball caps and clothes with american flags on them and you will be fine.

Don't be a masochist, if it's 90 degrees out and you are walking around all day, where shorts, a plain (no writing or logos) t-shirt or short sleeve collar shirt and sandals (not flip flops) or even gym shoes. But wear pants, yes jeans are fine, at night with something other than gym shoes or sandals.

Look, just dress appropriately to your body. What freaks Spanish people out is seeing fat people wearing spandex or tummy baring short t-shirts. There's no shame in being overweight, just dress in a way that flatters your body type.

Here are some useful Spanish (from Spain) words and phrases:

1. Public bathrooms, especially in restaurants, are referred to as "servicios" (pronounced sir-vee-cee-os) ¿Dónde están los servicios?

2. How to ask for the check when sitting at a table: La cuenta, por favor (Tips are optional and generally quite small, just a token really, maybe a 1-2 euros for a meal, 3 max, with decent service. In really fancy places where they have excellent waiters, you may leave a bigger tip, but don't go overboard, waiters make a decent wage already. By the way, at most cafes, if you order at the bar the prices are cheaper, if you sit at a table you get charged more, but it can be worth if for people watching...).

3. How to ask to be charged while standing at a bar: ¿Me cobras, por favor? (By the way, you almost always pay for all your drinks just before you leave, NOT when each drink arrives. Tips are not expected at the bar. )

4. Red wine: vino tinto (pronounced teento) (The typical Spanish wine comes from the Rioja region of Spain, in general you can't go wrong if you ask for un vaso de Rioja - a glass of Rioja. Una botella de Rioja, if you want an entire bottle. In fact the vino de la casa is usually a Rioja.)

5. How to ask for a draft of beer: una caña, por favor (pronouned canya; if you ask for una cerveza, you will get a bottle of beer).

6. How to ask for a menu: la carta, por favor (not to be confused with un menú which means the daily special. This actually may be useful if you are on a budget, at lunch time, between 2-4 pm, most restaurants have a menú at a reduced price (there is usually a white board that has the options and price -of the menú written on it near the door): it includes a first plate (salad, soup, etc.), a second plate (meat, fish or poultry) a dessert (called a postre), coffee, bread and a bottle of water or glass of wine. Usually for under 10 euros. Dinner time is usually between 9-11 PM by the way. La merienda, or snack is usually eaten between 5-7 (usually a pastry or a tapa of some sort).

7. How to say OK: In Spain we use the word vale to mean OK, in all of its permutations: to show accord, to say that the waiter has poured enough wine in your glass, etc. To ask the price of something in a store you can say ¿cuánto vale? or ¿cuanto cuesta? A very useful word indeed in España. By the way that's pronounced in two syllables va -leh... (Oh, and to say it doesn't matter: da igual)

8. If you eat meat, try the Jamón Serrano, it's the best cured ham east of prosciutto, but only if you are in a nice looking bar or in a restaurant. It should be sliced very thin... YUM!

9. A tortilla española in spain is an egg and potatoe omelette, very typical and very nice with a bit of vino tinto and spanish bread.

10. If you want the equivalent of an expresso ask for un cortado. The quality of said cortado will vary from bar to bar. If you want coffee with milk ask for un cafe con leche.

11. If you want freshly squeezed orange juice ask for un zumo natural, normally they will know that you want it to be orange juice, but you can specify un zumo de naranja natural. Most bars in Madrid and Barcelona have freshly squeezed orange juice.

12. Try queso manchego (cheese from la Mancha), curado (stronger) or semi-curado (less strong).

13. If you go to Cataluña try the pan tumaca (bread with olive oil and mashed tomato, sometimes with jamón serrano on top = heaven.

The list is endless really, if you have any specific questions email me. Spain is a wonderful country, you are going to have a great time.
posted by sic at 12:08 PM on April 19, 2005 [1 favorite]

The Number One Tourist Tip: always behave like you're a guest in someone's house, preferably someone that's more powerful/important than you are.

Do not wander around complaining about how everything is inferior to the way they do it back home. It doesn't matter if everything *is* inferior to the way you have it back home, just shut the hell up, relax & try to enjoy things.

This applies to tourists of all nationalities, wherever it is they're visiting. For example, some of the most spectacularly irritating tourists I've ever encountered were Belgians in Vietnam.
posted by aramaic at 12:29 PM on April 19, 2005

Kevin Kelly just linked to a series of guides (video and book) that sound so good I'm picking up one whenever I get around to visiting the continent.
posted by mathowie at 12:33 PM on April 19, 2005

We are also looking to avoid being stereotyped as stupid, fat Americans.

If you're a little overweight, it's not too late to address that. I've lost 55 lb. since Jan 1 on a low-carb diet.
posted by Doohickie at 12:38 PM on April 19, 2005

Watch Rick Steves' Europe for cool tips. He knows all the ins-and-outs, which I have not tested but seem really reliable. In Milan you can reserve museum reservations beforehand to avoid waits.

Beyond this, I think wearing dark colors is overkill. Just dress business casual. Pick up some fun, relaxed European clothing if you feel the need to really blend in (Etro, Paul Smith, Cavalli, etc.). Though it's kind of weird to be buying European imports and then GOING to Europe. Whenever I'm ever in doubt I always dress up as you can never be too dressed up for some place, within reason. Besides trying to match European fashion expertise as a dumb American is an impossible feat.

Oh always ask if you can look around to the store owner in Italy (it's polite).
posted by geoff. at 1:04 PM on April 19, 2005

Oh wow Matt beat me to it. Yeah Rick Steves' is the coolest. He's on PBS Saturdays and I'm sure his videos will be on your local library.
posted by geoff. at 1:05 PM on April 19, 2005

posted by UncleHornHead at 1:28 PM on April 19, 2005

So much great advice here so no need to repeat -- except this: don't yell. Seriously. And I don't just mean that weird impulse to speak more loudly in English to make up for not speaking French, but also in speaking to each other. Every single time I've been out of the U.S. it feels like there's always a group of Americans hollering amongst themselves. "HONEY, COME OVER HERE AND LOOK AT THIS!" "FIFTY NEW ZEALAND DOLLARS?! HOW MUCH IS THAT IN REAL DOLLARS?" "I DON'T KNOW! BUT MY FEET ARE KILLING ME!" "WELL, THERE'S A BENCH RIGHT OVER THERE!"

I'm not saying that all of us walk around impulsively shrieking our heads off for hours on end, but it does seem that at least some Americans have a bit of an inclination to use, um, their outside voices with alarming frequency. (The Aussies seem to do this rather a lot as well, though for some reason I find it funny rather than horrible when that's the case.) So I would say just make an effort to be really aware of modulating the volume.
posted by scody at 1:28 PM on April 19, 2005

I'm not sure what's more annoying, obnoxious Americans, or obnoxious Americans who are obsessed with not seeming like obnoxious Americans.

Attention Canadians: Flying the maple leaf doesn't make you look sophisticated when you are also rocking shorts and a fanny-pack, eh. Yes, I've actually seen this.
posted by space2k at 1:30 PM on April 19, 2005

t-shirts with the Canadian flag on them.

Do NOT try to pass yourself off as a Canadian. The minute you open your mouth you will be caught out. And other Canadians will spot you from a mile away as a pretender because you are not sporting any apparel bought from MEC (they are usually covered from head to toe in that shite).

Once exposed, you will be the object of even more scorn than before.
posted by randomstriker at 1:30 PM on April 19, 2005

Do you speak ny foreign languages? If so, use them. When in France, pretend you are from Italy, or Spain. If worst comes to worst, adopt an Irish, Australian, or English accent.
posted by sophist at 1:34 PM on April 19, 2005

Americans seem to have adopted the attitude that when an individual is out in the street, it is rude for other people to stare at / notice / interact with him. He can therefore wear sloppy clothes, ignore the amount of space he's taking up, etc. Europeans tend to see being out on the street as being out in public, the same as if they were out in a restaurant, and dress and act as such. There's much less "letting it all hang out" or "comfort above all else" in the attitude. There's more respect shown for those around you, whether that means dressing respectfully or not hogging the entire sidewalk or not talking so loudly that you're drowning out other conversations.
posted by occhiblu at 1:47 PM on April 19, 2005

When in France, pretend you are from Italy, or Spain. If worst comes to worst, adopt an Irish, Australian, or English accent.
So you can be more boisterous when talking? Like others have said, French like soft spoken over loud. I found the French understanding American English over the UK heavily accented English, ymmv.

Mondays; most retail businesses will have a slow opening that day and most museums are closed. Speaking of museums, if you like art. Then you should seek an exhibit to attend. As the art is placed for the viewers enjoyment rather than a museum wall which is a secured building housing art around its walls. Big difference.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:51 PM on April 19, 2005

Saying American is a vague response (Mexico Canada are also ) because America is a continent. You are from the Estates de United.

"Estates de United." That ain't any language I know.

I know this is a long-running argument, but no Mexican or Canadian I know (and I know plenty) ever—never ever—called themselves American. So, je suis américain or soy americano work just fine. The most common meaning and usage of "American" is still "of, belonging to, or characteristic of the United States of America or its inhabitants." In other uses, additional qualification is usually necessary: "The New World American mind-set is about change." The argument that "American" is an inappropriate misappropriation of the word by citizens of the US comes, 999 times out of a thousand, from Americans themselves and represents an unwarranted hypercorrectness.
posted by Mo Nickels at 2:16 PM on April 19, 2005

Do NOT try to pass yourself off as a Canadian.

well, when I visited Toronto, I bought myself a lovely white t-shirt with a big-ass red maple leaf on it. I didn't do it to try to pass myself off as anything, I just liked the shirt. still do, actually. still wear it a lot. lovely shirt. whenever I wear it, I don't waste time wondering if people think I'm Canadian
posted by matteo at 3:08 PM on April 19, 2005

...but I kind of imagine you'd never be mistaken for a Canadian, matteo! ;)
posted by scody at 4:46 PM on April 19, 2005

I spent last summer in Paris and Barcelona. The cities are polar opposites in terms of personality. I was regularly mistaken for a local in both places, although I did different things to blend in in each place. In France, I made it a point to dress well in dark, conservative clothes. It was actually very cold there in the summer, so long sleeve black shirts were the standard. I mainly traveled alone, so when walking places, I walked like I knew where I was going, even if I didn't. I didn't stop to lollygag or ask for directions. I carried a small mapbook with me at all times, and I would duck into a restroom or an alleyway to look at it. I never pulled it out in public. I kept my mouth shut. I learned very basic phrases, but I don't know any French and my accent is atrocious. I avoided touristy areas after the first mandatory visit, or if I returned, I returned for a good non-tourist reason.

In Spain, I wore whatever the hell I wanted to. I went shopping and bought local clothes which had a really relaxed hippie / gypsy vibe to them. It was a lot more laid back. Because I do speak Spanish, I had no problem getting around and meeting people. Once I opened my mouth, they knew I wasn't from Spain, since I have a more South American accent, but everyone was friendly and curious. Again, I went everywhere with purpose and direction. After a while, I just let myself blend into the background, and I can't tell you how many tourists I saw get robbed in broad daylight because they looked ever so slightly confused or lost.

I guess the key is to look jaded, and keep all your glee on the inside.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 4:58 PM on April 19, 2005

I guess the key is to look jaded, and keep all your glee on the inside.

In other words, pretend to be my hipster ex-boyfriend. [/ot]
posted by scody at 5:12 PM on April 19, 2005

Go without a suitcase. Look around. Buy clothing there accordingly.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:46 PM on April 19, 2005

Go without a suitcase. Look around. Buy clothing there accordingly.

This is excellent advice, give it some thought bryanzera.

I'd just like to restate the "don't criticize" advice. Once a few years ago there was an American CNN correspondent here with me, a Dane, and a bunch of local kids. He'd been travelling around with them, I think helping set them up for the "International Correspondents" show. Anyway, over beers he started riffing on the quality and availability of toilet paper here. The crowd laughed along with him politely, and he kept at it up to the point where he made a joke about someone at the table having shit all over their hands. Stunned silence.

I guess my advice is, don't do stuff like that.

By the way, I've found Australians to be much worse than Americans when it comes to whining about how things are so much better at home.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:44 PM on April 19, 2005

It sounds like this might be a first trip and so while this doesn't answer your question, I must urge you to avoid the terrible trap so many Americans find themselves in abroad: obsessing about seeing the sights and taking bus tours and missing the life of the place you are visiting. An afternoon spent idling over cold white wine at a sunsplashed cafe in a pretty place where you can people-watch is worth three days of all-cathedrals-all-the-time.
And to reinforce what was said above: educate yourself on local courtesies. If you walk into a store and say "Bonjour Madame," it won't matter that your accent blows. Conversely, if you walk in and don't acknowledge the owner, you will be seen as rude no matter how fluent you are.
And Do. Not. Go. To. McDonald's. Because then I will have to hunt you down. My biggest fury at my countrymen abroad is seeing them crowding into American fast food joints that should, by all that is holy, not be there in the first place.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:41 AM on April 20, 2005

Go without a suitcase. Look around. Buy clothing there accordingly.

That sounds like a lot of fun, but just a warning that when I spent a semester in Rome a few years ago I had all sorts of trouble finding clothes that fit me. I wouldn't describe myself as overweight, necessarily, but an American size 8 or 10, and clothing my size didn't seem to exist, really. I would hate to imagine your wife having to wash out the clothes she wore on the plane in the sink every night, if she's anywhere near my size. YMMV, as they say.
posted by audrey the bug at 1:27 PM on April 20, 2005

CunningLinguist raises an excellent point. Trying to make your trip a sort of box-checking exercise in rushing around seeing all the sights the guide book tells you you should is a bad, bad move. And exhausting. And not at all relaxing. Soaking up the local ambience is definitely the best part of visiting foreign places. And you'll find that your best memory won't be waiting in the queue for the Louvre and trying to glimpse the Mona Lisa over the heads of a hundred other tourists; it'll be that dark, cosy little bistro you found in the Latin Quarter, with the amazing food and the crazy waiter and the owner who gave you a free brandy and talked your ears off even though you couldn't understand half of what he was saying.... that stuff is what makes these trips unforgettable, and different to what you know.
posted by Decani at 4:14 PM on April 20, 2005

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