This week, satirical Web site The Onion took aim at the “ugly American” travel stereotype in its News in Brief:
“CHICAGO — Recent college graduate Tyler Hill announced Monday his plans to single-handedly shatter European ideas about American travelers during his upcoming three-week trip to France and Belgium. … ‘They’re going to meet me and think, “Wow, it really means a lot to me that he took the time to learn a couple of useful phrases in our language.”‘ Hill added that over the course of the trip, he hopes to meet some Europeans who aren’t just a bunch of effeminate, chain-smoking elitists.”
While having a chuckle at the Onion’s piece, I realized I was laughing at myself too. I’ll admit it: I’m guilty of masquerading as some kind of international globetrotter with impressive foreign language skills while traveling. In one particular situation, my attempt to fit in with the locals led to the extreme of pretending to be one.
On a trip to Amsterdam this summer, a local woman approached me in the Tassen Museum of Bags and Purses, pointed to the display in front of us and, with a mischievous grin, uttered some clever remark in Dutch. She began laughing, and I laughed with her as if I had understood what she had said — but I don’t speak a word of Dutch.
My charade fell to pieces when the woman continued to try to strike up conversation as I toured the museum. I had already indicated that I spoke Dutch, and there was no going back. I spent the rest of the evening nervously avoiding the woman, ducking behind cases of couture handbags whenever she came near.
Why was my first instinct to act like moronic Tyler Hill? There’s nothing wrong with being a tourist, but sometimes it’s nice not to feel like an outsider while traveling — if only for a few moments. Travelers interested in fitting in while on the road should check out our 20 tips for blending in with the locals (none of which suggest pretending to understand an unfamiliar language).
How do you blend in with the locals while traveling? Do you even try? We want to hear your stories!
— written by Caroline Costello