Imagine yourself happily packing a backpack, stuffing only the essentials (including two "Do not open until May 24th!!!" cards and a mysteriously wrapped gift) inside, passport in hand, ready to depart for your four day birthday vacation to Madrid. It's your 33rd, so naturally it feels like a big deal. And though you're slightly bothered that your phenomenal partner had not really been in the picture when you originally booked the trip, and thus is not going, you're never-the-less excited to head over to Prestwick and catch your flight with friends.
Now, imagine that one of those friends has invited Michelle from American Pie to join you.
I'm not going to whine and complain about how my long-awaited trip to Spain was turned into a circus by a 15 year-old in a 23 year-old's body...Instead, I am going to use it as an opportunity to share some insight on travelling abroad. I share this with an open heart to any and all who have never left their hometown or country, and just aren't aware.
1) Americans, thanks to Mr. Bush, are really not terribly loved anywhere outside of the US these days.
2) Even if you are not American, if you sound like one we get the blame for any idiocies you commit (likewise, you get our stereotypes, so be prepared).
3) Though it is terribly exciting to travel outside of your comfort zone, drawing attention to yourself in a foreign country--aside from being humiliating--is a safety hazard (this means that wearing big flags on your backpack or having your friend video-tape you dancing on sacred grounds is a no-no).
4) If you do not speak the language of the country you are in, eat whatever the waiter puts in front of you--because chances are, you're the one who got it wrong.
5) When promotional people call to you on the street ("Chicas, chicas, gratis cervesas..."), don't insult them by yelling at them, accusing them of trying to pick you up, or saying "I don't drink beer!" They really could care less whether you do or not. Simply, they want some pretty girls to sit in the taberna so that paying men will come on in.
6) Finally, understand that you are not on home ground anymore. The rules have changed--your tea might have milk in it if you don't specify otherwise, vegetarianism might be a rare occurrence, and not everything is going to have an English translation under it.
I know that it's hard sometimes, we live in our own little worlds and get our culture from the boob tube...but if we want to lose the stereotypes of being loud, arrogant, and assumptive, we Americans need to step up. The accusations come from decades of documented poor behaviour, and it's our duty not to perpetuate it. After all, really, are you going to a foreign country to eat pizza and burgers? To speak your native tongue? Why bother? Immerse yourself in the culture and see it as a learning opportunity. Lean into your discomforts.
(Oh, and Canadians--if you're dead set on making an ass out of yourself abroad, please make sure you have a nice big maple leaf on yourself so that some of the blame is deflected.)