Thursday, March 22, 2007

Americans abroad

A comment I wrote on a post by Sarahjane, an American in Frankfurt, about vulgar young Americans abroad:

Right after I first moved to Berlin in 1991, I became extremely aware of the American junior-year-abroad students traveling on their rail passes. Even when they were not vulgar (and they weren't vulgar that often, at least back then), I noticed how they always seemed to believe that they were where they belonged, no matter where they were. Or to put it another way, that they had a right to be wherever they were, and to behave in the same way that they would have behaved if they had been in New York City or Minneapolis or Oberlin or wherever. The young Americans traveling together did not seem to have much respect for the countries they were traveling through; it was almost as if those places did not exist as separate cultures, but just as place for Americans to travel through.


SarahJane said...

I know I shouldn't leave the British out of the Arschloecher Abroad category, but of course I'm more sensitive to Americans. And in both of those cases I'm surely more affected because I understand what they're saying. For all I know the Japanese tourists, mild-mannered as they seem, may be discussing cannabilism and bestiality.

I find the drinking thing a bit frightening. Since in Germany you can drink in public, some tourists seem to lose their minds.

Certainly many Americans are well behaved, too. We have a satellite church of the Mormons right down the street bursting with missionaries, so they swing it all to the other extreme.

Andrew Shields said...

Two things: I should add that I am impressed by the American ability to feel at home wherever one goes, or rather, to feel like one belongs wherever one goes. (That's still not right, but close enough.) It's not something intentionally imperious; it's just something about how one feels about one's place in the world when one is an American. (Or perhaps a "normal" American, in Frank Portman's sense of "normal"—see my post about his "King Dork.")

Secondly, before I went to Berlin in August of 1991, I spent a few weeks in Weimar. On the first day my then girlfriend Carolyn and I were there, we had a hard time finding the street with the apartment where we were supposed to be staying. At one point, we almost asked some very well-dressed people if they knew where to go—until Carolyn, the ex-Mormon, recognized them as Mormon missionaries. We started calling them "Elmers" (as a parody of the title "Elder" on their badges).

Andrew Shields said...

I forgot one other thing, too: I am impressed and repelled by that American "imperiousness" in myself as well!

Ernesto said...

Hello, Andrew. It's funny, I was just talking to a friend about that as well. Here in the university you can feel it as well. I wonder if this "feeling at home" attitude was the same before Starbucks and McDonald's homogenized the urban landscape of the world. (Maybe their role as "saviors" during the war helped create the feeling? From reading Hemingway's Moveable Feast or Sylvia Bleach's Shakespeare & Co. it seems things were a bit different back then). Still, I personally find this attitude which I have also called "vulgar" (being loud, pretending to own the place and to think they deserve everything just for having a rising intonation or for having seemingly everflowing cash) very annoying and utterly disturbing.

It's a physical awareness as well. Americans in the uni's gym do stand out, for one reason or another. (Not all of them, some are really respectful and great gym mates).

Just some after-hours rambling, to say hi...