Saturday, January 04, 2014

Notes on travel

I agree with the people that say that Americans don't travel enough.  Oftentimes, people set their opinions based upon what they know and if they've never seen anything outside their local neighborhood, it's tough to broaden their horizons.  That goes for folks who have never left their hometown to go away to college or folks who have never left our borders.  And I don't consider a cruise or all-inclusive hotel where you don't really experience the country as 'travel'.  Yes, you go through customs and all, but let's face it:  Your experience is extremely controlled and protected.  Your biggest risk is drinking the water and getting Montezuma's revenge.

I have spent a considerable amount of time outside my country's borders.  I was a Marine and that sent me all over the world.  I also traveled for work which took me to various countries as well as all over the US.  All that having been said, there are a lot of myths or misconceptions that I have experienced over the years that I disagree with wholeheartedly and this is my entry to at least begin a discussion about this.  WARNING:  This may contain sweeping generalizations and some stereotypes, but are all based upon actual experiences that I have had.

I find the myth that Americans are rude when we travel, ridiculous.  The "ugly American" stereotype is ridiculous and generally based upon our ability to get what we want when we want it here in the states.  However, when in other countries, we generally attempt to assimilate.  Yes, there are rude people from the states, just like there are rude people everywhere.  There are self-centered people everywhere.  Being from the US doesn't uniquely qualify me as rude, nor does it mean that I will be as such.  While my experience have been anecdotal, I have seen many cases where people from the host country are rude as well as people who are fellow travelers.  The whole idea that we insist that others speak English to accommodate us is ridiculous.  English provides a central language for the host country to speak to keep them from having to learn Japanese, Cantonese, Mandarin, English, French, Spanish, Russian, and Arabic.  It's just convenient for us Americans to have them speak it, but no one insists upon it.  In fact, when I tried to speak Italian to anyone (while I'm sure my Italian is horrible), they would speak to me in English.

For example, Italians have no idea what standing in line is.  If there's a line, they will act as if they are looking at something in the area, while sneaking in front of everyone who has been standing in the line politely.  Unless they are called out, they will cut in front of everyone.  And sometimes, when they're called out, they act as if they had no idea there was a line a half-mile long.  Eastern Europeans were good at this as well.  I have found that Brits and French people queue quite nicely and politely.

Also, subways....I have experienced subways in many cities, but nowhere else have I seen the subways like in Rome.  While I've never been in an avalanche, I think I can speak to the experience after having been literally picked up and pushed into the back of a subway car by a wave of people who were trying to get onto the car and to the Vatican for Christmas blessing.  Little old ladies, kids, priests, nuns, all pushing, shoving, and generally not considering that some of us were moving as fast as the crowd in front of us would allow.  They wanted on the car and would not let anything stop them.

Honestly, I found that the Americans we ran into were some of the most polite folks I have met during my travels.  Walking down the sidewalks, we could identify the Americans by who quit the game of "sidewalk chicken" first.  Italians, French, Asians, all would walk two or three wide on sidewalks that were barely wide enough to go two-wide.  Americans were often the ones who would risk their lives by stepping off the curb and into the street long enough to get past those throngs of giggling Japanese schoolgirls or Italian teens who apparently got their fashion sense from Jersey Shore.  (NOTE TO ITALIAN TEENAGERS:  Jersey Shore has been cancelled.  Even if it was still running, those people are douchebags not to be emulated.  Any resemblance to real life human beings is completely unintentional.)

Note to guys trying to sell me knock-off Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and other bags:  Do I look like a 'man-bag' kinda guy?  Seriously?  Stop it.  If I want to buy a knock off for my daughter, I'll buy it, but not because you tell me how great a deal it is.  Same with you guys outside of the restaurants in all the bigger cities in Italy.  I can read your menu.  I don't need you to tell me how awesome your restaurant is.  In fact, from my experience, if your restaurant needed someone outside it hawking your grub, it's sub-standard and not worth feeding to my dog.  Speaking of sub-standard and not work feeding my dog:  Canonica in Venice.  Avoid it like the plague.  And Gusto Leo in Florence.  Not as bad as Canonica, but close.  And unless you're in a restaurant that has a good wine list, don't order the table-wine.  it's generally blech.  Stick with something that is a little better quality.  You'll thank me later.  There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, but I found that when the place was lower budget, their wine was as well.  

And since we're talking about food, here's a quick run-through of my trip to Italy:  awesome food in Rome, Ninos, near the Spanish Steps.  Their calamari is the best I have ever tasted.  Ever.  Fucking, EVER.  Amazing.  And if you ever get a chance to try 'razor clams', do it.  They're quite tasty.  Grilled, with some olive oil and lemon.  Marcy definitely pushed her comfort zone with some of the things she tried the last two weeks.  Some successfully, some not so much.  But I was proud of her for trying.

Bottom line:  Everyone should travel.  Experience life.  Experience the world.  And come home with a greater love for everything that we have so much of in the states.

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