Friday, July 24, 2009

I don't want to be a tourist

I overheard a couple of comments by American tourists that are really mind numbing. Comment number one: overheard at the Eiffel Tower - "I guess we should climb that thing." Comment number two: overheard at one of the the Trianon Palaces at Versailles - "You really want to go in there?" The third is not so much a comment, but a long, drawn out conversation between two couples on the train to Versailles. The whole way there they opined about European travel and I noticed that they never seemed to really comment about the culture, history, or the people. It was like a trip to Disneyland. Their comment about the absolutely gorgeous and well-preserved medieval city of Bruges was they were going there for "chocolates and beer." No real connection to culture or history. Of course, Juli and I were guilty of feeling smug and self-satisfied that by immersing ourselves (as much as possible) in the culture and trying to "live local" and make some connection to what life here must be really like. Its not just about seeing the sights. I mean, we are here to see the sights, but we want it to be something more. Trying to learn some of the language and customs and remove ourselves from our comfort zone. We made some faux pas' and felt really silly more than once (you try using one of those fancy escargot holders) but it was coming through those moments having learned something new that we enjoyed the most. When you figure out the unstated rules of a culture, its kind of like being in a secret club. Its really cool and its hard not to brag a little. Not that we claim to be experts by any stretch of imagination - we just figured out that we don't want to be "tourists." Our goal is to not be "that guy" - the ugly American. Funny thing: one of the couples had done most of the talking (non-stop) on the 30 minute train ride and when everybody got off, the other couple couldn't get away from them fast enough. I can't say I blame them.

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