You know those moments when every stereotype you have about a nationality is realised? I had one of them the other evening in a hostel in Austria. It might not surprise you to hear that the nationality in question was American. (Cue slightly off-key rendition of Star Spangled Banner.)
I was trying to get some work done in the common room of the hostel. (OK, fine, you caught me out – I was procrastinating on Facebook!) But the point remains that I couldn’t concentrate because the not so quiet American was having a very loud and very personal conversation on Skype. At first it was annoying but, when I started to eavesdrop on what he was saying, it was so entertaining I gave up all hope of getting any work done. (OK, I gave up hope of looking at my friends’ photos and their inane updates on their kids or binge drinking exploits… or, disturbingly, both.)
“We went to a Chinese restaurant here in Austria and it was so ‘bizarre’ because the whole menu was in German,” he tells the not so quiet American dad over Skype.
Excuse me? What did you expect, for it to be in Mandarin? When was the last time you went to a Chinese restaurant in the US and everything was in Mandarin? I’ll tell you – never! Xie xie… you’re welcome.
I thought maybe it was an innocently silly comment, we all make them sometimes. But, sadly, no.
“There’s a holiday here in Austria next week. I’m not sure what it is but I guess they have Memorial Day here too,” he also informs his poor father.
This is when I knew the last comment was no mistake. The problem with the guy’s statement here is that is shows a lack of understanding about his own country’s history as much as Austria’s. Last time I checked, and I’m no expert, Memorial Day has its origin in the American Civil War and is exclusively about the US armed forces. Sadly the Austrians have enough of their own wars to worry about without being concerned with those across the Atlantic.
The not so quiet American went on to complain about the fees he was having to pay at ATMs because he couldn’t find a Bank of America anywhere. And then he started bitching about his travel companion. This isn’t so unusual except he described in graphic details her sexual encounters in the dorm room… without consideration for the children who happened to be listening to his conversation (I think they learned more than a few new English words that evening).
Then came the history lesson. My favourite bit! You have to give credit to the guy – he was very passionate about what he’s discovered on his European holiday and wanted to share it with his father. What I’m unsure of is whether his father needed this lesson or not.
“It was so weird to see Berlin,” he started. “So many of the buildings were new. Did you know that’s because there used to be a wall through the middle of the city?”
Thump. Yep, honest to god that’s what he said!
He was also amazed to find a lot of Russian influence in the east (surely his father at least knew why all those missiles had been going to Cuba?) and he had a problem with the way the Holocaust Memorial was designed (points for at least knowing why it was there… I assume).
Now, this is the point where I have to stress that I’m not trying to racially profile here. Obviously I have met many wonderful Americans who have outstanding understandings of the world. An I certainly don’t believe that some Australians should escape criticism – I still cringe when I think of the Aussie at a hostel who told us with a smirk that the reason nobody was able to have toast that morning was because he’d stolen the toaster the night before to make a costume for a party. But… the fact is this young man was an American and he was acting out every bad preconception the world has of that country’s travellers.
Finally the not so quiet American decided to ask his father a question, rather than just dazzle him with facts that most people learned in high school.
Talking about the books he’d been reading he asked, “do you know, was Game of Thrones written before Lord of the Rings?”.
Please, someone throw him into the fires of Mordor… I swear, you can’t make this stuff up!
What’s the strangest thing you’ve heard a foreigner say overseas?
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