The not so quiet American

The not so quiet American in my hostel has some interesting ideas about the world. Or, to put it better, he has no idea about the world.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

Updated:

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.

And 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!

39 thoughts on “The not so quiet American”

  1. Perhaps the weirdest thing I ever heard was From an Aussie who wondered aloud to his travel mate why the water in the drain spun in the opposite direction that it did back hom

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    • Well, as an Aussie I can tell you that it’s very confusing! Although I never understand why people even notice that kind of thing… they’re far more observant than I am.

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  2. HA! I’ve had a few of these encounters. Stereotypes are present for a reason, there is some truth to them. 🙂

    As an American, I’ve shaken my head at some ridiculous comments from fellow American’s on my travels. One couple in Mexico (also on an extremely loud Skype conversation) marveled that Mexico had a McDonalds, and that the cafe we were in had free WiFi. A guy in Panama was pissed off that the checkout lady “wouldn’t” speak to him in English. As if it was her choice…

    Germans with no sense of humor, drunken Australians, and photo-happy Japanese. As you said, the stereotypes don’t fit everyone, but they are noticeable from time to time…

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    • I’m sorry, Matt, but I do need to pick you up on one mistake… the drunken Aussies are not a stereotype – just an accurate description. Excuse any typos in this reply because I’ve had a few beers already.
      Other than that, I do normally hate playing up to stereotypes because you always meet so many people who don’t fit them. But it just so happened this fella was from the US so, y’know… 🙂
      I think moreso it’s just that I don’t understand people who go travelling and then are surprised that the world isn’t like their home. Surely one of the best reasons to get out and explore is to see different cultures, not complain that they are different. Go to DisneyWorld if you want to see the world’s sights and still speak English!

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      • Seen on the wall in the Chillagoe Roadhouse (home of what is arguably the best burger in the world) in FNQ:

        “A Tourist is someone who travels to see things that are different, and then complains that nothing is the same”.

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  3. This was painful…. albeit funny reading. Its really unfortunate that certain individuals out there drag the rest of Americans down.

    I met have met a number of travelers like this from the US on the road and as an American it makes me cringe. I guess its good to laugh at your own country and have a self of humor about it…but after a 10 month trip I found the “dumbest American seen/heard stories” to get a bit old.

    My personal favorites

    Australian in Vietnam…”So what is there in India? just a lot of temples?”
    Canadian in Thailand Me: “where are you going?”
    Him: Pppp pnem pshs..Ping pong!!”
    Me: Phnom Penh?
    Him: Ya thats the one

    I guess every country has them.

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    • Every country certainly has them and, I need to stress, I’m not really trying to have a go at Americans… it just happened to be a guy from the US this time.
      To be honest, it’s the Aussies who make me cringe the most. There are so many who seem to have no respect for other cultures (which is possibly worse than not understanding them, like the US stereotype). I’ve seen Aussies climbing up on temples to have their photo taken wearing singlets and flip flops… or the time when a group were running and splashing through a flooded San Marco square in Venice shouting “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” on a Sunday morning.

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  4. I was in a hostel in Sarajevo a few years ago, hanging out with sonny (a guy in the hostel that lived as a child during the siege) and 2 guys from Florida, and Sonny was giving us a little preview of the War Tour we were taking the next day. One of the Florida guys looks at Sonny, and so ‘i know everything’ attitude exclaims (about something that has to do with Bosnian and Serbian differences during the war)

    “Well, you guys all speak Serbian anyway, right?”
    and then something about Bosnians and Serbians are the same people.

    Me and the other guy from Florida instantly covered our faces with our hand, moved away from the other american and proceded to be all “THIS is why people hate Americans”

    I give props to Sonny for not just punching the guy in the face. I would have.

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    • Yikes – that’s a bad one! Sometimes it crosses the line from foolishness to downright insensitivity. It sounds like that was one of those occasions.
      I think you can forgive people who just haven’t learnt something… not everyone has an interest in European history, for instance. But to demonstrate your ignorance in such an offensive way just proves how much of an idiot you are!

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  5. That was too funny. The Berlin Wall comment got me. I mean even I you were born after the wall came down I would have thought the fact Berlin had a wall was common knowledge. I think the funniest thing I heard was actually in Seattle, when I was at the zoo with my friend, and I heard a father tell his son that a deer is a baby elk. Umm no I’m 100% confident that deer and elk are two different species, and that it’s impossible for one to become the other.

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    • Yeah, the Berlin Wall comment was the one that really left me puzzled. I’m still not quite sure if maybe something was lost in translation. Although I fear not… he seemed pretty excited to be passing on this piece of newfound information to his father.

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  6. We-e-e-ell as an Aussie I love a good Dumb American Stereotype (as well as Drunken Australian Stereotype) story as much as the next man, but having met a few Americans in my time, I have never actually met a stupid one. They have all seemed pretty okay, and also very nice as people. So I feel slightly guilty laughing at the stereotype. Although I have heard a couple of first-hand accounts which reinforce it:
    – An American woman was going to climb the Acropolis, and when told what the fee was, asked loudly “What’s that in REAL money?” She was promptly charged three times the going rate by the all-too-happy-to-oblige local functionary.
    – A mate of mine was once told by a young American woman “America has the cultural diversity of Europe”. If perchance she was referring to the combined North & South American continents, fair cop. But we all know she wasn’t.

    Referring specifically to this article, I have to say it sounds more to me like this guy was simply an unreconstructed Young Person(tm) who has never bothered to learn anything about history. In this particular case he was suffering perhaps from a bad case of Idiot, but not necessarily of the American variety.

    I have also met a few Aussies who have asked me stupid questions incorporating geographical impossibilities which I will not quote here, so I don’t want to be too quick to bash the poor old Americans, even if I am wont to lament the unworldly and insular nature of some of their number.

    And incidentally, the drunken Aussie stereotype isn’t a stereotype, it’s simply reporting the facts. 😉

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    • Steve, I do agree with you completely about this guy just being a bit of a fool. It’s just, for the sake of reinforcing all those stereotypes us Aussies perpetuate to make ourselves feel better about ourselves, I felt the need to point out that he was also American. In every paragraph 🙂
      I actually do commend him for at least travelling overseas and making an effort to learn new things. There are too many people (of every nationality) who just don’t bother to acknowledge there’s a wider world outside their picket fence.
      In regards to the American at the Acropolis, I would just like to point at that ‘real money’ is looking a bit more Monopoly-esque with the exchange rates these days. And in regards to your other example, I did see the cultural diversity of Europe in America… it was just all packed into about three casinos in Vegas.
      And, yes, regarding the drunken Aussies, I’m pretty sure I signed a form somewhere saying that was compulsory if I wanted to be allowed out of the country…

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  7. OK, here we go with stereotypes…Aussies get drunk to have fun. Russians get drunk as an excuse for being assholes. It is hard to blame them when you consider that half a generation ago they needed permission to go to the bathroom.
    Being one of the damn yanks, I still wonder what something costs in real money.
    My first trip to Austarlia (on business) I was carrying 8k in “real money”. The immigration man asked me how much cash I had on me I told him “under the maximum” he insisted I tell him,so I did.He said I could be arrested for not declaring that I had more than ten k. I reaped I had 8. He told me that was over ten k in Aussie dollars. I looked him in the eyes and said the dumbest thing I could have said “I cannot help it if your money isnt worth anything”. Three hours later I cleared customs.

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  8. Then there was the Brit upon entering Australia was asked if he had a criminal record and responded, “do you still need one?”

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  9. Some time ago during a holiday staying with friends in Seattle I was asked by an admittedly slightly drunken stranger in a bar “Do y’all speak English in the UK?”. It took me a while to get over the shock that this was a serious question, but I bit my tongue, smiled and replied politely “Yes, yes we do,”. She then thought about this for a few minutes before just as seriously asking. “What about in Scotland?”.

    I don’t think it’s “just” Americans, I’ve got extremely well-educated and well-travelled friends from other nations who have asked me questions like “Is Brussels in France?” and “Is there water in Guiness?” and I’m sure I’ve blurted out a few mistakes but it really does sound like your not so quiet American hit the jackpot!

    Bird x

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    • Ha ha – some of those are gold! Although the question about whether the Scottish speak English is a valid one… it certainly doesn’t sound like any English I know! 🙂

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  10. My fellow art teacher (British) here in Shanghai comes up with a gem every week or so. Early on in her adventures she kept hearing everyone talk about Communism and finally asked, “What is that, some sort of philosophy or something?” More recently, our PE teacher was talking to her about taking part in a triathlon and she balked at swimming in the lake, as she was “afraid of getting bitten by the sharks and alligators.”

    It’s back home in my very small hometown that I find the true American stereotypes. At my high school friend’s parents’ shop, I was talking to her dad when a townie came up for help. He introduced me and said I was living in Shanghai. She looked at me a moment before saying, “Well, you don’t look like a native.” And at church last summer, a man mentioned he’d never seen me there before, and I explained that I taught in Shanghai, China, and was just back for the summer. His response? “Well, you must be glad to be back in the land of air conditioning and flush toilets!” It was the first time I ever laughed in someone’s face.

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    • I sometimes wonder how they people end up with their preconceptions of places. What, along the way, convinced this person that there was no airconditioning in Shanghai, for instance? Having ben to Shanghai, I know full well that everyone would die without airconditioning in the summer!

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  11. When I was at uni in the USA I once visited my American boyfriend’s grandmother. She’d been told I was Norwegian, but obviously didn’t know what to expect, because she took him aside and whispered loudly (like the elderly often do): …but, she looks just like us…?

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  12. I am laughing so hard my beautiful eyes are filling up with tears… I am an american, and admit I am loud, (got told to shhsh’s in the BA lounge while on skype not that long ago). But the naive and bizarre comments people make! You could fill blogs full of them.

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  13. Hah! That’s brilliant. I’ve come across many of these characters, from all nationalities. You know what they say about stupid people… they’re idiots!

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  14. I’ve come across North American pearls quite often during my travels, they’re really unbeatable 😛
    Italians really fit their stereotype too though, we are loud and we do always wear our sunglasses!

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  15. I hate to say that I’m not that shocked. To me, it sounds like the American is a college student and I am thrilled that he has left the USA to travel. In the USA, we don’t have a Gap year and far too few of us ever leave the comfort of our own country. Travel is the best education a person can get. It teaches you how much you really don’t know. Hopefully, he’ll get the message.

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    • It’s the best we can hope for, isn’t it? I suppose you can’t judge someone on their upbringing. You just have to hope they make an effort to find out more themselves and then they actually learn from that.

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