Despite our best efforts to blend in with the locals, Americans often stand out even before we even display our unattractive accents. Countries around the globe hold stereotypes about tourists from the States: We’re loud, obnoxious, oblivious of our surroundings and worst of all, ignorant, especially towards other cultures. If you’ve traveled outside the U.S. and interacted with locals, you’ve probably felt some judgement or critical stares. To be fair, a lot of the time Americans stay true to a lot of these stereotypes.
One lovely tradition at Cornell, as with countless other colleges, is a Spring Break beach getaway. We wear nothing but bathing suits throughout the towns of Caribbean Islands or Central American tourist hotspots (public indecency), drink like it’s our job (American workaholic mindset) and purchase souvenirs for friends back home or to have as keepsakes to remind us of this wholesome time (absolute consumerism).
As (hopefully) well-intentioned university students, we like to think we can assimilate to new surroundings in a foreign country without falling into too many of these stereotypes. Being abroad for a month now, I can confidently say I’ve played into more cliches than I’m proud of. I talk about the weather in Fahrenheit, I regurgitate phrases common to Cornell’s discussion-based classes that my Irish classmates always giggle at: “Yeah, adding onto that …” — and I get preposterously frustrated with the lack of selection at grocery stores and Target equivalents. That last one is common amongst American travelers because our consumerist markets spoil us with nearly unlimited choices. Today I was feeling under the weather and wanted to make myself soup. When I got to the grocery store, the only way to make broth was to buy a bag of lentils, soak them in cold water for 12 hours, then boil them. I asked if they just had chicken broth in a box and the man smirked at me. We’ve never missed our hyper-capitalist structure as much as when foreign stores don’t carry our all-natural shampoo, vegan burger patties or non-animal-tested deodorant.
Traveling with my family is even more embarrassing. Another common annoyance we Americans cause is our automatic assumption that everyone speaks English. Studying in Ireland, that hasn’t been an issue, but on family vacations I’ve witnessed this shameful tendency firsthand. Last summer we were in Argentina and my mom began asking someone behind us for directions. The man only spoke Spanish, and instead of asking me or my brother for help (unrelentingly strict Arts & Sciences elective requirements coming in handy for once) she instead began to speak in a botched Argentine accent. She was still speaking English, just making a fool of herself with the pronunciation, syllabic stresses and rolling ‘r’ sounds. “We need…una bús to arrrrive at the ’otel.” Like that’s going to help him understand. I waited several minutes before jumping in to help.
The image of “uncultured” Americans really comes to life when we travel abroad: we sport fanny packs or money pouches because we’re afraid of losing our wallet in a foreign country, our unreasonably expensive cameras — considering we’re nowhere near professional photographers — dangle from our necks and our jackets are tied around our waists because we dress for every form of weather every day. Accessories that would make Tim Gunn gouge his eyes out are accentuated by the blindingly chic style of Europeans. I like to think I have a good sense of style — maybe I’m just full of myself or maybe it’s because I’m friends with a few fashion majors and I think I’m cool by association. But my pea coat, retro sweater and Blundstones are put to shame by slim-fit plaid pants, oversized tees and dashing suede jackets.
It’s easy to identify another stereotype, one evident even on Cornell’s campus. We rush. School drives us to hurry from class to class, library to library, meeting to meeting, and this punctual lifestyle doesn’t stop once we graduate. In stark contrast to this work-hard, play-hard environment, many foreign countries honor a multi-hour lunch break. Sitting down to an afternoon pint or glass of wine is a method of conversing with friends, not a way to deal with the fact that three prelims are next week. As college students, we drink to get drunk. We don’t savor the taste or take our time to enjoy a glass to the last drop. We like to tell ourselves we know a good Merlot, especially after taking Wines, but at 11 p.m. on Friday our false appreciation goes out the window as we find ourselves taking shots of Bartons to the gut. Vodka out of a plastic bottle will always do the trick.
We may think our parents appreciate finer alcohols than we do, which is mainly true — it comes with having more money than the loose change we scrape together from around the apartment to buy a late night slice from CTP. But we all know some adults in our lives who drink to get drunk — Uncle David keeps his flask handy, Grandma on Thanksgiving … and Fourth of July … and before bed to take the edge off. Then again, my Grandma is Irish, so score one for Irish stereotypes. Guess we’re not the only ones living up to expectations.
AJ Stella is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stellin’ It Like It Is runs every other Friday this semester.