Sunday, August 14, 2011

Russian is the New French

Traveling through Europe has always meant dealing with snooty people. “Hoity-Toity” Brits and the “Pooh Pooh on You You” French, stoic Danes that look like they sleep in crypts and sullen Spaniards who sigh as they stare at you from behind black Raybans and go back to sunning themselves to death. And the Italians? Mama Mia! Forgetaboutit! No other race of men alive can make another man feel so defensive, foolish, apprehensive, or full of venom, than Italian men.
I always found it so humorous when women from around the world would say, “Oh Italian men, I love them.”
“Have you ever been to Italy?”
“Then go suck your thumb.”
But that’s old Europe (Boy, that’s saying something…) No, the late 20th Century Europe I backpacked through 20 years ago seems to have disappeared. Now I find those sentiments have changed completely. So far the friendliest people I’ve met are the French: relaxed, calm, easy going, self-deprecating, and French parents? The coolest. Almost as if they not only forgave Americans for being the kitschy wunderkinds we are but have actually adopted the amazing soccer mom talent of keeping the Kool-Aid cool.
Furthermore Spaniards seem to have the most fun, no pretense, genuinely interested in you, and polite English speaking beyond reproach. And our British friends? Well… we just seem to have so much in common.
But the best conversations I’ve gotten into are with the Italians. They genuinely care that I’m an American. They ask about September 11, about Barack Obama, about my family. They know I’m a tourist, but it doesn’t matter. Besides, the Italians already won. It’s pure and simple. When they blocked Starbucks from coming to Italy so that goofy American suburbanites like myself wouldn’t be carrying around cardboard frappachinoes through the Sistine Chapel, they won. Now they can relax a little.
Also, and this point is not to be undervalued, I believe Europeans are sincerely appreciative that Americans have become good travelers.
Wait? What? Americans are said to be the world’s worst travelers. We’re loud. We haggle. We complain. No. No. No. No. My friend. It is just the opposite. Americans shop. Americans take tours. Americans sample local cuisine. Americans order a second bottle of wine, just because. Americans tip. Yes, American tourism is GREAT for local economies and they love us here for that.
And another thing… do you know who is the most polite nation in the world…?
Yep, you guessed it.
These words seem to not exist in other languages: “Excuse me,” “I’m sorry,” “Please forgive me,” “Bless you,” “Do you mind,” “No, you go first,” “No, ladies first,” and of course, “Please, my treat.” Americans are sooooooooo (that’s a lot of ooooo’s) apologetic. We are sooooooo quick to ask for forgiveness, to stay humble, to mind our P’s and Q’s. American travelers make legendary British manners take a back seat.
It’s us, man. The new most polite nation, to a fault, is America. Believe it.
But the biggest reason for this change of thinking is that there is a new terrible kid Joe on the block. Oh yes, a new two headed beast invading the piazzas and shopping markets of Europe, stomping through museums dropping trash in grassy parks, and scowling in pity at authentic ethnicity outside their own.
And no, I’m not speaking about the Chinese.
The Chinese are so nervous when traveling anywhere outside of China they keep entirely to themselves. The bus pulls up to the site. Two hundred Chinese people dressed exactly the same get off. I’m talking two hundred yellow T-shirts all with matching visors and surgical masks, gloves and armbands to ward off the sun, and umbrellas to keep their skin light. They follow a Chinese man screaming into a megaphone up the hill to set up their tripods. They flash the peace sign and all take exactly the same photo one by one. Then they get back into the bus and drive to the Chinese restaurant which is next to the Chinese hotel.
No, the Chinese were a problem, but tourism bureaus of the world have figured out how to deal with them. No, I’m talking about the Persians and Russians.
And when I say “Persian” I don’t mean “Saudi.” No, those travelers are so happy to be in a place with mild weather they just melt into gooey apologies.
No, I’m talking about the nouveau Russian/north Persian rich, yacht jumping, vodka swilling, cigarette chain smoking, high healed heiress and the millionaire businessman with their total disdain for everyone around them.
This Mediterranean is crawling with them. It’s like they’ve risen up out of the Black Sea, out of the brothels and oil fields of Odessa and Novosibirsk and Omsk and come west for fun. Except they appear to not enjoy a minute of it. They are rude, aggressive, pushy, and arrogant.
The young women run in packs of pouty supermodels, bored and posing in Gucchi. I’ve seen hundreds of these girls and yes, they’re strikingly beautiful, but they pass through these ancient places without a hint of interest in the statues or architecture or history, just going to the next scene to pose for the camera. It’s disgusting.
And the men are expressionless. Strolling along the beach with their blood red burnt skin and Speedos, beefy belly hanging over the front, thin gold chains hanging around their neck. They smoke in the ocean, they smoke in the cafes, they smoke on the sidewalk waiting for the young hot girls to check out handbags, they smoke while focusing their cameras. It’s borderline appalling.
Not a hint of joy.
I was on the beach today with this Russian guy and two women (I should say super models, really) but the boat pulls up and my kids hop out, Xian is holding the map and Rebekah’s got the Lonely Planet Guide, and these two hotties just strip down to thongs and start making out on the sand in front of us. Just grinding in the waves while Mr. Anatolov Heffner starts snapping pictures of them and rubbing his crotch.
It was unreal.
And shopping?
I mean seriously, who comes to Greece for the Outlet Malls? We’re standing at the base of the Acropolis and you’re carrying Marc Jacobs bags and checking out the Tiffany display, are you insane? Maybe if you hurry you can catch the discount bins at the Dolce Gabbana before the changing of the guard ceremony. Good grief, Russian Traveler, what are you doing?
I’ve had this thought many times while in Europe, that the reason Europeans are being so nice to Americans lately is that either they’ve all been to America and actually kind of liked it, or because they have some relative currently living there that loves it too. You know…the gay uncle theory.
“Well, I have a gay uncle, and he’s not so bad. He's actually a soccer mom in the States and..."
So what’s Russia’s excuse? First time out of the asylum, is it? Never been in a candy story before, huh? Well, take it from somebody who’s been around the block a few times.
The world is a big place but not every place is special.
So when you do go somewhere that doesn’t have its own logo on the cocktail napkins or there isn’t a humorless dried up old hag behind a counter spraying you with a magazine fragrance, show some respect.
Take it from me. I’m an American, one of the last of the world great travelers.

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