General

“How do you spot an American in Europe in 2018?”

I wrote yesterday about Geneva.๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ญ We are now in France at a place we come to regularly: La Clusaz, in Haute-Savoie, in the Alps.๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท It’s about an hour and a half drive from that Swiss city.

The Mrs. surprised me the day after our arrival here, saying she posed secretly for a photo that was turned into a cartoon and then put on a mug:

[Photo by me, 2018.]

As you may have already noticed, this post is meant to be relatively lighthearted…

…well, at least most of the time anyway.๐Ÿ˜‰

My wife has come here to ski from Britain for many years.๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง She’s been here at least a dozen times. This is my sixth visit to the town:

[View of La Clusaz, France. Photo by me, 2018.]

Back on Saturday while visiting Geneva, on two different local trains we ended up near my fellow countrymen.๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ

First, there was an older group of four. Two couples. They seemed to be going to meet a cruise ship in “Yugoslavia.”

I presume – I pray – the man who had said “Yugoslavia” at nearly the top of his lungs was trying to be funny and wasnโ€™t actually thinking he was going to “Yugoslavia.” They were changing trains farther on in Switzerland – I suspected to get to Croatia, in former Yugoslavia. Oh, and they were low on Swiss Francs in cash: โ€œAnd they donโ€™t take euros here…โ€ that same man announced.

How did I learn all of that – and lots more I didn’t need to know – about them in just a few minutes of sitting a few seats away from them? They spoke so LOUDLY – that one man in particular – it wasnโ€™t difficult. They could probably have been heard in Belgrade.

[Outside Geneva’s main train station, looking down Rue Mont-Blanc. Photo by me, 2018.]

On the second, traveling with an Irish guy was a middle-aged American sales guy who loved partying in Europe and classic rock bands. Obviously this was my lucky day. He was also trying to out-sales-guy-talk the Irish guy – “He’s gotta get out there with his prospects…” – and went on and on just across the aisle from us as if we and everyone else in the carriage was invisible.

He spoke not only at near bullhorn-assisted levels compared to the Irishman, but he did indeed manage to outtalk his companion. (To his credit, outtalking an Irish sales guy is pretty impressive stuff: USA 1, Republic of Ireland 0.) I don’t think he took a deep breath from when they first boarded at Genevaโ€™s main station all the way to Geneva Airport. (About 10 minutes – although it felt much longer than that to me.) At one point laughingly he even declared – of course LOUDLY – that they didnโ€™t have tickets for this leg: “I’ll just pretend I’m a moron foreigner.”

No need to pretend, I thought, and good luck with that “excuse” if you try it; the Swiss won’t buy it, trust me. I was incredulous, too: I sat thinking as well that this guy is too young to talk like that; “1951” would like its attitude back. Swiss train ticket machines in 2018 have a touch screen with an English language option in big “CHOOSE YOUR LANGUAGE” words also illustrated with national FLAGS (English being represented by ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง), so not reading French or German and claiming ignorance would not likely have cut it. (I so wished an inspector had showed up.) After arrival, I could still hear him yakking yakking yakking behind us after we disembarked and seeking desperately to get away walked along the platform toward the exit escalator.

And people wonder where fiction writers get new material?

[La Clusaz. Photo by me, 2018.]

Later that day, we arrived here in La Clusaz. It is not Paris or even Geneva; Americans are a real rarity here; in fact, even native English speakers are. This is a cozy, “French and family,” ski destination.

Meaning it is not a “party place” dudes. One of our first tasks after we got here was to hit one of the tiny supermarkets to stock up our rental apartment. So I was utterly horrified taken aback when three American LOUDLY chattering twenty-somethings – a man and two women – were shopping alongside us for a time.

How did I know they were Americans? Because I HEARD them before I saw them. And they were NOT Canadians.๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ

Not only are Canadians far softer in general conversation, but the clear proof of their nationality was that a Canadian would have apologized for stepping on my foot: “Sir, I’m terribly sorry. Oh, but please understand that in saying ‘Sir’ I am not drawing an inference as to your age or gender. Are the beers along the back wall? Uh, I apologize again. It’s not that I’m assuming you drink, sir…”๐Ÿ˜ฎ๐Ÿ’๐Ÿปโ€โ™‚๏ธ๐Ÿ˜‚

[Photo by me, 2018.]

For the minutes they were nearby, they jabbered incessantly. Everything on the shelves was fascinating to them. Eventually I wanted to ask: Are you drunk (or worse)? Or are you age 6? Yes, it’s amazing they sell milk here! And thrilling isn’t it?: they even stock avocados!

How do you spot an American in Europe in 2018? You don’t “spot” us from a distance in quite the same way as perhaps a few decades ago – by our clothing. We all dress so similarly now, Europeans and Americans, that distinction has receded a great deal. Some European young women even now wear – GASP! Non! – baseball caps, and sometimes they even wear them backwards!๐Ÿ˜ฑ

Good grief, what cultural and fashion horrors we’ve pushed at the world. But “Monique” or “Ingrid” or “Emma” probably also still has no idea how the Yankees finished last year. Nor does she likely understand what Tom Brady – or should I say Nick Foles? – is actually trying to do on that 3rd down and 6.

What is unchanged: Americans’ conversations remain seemingly never “private.” They are still regularly held as if everyone within a half a mile (okay, I exaggerate, but not by much) needs to hear it. Worst of all is when it is disturbingly dopey and shallow.

[A La Clusaz lunch in our rental. Photo by me, 2018. Pay no attention to the bottle of cognac, top left.]

One of the first things I learned in Europe three decades ago – on my first visit, in France, in fact – was to TONE IT DOWN considerably. I realized I needed to: Iโ€™m a New Yorker by birth and we are raised to shout as a basic form of communication. My 1st rule of socializing since then: If I’m the LOUDEST one in a room of Europeans, I know I am speaking TOO LOUDLY. (The main exception in that case is possibly when in a room full of Italians – especially when they are watching Italy play soccer/football.)

Occasionally I reach the point I think that the always LOUDLY talking American travelers usually portrayed in, say, 1950s Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, and Grace Kelly European romp films are overblown caricatures, or even if somewhat realistic only represent that bygone era. That doesn’t last long. Suddenly I’m reminded, as I was on Saturday, that there is still a reason why that stereotype persists.

Every major U.S. ethnic background and region of the country does it. It’s not everyone of course, but it is clearly a national trait. I’ve heard it out of a diverse variety of my fellow Americans over the 20 years I’ve lived and worked in Europe…because it’s impossible NOT to. We Americans have nothing in common as a nation? Nonsense. Certainly, we do.

Europeans, especially continentals, do still maintain a generally lower voice in ordinary conversations than do we Americans – and especially in public places. We were in a full La Clusaz restaurant on Monday evening, and most everyone was French and chatting and having a pleasant time; and I noticed that while I could make out voices now and then that I could also NOT overhear the content of any even nearby table conversations. (The loudest people were serving staff speaking to diners, which makes sense. “Uh, she is Belgian…” one young man laughed to us about our server as she bizarrely danced around and waved the handheld credit card machine repeatedly over her head trying to connect it to the wifi.) In a restaurant like that in the U.S., the talking around us would have been so LOUD I would probably have found myself shouting just to try to make myself heard to my wife across the table.

[Tartiflette. A renowned dish of Savoy. Photo by me, La Clusaz, 2018.]

And that realization over the tartiflette was what helped lead to this post. If you don’t want to stand out as an American visitor in Europe, here’s some friendly advice: Stop talking all of the time and especially at decibel levels indicating you think all of those around you are hard of hearing and care about your opinions of their health care system or how attractive their policewomen are.๐Ÿค๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ Try instead to mimic the conversational volume of those around you, particularly in shops, in restaurants, and on public transportation.๐Ÿ˜†

On the other hand, if you want to stand out, that’s your choice, too.

Have a good and a fun day if you are another American traveling in Europe…or whomever you are, wherever you are, in our world. ๐Ÿ™‚