Coronavirus put a crimp in my 2020 travel plans. I had been looking forward to hitting a few far-flung destinations, possibly Grand Junction, Miami Beach and Yuma.
Not the cities in Colorado, Florida and Arizona. I mean the communities with those names in Michigan — near South Haven, Indian River and Mesick. But the pandemic scaled back our travel plans from in-state to in-county, from regional to local, from tiny to nonexistent.
While daydreaming last weekend about more adventurous summers, I stumbled across a series of travel-related articles in the U.K.-based newspaper The Telegraph. Each piece purports to offer “the truth” about how tourists from a particular nation tend to behave on vacation. I checked out the writers’ thoughts on travelers from France, Italy, Japan and the United States.
The articles touch on cultural differences ranging from footwear to picnic protocol to shopping preferences.
Each piece obviously was written tongue-in-cheek, as entertainment rather than serious sociological study. Here are a few tidbits:
On American tourists:
- “Since shortly after the Mayflower set sail, Americans have been making the return trip to Europe for a spot of culture. Picture Henry James’s American abroad and you’ll see that — in the best possible way — not much has changed: There’s a wide-eyed and worshipful innocence to the U.S. visitor, who is as intent as any Japanese tourist on soaking up the culture of the Old World.”
- “Is it famous? Americans are there. You won’t find many of them tootling around Puglia or Slovakia. They quest not for the hidden gem, but for the best. Head to the Amalfi Coast or St Tropez, Paris or Rome, and they’re there, front and centre — you can hear them from a mile off.”
- “Americans are highly adept at complaining. Grin and bear it? But why?”
- “They’d like to try the local things, but nothing too oddball. Fish and chips in London? Check (but my goodness, it’s greasy!). A bellini at Harry’s Bar in Venice? It has to be done. But andouillettes in Lyon? No way. And probably also not lamb. Or octopus. Or veal (how sad!). And what’s a quail, again? Look, basically just chicken and steak.”
On Japanese tourists:
- “The oldest historical monument, the newest art gallery, the tallest mountain, the most fashionable afternoon tea, the longest-running musical. Japanese tourists are big fans of ticking off the most famous sites in whichever destination they find themselves, often researching meticulously in advance.”
- “Be it a pensioner in perfectly-pressed trousers and hat or a 20-something art student in something black and conceptual, the Japanese traveler is perhaps among the best dressed in the world.”
- “The international traveling ambitions of the Japanese tourist often err on the romantic side — Liverpool for Beatles-lovers, the Lake District for Beatrix Potter readers, Hawaii for a taste of old-school island paradise, Barcelona for its architecture and creativity, Paris for its poetry, fashion and cuisine.”
On Italian tourists:
- “On the sliding scale of late eaters, Italians beat the Germans, the Brits and (by a whisker) the French, but can’t compete with the Spaniards. Default lunchtime is 1-2:30 p.m., default dinnertime anywhere between 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Meals are not just sources of fuel but important social rituals, and they will always try to get in two proper sit-down meals a day, one of them, at least, involving real (i.e. Italian) food. They tend to view alcohol as an accompaniment to meals, rather than a full-time pursuit.”
- “They’re not big advance-planners, or early risers. Schedules are often hammered out on a day-to-day basis, over an espresso made in the stovetop aluminium caffettiera that any self-respecting Italian will have packed in his or her luggage, along with the parmesan. (Editor’s note: I had to look up what apparently is a staple of Italian beverage culture: “caffettiera — Coffee maker that brews coffee by passing boiling water pressurized by steam through ground coffee”)
- “Their one big moan is always the food. It’s not what people abroad eat that puzzles them; it’s why they choose to suffer that way, day in, day out.”
On French tourists:
- “Gastronomy is crucial to holiday choice for almost 50 percent of French. Anecdotal evidence backs this up. I don’t know a single French person who would join me for a tuna sandwich and packet of crisps at lunchtime. They consider it a peculiar form of Anglo-Saxon masochism. Then they head off for the three-course lunch menu at the seafront fish restaurant.”
- “Don’t criticize France — its strikes, alleged idleness, loose morals, etc. They will only hit back with words about our ever-boiled food, ‘ultra-liberal economy’ which wipes out the poor, and limping health service which kills off the rest.”
- “Drinking is — again by British standards — moderate. Downing eight pints of beer would, for them, constitute water torture with added hops.”
When pandemic restrictions ease, I look forward to again roaming farther afield than the nearest grocery store.
When I do resume travel, I plan to behave as I always have when traveling: respectful, polite and eager to learn about local culture. I’ll keep my voice down and try not to complain too much. And I’ll make an effort to sample any local cuisine, be it in Grand Junction, Miami Beach or Yuma.