Thursday, July 7, 2011


It is unfair to judge a nation solely on the people it allows abroad, but everyone unwittingly (I hope it's unwitting) does this. Think of the Asian Traveler as represented in every lame movie - carrying a camera, smiling & bowing, eating only noodles. David Sedaris observed American tourists' tendency to "visit another country dressed as if you've come to mow its lawns." Stereotypes exist because somewhere, someone has behaved that way; essentially prejudging people helps us to be prepared for an interaction. For example, when I braced myself for Parisians to despise me, I was surprised and relieved by their acceptance and immediately decided I could live there.

I have been concerned that, as generally congenial as the British tend to be, our family will be viewed as the Griswolds on their European vacation; I restrain myself from walking ahead and announcing WE ARE NOT STUPID AMERICANS wherever we go but that would obviously be counterproductive. I step out of our group to see us as Londoners might, if they slowed down long enough to actually look at us. I don't think we look like we've come to mow their lawns, mainly because I oversaw all packing of clothing. My boy, with his preteen slouch & scowl and the tendency to stroll 50 paces behind us rolling his eyes, probably resembles most 12-year old boys in the UK but then ruins the effect when he starts talking [loudly] in generalizations about how Everyone Here does This or No One Here knows That. Paige has a funky Andie-from Pretty in Pink thrift store style going on so, aside from her occasional panics about one of our party being missing from the group, blends the best. And as much as I like to imagine Stu & I looking sweet and sophisticated like Ben Affleck & Jennifer Garner on holiday with their charming children, I'm pretty sure we come off as benignly beleaguered characters from Desperate Housewives.

Regardless, we quickly schooled the kids on staying to the left when walking & to the right when standing on an escalator, plus implore them to try appreciating art & architecture and refrain from shouting references to Harry Potter wherever we go.

Instead we whisper them, giddily.