We arrived at the venue and, having completed soundcheck, approached the bartender for our dinner and drinks (free food being one of my favorite perks of traveling with a musician). Dan, a vegetarian, ordered nachos and a beer and as I labored over my choice, we asked the bartender what else might be good.
He smiled. “Oh, I’ve had everything – it’s all delicious. I usually go for the chicken wings though, because ordering a burger makes me feel like a fat American.” He looked at us and must have seen my raised eyebrow. “Though, uh, where are you guys from?”
New York. We’re from New York. Which, of course, would make us Americans.
He waved as if to clear the air of this accidental insult, and went to take the order of some other patrons who had arrived.
Now, I am fully aware of the stereotype of the fat, loud American tourist waddling along looking for the nearest McDonald’s. In my travels, I make sure to never be that person. (Heck, at home I make sure to never be that person.) Nor do I pretend to be Canadian, as I’ve found so many ashamed Americans do.
No, because while I frequently don’t agree with the actions of my government, I am still proud to be from New York, a city as cosmopolitan as any European city I’ve encountered – including here, in Prague. Because as a traveler, I feel I have the responsibility – and indeed, the pleasure – of being an ambassador. Not for my government, not for my country, not even for my fellow American citizens. No, I prefer to think of myself as an ambassador for common decency.
For me, part of what makes travel so exhilarating is not just the differences between countries, but rather the sameness of people everywhere. Yes, cultures have different priorities, different customs, different beliefs on who god is or what consitutes right from wrong. Ultimately, though, I have found that people everywhere spend the majority of their lives simply trying to do what is good for them and good for their families in the best way they know how.
How vitally important it is as a traveler to contribute to that sense of unity! How easy it is to be considerate and courteous! What a shame it would be to take away the possibility for locals to see that, hey, she’s American and she’s not loud OR fat! Because by not helping to erase those terrible clichés, you’re still contributing to them, no?
It’s important for people from all places – not just Americans – to be thoughtful travelers, aware of our impact, rather than mindlessly buying postcards and snapping photos. Manners translate. Politeness has no geography. Remember, we live in a global neighborhood – act like it. Be neighborly.
How was the burger, you ask? Well, I wouldn’t know – I had the chicken wings. And they were delicious. And you know what else? Prague is beautiful; you should go there.
Our guest blogger Jessica, originally from New York City, is currently spending a year traveling across Europe, photographing and blogging about her adventures. Read more about Jessica here