American tourists on the left

The view from the safari boat - nice, if only the company had been better

Standing on the left of the escalators, standing for hours by the wall-mounted tube map in a crowd and loudly mispronouncing the stops are all synonymous with American tourists in London.

Hearing a couple of 20-something guys at London Bridge talking about “Lyecester Square” the other day made me roll my eyes with the best of them, but was  nothing compared to some of the atrocities I’ve seen American tourists commit.

It’s odd really, that on my recent trip around the US I found myself unwillingly falling for Americans as a nation. Around 90% of the people I met – and I met a lot of locals just by sitting in a park, catching a bus or walking around – were warm, polite and eager to help.

One bus driver in San Antonio, Texas, drove me across the city centre for free, giving me a commentary on all the great places to go and dropping me at the doors of the bus I needed to reach my hostel. A rapper in San Francisco told me he loved my accent (as did almost everyone I met).

Students in Bloomington, Indiana, welcomed me to their party and gave me beers and even a precious Strongbow to “make me feel at home”. A girl I sat with on a bus to LA invited me to her place at 3am for some breakfast and a nap.

I had an idea of people from the US that was based on the tourists I’d seen striding arrogantly across Europe, refusing to even say “thank you” in the local language and making inappropriate comments at the top of their lungs. Of course even in the US some of the cultural differences got to me: the inability to say “toilet” or even “toilet roll” (instead they say “bathroom/restroom tissue”), the unending patriotism (demonstrated painfully at a rally in Washington DC where crowd sang that America was the “strongest, greatest country in the world”) and the reluctance to swear except when “wasted”, for example. But mostly my assumptions were completely thrown out the window by the open, friendly people I met every day. Even their confidence – especially in the guys – became attractive to me.

So after deciding I very much liked Americans it was a huge shock to yet again be confronted with a hideous American tourist in Costa Rica. He was probably the most detestable I’ve encountered so far. Travelling around Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua I often saw beautiful people living in simple homes against stunning landscapes, with difficult lives spent farming and making or selling goods in markets for pennies. Costa Rica was obviously richer and more ‘North Americanised’ than the rest. Burger King, Abercrombie and Fitch and American goods warehouses were all over the cities. So when I took a boat safari on the Peñas Blancas river, near the border with Honduras, I was caught off guard by a fat American man sneering at a farmhouse on the way.

It was surprising enough that he commented on the house, which was basic and a bit run down but in no way horrible looking, but what he said was even more surprising. He told the whole bus to “look at that shack,” adding that “My garage is bigger and better than that shack.” Not patronising or unsympathetic enough? He dug deeper by saying: “Ugh, and people actually live there, how disgusting”.

His comments were in no way understanding or compassionate but rather mocking, ignorant and condescending. Later on he made racist or at least very rude remarks to the local guide, calling him a monkey and asking if he wanted a banana. He also bragged a lot about how he’d recently been skydiving just for fun and because he had a lot of money. Just the sort of behaviour that gives Americans a bad name abroad.

If I ever see that man in London, I have no doubt that he will be standing on the left of the escalators and taking the piss out of the Cockney accent. Perhaps he’s one US tourist who deserves to be trampled on for his idiocy, or at least pushed about a bit?

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