No Passing

My business trip to Lyon, France in 2003 was at the height of the politically driven “Freedom Fries” shit-storm. This led to my first attempt to pass for a Canadian abroad. i stopped just short of sewing a maple leaf on my backpack.

i was embarrassed that many of my country-mates – led by members of the U.S. Congress – thought that we could punish those poor, misguided French people by changing the name of a food item they don’t actually claim.  A food item which is the greatest contributor to our collective obesity.

As we navigated the tourist gauntlets of Istanbul earlier this month, we got pretty tired of the touts – men trying to fill seats in cafes or sell us all manner of goods. Practiced in the art of commerce, they’d try to strike up conversation in English as we rushed past.

“We have the best rugs in Turkey! We ship to the United States!”

“Are you from Texas? I’m from Texas, too!”

i went back to a half-hearted attempt to pass for Canadian. Not for any political reasons, just to amuse myself…

“We’re from Ontario! Oot and aboot on holiday!”

When an overly aggressive restaurateur tackled Studley, he joined in the fun, making an attempt to pass for German.

Tout [with menu]: “You American? You won’t find a better meal! Here…”

Studley: Nein…

Tout [in fluent German]: Sumptink sumptink der sumptink sumptink!

We don’t speak German, but it sounded pretty good…

Having been schooled by a linguistically skilled restaurant promoter, we’d given it up by the time we got to Ürgüp for our adventures in Cappadocia. Rather than rent a car and drive off the side of a mountain, or join an organized tour and risk actually LEARNING something, we opted to hire a driver for our time there.  Başar spoke very good English, and with The Girl’s Turkish skills, we were good to go.

The first morning, Başar took us to a nearby mosque. The Girl wanted to buy water and went across the street to small store. Studley and i wandered in the shaded courtyard, waiting for her to return.

We watched a crowd gather around her – if you can call three older gentlemen a crowd. When she returned with the water, she was laughing.

The Girl: I asked for water, and the guy at the shop was surprised that I was speaking in Turkish. The other guys gathered around wondering where I was from, and how I learned it. The older guy offered me a cracker as I was leaving – I tried to refuse it, but he was very insistent!

daisyfae: Seems you made quite an impression! You could have been a unicorn!

The Girl: And THIS is why you guys should stop trying to pass yourselves off as travelers from other countries. I always let people know where I’m from – without apology.  You’re polite travelers, and you make an attempt to speak the language! It’s a perfect chance to let people in other countries know that not all Americans are assholes!


29 thoughts on “No Passing

  1. And The Girl is dead right! But I do also understand your cringe at some of the unsavoury people who seem to hog a lot of time. The NY mayoral chancer springs to mind.

    • i’ve added Mr. Weiner to the long list of people i wish would disappear forever. he is just the worst of the worst – and when you consider that i’m saying he’s the worst POLITICIAN? that’s a pretty damning statement… ugh!

  2. I think I have a better chance of passing for Canadian than you do. I used to live twenty miles from the border, and take spontaneous day trips there when it only required a drivers license. I also speak the language, for Vancouver at least. The mistake you made was trying to pass yourselves off as being from Ontario whilst speaking Vancouver. Rookie mistake. Canada has as many dialects and accents as the US, maybe more. The girl is right, don’t try to pass.

    • We had no expectation whatsoever that we would actually ‘pass’ – i’d have been stumped at the first geography question! Suspect that you’re right – we’d have done better by using the stereotypical western dialects. But we still wouldn’t have passed… wearing sandals was also a tip-off. Best way to find Americans in Europe. Wearing trainers or sandals…

  3. All the Indian restaurants along E. 6th Street have touts. It’s old world and charm-y, but after a while it starts to feel like an assault. My Bride was living on E. 6th and they got to know us and left us alone.

    What kind of city has two umlauts in it’s name! That’s crazy! And what’s that thing in Başar’s name? The s? What is that?!

    She’s impressive. I’d love to spend a day listening to her speak Turkish to the locals. What fun! Ironic that she want’s people to know that all Americans aren’t assholes, but she has, for all intents and purposes, bailed out on the USA.

    • Why didn’t we go to E. 6th? Loves me some Indian foodstuffs! We could start a tout bidding war!

      The turkish alphabet is a modified latin alphabet – thanks to Ataturk, who was a flippin’ genius! The ş sounds like “sh”, just as the ç sounds like “ch”. The c, on the other hand, is pronounced like a “j”! The umlauts are all about the short, clipped pronunciation at the front of the mouth. i found the ğ to be be the toughest – it’s silent! like the “g” in “dough”.

      As for my ex-pat kid, you raise a good point – she doesn’t hate the US – far from it! She’s grown to appreciate the lifestyle she had here, and how damn spoiled we are! By taking herself on the road, she has met like-minded Americans, whom she adores… But it is a bit of a paradox!

      • oh, and if you’d have written “for all intensive purposes”, i’d have reached into my computer and slapped you. where the hell did that particular abuse of the english language come from?

        • My old boss uses “for all intensive purposes” (I think it’s a military thing). When one of my co-workers tried to correct him, he defended it as obviously correct. Then again, his second wife was a Hooters waitress, so what you gonna do?

    • it makes me happy that she’s sharing wisdom with the ol’ broad. and there’s NO hope for those who egregiously abuse the language. THAT makes me want to leave the country!

      • Maybe someday people will remember how to correctly use:
        (you get the idea ……)

        Till then, I want to run away as well! lol

        • In my imaginary universe, all of these words are used properly. i’m not a grammar nazi, but these really aren’t that tough!

  4. I completely agree with The Girl. I never try to pass myself off as anything but American. Jim and I are assiduously polite and always try to use the local language, much to the amusement of the locals!

    And I respectfully disagree about the obesity/french fry statement. I think that actually what is MOST responsible for american obesity is Sugar, in all its forms, which is stuffed into things you wouldn’t normally think needed more. However, french fries are certainly not a “diet” food…

    • i know that the obesity isn’t as simple as super-sized mickey d’s… i think there’s a bunch of corn in the mix, along with the sugar. as a woman with a deeply engrained sweet tooth, i am always surprised when dining overseas at the LACK of sugar added to foods, including desserts! i need to retrain myself…

  5. I will add my voice to The Girl’s, with a caveat. When we are someplace and see the obvious Americans coming in their big obnoxious groups, we try to be as European-looking as we can manage.

  6. Frites or French Fries are from Belgium which is just another example of how we Ah-mer-kins are morons… but the daughter is right, with all the assholes with U.S. passports travelling abroad those of us who aren’t assholes need to change hearts and minds one person at a time, i know this well, i often travel with the epitome of the ugly, asshole American, you might know him as POSA from a trip to Costa Rica, usually i just follow behind the disaster and try to clean up the mess and apologize…

    • i do remember your tale of following behind POSA to fix the cultural damages he inflicted…. we had to do that with a guy with our dive group in Honduras. He was HORRIBLE to some of the locals, and all we could do to make sure to apologize to staff when he’d leave the store, restaurant, dive shop, etc… and this guy was VERY well traveled. Should have known better…

  7. My late father-in-law traveled in Europe once with his wife on an expensive guided tour and all they could talk about when they got back was how there were a lot of “foreigners” and nobody knew how to make a good cup of coffee. Yeesh.

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