The other day, on my literary travels, I came across an article on wikiHow called How to Avoid Looking Like an American tourist - for American tourists. Among its solemn pieces of advice were 'don't ask for ice', 'don't speak too loudly', and the ever-applicable 'don't wear a fanny-pack', all apparently dead giveaways for the tasteful American hoping to blend into a continental crowd. While I'm not one to join in the sport of American-bashing (whatever the New York equivalent of asking for Ly-cester Square is, you can bet Uncle Sam's corndog I'd be doing it), it still seemed prudent advice.
It also made food for thought on my romantic* trip to Paris this weekend. If there was a guide to avoiding looking like a British tourist, we considered, as we Franglais-ed around the capital like a pair of 'Allo 'Allo extras… what would it say?
1. Don't complain about the tea
You might think you need good strong PG Tips injected intravenously once every half hour to function, but so far no scientific evidence has been produced to prove the physical repercussions of drinking Bad Tea. Besides, if the rest of the world starting making proper cuppas, our international distinctions would be down to Marmite and Pippa Middleton's arse. The first cup of tea I asked for in Paris this weekend was served to me as a tea latte. Extravagantly foamed milk, with a tea bag in it. It was 187ft up the Eiffel tower to be fair, but still this seemed like a cheekily loose interpretation of a classic. Did I whinge, though? Did I harrumph and splutter over its fraudulent composition? No. I marvelled at its novelty. "A tea latte! Whatever next?"
2. Don't be a massive cheapskate
I don't want to make a huge sweeping generalisation about my kinsmen here (I do but we'll pretend I don't), but I'd wager if there was one nationality statistically more likely to walk into a café, sit down, look at the menu, then walk out again because the sandwiches were too expensive, it'll be us.
3. Don't use up all your GCSE French/German/Chinese on one expertly-pronounced sentence, then be surprised when they speak said language back at you and you don't understand a word.
If you really ne comprend pas, it's best to assume the hapless expression of the mute tourist from the off, I find. Then anything that does come out right will be a lovely bonus.
4. Don't take photos of yourself in front of 'hilarious' lost-in-translation shop titles
Except do, obviously. We all LOVE those back home.
5. Don't hold up mundane food products in the supermarket and shriek "Sue! Look! They're the same as back home!"
6. Don't start humming Jerusalem every time you pull out of the Channel tunnel/start to descend over Heathrow/disembark the ferry.
Or am I the only one who does that?
*For 'romantic', read: he got excited by trains, bridges and government buildings, I gorged myself giddy on Nutella crepes.
In which I dream
4 weeks ago