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The Traveler's Privilege
By Paisley Hibou
I recently had the fortune to indulge in a guilty pleasure à la trashy film viewing. How trashy? “I watched a Miley Cyrus film” kind of trashy. The film LOL was insipid, although probably not quite as horrible as you'd expect—but this is not a movie review. I just want to use an example from this less-than-grand oeuvre: the part of the movie where Miley Cyrus and her little high school friends take a class trip to Paris. They behave like, unsurprisingly, Ugly Americans. Most of the students make no effort to speak French and they choose partying with their American friends over cultural immersion. Miley Cyrus and her boy toy even do the nasty in a host family's bedroom while the host mother and her daughter attempt awkward small talk with a halfway-decent American teen in the living room. How many terrible things can a guest do in one sentence? Please re-read the second-to-last sentence and count them.
Traveling is a privilege, not a right. The average American high school student does not visit Paris. Truth be told, more than half of Americans of any age have never ventured outside the Red, White, and Blue. A third of them lack a passport altogether. One obvious explanation for these stats is that traveling costs beaucoup bucks. Even savvy, price-conscious travelers are spending money that could've gone toward groceries, rent, gasoline, car payments, college tuition or a number of other expenses many Americans find necessary for day-to-day living.
Yet travel is more than expensive; it is foreign, literally and figuratively. This otherworldliness scares some people. The currency, cuisine, clothing, customs—C after C after C. France has Carrefour, not Walmart. In Vietnam, heterosexual males will hold hands with their male friends. In Mexico, people eat crickets. To certain Americans, other countries might as well be alternate realities. Lola, played by Miley Cyrus, and her best friend in the movie get so freaked out by a stuffed deer head in their host family's house and the brains served at dinner that they spend most of their trip whining (when they aren't making out with their beaus.) Hey, brats! You're in Paris! Swallow those snails and move on!
There is more than one kind of American traveler. Not every American traveler fits the Ugly American stereotype. Not every American traveler reads magazines for the jet set and books high-end travel agents without a second thought to financial planning. Even (or, in some cases, especially) the wealthy and the educated make ignorant mistakes. But the white sneakers and the drunkenness and the disregard for local etiquette have become a stereotype because of a kernel of truth wedged in there somewhere. If and when we are lucky enough to travel, we have a responsibility to find that kernel, mash it with our molars and spit it out. One of the most important traveling tips is respect: respect the people whose land we are visiting and, chances are, they'll wow us with their hospitality.
#UglyAmerican #AmericanTraveler #AmericanTourist #Touristy #TouristBehavior #CulturalExchange #FirstImpressions