While enduring every traveler’s nightmare, a layover at the under-construction Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris, France, we watched with exhausted dismay as the electronic departure sign intermittedly displayed and then removed our last-leg flight into Venice. After having flown for eight hours through the night, a sleepless one at that, our group was tired, cranky, and out of sorts…we wanted to get on the next plane only to get off of it ASAP. Still, there’s no excuse for bad behavior, especially when one’s feet are resting upon foreign soil.
Watching for any sign that our flight via Air France was again on the board, we grew bored and started people watching. I don’t know which was worse, that feeling of being stuck in an airport or being stuck in the characterization as one of many rude, uncouth traveling Americans. Yet I could see why the French disliked those from the US, on that day, I witnessed several Americans demand in loud voices for their flight to be rescheduled…yesterday. It would have been comical, had it not been so crass…and unreasonable. I cringed and not for the last time during our nine day excursion at some Americans’ ridiculous and impolite behavior toward our very gracious and accommodating Italian hosts.
Fast forward another eight hours, our entire tour group of thirty-eight men and women are happily ensconced at the Hotel Saturnia where every guest is treated with the utmost courtesy and respect, so it was a simple matter to respond in kind. Still there were moments during the upcoming days when we witnessed more uncivil and even bizarre behavior from fellow US citizens. At times, we wanted to run interference and offer apologies. Finally, we realized that some Americans were simply unaware of how their attitudes and actions were affecting native Venetians. Time for an education.
According to Hotel Saturnia’s chief concierge, Andrea Scarpa, Americans, despite their foibles and lack of travel savvy are still considered “fantastic” in comparison to guests from across the globe. Scarpa says that what Italians most appreciate about Americans visiting their country is their expression and appreciation upon receiving a good meal (as in spaghetti) or after a good rest (as in a hot shower). Americans almost always make their requests for the best restaurants, shopping, etc…kindly, warmly, and they tip better than most Europeans as well. Kudos to Americans for expressing their thanks monetarily.
On the negative side, Scarpa has noted that Americans often fail to dress appropriately for viewing churches and museums by assuming shorts, sleeveless shirts or hats are acceptable attire but are not allowed in Italian places of worship. Also, Americans when traveling in groups, sometimes are “cheap” guests wanting to exchange Euro notes into small coins countless times a day in order to leave super small tips. On the other extreme, wealthy Americans sometimes come with an attitude of expectancy that is not appreciated.
Another interesting aside from Saturnia’s concierge Andrea Scarpa is that Americans differ substantially in their behavior depending upon which part of the US they derive. Scarpa says his staff can now guess if guests are from California, Florida, New Jersey or Connecticut, so different are they in their habits and demands, no surprise there.
Midway through our trip, we had the privilege of relishing a five-course meal at an outstanding restaurant recommended by our concierge. Yet the evening was a mixed bag…excellent food amidst perilous dining companions. Our attentive waiter of this elegant Venetian restaurant, Bistro de Venise, chided a few Americans who were demonstrating a churlish attitude midway through the third course, “This is not Italy, USA!” Effectively chastised, the errant few quietly demurred. At the least, this cultured gentleman did not resort to what an American staff person might have demanded and rightly so, “Via! Se ne vada!” (Get Out!)
Quick travel tips from seasoned European traveler, Art Program Chairperson at Siena Heights University, Professor Christine Reising.
* Always think of oneself as a guest and act accordingly.
* Rather than stick out, dress like a local.
* Be cognizant of one’s surroundings and behave like the residents.
* Being quiet and polite are good starting (and ending) points.
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