Nothing is more American than fleeing what is American overseas

“On the highway to Toledo [Spain] we passed several tour buses full of what looked like Americans, digital cameras already in hand, and as we drew past them I expressed infinite disdain, which I could easily do with my eyebrows, for every tourist whose gaze I met. My look accused them of supporting the war, of treating people and the relations between people like things, of being the lemmings of a murderous and spectacular empire, accused them as if I were a writer in flight from a repressive regime, rather than one of its most fraudulent grantees. Indeed, whenever I encountered an American I showered him or her with silent contempt and not just the loud, interchangeable frat boys calling each other by their last names, calling each other fags, and the peroxided, inevitably miniskirted sorority girls spending their junior year abroad, dividing their time between internet cafes and discotecas, complaining about the food or water pressure in the households of their host families, having chosen Spain over Mexico, where Cyrus was, because it was safer, cleaner, whiter, if farther from their parents’ gated communities. I had contempt not just for the middle-aged with their fanny packs and fishing hats and whining kids, or the barbate backpackers who acted as though failing to shower were falling off the grid; rather, I reserved my most intense antipathy for those Americans who attempted to blend in, who made Spanish friends and eschewed the company of their countrymen, who refused to speak English and who, when they spoke Spanish, exaggerated the peninsular lisp. At first I was unaware of the presence in Madrid of these subtler, quieter Americans, but as I become one, I began to perceive their numbers; I would be congratulating myself on lunching with Isabel at a tourist-free restaurant, congratulating myself on making contact with authentic Spain, which I only defined negatively as an American-free space, when I would catch the eyes of a man or woman at another table, early twenties to early thirties, surrounded by Spaniards, reticent compared to the rest of the company, smoking a little sullenly, and I knew, we would both know immediately, that we were of a piece. I came to understand that if you looked around carefully as you walked through the supposedly less touristy barrios, you could identify young Americans whose lives were structured by attempting to appear otherwise, probably living on savings or giving private English lessons to rich kids, temporary expatriates sporting haircuts and clothing that, in hard-to-specify ways, seemed native to Madrid, in part because they were imperfect or belated versions of American styles. Each member of this shadowy network resented the others, who were irritating reminders that nothing was more American, whatever that means, than fleeing the American, whatever that is, and that their soft version of self-imposed exile was just another of later empire’s packaged tours.”
–Ben Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station (2011)

Posted by | Comments (3)  | October 8, 2012
Category: Travel Quote of the Day

3 Responses to “Nothing is more American than fleeing what is American overseas”

  1. Mary Says:

    Me? Whenever I meet Americans, I just act as normal as I would do with other foreigner. I treat everyone fairly regardless of their nationalism.

  2. Pete Freans Says:

    About 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Ireland with an old college buddy of mine who was of Irish descent (I am of Italian descent, 1st generation American). We spent a few days on the east coast (Dublin) and a few days on the west coast (Galway). While in Dublin, we ran across a group of fellow Americans that for some strange reason, appeared to be following us from pub to pub in the Temple Bar district. They were older than we were at the time (we were in our 20s) and they just appeared to try to hard to fit into the Irish culture. We figured no matter, once we headed out to Galway, we would lose those American posers once and for all. Wouldn’t you know that they appeared a few days later one evening in a Galway pub? Clearly my friend and I were hitting the pubs in the guide books so we made it our mission to try exploring in the outskirts of Galway. I don’t remember the name of the small village we stumbled upon one afternoon, but the pub/restaurant we chose to dine in was special: the patrons spoke only Gaelic to each other (our waitress spoke English to us). I had never heard Gaelic spoken at length aloud but one thought did cross my mind: At last! We were free!

  3. Addison S. @ Visa Hunter Says:

    I think it is natural to feel some resentment towards fellow American tourists/travelers. Perhaps we are jealous that someone else has been able find a destination that we consider sacred. All we can do is accept that, like us, more and more of our countrymen are choosing to make use of their passport.