The thing is, I’m a travel snob and always have been. I know the difference between fresh and stale espresso, and of course, you must drink the former in Italy if possible. I tell people not to cross their legs at the knee in front of an African man, because the sole of the shoe is considered insulting; I think having a passport should be mandatory and severely enforced. I am so enchanted with travel, I even order the International Passport Breakfast at IHOP.
Yes, I’m one of those annoying white girls who pronounce French words with a French accent
and German words with the hard v/w. When I go used book shopping I head for the foreign language section. I can tell which books are in Dutch, or Swedish or Danish or Russian by the shapes of the letters and words, though I don’t speak any of those. In fact, I’m not fluent in anything but English. I learned German in college and French from the Berlitz tapes, and Spanish only because my then husband had to, but I can’t speak, even them, convincingly. Mostly, I just like to pronounce things. I know three words in Korean, and teaching them to my friends makes me feel important.
Don’t get me wrong, I have been outside the US, to Europe and the UK, and to Canada. I’ve made international friends, starting with my pen pals from Brazil and from Ireland in the 6th grade, to foreign exchange students in high school, to those newer ‘legitimate’ friends from my actual travels. Naturally, I’ve lost touch with a bunch of them, too. I’m not fanatical enough to believe everyone is friend material, even though they offer for you to stay with them if ever you find yourself on the Rhône. See–I even use the carat over the letters in place names.
My idea of a perfect vacation is a stay on a remote Scottish Island with immersion language lessons in Gaelic. I want to know the difference between Scottish Gaelic and Irish Gaelic—and to pronounce Welsh place names impeccably. Naturally, too, if I learn Welsh, I’ll become a Druid, if they don’t laugh at me and reject my American-ness.
On our honeymoon, my ex-husband and I (he’s a travel snob too) spent an hour ranting about politics with our hostess and her friend, who agreed with us about the perverse state of affairs vis-à-vis the president of the US (George W). We were virtually apologizing for American principles. But my big, strong husband did it in such an opaquely forceful American way that I was shrinking in his wake. In fact, I’m, a bigger travel snob than he is, and was embarrassed that he argued our opinions so loudly…just as a true American would. Loudness is a major source of insecurity for me.
I don’t claim that I am better than anyone—I don’t feel ashamed, either. I feel frustrated that I don’t have the guts and money to be truly international, or conversely, to belong to my own people. I don’t speak for all travel snobs out there. In fact, I hope they are all happy with their particular snobbery, and feel none of the identity crisis attending.
I not only display such oblige when I’m on foreign soil, but I traipse it around the USA as well. I pronounce Baltimore “Bal-mer” like they do—likewise “Nawlins” because they do, shameless snobbery disguised as respect. I once sat every week at the French bistro that wasn’t doing well in business, just to single-handedly save it, if I could–so I could have a French bistro within walking distance. But I never had the money to really order dinner. I made profiteroles and coffee my staple, or soup and the cheese plate. They knew I had nothing. And not the actual guts to speak actual French to them. And just like a stupid American cliché, I got a crush on the waiter. “Jean Paul,” of course. A sinewy, bushy-eyebrowed smoker/drinker who seemed terribly bored and sardonic. “Bon jour” was all I could manage without blushing, even with Sandrine and Anne’s open-hearted encouragement. Again, the identity crisis.
I know this is the most frustrating trait of an Americaine: the lack of clarity to declare who you are, damn the consequences, which talent the French have mastered in spades. My shames and fears are the picture window that divides them from me. So I decide today: I will travel and live for one year in Europe. And I pick (closing my eyes and pointing on my European wall map): Rome.
Good. Rome’ll be expensive, hard to adapt, and I don’t know Italian. Perfect.