Monday, July 07, 2008


Heading somewhere this summer? Touring far-flung continents and countries? A new survey finds that American tourists aren't perceived that badly in the world.

The survey notes the American effort to at least try speaking the native tongue. I think the real reason we do this is an attempt to justify our minor in college, or in my case, my secondary major in Japanese. When I was in Paris touring the museums, I found myself conversing with Japanese tourists whenever I could. At one particular exhibit, I overheard a Japanese couple talking about the color of an outdoor sculpture. Before I thought about it, I said something like, "Yes, it certainly is a strange color."

The couple looked at me aghast, as if to say, "You didn't hear that part where we were making fun of your pants did you?" At that point, I remembered my Japanese professor mentioning that a lot of people might be thrown off or weirded out if you, as a foreigner, go up to a Japanese person and start speaking their language. If anything, it's almost better to stumble over the pronunciation or make it seem like you're reading from a phrasebook.

The French were funny, too. My girlfriend and I bought a French phrasebook and would at least try to order food or say things like, "My milk is very toasty, please? Thank you! Tour Eiffel?" The French would sort of acknowledge the effort and then launch into a perfected form of broken English good enough to communicate with any tourist.

Words is hard.