When I travel, I have one trait that identifies me right away as an American. I am the friendly type. Americans are known for being alarmingly sunny and friendly when we travel, and we are known for looking at the world as if everything is amazing and awesome! Even for an American, I can be alarmingly sunny and friendly. And I am sorry if it offends, but I do think the world is a superlative place. I am also extremely extroverted. I can’t help it, it all just bubbles out of me most of the time. My personality is like opening a bottle of warm soda on a warm day. Try as you might to prevent it, the soda bubbles out of the bottle and onto the counter and floor when you open it.
How well this is received depends on the country. One of the reasons I like India so much is that by and large the people are as friendly as I am. They’re not quite as in-your-face about it though. If you are an observer, and I am, I sometimes see people cringe a bit as I smile hugely and start speaking with enthusiasm. When this happens I thoughtfully tone it down. I am a visitor to their country after all. I wonder if people who are bothered by this trait in American travelers assume it is provincial and quaint. This trait isn’t quaint or provincial though. I was born the sunny type; it’s just my nature. I have been through a lot in my life, and I have resolutely decided to be happy and embrace life. The teachings of Victor Frankel, who was not an American, had a big impact on how I approach life. You cannot have one second of it back, so you might as well enjoy those seconds.
As the Dalai Lama said, when asked what surprised him about humanity the most:
“Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
Any time you can quote the Dalai Lama to support your point, you know you’re on the right track ;-).
Actually I am leaving out the other trait that quickly sets us apart as Americans. We tip. Americans do not realize what a rarity this trait is until they travel outside the United States. It is the reason that despite our offensively, overt sunniness other cultures are welcoming to us. It sounds a little strange, doesn’t it? It is as if Americans are bribing other cultures to allow us to visit, learn about them, and be as friendly as we want while we do it. My favorite word for this is baksheesh, which is defined as a small sum of money given as alms, a tip, or bribe. It covers all the possibilities.
You can look for me in Spain in three weeks. I’ll be the one giving baksheesh to waiters with a smile on my face :-).