Have you ever traveled with someone who looks really American? I have. Matt’s looks definitely scream American. He is tall and has blonde hair and blue eyes. When my Spanish friend from Georgetown saw a picture of Matt for the first time, she duly noted that he looked very American (the picture she saw of him was Matt wearing his letterman jacket from high school so I guess it was even more stereotypical than usual). Fortunately Matt isn’t loud, obnoxious, and self absorbed like people expect citizens of the USA to be.
When you travel, it does matter how you look. It has a direct effect on how you are treated. Matt and I experienced that while we were abroad together, specifically in Paris. Matt’s American look made us an immediate target for street vendors and con artists. It is helpful that I don’t look too American. I’m short, have brown hair and eyes, and my face looks more European in general. They often specifically harassed Matt while I was frustrated by their attitude towards him. While it can be annoying to be bothered for the way you look, it can also result in some amusing stories. Here’s one:
Matt and I were in Montmartre in Paris. That’s where our cute but slightly run down hostel was and we were enjoying exploring the immediate area. (Matt and I were thrilled to find a bakery right around the corner with the most awesome fresh baguettes.) I had been to Montmartre in the past and warned Matt that there would be some “vendors” around who would want to “show him something” and then would make a bracelet on his wrist and force him to pay for it. In reality Matt probably wouldn’t have any issue with getting out of a situation like that (his size is quite intimidating even though he is the nicest guy ever) and wouldn’t mind paying for it but I extremely dislike when people try to pull one over on you. So Matt and I were walking along happily and then, out of no where, a group of about five men come running towards us from behind screaming “American! American!” and pointing at Matt. They immediately began to bother Matt to let them “show him something.” Boy was I irritated! I forcefully told them multiple times in both French and English that we weren’t interested and then dragged Matt away. He was curious about the situation and wanted to stick around. Matt goes with the flow and, like I said, wouldn’t really have any trouble with the situation. So I explained that they were trying to pull one over on him and that I refused to let either of us pay for that. We carried on.
In the moment, I was extremely irritated that those men thought they could get money out of us with a stupid trick just because we were American. If they didn’t put on a ruse and were more honest about it, Matt and I would have most likely stuck around. But they were right. Matt is American. And it gave us a great story to tell in the future. The situation was so comedic and felt like something that would happen on TV, not in real life. I assure you, it happened in real life to us. We immediately laughed about it afterwards but it made me think. The situation told me that the way you look does have a direct impact on how you are treated in other cultures. Traveling can reveal that to you really quick. Sometimes it is worth it to blend in.