People Who Have Visited The US Are Sharing Their Top Travel Advice—And It Could Be Worse!
Some of this is pretty accurate!
It is wise and good to travel is a thing that people say that is probably true. Studies say that people are happier when they spend their money on travel as opposed to things like, uh, well, unnecessary kitchen utensils. Going out and seeing the world and experiencing things is a thing that people generally agree is a good activity.
And they have for a long time!
One of the oldest poems we have is a travelogue: the Odyssey. I mean, it doesn’t end up great for all of the characters! It’s not an advertisement for sailing the Mediterranean. It’s about people suffering and dying through a terrible sequence of calamities as they strive for their homes.
But that is a detail. And it doesn’t matter. Shut up.
It is funny the way we talk about the Odyssey. The word odyssey is obviously a big word in the English language. We know it’s bad. “Oh the whole experience was such an odyssey!” But we also sort of romanticize it like “well, it was rough but also what a story to tell!”
The most beloved unauthorized sequel of all time is Tennyson’s return to Ulysses after Ulysses returned to Greece. A broken and humbled king in his twilight accepts that he was made to journey and not to rule and embraces his fate “to sail beyond the sunset, and the baths of all the western stars, until I die.”
Like Jack Reacher, Ulysses is just not built to have a home life.
Travel is sometimes described in such lofty terms that it is almost magically curing. Travel made Flaubert honest and gave Proust new eyes. Twain called it “fatal to prejudice.”
There is a whole cottage industry dedicated to the idea that maybe Jesus was so enlightened because he did a sort of gap year in India.
And if you have traveled far and wide, you are a traveler of far and wide, and that becomes part of your identity.
When Facebook first began, one of the earliest examples of how you’d use it to brag/connect would be to list all the places you’ve traveled! All the countries you’ve visited! And then people would see where you visited and they would say “I like to have sex with people who visit places like that” and then they would Like your post and then you’d have sex and then after a few hundred more sexes, you’d get married and then together you’d sail off into the sunset, forever and always updating your newly reconciled “where we’ve visited” lists together.
Traveling is an experience through which we find ourselves and are made better.
But, like mercy, it blesses him who gives and him who takes.
Which is to say, travel also benefits the visited. On some levels this is obvious. When you tell the world that you have suffered a loss, your loved ones come and visit you and bring you a casserole. When you were a king in the past people would come to pay you homage. They would give you goats and sundry treasures. Coming to be visited on an individual level is mostly a very nice thing! It’s a sign of love and respect. Generally. Sometimes people travel thousands of miles to murder you and that is less nice, but that is mostly a thing that happens to Nazis who escaped to Argentina and things like that.
Indeed, coming to be visited on a larger community level is also a good thing. Every country in the world that isn’t a burning tyrannical hellhole commits vast resources to attract tourism. It helps the economy and diplomacy and trade. It fosters peace and friendship and innovation. It makes the world smaller and achievements more possible and it bonds you to yours.
When you are visited by people from the land far beyond you recognize what you have in common with your neighbor. You and your community share a lot of things that you don’t think about daily and together you make up a civic body that you can define and root for.
In the old time—long, long ago—the world was very big and tourism wasn’t a thing. But visitors still meant something.
In Ancient Greece, if you were a city and you thought you were swell, what you’d do is find some poet to write about your glory. It would solidify your civic identity and enhance your reputation. You could find some local to do it or you could get a professional. There were professionals running around—wandering poets—and they needed work. So the poets would come and describe the community as a foreigner. Sometimes they did it in their own voice: “yo, Messenia sure is nice! If you ever go to Messenia ask for the blue light special.” But other times the poets would adopt the voice of the citizens themselves. “Local communities seem to have entrusted the task of self-representation to foreign poets, as if the divided polis could find a communal voice more easily through external authoritative figures than partisan members of its elite,” writes Giovan Battista D’Alessio in Defining Local Identities in Greek Lyric Poetry.
The point is that being seen through others’ eyes can be a virtue. How a community sees itself can be well-informed by how other people see it.
Now, being described by foreigners can be a hard thing. They don’t know the inner life and traditions that make you you. They only know what they can see, or what you tell them, and you probably don’t know what to tell them since you don’t know what they don’t know, because you have no experience being anything other than what you are, and what you take for granted is everything you aren’t.
They can be cruel because they don’t know the acquitting causes of your sins. (“Why do we chop off everyone’s left food as a baby? Because a hundred years ago someone with a left foot killed our king.” Now, look this might not be a scientifically sound way of dealing with this problem but they aren’t the Joker!) But being described by others can be sweet because people are often more forgiving of others than they are themselves. And there’s a brisk honesty to it. Like having a child accidentally blurt out some very true statement that all the adults are too up-their-asses to say.
When I travel abroad the first thing I do is read about the place on WikiTravel. It’s a Wikipedia for travelers filled with tips for wherever you’re going from people who have been there before. Some of it is functional. “They speak Spanish in Spain.” “A citizen of X does not need to apply for a visa in advance of visiting Y.” But some of it is better. In Japan, it is not advisable to “back slap.”. In Holland, it is incorrect to call it Holland. . In Argentina, they ask you very personal questions within minutes of meeting you and expect you to do the same. “Failing to do so would signify lack of interest in the other person.”
This greatly enhances my experience as a traveler. But the single greatest use of Wikitravel is to look up your own country. It’s a trip, man!
It’s familiar and absurd all at the same time.
So, like the Greeks used to do, let’s all gather around and read what the people who come to visit us think.
Tips for visiting the US, according to Wikitravel:
Do not bring up politics.
Americans value their rights to political expression strongly, and politics are fiercely debated in American society. In fact, there are many popular web sites and cable channels devoted primarily to political opinion programming. American politics are very complex and change quickly. For example, gay people were not allowed to marry in any US state as recently as 2003, whereas gay marriage is now legal in all 50 states since 2015. Many Americans hold and passionately defend strong opinions on a wide range of political issues, many Americans, especially older Americans, are loyal to one party, and political debates often become heated and lead to insults, vulgarities, and personal attacks being exchanged.
For these reasons, unless you are intimately familiar with American politics or already know and agree with the political views of the person you are talking to, you are best off not talking about politics at all!
American shoe sizes and clothe sizes are a lie.
the US government does not regulate apparel or shoe sizes. Although there are informal standard sizes, they are not strictly enforced. The only thing you can count on is that sizes tend to be consistent within the same brand. If you plan to shop for apparel or shoes, you will have to do some trial-and-error for each brand to determine what fits, because you cannot rely on any brand's sizes as equivalent to another's.
Americans are fat.
Please note that, as the average body size of Americans tends to be larger than that of those living in other countries, a concept known as vanity sizing (the labeling of larger garments with smaller sizes) exists in many clothing retailers, especially those aimed at women. It is very possible for people with smaller body types to have some difficulty finding suitably sized clothing.
Do not sit down at someone else’s table at a restaurant.
It is usually inappropriate to join a table already occupied by other diners, even if it has unused seats; Americans prefer and expect this degree of privacy when they eat.
If you are invited to dinner at someone’s home, you must ask if you should bring something. They will decline. You still must bring something.
When invited to a meal in a private home it is considered polite for a guest to ask if they can bring anything for the meal, such a dessert, a side dish, or for an outdoor barbecue, something useful like ice or plastic cups or plates. The host will usually refuse except among very close friends, but it is nonetheless considered good manners to bring along a small gift for the host. A bottle of wine, box of candies or fresh cut flowers are most common. Gifts of cash, prepared ready-to-serve foods, or very personal items (e.g. toiletries) are not appropriate.
You will probably not be robbed and killed.
American movies, television shows, and music videos often give foreigners the inaccurate impression that the US is filled with extremely high levels of violent crime. While there are some locations in the United States with high crime rates, most violent crime is heavily concentrated in certain inner city neighborhoods (most of which are specifically identified in the relevant city-specific articles in this travel guide), or poor outlying areas. Few visitors to the US experience any sort of crime.
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