ITL 399: American Stereotypes

Over the past six weeks of my study abroad program, I have had the opportunity to discuss Italian cultural stereotypes with my classmates, professors, advisors, and even, Italian students.  Engaging in this topic has been beneficial in understanding the perception of Italians and their lifestyle and values from an outside lens.

My education in the classroom has been complimented with invaluable weekends of travel to other Italian cities, experiencing rich history, breathtaking views, and delicious cuisine.  It has also opened my eyes to what many international citizens consider “The Ugly American” stereotype.

For the most part,  people I have spoken with on my travels hold Americans and our country with high regard and a sense of curiosity.  However, the more time I have spent living abroad, adjusting/ assimilating to the Italian lifestyle, the easier I have found it to spot stereotypical American tourists before even hearing them speak.  Some examples of this stereotype lived out in person during my travels include:

  • A mother loudly nagging her family to cooperate and smile for the camera while taking a picture on the rooftop terrace of the Milan Duomo
  • Clothing: baseball caps, wearing athletic clothing day-to-day, etc.
  • A couple aggressively taking pictures of nearly every landmark in Pompeii, so much so that our Italian tour guide advised our group to experience the city with our eyes first, and then snap a few photos for the memories.
  • Rushing from one tourist site to another in Rome

The first time I traveled outside of the country was my sophomore year of high school, when my family spent one week traveling all over Italy, visiting Rome, Florence, and a few cities in Sicily.  I will forever treasure the memories made on that trip, but I also remember how much of a whirlwind that week was.  Because we had limited time in each city, and it being our first trip out of the country, we definitely had some full-fledged American stereotype moments; one specific one I can recall is when my family was running late (typical) to meeting our tour group and my Dad became frustrated when our cab did not arrive.  The bell man standing outside our hotel asked my father, “Sir, what is your rush? You are in beautiful Italy.  Your cab will come.”

I feel like oftentimes many American tourists can possess traits of the “Ugly” stereotype while traveling abroad because our lifestyle and perception of time is so different than other cultures of the world (in my experience, Italian culture).  When traveling, people often have limited time and want to see and experience everything they possibly can to the fullest.  But one thing I have learned over the course  of this summer is that today’s norm of fast-paced living and seeing things through an iPhone camera is not the best, nor the only way to fully experience travel and life.

Have I visited touristy spots in cities I have traveled to? Absolutely.  Have I taken the easy way out and spoken English in restaurants, museums, etc., when I could have used that chance to practice my Italian? Yes.  Did I wake up to the “Star Spangled Banner” blasting through my tiny Italian apartment, and grilled a burger on the 4th of July in celebration from thousands of miles away? Most definitely.  But I have also learned to understand the importance of stillness, simply being in the present, seeing with my eyes, not through a phone screen.

To my fellow Americans traveling abroad, I invite you to try and embrace stillness and invest energy into being fully present in each moment.  Beyond defying a stereotype, you will also find a greater sense of contentment and connection in your travels.

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