The obvious Americans — and happy St. Patrick’s Day!

It’s been almost a year since I was in Ireland, drinking my fill of Guinness (or Smithwick’s — I’m not serious enough for straight Guinness, despite my cupcakes) and thinking I blended amongst the locals eating out in Dublin. Though I was, of course, an American tourist, I wasn’t prancing around with a neon pink fanny pack and white tennis shoes, barking at people to serve me “A-mer-i-can food, dammit!” and generally setting international relations back a few centuries.

Not that I recall, anyway. (So much Smithwick’s.)

(Okay, not really — I’m not a drinker — but everyone is a drinker in Ireland. Even my mother, plied repeatedly with Irish coffee.)

I’ll just come out and admit it: I can be a bit smug when I travel. I try to never be “the ugly American,” offering courteous smiles to everyone I meet and never stiffing the locals on tips. On our trip to Italy years back, our tour director said something that has stayed with me: “We are all international ambassadors.” Meaning, you have an unpleasant interaction with an American. You think they’re rude. Though it’s not necessarily fair, our minds may make a leap: this American woman was rude. Americans can be rude. All Americans are rude. And so on.

I try never to be rude. To blend, if you will, and this doesn’t just apply to international travel. When asked by a clerk if I was “from Texas?” while shopping in Los Angeles years ago, I just cocked an eyebrow and laughed. If she thinks my Southern accent is strong and Texas-like, she’s obviously never met a real Texan. (Or a real Southerner, ’cause my twang ain’t go nothing on the accents of my North Carolina relatives. I’m sort of jealous, really; I’ve just got the Eastern Seaboard thing goin’ on. Though I do use “y’all” with reckless abandon.)

So anyway. In Dublin. I’m trying to blend and not be rude and be a courteous American when I walk into a pub with my family. I’m trying to not scream “TOURIST! TOURIST OVER HERE!” and just enjoy a casual evening in Ireland. Before we’d uttered a word — before we’d even greeted a soul in the place — a cute young waiter approached, passing out menus. “Evenin’,” he said with a smile. “Americans, eh?”


I was flabbergasted. I didn’t think I had a “tell.” Is it my purple jacket? My jaunty swagger? The way I “style” (term used loosely) my hair? My liberal eye contact?

Grabbing hold of our good ol’ American enthusiasm, my family and I exchanged questioning looks while I laughed, “Yes — what gave it away?”

The server’s crooked smile would have made Edward Cullen jealous. With a gentle but aggravating shrug, he replied, “I just know.”

“But how do you know?” I pressed, suddenly desperate to see what set us apart. “The way we walked in the pub?”

We hadn’t known where to sit, of course. Not locals.

“I just know,” he repeated, and then I dropped the matter. Mostly because I was starving and we were soon going to be served this:

(And yes, we ordered burgers and fries in Ireland. How cliche.
But I tried haggis in Scotland, so sue me.)

Then I forgot about cultural identities and international relations and politeness and fanny packs (or lack thereof).

Om nom nom nom.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

8 thoughts on “The obvious Americans — and happy St. Patrick’s Day!

  1. When we lived in France, we could pick out the Americans because of their tennis shoes. I think we blended in well after a while, because people were forever asking us for directions, etc. The French used to tickle me because they couldn’t tell an American accent from a British one.


  2. On the Continent, I always thought it was in the clothes. The men, especially, seem to be much better dressers. I debated this with my uncle in France, because I could spot the “locals” v. the tourists and he couldn’t. I kept saying it was a particular look, but he didn’t agree. I’m not sure that theory carries over to England and Ireland, though.


  3. Similar story; we were walking streets of Paris when a passing couple smiled and loudly greeted us with a “We love America!” (it was year 2000). My husband was dressed much nicer than usual – dress shirt and slacks, dark shoes, and I was wearing a skirt with lace boots, I think. It was nice sentiment (compared to what it could have been – perhaps he was sarcastic?) but I thought we were so non-typical American tourists! We sheepisly waved, I remember and we all went on our way.

    Anyway, I SOOO want to visit Ireland!


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