We Americans have a knack for sticking out abroad.
Sometimes it’s because we wear bright purple T-shirts that say stuff like “Cleveland: It’s not that bad.” Other times it’s because we stop to take a selfie while getting charged by an angry bull. And it was this exact brand of dumb American I found myself playing in the Azores islands.
In the waterfront village of Sao Mateus da Calheta, on Terceira Island, summers bring mini bull-runs called touradas a corda, in which bulls rampage through the streets tethered to a few brave souls by ropes. After pelting poor Ferdinand with soccer balls and curses, the villagers jump into the water when he charges after them down the dock. American tourists, on the other hand, stand there taking pictures, because it would make a great addition to their Snap story.
Or at least I did, until I looked up and realized there was nothing between me and the infuriated beast. Survival instincts kicked in; I turned and sprinted through the crowd so I wouldn’t be first in line for gorging. As I ran, someone in the water chucked an object at the bull, who promptly lost interest in me and turned his attention back to the dock.
“You all don’t have liability laws here, do you?!” I asked my guide as I gasped for breath, joining her above the marina. I’m not sure if she understood, but in any case she just calmly watched the hysteria below and continued enjoying her ice cream.
“Everyone up here was laughing at you,” she said. “Typical American!”
Terceira, one of nine islands in the Azores archipelago, has seen its share of Americans (it’s home to Lajes Field, a U.S. Air Force base). But the brazen tourist was a new variety. Over the past decade, the number of military personnel has shrunk from several thousands to a few hundred -- but the island is filling the economic gap with tourism. And as more people discover the tropical, volcanic wonderland on these Portuguese islands, this may be the last year with only one picture-taking idiot to laugh at.