Subtle Giveaways That Show You're an American Tourist Abroad
As an American in Paris, you are a walking faux pas. I learned this immediately, despite having arrived in the City of Light and thankless clichés armed with a French last name, a practiced pronunciation of sauvignon blanc, and a pair of loafers I had deemed quintessentially Parisian.
On my very first morning in the Sixth Arrondissement, a barista nailed me. “You’re from New York, aren’t you?” she asked.
“Oui,” I nodded, wondering whether or not one can, in fact, speak French with a Brooklyn accent (while dreading the possibility that I might actually have a Brooklyn accent).
“All Americans want their coffee to go,” she explained in perfect English. “New Yorkers always take it black.” I realized she was ignoring the fact that I’d ordered in French.
After all the time I’d spent reading Hemingway, acquainting myself with cheeses, and finding the perfect pair of trousers, I’d been betrayed by my coffee order. I was American. This was obvious to Parisians. During the following weeks, as I strolled the Rue Crémieux ordering Sancerre by the glass, I knew I was an imposter in plain sight. Parisians just know.
Americans tend to wear their nationality unwittingly on their sleeves (or more accurately, “half-pants”), so it comes as no surprise that they’re easy to spot abroad -- but the French have made this a sport unto itself. Their culture, tightly wound and difficult to infiltrate, makes them particularly adept at calling out the imposters. Beyond all the standard tourist grievances, I found that the locals who were willing to converse with me -- in spite of my obvious Yankeehood -- had agreed upon a certain master list of subtle tells that Americans can't help but display.
Americans drink excessive amounts of water
While at dinner with a friend in St.-Germain-des-Pres, I pointed out that I had finished my glass of lukewarm tap water and no one had refilled it. (In the States, a back waiter would’ve refilled the glass twice already.) She laughed and explained that Americans are notorious in Paris for over-hydrating (see: gallon challenge). Apparently, toting a water bottle like a handbag (Nalgene flexing) is a dead giveaway that you hail from the US of A -- as is compulsively requesting water refills and blaming any/all maladies on inadequate water intake.
They rest their phones face-up on the dinner table
You shouldn’t do it in Philly, you shouldn’t do it in Peoria, and you really shouldn’t do it in Paris, where dining out still maintains an elevated, almost sacred tone. Once, while eating with three friends at a small bistro (no more than four tables) in the Montmartre neighborhood, my phone rang. Naturally, it was lying face-up on the tabletop beside my silverware. I shut it off quickly, before noting that everyone else seated at my table had their phones out as well -- and that the rest of the tiny restaurant’s patrons were all looking at us disapprovingly.
“Don’t worry,” the waiter said when I apologized. “At least you haven’t asked for the Wi-Fi password.”
They ask for the Wi-Fi password. Immediately.
If you can’t survive a Wednesday without checking on your friends’ Instagram stories, you might as well consider never traveling ever again. Apparently we Americans, more than any other tourists, equate cell phones with lifelines.
They harbor dainty misgivings about day-drinking, yet imbibe like college girls the moment the sun goes down
Parisians indulge in moderation. They consume (with frequency) extraordinarily rich desserts, gluten-heavy pastries, and best of all, midday alcohol. It is standard for Parisians to lunch over beers or pop out of the office for an afternoon pick-me-up (wine) without disrupting their routines. Americans, on the other hand, are known for starving themselves till they binge -- “Just one drink” is not a popular mantra in the States.
“It’s like if Americans start drinking midday, you can’t stop again until you go to bed,” one bartender explained to me. “They either refuse to drink until the sun goes down, or they start pounding shots back-to-back.”
They carry oversized backpacks stuffed with non-essentials
While there are plenty of actual backpackers traipsing around Paris in search of hostels, Americans are known for their bloated daypacks. While waiting in the grueling security line to enter the Pompidou, the man in front of me kvetched, in French: “How will we ever get through security when all the Americans brought backpacks the size of small children?”
They study a menu like it’s an SAT manual
“I trust you will need some time,” a waiter once told me in accent-heavy English, as he passed me the menu at an outdoor cafe in Belleville. “Espresso, s'il vous plaît,” I responded (I was a woman on a mission), and he paused, seemingly flustered that I had not, in fact, required “some time.” He told me that Americans in restaurants are known for their indecisiveness -- they tend to read food and wine menus cover-to-cover as they debate one another about what they’d like to eat. “Parisians already know what they like,” the waiter explained. “They barely even glance at the menu.”
They wear shorts year-round
I arrived in Paris in early May, which does not exactly imply shorts weather -- especially in a city notorious for its dismal gray shroud of a sky. I was traveling with a male friend who, natch, was dressed in a pair of shorts. While talking to a group of boys gathered along the bank of the Seine, hoping to gather some local nightlife recommendations, one of them interjected disdainfully: “You definitely can’t go to a club wearing half-pants.” I realized we hadn’t seen another soul in shorts all day. Simply put, if you’re looking to blend in, half-pants are definitely not the move.
They say sorry all the time
I have a particularly charming knack for knocking over glasses, and on one occasion, while apologizing profusely to the bartender who was presiding over the section of the bar on which I’d just spilled water, he stopped me: “Americans say sorry too much -- it’s such a waste of energy,” he said.
He was not wrong. Americans apologize when they walk through crowds, when they bump into one another on the Metro, before they ask questions -- the French simply say pardon. I’m not sure when I’m sorry became the equivalent of “excuse me” or “I have something to say,” but it’s a uniquely American habit.
They’re always in a rush, even on vacation
It’s true that tourists often blow through foreign cities, ricocheting from place to place at breakneck speed to check off Lonely Planet bucket lists. On my last day in Paris, when I had more than accomplished the spread of cultural things I’d set out to do, I stationed myself in an outdoor cafe for coffee. “Anything else?” my waiter asked me in French when he brought out my espresso on a silver tray. “Just the check,” I said.
“Always in such a hurry,” he laughed, pulling the bill out of the pocket of his apron, “Americans, I mean.” I’d asked for the check out of habit -- the understanding that once you’ve completed your meal, you’re required to up-and-go in as little time as possible. But I had absolutely nowhere to be. In fact, I had intentionally devoted my whole afternoon to Parisian nothingness. And still, somehow, I was readying myself to move on to the next thing. Even on that final, French-est day, I remained undeniably American.