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Self-loathing and the American tourist in Europe July 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Testimonials.

At first, I was curious what an American “tourist” had to say about visiting Greece. So, I started reading the article. I felt a bit uneasy, after reading the first paragraphs, especially the one about photography and filming in Greece’s Museums. Yes, what I said to myself was simply, “another one bites the dust. another negative comment, oh, well, turn the page!”.

I was wrong. I apologise for reaching quick decisions and for making my mind up, before reading further. If I am not mistaken, one of my ancient ancestors, Themistocles, once said: Hear me first, judge me later (Akouson men, pataxon de).

To make it short, after concluding reading the complete article, I understood what was the authors’ message to his readers. I have to say thank you for putting it into such an effective way.

Well, here’s some abstracts from the article, by Steven Winn, published Wednesday, July 4, 2007 at San Francisco Chronicle. Click the link below, to read the complete article >

Oh, and by the way, Happy fourth of July to all my American readers!

It happened to us over and over on a family vacation in Greece last month, at the Acropolis Museum the day we arrived in Athens, at the National Archaeological Museum the next morning and then later in the week at the Benaki Museum. It was the same thing in the Palace of the Grand Masters on Rhodes, at the Byzantine Museum in Thessaloniki, even in the cliff-top monasteries at Meteora, where photography and filming are explicitly forbidden.

There’s nothing quite like being an American tourist to fill you with contempt for American tourists. I could feel my lip curling with disgust one afternoon on the island of Hydra, when a swarm of college women from Michigan stormed past me in pursuit of designer handbags at some waterfront shop. Didn’t they know, as I did, that the way to experience the essence of Hydra was to hike up the whitewashed steps in the midday sun, get hopelessly lost and nearly pass out from heat exhaustion in order to watch a group of Greek children play hide-and-seek on some narrow street?

It could be the eternally all-American, apple-pie reason that so many of us travel to Europe and elsewhere, as exhausting, pricey and sometimes futile as it can seem. The harder we try to vanish into another culture, to innocently and naively lose our own national identity, the more American we become. All those centuries of history that are so plainly visible in Greece (or Italy or France) take the measure of us as a very young and still very wide-eyed country. We Americans are never more curious and clumsy, more eager and obtuse, more self-critical and self-absorbed than when we travel.

Walking into the cool subterranean tombs at Vergina one beastly hot afternoon, I was instantly dismayed by a horde of English-speaking college students clustered around the exhibits and feverishly taking notes and sketching. Every glittering gold thing, masterly frieze fragment and silver shin guard from the Philip II of Macedonia excavation was obscured by a mass of American backs and sunburned bare shoulders.

I’m happy to be home on this Fourth of July. I know my quest for the essential Greek experience was touristic folly, every bit as much as the search for designer purses in Hydra or the compulsion to see every potsherd is. But I also hope I can hold onto that sweet sense of dislocation that travel brings, that way of seeing your world back home that is both woozily out of focus and oddly acute. Our bodies really just go along for the ride. It’s our minds and our imaginations that make the journey.

Article by Steven Winn, Copyright by San Francisco Chronicle > Self-loathing and the American tourist in Europe.

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