Traveling as Americans and Respecting other Cultures

by Alex Schnee
( January 30th, 2015 )

Travel Americans Culture

I was walking along the wall of my new Italian home of Lucca the other day. It was an absolutely gorgeous afternoon—the Tuscan sun is no stranger to Lucca, even in January, and I was deep in thought. The peaceful afternoon was interrupted by some familiar accents. I heard a group of Americans (college students) behind me. They were riding their bikes, swerving to avoid elderly grandmothers, crashing into each other, and most of all, they were LOUD.

I’ve often been asked by other Americans if other countries dislike us. It’s not so easy to pinpoint. Living in Italy, there are Italians that are happy to take an American under their wing or to invite them to dinner. Italians in general are pretty affable people, though I’ve had a few cranky nonne (grandmothers) bark at me if I’ve taken up a spot in line at the grocery store that they want. They know I’m a foreigner immediately.

But after recently visiting Tokyo, I was very aware that laughing too loudly in a public place or being purposefully disruptive would be incredibly rude and inconsiderate of the Japanese culture. This was definitely my initial reaction when I heard the American students scream as the careened around the circular wall. The Italian passegiata is reflective, relaxing hour or two from work or school—a chance to decompress after a few intense hours.

Americani,” a few shook their heads.

It’s a fine line between recognizing that you are a foreigner and being proud of it. We’ve grown up with an entirely different set of rules and cultural expectations—and it’s important to be respectful of the fact that we are no longer in that environment. I think the best way to straddle this line is to do some research, and this doesn’t mean reading tomes about your future destination. Taking a day or two to observe your new culture and asking politely about the customs can go a long way toward impressing some potential new friends. You will always stand out a little, but with a bit of consideration and thought, you can make your time in a foreign culture less uncomfortable for all parties involved.

When I first went abroad, I was told that I was an “ambassador of the American people.” It was my job to insure that I was behaving in an appropriate manner. I definitely have not always stuck to this principle, but it’s a good thought to keep in the back of my mind as I continue exploring new cultures.

Have you ever received prejudice traveling as an American? Were you surprised by some reactions?

Image courtesy of Cristian Ramirez.

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Navigating the Maze: Tips and Tricks for Venice

by Alex Schnee
( January 28th, 2015 )

Tips Tricks Venice

Venice has been on my mind a lot lately. It was my first major experience abroad, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to put my time there into words. It’s a complicated city—not just structurally. It holds the most secrets of any place I have been to, so coming up with some basic tips was harder than it might seem!

Here are some I did manage to come up with that might help the first-time visitor:

Purchase a map. Pronto.

Venice is not set up like a regular city on a grid. There’s a reason that it has been dubbed the “human maze.” A map is necessary in the city, and an idea of the cardinal directions can help you when you run into a dead end or two (because, trust me, you will). Even the most experienced world traveler might have trouble with the streets—so just to be safe, make sure that is your first purchase when you get there.

Think about a vaporetto pass.

Like a metro system on the water, it’s not required to have a pass in order to get around Venice because it really is not that big of a city. However, if you are planning on taking a trip to some nearby islands like the Lido or Murano, you’ll want to stop by one of the main ticket offices and see if you can get a tourist pass, which allows you a few days’ use of the system. There are a few different options that might work for you depending on how long you are staying.

Avoid the Carnevale season.

It’s Venice’s time in the spotlight, but you will be sharing it with thousands upon thousands of other tourists. Prices also increase—the Venetians are astute businessmen and women, and they know when they will get the most cash out of their products. If you still want to enjoy the Carnevale revelry, think about going a week before or after the main events. You can still get the feel of the event without paying hemorrhaging-inducing prices and pushing aside multiple tourists.

The ugliest buildings are the ones worth viewing.

Venetians have had a tax on exterior decorations on the facades of their buildings for hundreds of years. So the best building to enter are usually the plainest-looking. You’ll find that dilapidated churches on the outside are the most gorgeous on the inside, so keep your mind and eyes open for something that might not look like a palazzo—because it probably is.

Have any tips for Venice? How do you find your way around?

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Living Abroad: Tips for Expats

by Alex Schnee
( January 23rd, 2015 )

Living Abroad Expat

I’ve been living as an expat off and on in Italy for about a year now, and I am always reminded about how you need to make a certain schedule for yourself while you are living abroad. When I first get settled in, I love this new-found freedom of being able to do whatever I would like, but it doesn’t take me long before I start craving a basic structure to my days abroad.

Here are some tips to helping you develop your schedule when you are living abroad.

Know what you miss from home.

It’s easy for me to pinpoint what I miss after living in Italy for a few weeks—I miss watered-down, American coffee. It’s become a ritual for me to sit down at my computer with a cup of jo and work on my writing for the day, so I’ve learned which little comforts make it easier for me to get through the day. It’s often the daily things people base their schedules off of—the small feeling of peace you get from a meditation session or having time to watch an episode or two of their favorite TV shows.

Exercise.

It might be the last thing you want to do when you’re surrounded by good, foreign food and there isn’t a gym in sight, but exercise can contribute a lot to finding the right schedule for you. I’ve been doing yoga most mornings and making an effort to walk ten miles or so a day (which isn’t hard when you live in Europe). Knowing that these are an important part of both my mental and physical health has helped me put together a schedule that I can stick to most days.

Know when you need time alone and when you need company.

Adjusting to living abroad means that you will meet a whole group of friends, but living in a new culture can take a lot out of you, as well. If you’re an introvert like me, you need time to process your time abroad and to spend a few hours alone. But you should also know when to take advantage of your social life and to have some fun experiencing your new chosen culture, as well. This also means knowing when to turn your cell phone off and to take a break talking with those from home.

Do you have any tips for someone trying out life as an expat?

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