Americans AbroadOn July 21, 2021 by Elyse
I’m surely not the only one. However, after more than a year of sitting at home, some of my compatriots might benefit from a refresher on how to behave while traveling. As The Innocents Abroad author Mark Twain could attest, our reputation precedes us, and it’s not always flattering. Please don’t add to the U.S.’s PR issues by being an Ugly American.
Here to show us what we should and should not do are “two American art students, Mr. Townsley. . . and Mr. Sellac. . . recently arrived in Venice, having walked all the way from Paris.” If you’re not already questioning their judgement, you should be.
Don’t: Insult the locals.
They said they met with the most dense ignorance in the villages and country districts in France, Switzerland and Italy.
At least those villagers didn’t go around miscounting floors and barging in on their neighbors. . . With that attitude, is it any wonder they jumped to dangerous conclusions?
Don’t: Act suspicious.
They were only arrested half a dozen times in France on suspicion of being German spies.
Opera star and not-spy Elena Theodorini would’ve had something to say, er, sing, about that.
In one village where they were arrested nobody would believe their statement that they were Americans. “Why” said they, “all Americans are rich and do not travel around in bad clothes without baggage and on foot also.”
They could not understand the fun of anybody traveling on foot when they could more easily travel in railway carriages.
The villagers may not have understood, but walker extraordinaire Gladys Mason would no doubt have approved of the students’ perambulations.
At one village while standing in the doorway of the hostelry the Mayor of the village passed by them at least a dozen times, eyeing them suspiciously before he made up his mind to arrest them.
Dollars to doughnuts, he overheard them complaining about “dense ignorance”—or the lack of air conditioning. I’m guilty as charged on that one.
Do: Play show-and-tell.
[Townsley and Sellac] both carried revolvers of the latest American patent and on being asked what use they had for them replied they intended to walk through Italy and expected to use them against possible brigands. As the Mayor, the police and the natives never saw such new fangled weapons before the arrest was forgotten, and they gathered round to see the workings of the self-cockers.
A charming cultural exchange is an instant Get Out of Jail Free card.
Do: Consider your appearance.
[Townsley and Sellac] advise anybody taking a pedestrian tour through Europe to wear bad clothes, let their beard grow, and, in fact, look as much like the genus tramp as possible in order to get everything cheap.– The Pittsburg Dispatch, October 5, 1890
. . . As long as you don’t mind occasionally being confused for an inept German spy and arrested. If this sounds like your kind of vacation, check out Second Glance History’s guide on how to travel for free.
Time abroad did at least one of these students some good. I can’t find any traces of Mr. Sellac, but Channel Townsley went on to become a successful artist, head the London School of Art and even have his own Wikipedia page. Here’s hoping his fashion sense evolved alongside his artistic abilities.
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Disclaimer: The modern era is far from the first to grapple with rampant “fake news.” As I am neither a historian nor journalist, I make no claims about the accuracy or lack thereof of the above sources. I assert only that they make for a good story.
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