American Abroad: Native Greetings, Foreign Tongue

Jamie O'Brien feeling right at home and standing tall in a barrel at Pasquales.
© Dave Nelson

A collection of thoughts on conversational etiquette — or inherent lack there of — overseas.

The American abroad mustn’t know loneliness. Frankly, he should never be alone whatsoever. He should meet any souls within a Budweiser’s reach and he should have frequent and heartfelt conversations with each soul he encounters. This is where the American abroad does his learning and this is where he will become cultured and fabulous. This is very important.

It is important because the American goes abroad mostly to become cultured, learned and fabulous — bronzed, too but he could always find that much at a $17/hour tanning bed in Venice Beach. Mostly, the American goes abroad so that he may return to America and yabber to his fellow Americans about the distinctive look of a Swahili mask and how it is structurally different to that of a Zulu. Conversation is where he does this learning.

In any and all conversations overseas, the American must make his nationality clear from the get-go. He must speak as if a bald eagle is perched on his right shoulder and his every syllable should reek with dormant xenophobia. He must listen with every bit of his heart and he must retain everything that his comrade says. Sometimes, he should even write things done. And after every single discussion — whether it be about art, war, love, customs or cuisine — he must advance the conversation with one very specific question.

“Have you ever been to New York City?”