The American Half Smile

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The American Half Smile

“Peace begins with a smile.”Mother Teresa

I’ve perfected it. It is known around the world as the American half-smile.  It is a smile that does not reach your eyes. It is faking kindness for a second to be considered a polite person.

I grew up in New York where you don’t have eye contact or smile at anyone – just in case they suddenly have the urge to lunge at you, steal your money and slit your throat. I had to learn the half smile when I moved to California. It is a dead giveaway that you are American. Most cultures do not have this.

In China, Russia, and Eastern Europe , people don’t smile on the street. It is impolite to show emotions in public to strangers. Smiling at strangers make others question your motives or your sanity. 

Before  the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese authorities wanted to get more people to smile . Their approach was to encourage Olympic stewards to clench a chopstick between their teeth to develop their smile muscles.Russian border guards were also instructed to be less intimidating and smile more to be more welcoming to visitors. The  French tourist authorities also occasionally attempt similar measures. In Norway and Finland they say when  a stranger on the street smiles at you, he is insane, drunk or American.

 When I was younger and spending a summer on Mykonos, I moved into a house with other people. I immediately introduced myself. I was going to be living with them. “You’re American yeah?” said the very cute Australian guy.  “Yes, I guess you can tell by my accent.“ He replied that only an American would walk into a room and introduce themselves to everybody.

Studies blame our friendliness on the immigrants. They say that countries with less homogenous populations learn to smile and get along with all different kinds of people. 

Also Americans love their white straight teeth. By and large, the American dental care is far superior to most countries. Not everyone in the world flosses. We flash our smiles  around like the Amex cards that a few non-American businesses take. Un-naturally white, perfectly straight-toothed smiles have “U.S.A.” written all over them.

Fly safe,

JAZ

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Travel Mistakes

Travel Mistakes

“You can handle just about anything that comes at you out on the road with a believable grin, common sense and whiskey.” Bill Murray,

We, as human beings make mistakes. It is part of our DNA. Even the best travelers make mistakes. Take a deep breath and move on. Here are some of my worst travel mistakes.

Failing to triple check your flight’s date, time and departure airport. This can lead to all sorts of disasters, including missing flights (yup), long layovers and even trying to leave from the wrong airport (twice). Your airline may book your departure from a different airport than your arrival. Check on every leg of your trip. 12 AM flights for me are a disaster. You only make that mistake once.

Over packing is my biggest problem. Most airlines charge for each checked bag and some even charge for carry on luggage. If you go over the weight limit, you’ll pay a big penalty. Small planes might not even take your bag. Cost aside, schlepping heavy, overstuffed bags through crowded airports and airport security is a nightmare. I am always doing this and swearing that next time that I won’t. But I do.

Not getting travel medical insurance or trip cancellation insurance. Accidents or a sudden illness can happen anytime, to anyone, even if you’re young and healthy. Travel insurance is especially important if you’re traveling to a country like the United States where a routine medical emergency, like a broken leg, is crazy expensive. It does take a while to get your money back but eventually, you do.

Not booking enough time between flights. You only have to miss a connection once or twice to know it is something you don’t want to do again.  I never take that one-hour connection anymore. There are too many variables for me.You have to claim your baggage at the point of entry now and that always takes more time than you think. Large airports are a problem. I have missed planes in Chicago, Miami, London, and Sydney. Weather is always a problem. There is always what I like to call Hakuna Matata in third world countries. Planes leave when they leave.

Over scheduling. It is never fun to pack too many activities and too many countries into one trip. I plan a lot but I have learned to go with the flow. I feel that you do and see whatever it is that you are supposed to. Be flexible.

Keep your valuables in the safe and check that safe before you leave. Also, remember to close the safe when you leave the room.  Yes, I made that mistake in Argentina.  Yes, I have left my passport in the room in St Petersburg and my jewelry in Johannesburg. Jet lag and many days of traveling will do that to you.

Not checking Visa Requirements. I have done this twice now. Don’t expect someone else to tell you. Your travels agent or tour company may think they told you and they might have but you didn’t hear it.  It turns out that you need a visa in Viet Nam, Cambodia and Australia. I had been to Australia before and forgot that part. Many countries issue Visa on arrival. Brazil does not and it takes longer than you think to get it. Same with Myanmar.

Always grab some local currency when you arrive in a country at the airport.  Also, carry extra cash for emergencies. Everyone in the world does not take credit cards. I am a worrier so I always get some before I leave. It is easier now with cash machines but depending on where you are, they are not always so easy to find.

Not letting your bank and credit card companies know that you are out of the country.  I watched in horror in London as the cash machine took my bank card. Apparently, I had not called to let them know I was there. In Spain, my credit card was turned down all day and when I called they were surprised that I had gone without a word.

Not checking airline security rules. Airline security changes all the time. If there is a recent terrorist attack, there are more rules. Nothing is more annoying than having to throw out your carry on stuff. If you have health issues, make sure you carry prescriptions and a doctor’s note.

So the next time you book the wrong flight or screw up something know that even the best travelers have made these mistakes (more than once) and survived. I learn from them and hope I don’t make them again – but I probably will.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Ways To Look A Bit Less Like A Tourist

Ways to Look A Bit Less Like A Tourist

“I wore only black socks, because I had heard that white ones were the classic sign of the American tourist. Black ones though,- those’ll fool ’em. I supposed I hoped the European locals’ conversation would go something like this:

PIERRE: Ha! Look at that tourist with his camera and guidebook!
JACQUES: Wait, but observe his socks! They are…black!
PIERRE: Zut alors! You are correct! He is one of us! What a fool I am! Let us go speak to him in English and invite him to lunch!”  Doug Mack

Becoming invisible as a traveler is difficult and the skill takes a long time to master. Don’t get discouraged and let the act of “trying to fit in” ruin your trip, You are who you are.

Learn a few words of the language, Good day, good evening, please and thank you are a good start. I can say coffee with milk and no sugar in any country I have been to. It was particularly difficult for me in Turkish. You aren’t going to pass for a resident but it is a way to ingratiate yourself with the locals and at least get better service.

Speak softly in public. Speaking loudly in a foreign language can lead to unwanted attention from pickpockets.

If you are in a city where people are stylish, it is best to not walk around in sweatpants and flip-flops, unless you are in Rio where people do wear Havianas. Casual chic is good. American casual is not that common outside of the US. Scarves are a nice accessory when traveling. I’m not perfect. I do bring a cute baseball hat for the sun in cities. It is an easy to pack hat but also a dead giveaway no matter how casual chic the rest of my outfit is.

Wear the colors that local people are wearing. Black is good in many cities but not in the Caribbean or India. Wear the right swimwear if you want to fit in. In Brazil, your bathing suit will look like pants on the beach. All the men wear Speedos in some countries.

Use the typical condiments of your host country when eating. If you can’t eat without ketchup bring some McDonald’s packets with you. If you can’t eat without ketchup you should not be traveling anyway. Don’t ask for decaf. It is not a thing in most restaurants in the world.

Eat the local food at the local meal time. Use local table manners. If everyone is eating with chopsticks, you should be too. In many countries it is rude to walk down the street eating. Tipping is a dead giveaway. Learn the customs of a country before you go.
Don’t chew a lot of gum. It’s an American thing.

In certain areas, it is best to live a little less through the lens of a camera. Camera-toting tourists are an easy target for theft because not only are they showing off expensive equipment, but they are also distracted from their surroundings. I still take lots of pictures in my travels, but I make sure to be discreet. I am guilty of wearing a camera but being from New York, I am always aware of my surroundings and keep it out of sight when necessary.
There is a difference between awareness and fear. The more authentic travel experiences you have, the more you learn how to travel.

Fly safe,
JAZ