Traveling as an Anglophone is always stressful for me. Upon hearing our accents, people assume that we’re loud, superficial, ignorant, and insistent that things happen on our terms, as if the point of travel weren’t to experience the world on someone else’s. I’ve been railing against these stereotypes ever since my first time in Berlin, when my friends informed me that I was “pretty smart and thin for an American.” It took a while for that sting to wear off. But for all my defenses of English-speakers, sometimes I can’t avoid seeing how we got the reputation.

I knew the Liverpudlian in the bunk below mine and I would get along as soon as I finished asking her what her story was. She had hobbies, she told me–“mostly gluten-free.” Well, knock me over with a feather. I have hobbies, too. I like biking, playing music, knitting, and cooking. In fact, except for the baking and brewing (and possibly horseback riding), my hobbies are mostly gluten-free, too!

She (can I call her Pudly?) had already been in Rome for a few days and was curious to know my itinerary. I replied that I didn’t have any concrete plans and planned to spend the first day just learning the lay of the land. Then I asked her for a restaurant recommendation, since I’d been up and foodless for a few hours, and it was getting (in Nathan’s words) to stabbin’ time. She replied that she’d been sorely disappointed in the food in Rome (could that be connected to the gluten-free thing? Surely not.)–even yesterday’s English breakfast had been nothing but hot steaming disappointment, and how hard could it possibly be to fry an egg with some beans? I gave a sympathetic but noncommittal nod.

Although Pudly had been unable to help to quell my morning hunger, she was eager to suggest some activities for my day. I was only too happy to oblige, since the sum total of my preparation for this trip consisted of downloading a PDF map of the city on airport wifi, which I then–oops–deleted. I pulled out the map I’d received at check-in, and she smoothed it out on the table, furrowing her brows as she got her bearings. “Walk along here,” she said, indicating a broad thoroughfare, “until you get to this building. That’s the Coliseum.” She went on to explain that from there,  I could take the metro to the Pantheon and the Vatican, two other Roman points of interest.

hamletjoshua-hayden-and-polonius-bill-durham

“My lord, I have news to tell you. When Roscius was an actor in Rome…”

As social norms dictate, I asked a follow-up question: “Do you know if they’re all on the same metro line?” She didn’t know, but expressed her confidence that I could figure it out one I got to the station. Leaning back over the map, she retraced the route with her finger. “Yes, Coliseum, Pantheon, and the Vatican. That’s it, really.”

That’s it? Really?

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