Monday, April 30, 2012

Being a tourist ain't half bad

I must have been seven when I first felt ashamed of the stereotype that people from the U.S.—tourists especially—are loud, ignorant, and rude. On school/choir/family trips I took to France and England in following years, I probably seemed stiff and shy because I was working so hard not to make a faux pas. I think I was more comfortable in France because I was proud of how good my French had become after years of class. Someone nearly fluent in a language they don't speak at home can't possibly be considered apathetic of other countries, right?

In that sense, Panamá sometimes strays outside of my comfort zone. Before coming here, I couldn't imagine living in a country (as an adult) without speaking the language. Every time I met someone in the U.S. who spoke Spanish and little else, I'd think about how isolated they must feel sometimes and that I simply must learn to speak their language. Nothing makes me feel more like I fit into the negative stereotypes for Americans than the fact that I don't speak Spanish. There's only so much I've been able to learn in 3 months given that all our classes are conducted in English.

Throwing all those worries aside, there's a reason people travel with cameras around their necks and only enough of the local tongue to stumble through purchasing souvenirs. It's FUN, and visiting a country is the fastest way to educate yourself. So, when the only fluent speaker of Spanish decided not to join the other students in the city to rent bikes at the Causeway this afternoon, I thought: what the hell. Today, we're truly tourists. We're not from here, our knowledge of the language is limited, and we're going into the city to do touristy things. So, I put on the "Balboa" tank I bought in Bocas del Toro, donned my white sunglasses, and stuck a pack of gum for later in the back pocket of my shorts. Sure enough, we had trouble finding taxi drivers who only slightly overcharged us, we had to ask questions of strangers a couple times, and we had as much fun as tourists seem to!

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