Amboise and Rude Americans

A friend suggested I make more of an effort to talk about my experiences and thoughts on local culture along with posting daily favorite photos.

It’s something I would like to do, but I struggled with this while in Amboise. Unfortunately, my thoughts on “local culture” in Amboise are somewhat neutral. I didn’t have much exposure to what might be considered “local culture.”

My experience in Bordeaux was far different than it was in Amboise. Bordeaux is a vibrant, lively city. Strolling through the streets brought me in contact with people running errands, commuting to and from work, eating and drinking and flirting. Normal, everyday people, doing normal, everyday things.

Amboise, on the other hand, is not vibrant or lively. It is delightful in other ways. The appeal is it is quaint. It is, in fact, a rather adorable sleepy little tourist town.

The conversations I overheard in Amboise were primarily between tourists. They were almost exclusively in English and between Americans.

This is not necessarily because there were more Americans there. It is because of how incredibly loud the Americans I encountered were. The volume of their conversations drowned out everything around them.

If there were locals around, people simply living their daily lives, eating, drinking, flirting, I didn’t see or hear them.

I understand the “loud American” stereotype now, and a few others, as well.

Travel Buddy and I witnessed an interesting interaction, and I have to assume it’s not rare for something like this to happen. We were eating breakfast in a gorgeous little patisserie, in the dining area off to the side of the main part of the shop. A party of three came in. One woman approached the server and asked, in English and unnecessarily loudly, if they might sit anywhere, gesturing to all the tables with a questioning look on her face.

It was clear she was under the impression that speaking louder would cause her English to be understood by the server if it wasn’t otherwise.

The server nodded and replied in French, presumably saying anywhere would be fine.

The woman then gestured towards the shop and then the tables, and shout/asked if they could order pastries “down here.”

I understood this to mean, “Can we order pastries in the dining area?” The server did not understand and looked confused and somewhat distressed by her own lack of comprehension. Pastry Lady had no sympathy for this; she said, even louder and with some annoyance in her tone, “pastry???” while gesticulating madly in a manner I presume was meant to show that there were tables in the room. (I’m still uncertain what she thought she might be doing with the wild motion of her arms.)

Somehow it was resolved before I gave in to my desire to intervene. Pastry Lady learned, yes, the pastries sold by the establishment are indeed available to be ordered in their dining area, but not before I heard her yell, “PASTRY???” yet one more time.

Had I intervened, I doubt I would have been as gracious as I would have wished myself to be.

I can’t imagine this being an isolated incident, and I felt shame for my country and profound sympathy.

Often, possibly because of impatient and unaware American tourists such as Pastry Lady, shopkeepers and servers in Amboise seemed more on their guard than in Bordeaux. I sensed they had frequently been on the receiving end of frustration they did not understand, and it made me sad.

My face has started turning a bit red when someone asks where I am from. I have difficulty admitting I am American. There is shame in it. I don’t want people to know.

However, all the research and advice I received about French etiquette was accurate (see list of links I found helpful below). As long as I make an effort with the language and observe some basic cultural norms everyone I encounter is lovely.

I studied French in junior high and high school, but that was a long time ago. I used Duolingo to help me prepare for the trip, but I still don’t know much beyond very basic exchanges, and even that is only possible if my conversation partner speaks very slowly and articulates painstaking degree.

Probably accurate.

Often the person I’m speaking with speaks some English, but not always. Most of the time, they only know about as much English as I do French. I’ve learned there is an amazing amount that can be accomplished using very simple words and nonverbal communication.

Sometimes, though, we each help the other with our language skills. These are the exchanges I am enjoying the most.

“Qu’est que c’est cette môt?” (What is this word?) or, more frequently for me since I’ve already looked up the translation, “Comment dire ce mot?” (How to say this word?). Either inevitably results in huge grins and eagerness to help.

Everyone I’ve encountered, in fact, has been incredibly open, warm, and kind once they see I’m not like pastry lady.

As for cultural differences, there are only a few that have surprised me and only a couple of those are even mildly cumbersome.

One of them is tipping servers. It’s welcome but not standard and there is never a spot on a credit card slip in which to write in a tip, so you must have small change with you, which isn’t something common for me. It’s something I’ve needed to adjust to.

The other is breakfast. Here, breakfast is considered the least important part of the day, and is typically light, sweet, and carby. This is something it’s been harder for me to get used to, but I’m getting there. It’s only mildly more difficult because there are pills I take with food in the morning, but I’m finding yogurt does the trick.

Image may contain: coffee cup
Today’s breakfast: yogurt, a chocolate cookie, and a double espresso

Oh my word, though, the food. Sure, everyone talks about how good French food and pastry is, but nothing could have prepared me for how much more amazing even the simplest of foods are. Back home I don’t even like yogurt. What I’m used to just tastes like chemicals compared to this.

The cheese, of course, is magical, but since we have access to it in the States it isn’t as much of a revelation as other things I’m eating. Like, for example, ham. I can’t get over how good the ham is. I’m having ham in everything I can while I’m here. Ham and swiss stuffed puff pastry. Ham omelettes. Ham quiche. Yes. More, please. I’ll have it all.

I can’t think of anything more to say on this topic at the moment.

I’m currently at the train station in Amboise. After six hours and three (hopefully successful) transfers, I will arrive this evening in Sarlat-la-Caneda, where I will stay for the next two nights. Amboise and my experience of the Loire Valley have been delightful and gorgeous. I am excited to see what the Dordogne Valley has in store.

I hate to admit it, but I’m rather hoping there are fewer loud Americans at my next destination.

A few links to information about etiquette and customs:

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