Now that U.S. President George Bush’s term is almost over, he’s getting a decent welcome here in Europe, at least from leaders, if not from the public. Finally, one extra annoyance he’s caused for us common-man American travelers will soon fade away. No more need for that standard bit in political conversations: “No, really, we didn’t all vote for him.”
In Europe, Democratic candidate Barack Obama is currently cool and the average person doesn’t really know anything about Republican candidate John McCain, so Europeans who like to pick on American politics and society will have to return to fallback topics.
There’s another bright spot – from our lousy dollar no less – for Americans who manage to scrape together the exorbitant airfare and take themselves and their drooping currency to Europe this summer: no way can anyone stereotype the average American tourist as arrogant these days.
As Americans blanch at the price of a cup of coffee and a croissant they are, well, pathetic.
The stereotype has been around for a while. For most of us, getting to Europe is a big-deal trip. So we head across the Atlantic with a decent currency from decent U.S. salaries, superb background training in shopping, a vague idea that we were real sports about the Marshall Plan (check out Bush’s schedule) along with the standard international tourist cluelessness, to spend some money on our big treat. And somehow the stereotype of free-spenders with a sense of entitlement developed.
Even cutting back because of a weak currency, some Americans will continue to travel and be more free-spending than European Old World visitors. But since everybody knows we’re not backed by the almighty dollar these days, even people who buy into the stereotype will find it hard to resent visitors who took out a loan to pay for breakfast.
Well, maybe not, but the dollar has been sliding for the past couple of years against the euro, hovering more or less (mostly less) around $1.50 to the euro since the end of last year. Prices in euros feel right with a one-to-one parity; in other words, you see a sandwich for five euros, and it sounds right – if it were dollars. But, very roughly, you need to add half again to prices in euros to see what they are in dollars, and that feels very wrong. A $5 sandwich is now $7.50. Standard hotels become luxury class, pizza for the family is a special dinner out and you don’t even want to know what you’re paying for water in tourist spots.
So we Americans wander around just look humbler these days. With a new president in place, maybe eventually they’ll even like us, you know, really like us. Or more importantly, maybe breakfast will go back to a reasonable price.
If you’re around this summer, we can discuss it over a coffee. But let’s split the bill.