Where is the Anthroplology-March 2008: Strasbourg and American Tourists

Strasbourg, France

 near-french-and-german-borader.jpg

Strasbourg was a city rich in history, like many in Europe.  This now French city has maintained an exciting past being located on the borders of the French and Germany line.   After the rule of Romans and the Holy Rome Empire, a revolution in 1332 resulted in a broad-based city government Strasbourg declared itself a free republic from the Holy Rome Empire. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strasbourg)

The city’s famous cathedral was construction in the 12th century, was completed in 1439, and became the World’s Tallest Building.  The reason for its uniqueness to the town is that it was built with only one steeple leaving it nonsymmetrical.  The first modern newspaper was published in Strasbourg in 1605.  Johann Carolus received permission by the city to print and distribute a weekly journal written in German.  During a dinner in Strasbourg in 1792, Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle composed “La Marseillaise“. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strasbourg)

During the French revolution, Strasbourg’s status as a free city was revoked.  In 1794, there was talk of tearing its spire down, because it violated the principle of equality.  During the Franco-Prussian War and the Siege of Strasbourg, the Prussian army heavily bombarded the city.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strasbourg) 

In 1871 after the wars ended, the city was annexed to the newly established German Empire at the treaty of Frankfurt (Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen).  As part of Germany, Strasbourg was rebuilt.  Massive fortifications were established around the city, which most of it is still stand today.  “Those forts subsequently served the French army, and were used as POW-camps in 1918 and 1945.”  Following the defeat of Germany in World War I, the city was again restored to French. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strasbourg)

 765px-strasbourg_-_ponts_couverts_vus_de_la_terrasse_panoramiquesmaller.jpg

Having been influenced by Germanic culture, Strasbourg remained largely Alsatian speaking into the 20th century.  The fall of France in1940 during World War II, caused the city once again to be annexed by Germany.  After the war, Strasbourg was again returned to France.  The First World War did little damage to the city, but American bombers caused extensive destruction in1944.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strasbourg)

“In 1920, Strasbourg became the seat of the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine, previously located in Mannheim, one of the very first European institutions. In 1949, the city was chosen to be the seat of the Council of Europe with its European Court of Human Rights and European Pharmacopoeia. Since 1952, Strasbourg has been the official seat of the European Parliament”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strasbourg)

 800px-europaparlamentsmaller.jpg

The cities lay out geographically was ideal for defenses with a river that was created to protect the center of the town.  Currently the city is larger then the town’s center, but it provided necessary defenses at the time of its construction.

In addition to this cities great history and European archaeology, any amateur anthropologist being observant to the different types of people visiting the city can currently examine cultural anthropology.  As I lived in Germany and traveled, my husband and I noticed cultural behaviors and clothing differences among American tourists, non-American tourists, European natives, and locals.  Often the people you could hear the best were Americans.  In truth, my ears picked up anyone speaking English since it was a rarity to hear.

In tourist groups with guides, American tourist seem just like any other tourists visiting the city’s sites, but there are still things that help in pointing them out.  What they choice to wear in public can often identify American tourists.  Some of the most common attire seems on these tourists are a form of athletic shoes, fanny packs, baseball hats, cowboy hats, and tourist souvenir shirts.  These clothing trademarks stand out against the European outing fashion.  When I would go out shopping for grocery’s to clothes the local people were dressed to impress.  I recall seeing many women ranging from 50-75 plus wearing fur costs, many of the other people looked like they had walked out of fashion magazines from New York City or Los Angeles.  People strutted their personalized looked when they walked out of the house.  I asked my Germany neighbor how some of the women could wear such high and pointy stilettos on the cabal stone walk ways, her reply was why would they not.  She then pointed out how easy it was to tell tourists from the locals because they would wear shoes that were athletic shoes, not matching their attire, or a more sensible shoe to allow for the walking around.   

On a deeper cultural level, American are stereotypically considered a nation where English is the most common language proving to most Americans a false security about not needing to learn as many other languages as people in other countries.  Often an American person will have taken one foreign language later in their teenage or college life and typically forgot most of that language.  Other people from different countries learn several different languages.  Germany people learn English and Germany when they are in elementary school and then learn another or two language in their teen years of schooling.  These languages are typically their weaker languages in later years, which is similar to Americans language development in secondary education. 

The significances to American typically only knowing English fluently, causes several observation notes of interest.  I have seen tourists that speak loudly to others in their party, in English.  Often these types of people might compare people, food, architecture, and culture differences to “not be as good as the things back home”.  They typically have large need for personally space around themselves in a crowd of people they do not know.  Often English comments are discussed at a volume level load enough to hear from 10-20 feet away.  These commend are herd by many of the people walking by and often those comments are in the local tongue with a disgusted “American” inserted among the words.

I asked my Germany neighbor about how they felt about American tourists in their country.  For the most part, American tourists were just like any other tourists to her.  She did note frustration to careless comments Americans often made about different cultures loudly expressed in public.  Often locals would make comments about what they said, since most people understand English if they do not speak it very well in European countries due to their required education programs.  American act as if they are the only ones that understand what they say, but the truth is that many other people pick up on those “believed to be private English comments among the foreigners”.  Add the clothing typical to ideal American family vacationing in Europe and Americans stand out.

After living in Germany for over a year, I realized these silly differences in behavior, cultural, and interpretation of American tourists throughout Europe.  My husband and I found American tourists to annoying as the locals found them at times.  I realized know how a few loud and careless remarks made by Americans in other countries added to the perpetual believe of the rude, uncultured, or stupid American cliché that give Americans a bad name.  I learned that just because you do not understand your environment or culture around you, sometime others understand you.

I hope this personal insight to my experiences in Europe, focusing on the City of Strasbourg, as an example of tourism at an annoying level to the locals, has shown you that cultural anthropology is always around you. 

The only tip I would offer to future American tourists is to be more aware of your surroundings and the things you say.  It is ok to make comments that others will not like, just say them in your friend’s ear kept it among your comrades and maybe level some of the silly tourist cloths at home, if you are looking to blend in with the natives.  

Adrienne Elder

 note: the first half of this articles information came from Wikapidia and the second and third images. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/StrasbourgAll other pictures on this article came from Adrienne Elder.

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Comments

  • ashleebones  On April 5, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    Very cool! Thanks for all the personal info!! I never would have figured it out. lol. 🙂

  • Making Anthropology Public  On April 13, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    Well I could not have written it without my side of the story and I did find living there fun and exciting. I think everyone should go live in other countries for a time. I am hoping that I might be able to live over seas again sometime, like Japan or Italy.

  • thoga00  On May 9, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    I’ve lived in Italy for almost a dozen of years now. and I may have added to the stereotype a time or two myself. One of the things that I observed in myself during the time that I have lived here has been the relationship that I have had with the culture at large in Italy, the relationship that I have had with my home country, and the overall changes that I have found in myself during this time.

    I would say that during the first year that I was here I was a “fish out of water”, Understanding the language but not always the cultural subtext and morés that permeate the language and social interaction. From the second year to the fourth year I found tendency for an intense identification with my adopted land. And when I returned to my native land I felt like more and more of a stranger. Loosing much of what it was that made me feel American, which is the say the connection with other Americans through a joint knowledge and experience of the culture at large. In the fourth year I began to experience a reaction to the feeling of identification with italy and its culture. Where I found fault in much that I saw around me and affected me on a daily basis. This lasted for a few years, and now I feel quite comfortable as an Expat, as I travel throughout Europe and Asia for my job. I’ve thought about moving back to the States from time to time, and frankly it makes me kind of frightened… uncertain of my ability to reintegrate. And sometimes worried about the Laisez a faire attitude to everything in America except for things that should be private concerns.

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