Saturday, July 17, 2010

American wine tastings can be bitter

OK, so I am an American and have been living in South Africa for over four years. Today I spent the day enjoying the Cape Winelands and, just as I have in the past, happened to bump into a few American tourists. First, let me say how fantastic it is to see my fellow countrymen enjoying this corner of the world - well done, for only so few of us ever make it out this way. Second, at the risk of sounding like a foreign-wannabe-snob, please indulge me as a give out a few hints to my fellow countrymen at how to fly a little bit more "under the radar" when touring abroad.

OK, before I proceed, I can feel it - you're already thinking, what is she talking about, she's one of us?! And before you think too far down that path, let's be honest with one another and face an unpleasant truth. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all know those stereotypes of "the loud annoying American tourist" usually clad in white Reeboks with fanny pack in tow? "Yes!" you're thinking, "so 'not' one of those!" And thankfully, it's true. A lot of Americans in Africa are not dressed that way - instead we wear safari gear and expensive photographic equipment, and unfortunately, the 'annoying tourist' is not always defined by wardrobe choices.

Anyways, I digress. If you should perhaps find yourself in the Cape Winelands, here are three tips on how to fly a little more under the radar - you'll have a better chat with the people around you and maybe get to know the place a little better, too:

Tip #1 - if the volume of your conversation exceeds the volume of all of the combined conversations around you, notice it and consider speaking just a little bit more softly

Tip #2 - if you have finished your wine tasting and are ready to purchase a few of your favourites, yet find that the person who was attending to you has started to chat with the people around you - perhaps wait until the chat has concluded, or better, join in yourself, rather than interrupt the chat to insist on "ordering" your bottles right now. There is a laid back vibe in the tasting rooms of SA and people are not really accustomed to taking abrupt orders - rather chill out and enjoy your time, what's the rush in any case?

Tip #3 - if you really need to know the price in dollars rather than rands before you make your purchasing decisions, to determine whether the wine is a "good deal" or not, rather talk quietly among yourselves and bear in mind that the people working in the tasting rooms earn meager salaries and live practically at the bread line. Whether you're rich in America or you're just an Average Joe, you are living at a standard way beyond most people in South Africa and a little tact will go a long way.


  1. Bravely said ...

    Why do Americans speak SO LOUDLY?

    If there are 100 people all talking in a restaurant how come you can hear every word said by the American couple on the far side?

    And why do Americans abroad expect locals to know "how much is that in dollars"?

  2. Great questions! I don't know, something in our nature pushes us to be audacious and maybe out of naivety, or because we so rarely travel, it doesn't occur to us that others mind... we are not great at "reading between the lines" - we take things at face value... often to our detriment like we are the only ones who don't know the joke is on 'us' - I speak from personal experience since it's only through being abroad that I have woken up to these things!

  3. I agree with the comment re: Americans speaking so loudly!

    I spent a lot of time traveling internationally and I vividly recall ocassions where I was mortified by the loud conversations of my American countrymen.

    I recall being at a restaurant in Buzios, a chic resort north-of Rio de Janeiro, when this family came in and basically took over he restaurant They were so loud and obnoxious. All the patrons' were passing glances in obvious distain.

  4. Hi, Kerry! So nice to hear your "voice" coming through in your comment - it's been forever! I must admit, after posting this article I felt a bit sheepish for being outspoken and probably offending lots of Americans. But, I suppose it's a bit like telling someone they've got something stuck between their teeth... or not, and letting them go on embarrassing themselves! Anyways, this is truth and thanks for your feedback, I still stand by the story.