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Note: Pictures in this post are not mine. I lost my camera in Paris and don’t have many pictures from there.
At the base of the Sacre Coeur I was first introduced to Parisian marketing.
An African man (Nigerian, I believe) walked up to my side, matched pace, and slipped a piece of colorful string around my finger before I knew what was happening. I looked at him, bewildered, as he began to twist the string. I shook my head and gave my most convincing “Non!” He replied energetically in indecipherable French as I tore my hand away. I shrugged and walked away, shaking my head as he tried again.
When it was clear to him that I was not a French-speaker he looked very surprised. “Italiano?” I shake again, trying to walk faster. “Español?” I shook my head again, making this man clearly very confused. “British!” He seemed confident about this assertion and grabbed my elbow, slipping the string back on my finger, saying, “Is for the church! Twenty euro! Is for prayer!” I took it off again, and pressed away from him forcefully.
I then spoke the four most useful words any American can use while traveling abroad:
“I’m from New York.”
Works every time. The man backed away immediately. At least one place in this world harbors a reputation for non-gullible tourists and a take-no-prisoners approach to bullshit–and you’d be wise to associate yourself with it whether or not you’re from there.
Many people would suggest saying that you’re Canadian, and while this will get you past annoying questions about George Bush, medical care, and 9/11, it doesn’t stop pan-handlers in their tracks.
“I’m from New York,” or it’s equally effective variant, “I’m a New Yorker,” takes care of all your problems. Said with proper conviction, pan-handlers will immediately stop trying to hassle you, and strangers will engage you in intelligent conversation, asking you about interesting political and cultural matters.
Remember, this is critical:
ENGLISH: I’m from New York.
SPANISH: Yo soy de Nueva York.
FRENCH: Je suis de New York.
ITALIAN: Io sono di New York.
GERMAN: Ich bin aus New York.
DUTCH: Ik kom ui New York.
SWEDISH: Jag är från New York.
AUSTRALIAN: Oi, mate, I’m from New York!