Sweeping generalizations are fun…

I know it’s bad form for a travel writer (or anyone) to generalize about entire nationalities, but doing so intrigues me – like People Magazine intrigues many Americans. Finishing up our TV shoot in Vienna, I had lunch with a woman from the tourist board. She has her finger on the pulse of Vienna’s tourism industry. I quizzed her on her take of the main national groups who visit. Here’s how she sees these groups of tourists:

Americans–fast visits…never really arriving; Russians–great shoppers; Italians–big families, loud; Japanese–wild about classical music, taking millions of photos; and the French–well informed, sophisticated (for example, coming all the way here for special art exhibits). East Europeans: In the 1990s, they were infamous for coming in on a long overnight bus ride, munching sausages from home, and leaving on the same bus without spending a penny on a hotel or restaurant. Today, Poles, Russians, Hungarians, and other Eastern Europeans spend serious money and are a major part of Vienna’s tourism economy. I didn’t ask her to generalize about travel writers.


27 Replies to “Sweeping generalizations are fun…”

  1. My comment is I don’t think Americans in general will be big spenders as they may have been in the past. Just the exchange rate, dollars to euros makes one want to pause before making a purchase.
    Another thought is we Americans have Rick Steve to thank for giving us advise, ideas, encouragement to go aheard and explore Europe on a budget and have fun.
    One last thought. Probabely the most popular travel magizine in America now is Budget Travel. As never before we need to learn more about our international neighbors abroard.

  2. Ha ha. I loved this post. I must be a French Japanese. Or a Japanese Frenchman. Or something…

    Ah, you’re in Vienna! Was just there in April but would kill to be there again, walking in the footsteps of the great Beethoven.

  3. Rick, I liked your commentary on the emphasis placed on art and music in Vienna. Althought America is a young nation, we have a rich cultural heritage as well that needs to be cherished and preserved. The music festival at magical twilight you wrote about underscores how integral music and art is to the Viennese. It would be a welcome sight to see that scene duplicated here someday.

  4. To Drue: Bravo! Well-said. I was constantly impressed throughout Europe how seriously European take their museums. Much bigger crowds than here–and of course, much better museums too. It was a real treat.

  5. Rick, don’t forget that we here in the SF Bay Area have free concerts in Stern Grove frequently. Not quite the same as in Wien, but it’s a start.

  6. Rick:
    The blog is a great idea. I have also listened to several of your radio shows via podcasts in the last few days. Thanks for all of your travel wisdom and for getting more Americans to take a world view. We’re looking forward to 2 weeks in Austria starting the end of August. Send along a few current tips and save us some pastry!

  7. I enjoy reading about all the travels and I hope to one day explore Europe as you do. My and my Fiancee planned on heading across the pond last year but due to unforseen circumstances we never got the opportunity. This summer, with the arrival of our (now 3 month old) son, we have to put our travels off for a few more years. Right now we are enjoying our own home province of Newfound and Labrador, but we cannot wait until the three of us can enjoy a trip overseas in the future. With any luck Nicholas will enjoy exploring as much as we do! Feel free to check out our site to see the exploring that we do right here at home.


  8. Great comments on Vienna. I hope you go to the Freud Museum, a great “back door” place near the university.

  9. Rick,
    We feel like we are your family, have seen all your shows, have your books and watched your kids grow up on TV. Thanks for the blog. As avid tourists we’ve been all over Europe on bus tours and agree with your comments. Last year the dollar took its’ toll and we just spent 2 weeks in ALASKA, no tour, just did the entire state by rental car, small boat, helicopter, and twin engine plane. We didn’t do a picnic lunch, but ate fresh fish, crab, drank local brews. We met so many people who visited once, and moved there for good. They say their winters are milder than Chicago. But we did miss going to Europe, our destination would have been Austria, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland. Spending here made better sense. You’d be surprised how many people in the lower states consider Alaska as part of Canada !! Many asked if we needed our passports (lol). Will return to Europe, maybe in the fall, and thank you for your generous contributions to your fellow travelers. I also like your shop!

  10. Thanks so much Rick for all the wisdom you pass along. We’ve also read your books & watched your shows for years. Last year we spent 6 weeks in Europe,using yr guide books & also joined a tour (Paris & the heart of France), It was all excellent and we hope we can return soon.
    Thanks for everything and especially this blog, Great to hear your ideas and Andy’s too.
    Have a fun time.

  11. Hi Rick

    Enjoy Austria. I AM IN LOVE WITH AUSTRIA. I was there 17th april through the 21st, 2006. My daughters, grandchildren(3) sons in law hubby and older sis. My dad is from Matschach near the Drau river in Carinthia. I love Suetschach, Oberkrajach and Matschach. I was not able to visit Vienna but have plans for summer 2007. Give us lots of information of the Carinthian Valley. :o) ENJOY
    Auf Weidershen

  12. Hi, Rick,

    We just came back from a three week trip to Europe–London, Paris, Antibes, Murren ( your son, Andy was there the same time we were ) and Holland. Everywhere we go, we’d run into Americans with your guidebooks in their hands, often time, we would smile and sometimes even a pleasant conversation. We took our children with us, it had been quite an experience for them. They already voiced their interests in going back again and again. Rick, your guide books were a constant companion to us thru out the trip. We met so many kind and friendly people all over Europe, there was not any of that stereotype kinda impression one would have.
    We thank you for the inspiration and motivation to learn about other cultures and even languages ( I even brought one of your French phrase books, since we had relatives in the suburb of Paris ). We have become such a global community, the World Cup helped me understood some of it. When we came back, we sort of miss that here.

  13. hello,
    my European friends advised me not to look like an American tourist, who they describe as “overweight mums and pops with chubby whiney nagging children who wear soiled baseball/trucker hats, adhesive name-stickered, obnoxiously ill-fitting wrinkled loud/obscene tee shirts, new white athletic shoes with flashing lights in the soles, carrying large red-white and blue overflowing tote bags, while knocking items off shelves in our little shops.”

    I promised to wear proper conservative travel clothing, with my umbrella neatly tucked into my monogramed travel bag, leather Euro-shoes for comfortable walking on uneven pavements, a scarf to keep my long hair looking neat, and my large rhinestone-safety-pin piercing in my right eyebrow proudly displayed to show my individualism and style.

    We looked smashing together, had fun too.

  14. Hi Rick!

    I’m living here in Vienna and I wanted to say “welcome!” I love your show and even have a couple of your books — including your Eastern European one, whcih I’ve used as a base for planning some excursions from here.

    Viennese coffee houses of old are all tradition and no quality, IMO. I know of a handfull of places that serve truly great coffee, but, on the whole, you need to go to Italy to find it ;-)

    If you’re in the ‘hood (7th District near Neubaugasse) I invite you for a beer and snack in my favorite traditional/fusion restaurant.

  15. Oh, sorry for the “pile on”, but I wanted to say to Christina (above) that even though there seems to be a lot of stereotyping of Americans and, obviously, a bunch of resentment toward are administration, I’ve found that the distinction between Austrian and American dress has really slipped to almost none. The shoes are usually the giveaway — Europeans just have access to cooler shoes for now. But even that is changing!

    Also, it depends upon which circles you intend to hang with. I must blend in relatively well because I get asked for directions a lot, but I sometimes, when travelling, try to dress more “euro” and I sometimes end up feeling way overdressed and obvious when I try to hang with the “youngsters”.

    Also, if people are acting freaked about anti-americanism (which is pretty strong here), don’t be. Overall, people here are smart enough to distinguish policy from people. And while you may hear an earful, speak your mind, be gracious and remain calm. You’ll end up w/ freiends

  16. I am looking forward to your new programs this fall. My son lived in Graz for about 5 years and I visited him about 5 times always making sure I spent some time in Vienna. There is so much to see in Vienna each trip was different. I loved every minute I spent there and for a break from the big city it was nice to go to Graz or any of the many other smaller cities. My grandfather was from Monchhof so my roots are there. I love Austria its people and culture. I hope to be back there soon to visit friends. Have an interesting and fun time. Bisbald Joelle

  17. And then there’s always the generalization of “people who love to travel vicariously through others.” Ahem…guilty. Thanks for taking us along, Rick.

  18. The Generalization about Eastern Europeans is true. I have been working a missionary in Ukraine since 1997. I have seen a lot of changes. I expect to see a lot more. One thing that would not really stimulate the Tourist industry in Western Europe, by attracting more Eastern European money, would be cheap flights from Ukraine, eastward. In the West, Easyjet, Ryanair, and Wizzair provide Inter EEC round-trip flights for $50. Example: Budapest to Warsaw..RT $50. But there are no discount flights from Kiev, or Odessa, or Lviv. A Cheap price is $400-450. If Ryanair, Easyjet and Wizzair flew in here, there would be alot more money leaving here for Western European Tourism.

  19. To correct a typo in my previous post I – I wrote “One thing that would not really stimulate the Tourist industry in Western Europe…”
    This should read “One thing that would really stimulate the Tourist industry in Western Europe…”

  20. I love your show…It imspires to immediately pack my bags and fly to what I am watching at that time, so you must be doing a fabulous job!!..!..now, I’m hot to go to Vienna!!…keep on bloggin! (This is the only blog I’ve seen or done, because the rest is actually overload on the info-saturated internet!)

  21. I don’t like the generalization thing either, but the tourism lady’s description sounds pretty close to accurate when it comes to we Americans. We do seem to do things in a rush–we want to see as much as possible in a short amount of time. Although with the exchange rate of the dollar maybe Americans will slow down and spend more time in one place.

  22. Rick Steves, I love your blog, love your web-site, love your guide books, and love your show (which I will be watching later this morning). And now I can report with great pleasure that I recently went on one of your tours and loved it, too. I plan to go on as many as I can afford. You are a wonderful ambassador for our nation, and you inspire us to open our minds and seek to understand other people and cultures. I guess what I really want to say to you is this: Thanks!

    Keep on traveling (and blogging).

  23. Rick,

    Find time to go to the Kuch-Kuch (cookoo, in English–I’m not sure I’ve got the right spelling in German). Wonderful restaurant in Vienna run by a former food writer (husband) and travel person (wife). Charming people, great food and Grandpa’s the waiter. We had Christmas dinner there. They carted out samples of all their dishes. The wife knew many vintners, both in Austria and Hungary. Much sampling was done. Everything was enjoyed.

    Marty McKeown

  24. Over the years I have read your praise for Austria, its cities and its people. I had never been there until a few months ago. I have been visiting Europe since 1976, and spend a lot of time in London, a minimum of two trips a year. Have had wonderful experiences in many countries, love Paris and its people, who I find to be friendly and polite. We are courteous and always attempt to speak the language.

    So it was quite a shock to visit Vienna and be treated very rudely by the locals. The woman at reception at our hotel was downright nasty; people at the Tourist Information had a hostile attitude. Those are just two examples. We disliked Vienna so much we left early and went on to Salzburg, where the people were a little better, but not much. We got the feeling there is an anti-American bias in Austria.

  25. Yes, it’s true. Vienna is pretty much a rude city. Considering that it’s all about “manners”, I find it amazing — but it’s just a different perspective on manners. They think it’s terrible if you jaywalk or get on the streetcar through the wrong door and aren’t shy about letting you know, and they’ll cut in front of you in line (and don’t expect any help from the shopkeeper), but at the same time, they greet each other in shops and say their pleases and thank yous. Just something to get used to.

    Hostile? no. Grumpy? Certainly!

    But it’s not anti-americanism: even my Austrian friends get belittled and yelled at all over Vienna. The approach: don’t take it personally.

  26. I have to disagree about Americans doing a fast visit to Wien. We’ve been three times’ first visit in 2001 for 15 days, second during December-January 2002-03, third Aug-Sept 2004 for four weeks. Never can get enough of this city. Rick, you should visit Gasthaus Hansy near the Prater/Wien Nord station, and the Spatzennest off the Burgasse in the Spittleburg neighborhood…both great local cuisine at great prices plus few tourists. Immervoll and Kleines Cafe are real Viennese favorites. Check out apt’s Augarten by familie Walkner and apt’s Kaminek by the wonderful Ilona Kaminek, both are excellent values for staying more than three days in this beautiful city.

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