A young coworker returned from his first trip to Turkey. He was amused by the attention he received as a 6 foot-4 inch, corn-fed Oregon boy. A shopkeeper told him, "You even walk like an American."
This got me thinking. Exactly how does an American walk? It's true we are easy to spot overseas: baseball caps, T-shirts with slogans, backpacks, and loud voices. Some tourists project an air of invincibility: "I'm an American, and you better not mess with me."
But what if I travel without that baggage? Can my Yankee gait still trip me up?
I polled several friends who were born overseas.
One woman works for a European tourist office in New York and has led dozens of tours. "Americans bounce more," she says. "The guys flex their muscles - even if they don't have any."
Another friend says American men are identifiable by what she calls "the frat-boy swagger." And, "they go around in hordes."
Not the penetrating insight I was looking for. Is there really some national characteristic revealed in the way we walk? What would Alexis de Tocqueville have made of the long American stride?
Perhaps, in this nation of Manifest Destiny, we walk with the goal of covering territory. We spread out because the land is large. Our gait is full of optimism that both attracts and annoys people.
Skeptics will argue that Americans, when traveling through civilizations that predate theirs by centuries, may feel on the defensive. But I wonder if the cocky walk is mostly for show: Don't people expect Americans to strut?
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