A lot of people think that they have to stick to the local food when traveling; else they give the type of tourist vibe where you’re only in town for the cheap souvenirs and sights. These are the travelers, or rather, trip-goers, that locals hate; the ones who wear fanny packs (who doesn’t hate a person wearing a fanny pack, though?) who never try to speak the language and bulldoze their way through the country like they are the only people who matter. These are the people who eat at McDonald’s and who will only go into a Starbucks for a coffee because it’s familiar. Those of you who have eaten at either of these two establishments while abroad may be hiding your faces in embarrassment, while others who have yet to explore far and wide are recoiling in the horror that anyone would think you’re a tourist. I’m here to tell you, it’s okay.
I used to hate being seen as a tourist, and a large part of me still does (see: fanny pack and camera around your neck), but I’ve come to terms with it. I’ve been mistaken for a Parisian on more than one occasion (something that warmed my heart and made those $200 heels worth it) and yet I’ve eaten in McDonald’s numerous times while out and about exploring the world and I’ve sat down in a Starbucks, or two, with my caramel maachiato in hand reading happily in a less-than-crowded café. Sometimes, it’s not the fact that you’re afraid to try new things in new restaurants in a foreign city, but it’s because you’re just worn down and tired and can’t even think about trying to order something in another language, butchering the words as you fumble through.
I’ve high-tailed it to Subway, McDonald’s, Starbucks, all because I’ve been too tired to try to speak a foreign language I should have learned more of before my trip. Because I don’t know how to ask for a to-go cup and am confused if every establishment will actually have one. Because I’ve become embarrassed at how often my conversation will always switch back to English making my wish for just one moment that I can just say a combo number or tap a screen, pay, and only interact with someone to pick up my food, handing out the obligatory perfected ‘thank-you’ in every language. Or, it’s because I’ve just been away for too long, am missing my own western customs (does sitting down and waiting 20 minutes for a coffee, then being rushed out really need to be a normal thing?), and just want that damn Starbucks in my hand like I usually have every morning.
Walking down cobbled streets in the early morning, knowing which side streets to take because it’s quicker and seeing the same shop owners opening up for the day, makes your ‘westernized’ and ‘mundane’ scene of getting a Starbucks that much more beautiful and wonderful. Mixing the beauty of being in a new world in an intoxicating culturally rich atmosphere (as it seems nearly everywhere besides home always is – what is it about the grass being greener?) with a little western ease makes your trip, somehow, feel a little bit more real. It’s easy to get swept up in all of the intriguing customs, all of the beautiful cafés, all of the picnics in parks and hikes through mountains, knowing that your time here will have to end. There’s something surreal about being in a foreign city and time just seems to stop or glide by in a slow and tantalizing way. Grabbing a little something that is familiar to you (even if you don’t eat McDonald’s on the regular) ties your two lives together; your home life, which you live every day doing the boring things like work and chores, and your traveler life where you explore and nourish and feed your curiosity.
There’s nothing wrong with missing the normal things you can find back home; besides, grabbing a McChicken and fries in Cannes and looking out into the blue sea and mountains is a lot more grounding than you’d think.