Sneakers, T-shirts a dead giveaway

?If you plan to travel to any of these areas (in Europe), for your own safety you must create the impression that you?re not from the United States. Rule 1 is: Do not wear sneakers.?

I was reading these words in one of Dave Barry?s latest books, ?Dave Barry?s Money Secrets,? several days after I had returned from my nine-day tour of Europe.

Barry continued: ?I don?t know why, but the first thing most Americans do, when they?re getting ready for a trip, is go to the mall and purchase new, blindingly white sneakers.?

I?m guilty of this.

I didn?t technically go out and buy a new set of tennis shoes before my trip, but I did happen to have a pair sitting in my room that I had gotten several months earlier when I went on a running binge.

The binge lasted about a week.

So I had a brand-new pair of running shoes with very low mileage that I decided would be ideal for walking tours of European cities.

They were blindingly white.

Although Barry was discussing pick-pocketing prevention, I?ve decided that tennis shoes are also very dangerous at tourist-intensive shopping and eating establishment.

He has a point: white tennis shoes are a dead-giveaway to an American tourist. It?s like writing AMERICAN in bold letters across your forehead.

The same goes for T-shirts.

No self-respecting European would go out in public wearing a T-shirt. They would rather go around naked than be as casual as to wear a T-shirt. (This is not to suggest that there was any nudity on this trip.)

Walking down the street, defining a European from an American was about as easy as separating water and oil.

The typical?by which I mean ?every single??American was wearing Nike-like shoes that were advertised on TV for having something like good arch support, a T-shirt containing the logo of an American business or college sports team, and a waistline of at least 38 inches.

Meanwhile, the Europeans wore leather shoes that did not include laces or metallic swoop shapes, a nice business-casual outfit, and weighed maybe, at the most, 60 pounds.

Also, all of the typical Americans were in line at McDonald?s to order an 11-euro Big Mac combo.

This is my theory: Whenever a restaurant or souvenir shop sees the unmistakable reflector-tape sheen of an American tennis shoe, the manager immediately raises the price of every single item by at least five euros.

This is why I paid seven euros for a Happy Meal.

We had a few hours of ?free time? during our stay in Switzerland and were let loose in a major shopping area. After a couple of hours, hunger began to set in.

My girlfriend Shelby, Caitlin and I saw the famous Golden Arches (or Arcs Dor?s) and decided that an American hamburger sounded good.

That?s when my white sneakers set off the American Alarm, and the Happy Meal price, which was probably something like two euros originally, suddenly spiked to seven.

Normally, this type of outrageous spending would have bothered me. However, since the euro is multicolored and comes in various shapes, I felt as if I actually had Monopoly money; therefore I could spend as much as I wanted and still not be any poorer.

Honestly, I still have no idea how much I spent on this trip.

The only connection I had to my bank account back home was a debit card, which I used regularly at ATM machines.

European ATM machines work exactly like they do here, but instead of spitting out dollars, it gives you Monopoly currency.

And because my bank account contained American dollars, and I was getting euros, I had no idea what I was extracting from my savings.

Realistically, I could have recorded every transaction I made and kept track of my spending. This would be easy to do, if it weren?t for the exchange rate.

Currently the exchange rate for an American dollar to one euro is something like 1.5689294-niner-niner-times-pi-plus-tenfour-good-buddy.

So while I was spending seven euros on a Happy Meal?which, in addition to a cheeseburger, fries, drink and toy, also included carrot sticks and two cherry tomatoes?in American dollars I was really spending, um, OK, let?s see; round the exchange rate up to 1.57, multiply by seven, carry the two?.

Ah, forget it. Let?s just say white sneakers would have been cheaper.

* * *

UFO: Merhan Karimi Nasseri has been trapped by his lack of identification papers in the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France, since 1988. The 2004 movie ?Terminal? staring Tom Hanks is loosely based on this.

Don?t ask why.

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