In January 1977, we were traveling to Neuchatel, Switzerland to study French. We had been put in contact with a colleague, Mack, who was in that same town but whom we had never met. We were landing in Geneva. Mac wrote us that we should take the train from Geneva to Neuchatel and call him when we got there.
So, when we got off the train in Neuchatel we made our way to the main hall of the train station, found a pay phone and called Mac. He said that he would be there in a few minutes. So we sat in the main hall of the station along with 2-3 dozen other people and waited. After a while, a man walked right up to us and said, “Hi, I’m Mack.” After saying hi we asked him how he knew us among all the people at the station. His reply – “You were the only ones who looked American” – left us puzzled. We objected that we did not “look American”. Mac just smiled.
About six months later we were walking to classes though the main plaza in Neuchatel and we saw two people who were obviously Americans. It was only at that moment that I realized how distinctive we had been that day in the train station. Dayle can tell you how she can tell Americans from others. For me, I can’t explain it, but it is as obvious as the nose on my face.
It is yet another example that a person inside his or her own culture is often blind to it.