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Things that
Americans do well

Americans give good directions

Nobody gives directions as well as Americans do.

• The Dutch? Forget it. My first experience with European-style direction-giving was in
the Netherlands. In Amsterdam, I was trying to find a particular photography shop. I asked at a related business, and they refered me to a specific address. At that location, on one of the main semicircular canals, was a Russian rare-book shop. I went in and asked about the name of the shop I was looking for. The shopkeeper came out onto the canal-side street with me. He pointed me toward a building by the next bridge, on the other side of the canal. It was in plain sight — "that white building there." I went there. They directed me to the proper address, a few doors nearer to where I'd been.

• In Spain, where I lived for a half-year in Seville, I did not have much experience asking for directions, mostly because I was busy trying to learn a bit of Spanish. My efforts to find locations were mostly trial-and-error. But I did have a laugh or two with an English flatmate about the city's tourist map. We walked some of the streets comparing the layout with official cartography. The accuracy was not impressive. Buildings were sometimes on the other side of the street, and some of the layout of the streets was just plain incorrect.

• In Dublin, a friend and I were asking at Heuston train station about the location of the modern-art museum. She had seen a map that showed the place was nearby. Two people we asked directed us that way — toward the city center — while to her knowledge the museum was elsewhere. We went to where they directed us. We found a museum, but it was not the modern-art museum.