I have traveled abroad a good bit, and there are lots of things that typically give away the nationality of Americans when we are abroad. Don’t get me wrong, I love my tribe. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else (except maybe Paris, but only if I had the money to afford the lifestyle that all this fabulousness would need to exist there), but we do have some quirks that can be off putting in another culture.
We can already picture someone abroad, pasty pale legs emerging from short pants, ball cap pulled snuggly down over their head as if they were expecting hurricane force winds to rip it from their crown, huge camera on a lanyard around their neck, possible floral shirt, and sunglasses. For the love of God, please don’t have a fanny pack in the mix as well. You might as well beg to be singled out. While this can be a bit of an exaggeration, it is a stereotype for a reason. Americans don’t tend to be subtle people, we talk a lot and quite loudly. We tend to make an entrance. This is not always a good thing, especially in highly touristy places. You don’t want to call some types of attention to yourself.
One of the places I travel most frequently is Central America. Specifically to Belize. What I see on almost every trip makes me understand why the stereotypes exist. Be courteous to the locals – it is their life and land. They make the rules, not us. Just because we do something one way, doesn’t mean it is better or worse, right or wrong, it is just one way – they may not do it that way, and when in Rome… You would be surprised how many times I see people going to and from the resorts with no real interaction with the local people. What a loss! Don’t be afraid to interact with the locals, learn a bit about them, their family, their life. Isn’t that why we travel in the first place?
“The language and our communication style”
Know the local language before you get to that country and know a few basic phrases. It is just polite, and in some locations, people may speak English, just not to you – especially if you are not making an effort to communicate in their language. You don’t have to fluently speak a language to have a very enjoyable experience in a country. I don’t speak a lick of French, but one of my favorite cities is Paris. What a magical place! My experience with Spanish helps me read a bit, but not much. That doesn’t stop me. I downloaded a translator and off I went. Best few days ever! When you don’t have the luxury of language, you have to get creative, but that is just part of the fun!
“The local cuisine”
Know what foods are considered delicacies and basic words for both items you will eat (chicken, beef, etc.) and those you will NOT eat (brains, calamari, ceviche). It will pay you in dividends to be familiar with the local cuisine prior to departure so that you know how to navigate food stalls, restaurants and grocery stores with ease on arrival. The last thing a tired, hungry traveler wants to face is the inability to order a tasty local dish that will meet their needs when they are ready to eat. Learn about the regional and national dishes. They are usually highly popular for a reason. I have taken students abroad that wanted nothing but chicken fingers and pizza the entire trip. I can get those things for a much more reasonable price at home. Eat local, experience the culture and fill up on fan food when you get home.
“Lack of knowledge about the host culture before departure”
When traveling abroad, learn the customs – do people speak softly on the metro, use cellphones in public, plan to take long meals and relax during lunch and dinner, etc. Your trip and fellow travelers will be much more comfortable if you take the time to investigate these things prior to travel. If you do nothing else, google “Things not to do in ___________” which ever country you are going to visit. Social and political systems operate very differently in China than they do in Guatemala. Make sure you know the law, you can’t always rely on the locals to wise you up. I have to make sure my international students know that they can’t drink any type of alcohol until they are 21 in the US. Some of them are astounded that we don’t allow our 18 year olds to drink, much less have wine on every table for every meal. It can be a rude awakening to have local laws explained to you by a police officer rather than doing your research ahead of time. If you are going to drive, make sure you are familiar with the local driving laws in addition to regular laws. Learning on the fly is never a good idea in this circumstance.
I hope you enjoyed this look from the outside, and especially the video clip – while it isn’t perfect, I had a lot of fun making fun of myself. What have you noticed as quirks that give away Americans abroad? Happy travels.