How Not to Be the "Ugly American" Overseas
When it comes to representing the U.S. abroad, some of our fellow citizens don’t do us proud. Have you been guilty of a foreign-soil faux pas? Our easy guide to being a good citizen of the world will come in handy next time you get your passport stamped!
Don't get us wrong: We're darn proud to be Americans, and we don't mind saying so—whether we're here at our New York City headquarters or standing on foreign soil. But unfortunately, we've all seen the embarrassing U.S. traveler abroad: The idiot wearing the "I'm With Stupid" T-shirt while visiting a museum of tolerance, the big shot flashing a wallet full of euros on the Paris metro, or the family that insists on chowing down on American fast food in Rome. How not to be the ugly American? Well, here are the stupidest things Americans do while overseas:
DRESSING—AND ACTING—LIKE A TOURIST
Traveling is one time when it's actually cool to be a poseur. Try your best to fit in with a country's style of dress and customs by ditching the fanny packs, visors, dark socks with sandals, and Hawaiian shirts—and not using your outdoor voice. "The golden rule of travel is that blending in and conformity are a form of flattery," says Lisa Grotts, author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. "Most countries will not expect you to be an expert on the nuances of their culture, but they will appreciate a show of interest in matters of importance to them." Taking your usual gregarious behavior down a notch is a good idea too. "People of other nationalities are more reserved than we are, so it's important not to come across as the ugly American: overbearing, overly familiar, loud," Grotts says. Read "15 International Food Etiquette Rules That Might Surprise You"
FLASHING MONEY AROUND
Peeling bills off of wads of cash won't endear you to the locals—nor does it curry much favor here in the U.S.—but showing the contents of your wallet and taking copious amounts of money out of foreign ATMs in full view of everyone will make you popular with pickpockets. The cash machine itself could be a thief in disguise too. "Look closely at an ATM before using it, as criminals have been known to place 'skimmers' on the machines, especially in areas frequented by tourists," says Elizabeth Finan, spokesperson for the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the State Department. Read "How to Visit Paris Without Getting Your Pocket Picked"
ASSUMING EVERYONE'S THERE TO WAIT ON THEM
Just like money doesn't buy taste or love, having vacation savings to burn doesn't guarantee the royal treatment everywhere you go. There are two keys to not being an American jerk: "Being a little bit patient and not assuming that everybody here is here to clamor over your tourist dollars is important," says Anna Post, co-author of Emily Post's Etiquette 18th Edition. Back in 1922, Emily herself wrote a book chapter titled "Europe's Unflattering Opinion of Us." Unfortunately, very little has changed. "For years, we Americans have swarmed over the face of the world, taking it for granted that the earth's surface belongs to us because we can pay for it," she wrote. Try to buck those stereotypes. Read "Who Should You Tip—and How Much?"
ORDERING AMERICAN FOOD ABROAD
Don't be that person who orders French fries in the middle of Italy. "The absolute worst thing you can do is to ignore the local food in favor of what's familiar to you: always seeking out the American-style burgers and pizza and Caesar salads on a menu or, worse, eating at fast-food or chain restaurants you know from home," says Laura Siciliano-Rosen, founder of Eat Your World, a website featuring local eats around the globe. Not sampling exotic food means you'll miss a large chunk of the area's culture that will enrich your travel experience. That said, everyone has heard at least one horror story about getting food poisoning abroad. "Wash your hands a lot and be smart about the basic things—avoid tap water and ice and unpeeled fruits and vegetables—and you can eat plenty of local food," Siciliano-Rosen says. Read "6 Ways to Keep Your Stomach Safe Anywhere on Earth"
NOT BOTHERING TO LEARN BASIC FOREIGN PHRASES
English is indeed widely spoken all over the world, but not making any effort will just make everyone hate you. "If at all possible, at least say a greeting in the other person's language, and then say, 'Do you speak English?' right after that," says Post. "One thing that I've been told grates is to just start speaking English in a foreign county. Yes, it's likely that a lot of people, especially in touristy spots, will speak English, but the presumption that they do is really obnoxious." No need to bust out an entire language dictionary either. "If nothing else, learn how to say hello, thank you, and please," Post says. Read "6 Foolproof Tricks for NOT Embarrassing Yourself in a Foreign Language"