The Ugly American

June 27, 2011

Allow me to pick on Americans for a bit. They can take it. Well, a recent survey by hoteliers around the world found that Americans are the worst tourists in the world. But don’t laugh yet, France and Italy — you were second and third. The best tourists in the world were the Japanese and Chinese. But why were Americans the worst? It seems to have to do with their behavior more than intrinsic qualities. They were rated as very friendly, but some other behavioral problems were the issue. So, how can Americans improve this international reputation? Here are my thoughts.

1. Pipe Down! You can always hear American tourists coming a mile away. They are louder than anyone else in the area. Their voices, compared to many cultures, especially in Europe, seem like they are screaming to locals. Now don’t get me wrong — Italians and others can be quite loud. But when it comes to certain situations, like restaurants, bars, and hotels, as well as monuments and cathedrals, there is no need to bray like a donkey. If you go to dinner in Paris, notice how quiet and respectful everyone is. These people have been living in close quarters for a thousand years, and they have learned how not to disturb others. Just stop being so loud.

2. Stop Complaining! American tourists are known the world over for being big complainers. And what makes it so annoying is that the complaints are usually about trivial things and issues of comfort. For example, yes, in Paris, you will have to walk alot. If you cannot handle the exercise, then simply do not go. In South America, there will be mosquitoes and insects. That is the way nature designed it. You are seeing some of the most interesting cultures and monuments in the world. Don’t let trivial things get to you. And if they do, just be quiet about it.

3. Don’t eat at McDonald’s! I cannot understand Americans who travel the world, and eat at McDonald’s everywhere they go. There is an entire cuisine to discover! Stop being such picky eaters! It is viewed as childish to refuse delicious cuisine because “I don’t like yucky green things.” Also, do not ask for special requests. In most countries, food is served as it appears on the menu, because that is how the chef designed it. Asking for no onions or extra this or that is seen as rude and infantile. Finally, in many countries, good service is not defined as how fast your food comes out so you can wolf it down like pigs. Rather, good service is attentive service. Dining is meant to be an enjoyable activity, not a frantic trough feeding.

4. Dress like normal adults. How do you spot an American tourist? He will be wearing brand new, blinding white sneakers (or worse, sandals with socks), shorts, a bright, obnoxious T-shirt with writing on it, and a baseball cap. Europeans say that Americans look like they just came from playing golf. Also, in many countries, shorts and sneakers and sports caps are only things that children wear. Put on some slacks and a shirt, take off the baseball cap and flip-flops, and dress like an adult. It shows respect for another culture.

5. Not everyone in the world “speaks Umer’can.” There are almost 10,000 spoken languages in the world. American English is one of them. It is seen as the height of rudeness and ignorance to travel to another country and expect them to speak American English. It is actually absurd. You are in another country. You need to learn their language, at least enough to get by.

6. Try walking around a city without a giant bus tour group. Many American tourists’ vacations consist of nothing more than being around a large group of other Americans (all dressed in shiny white sneakers and shorts, of course), seeing the world’s great sites through a bus window as you speed by, and eating meals designed just for tourists. My God! You do not need a tour group. Research the place you are going. Study it. Learn the layout. Take a walk around alone, and see how the real people live. Eat at a local place. It will be a much more rewarding experience.

7. Try to be more reserved in everything. Now in all fairness, some cultures are more reserved than others, while some are more robust. But you will never fail if you start out being reserved. If the culture seems more boisterous, then you can move into that. But if you begin boisterous, you risk offending everyone.

Alright, this article seems scathing and arrogant, I know. It is just my latest kick. Please do not take too much offense. It just seems like paying attention to these few things will make your experience abroad much more rewarding and enjoyable. And, if you will pardon my pretentiousness in all of this, bon voyage!

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