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1. Posted by s_hoot (Respected Member 497 posts) 10y

Hey all, hope i can get some good feedback on this, i am writting a paper for school on it.

This is a question for all non-American TPers.....

Us Americans sometimes are given bad names overseas as being rude and disrespectful of the people and country we are visiting and I am hoping to get some good feedback to fully understand just why that is.

While you have been travelling abroad have you had any bad encounters with first timer American travellers? Did they come off as very unknowledgeable of the outside world around them? Maybe hadd a bit too much pride in being American? Did they ask you the famous line we are known for- "do you speak American?" Did they come off as rude or disrespectful? Anything in that area.

Thanks a million in advance.

Stephen

2. Posted by Peter (Admin 5789 posts) 10y

Overall, I haven't had many bad experiences. There was that time on a bus to Barcelona though.. A family of Americans were talking so loudly that the whole bus couldn't help but listen to them.. argh. And they were just complaining too it seemed. So yes, that was rude and disrespectful. In fact, my main complaint is Americans talking too loud in inappropriate situations. Then again, Americans aren't the only ones who do that ...

I've also had some pretty good experiences with Americans travelling, so can't really complain.

3. Posted by danalasta (Travel Guru 519 posts) 10y

Hi Stephen,

This is an excerpt of an article posted by an American for the American travellers,the source of which is available upon request.

Leave the “Ugly American” image at home when you travel, Uncle Sam…

...Americans traveling abroad have a particularly bad rap. They're loud, poorly dressed, and worst of all - obvious. The Ugly American.

There are reasons for the ubiquity of this stereotype. First off, there are a lot of us. And our extreme affluence relative to the bulk of the world's population means there are a lot of us traveling...

And our Gap/Old Navy/catalogue clothing culture tends to dictate that we dress alike, and sometimes colorfully; you don't find too much basic black at Old Navy.

So the French and the rest would rather we downplay our American-ness. But can anyone tell me why Mickey Mouse, Jerry Lewis, and Cher have done so well as exports? Certainly it's not their cross-cultural sensitivity, or their understated taste. It's their American-ness.

The Archetypal Ugly American
I'm no fan of the archetypal Ugly American. Heck, forget Americans abroad - I couldn't even stand the "shoobies" (named for the shoeboxes shore-bound Philadelphians used to pack lunches in decades ago) who invaded my old hometown near Atlantic City every summer with their accents, gruff manner, and terrible driving habits.

It's undeniable that some folks simply don't have a feel for their surroundings, for shifting their rhythms to match the rhythms of place; for shifting their personal style to jive with the style of the country they're in; for leaving the worst of their homestyle at home.

So if you're planning to pour out of your hotel room in some khaki shorts with a money belt, a Jacksonville Dolphins baseball cap, an "I'm With Stupid" shirt, some plastic sunglasses, and enough sunscreen to block out a supernova, you deserve whatever comes to you.

And if you start wailing about how you can't find any bagels; or send back a pint of bitter because it's warm; or whine and cry about how you can't find the McDonalds, and once you find it complain that the Big Macs are different; well, a pox on you and yours.

(In these situations, why travel?!? Why fly 2500 miles to eat every third meal in a McDonalds, read USA Today every morning, watch CNN America, and stick your face in a guidebook, why do it? If that's your style, maybe stick with Disneyland, but this may not be for me ever to understand.)

Vive la Difference
There's something in all of us that both fears and embraces the differences between us. The kid who moved to an American town from Europe got into fights, but also often got the girl (can I still say that these days?) because he was just different enough to be interesting.

And there's the key - don't bore the world with your American-ness; try to interest them.

For example, when people ask, I tell them I'm from New Jersey. It often gets a laugh; then I tell them I live behind a mall, and that I have to drive through the parking lot to get to my house (in fact, I have a friend who does just that), and that I eat three times a day at Chuck E. Cheese.

Then I tell them I grew up in Atlantic City, actually Ventnor - "yellow on the Monopoly board." Older folks get it - younger folks usually say "Monopoly is all the streets of London," a reference to the licensing and bastardizing of the Monopoly board to suit local tastes. (And they say Americans have poor taste?)

If they press for more, I tell them I lived in Manhattan for a decade, spent a couple years in Philadelphia, and have family in California.

This simple information provides an opening for all kinds of discussion. Had I played it cool and deadpanned that I lived "in the United States," it would have been game over.

Even when people get in your face, staying grounded in who you are and where you're from won't hurt. For example, a few weeks ago I told the story of being called "gringo" on a trip to Venezuela. I asked the folks if gringo was a bad thing to be called, and if so why they would say that to someone they don't know. It takes a mix of pluck, daring, and innocence to pull this kind of thing off, but it sure provided a conversation opener.

And hey, if I had stayed a while and they had given me the nickname gringo, I'd have lived by it.

Gringos Get The Full Show
A couple friends recently traversed Russia, and upon their first encounter with a full Russian market, the locals could see the amazement and near-horror in their eyes. These markets are much like what open markets might have been in the US 70 years ago; wild free-for-alls of full-on retail and wholesale commerce. We're not talking about SuperFresh or even a roadside stand; we're talking screaming, yelling, carcasses hanging from hooks, open vats of caviar, brain-curdling vodka in home-made bottles, blood everywhere.

The locals sussed my friends out for Americans almost immediately, and the show began. The merchants took their hands and plopped a bloody liver in them; another took a full swing with an axe to the cut they had requested be cooked. One merchant after another gave them a VIP's display of their wares. Had they not been noticed for Americans, they might have been bystanders in the market; instead, they were full participants, even the stars of the show.

Leave the "Ugly" at Home
So there's an upside to being an American abroad, no question. Here are my tips to help you remain American without earning the "ugly" adjective.

1. Dress understated, but be yourself. You may want to leave the I'm with Stupid and South of the Border tees at home, but you don't necessarily have to dress in black in Paris, or in mariachi costume in Mexico.

2. Don't overplay your hometown, but if asked, be forthcoming.
Everyone knows someone who won't relent when it comes to their hometown, breaking into song at the mere mention of where they live (it's always seemed to me that Alabamans and others from parts South were most likely to launch into song). When asked, volunteer some information, but understand that not the entire world thinks your US state is the center of the planet.

3. Use eyes and ears before engaging mouth.
Staying alert and attuned to everything going on around you is not only better style, but is much safer to boot. To paraphrase a very useful truism, better to be thought American than open your mouth and remove all doubt…

4. Walk, or rent a bike.
Seems simple enough, but much of the world doesn't have the addiction to the automobile that Americans do. If you think the big shiny rental car marks you as an out-of-towner in the US, wait until you try it in Florence. Walking, or renting a bike for more range and mobility, puts you in the midst of the motion and rhythms of a place.

5. You don't need a picture of everything in sight.
We all want photos from our trips, but a camera is the surest way to label yourself "pure tourist." You're taking shots of this church and that statue, all the major monuments. You're in none of the photos. Then when you get home, you can't tell one church from another, you have a bunch of photos that look like cheap postcards, you spent all your energy taking pictures of everything instead of looking at it, and your 300 photos remind you of everything and nothing.

But if you take your camera and ask a waiter to take your picture with the owner of a small café where you had a great time, the memories will come flooding back.

6. Realize that just because something is different, doesn't mean it's wrong. Eating habits, religious practices, even the word for "soccer" (I still don't call it football) will shift everywhere you go. On the other hand, you can play these for laughs or conversation given the chance, so no fear.

7. It's getting there, but English is not yet spoken by all the planet. Learn a few words of the language wherever you are, and for god's sake, just because someone doesn't understand you doesn't mean they're deaf! If you're thinking "man, this guy doesn't even speak English!", remember, you're the illiterate in this case!

8. Also on the language tip: you never know who knows a few words of your language. And you can bet the words they'll know best are the ones you don't want them to know.

9. This one goes for everyone, but is worth mentioning: do your homework so you don't end up tipping in Japan, or wearing shorts into a mosque in Turkey, or leaving food on your plate in Russia, or cleaning your plate in certain parts of China.

Remember: Ugly is as ugly does; but a true American is a true person of the world.

BTW, The Ugly American (1959) was a top seller, and even got Ike re-think of american military strategy in the east...worth a glimpse!

dana

4. Posted by loubylou (Travel Guru 664 posts) 10y

The funniest experience my boyfriend and I have had concerning Americans is when we were on our second trip to Thailand. We had spent the day on a boat trip around Koh Phi Phi, been taken to Phi Phi Ley and Phi Phi Don, all day our guide had been emphasising the pronunciation of ‘Pee Pee’ and telling us the size, how many people lived there, how you could only get there by boat etc.

On the bus trip on the way back to dropping us off at our hotels, the group of Americans who were on the trip with us insisted on pronouncing it ‘Fee Fee’ island and asked if there was an airport on the island so maybe they could fly there from Bangkok! They also complained about the Thai food non-stop…the lunch we were provided as part of the trip was a mix of Thai and Western food, one of the Americans had to say in a really loud voice ‘at last some American food, I HATE Thai food, it’s great to have fries and chicken wings at last!’, when we asked how long they had been in Thailand they answered 6 days!!! The Thais were not pleased, as their food is a source of national pride! The Americans on the trip seemed to be very vocal about their dislikes!

I have to say it kept me and my boyfriend amused all day, waiting to see what would they would say next. I have to say though that Americans are not the only ones to act like this, the British can be just as bad!

We also had an experience with the US Military in Pattaya, a Lieutenant gunship pilot started talking to us randomly in the street and then took such a liking to us, took us to a load of bars and bought all our drinks for us…he was a nice guy, he was really interested in our lives and where we had been travelling!

I think it just shows that there can be good and bad for all nationalities and we shouldn’t judge a whole country just by the actions of a few…if that was the case as British I would be a binge-drinking lout who only ate sausage egg and chips and went on holiday to Benidorm!

Donna

5. Posted by tway (Travel Guru 7273 posts) 10y

I've seen all kinds of examples: the guy who called down to the laundry room in the hotel I worked at and asked if I spoke American (I'd answered in English and French); the family who ate supper at 5 in the afternoon in an empty restaurant in Spain and insisted that wasn't the way it was done at home; the 2 couples in New Orleans who talked on ther cell phones through a tour of slave cabins on a plantation; and so on.

However, I think the 'American Reputation' precedes American travellers. So people are on the lookout for it - or see signs of the stereotype when in fact it's just first-day jitters or momentary confusion. Yes, there are rude, ignorant, pushy, self-absorbed American travellers out there - just as there are the same kind of travellers from any country. But there are A LOT of people in the U.S., so the odds are you're more likely to run into them than, say, travellers from Liechtenstein.

6. Posted by Q' (Travel Guru 1987 posts) 10y

I ran into a couple up in the Yukon. They were there asking the full blooded Eskimo tourist office lady where they could find "these Eskimo people who live in igloos". Then they seem disappointed when told "you're looking at one, and I don't live in an igloo".

tway, I disagree that it's first day jitters. I don't see travellers from many other countries (Germans, Italians, Brits, etc.) who are this ignorant. I think it has more to do with exposure to other countries and cultures at home. There's an upsurge in tourism in China, and I see many of the same qualities in the Chinese. They, of course, have been isolated behind Communism for many decades.

7. Posted by tway (Travel Guru 7273 posts) 10y

Quoting Q_Zhang

tway, I disagree that it's first day jitters. I don't see travellers from many other countries (Germans, Italians, Brits, etc.) who are this ignorant.

I always get first-day jitters. Chalk it up to jet lag, culture shock, disorientation - I'm always such a grump on the first day I land anywhere. I'll complain about anything from collect calls to lumpy beds. But it's gone by the next morning. Just my way of adjusting. But I must look like a horrible tourist in the meantime.

I'm with you on the 'exposure to other cultures and countries at home', though. There's an American media (and I don't mean to pass this off on the media, but...) tendency to overhype anything American. Like watching the Olympics on an American channel - all you get is coverage of whatever American athletes are participating in, and all from an "us versus them" standpoint. Or watching all-day news channels, where everything is presented from the U.S.'s point of view.

There seems to be a lack of balance in popular media - but popular media is what most people watch, read and listen to. So I guess it's 'normal' that people who are exposed to this, and nothing else, assume the rest of the world thinks the same way. I'm not saying it's right - only that it's explainable.

8. Posted by applegirl (Full Member 144 posts) 10y

I guess it depends on how and where you travel or which kind of people you tend to socialise with - I have mostly just met well behaved and humble Americans The ones who are very curious to find out more about the world outside the States, and appreciate something different to what they're used to.

I can only remember once, this was back in Stockholm, Sweden, when an old sort of posh American asked me something AND corrected me in a very rude manner because he thought my accent was too British.

9. Posted by numero1 (Respected Member 295 posts) 10y

I find I can bond really well with American travellers and they are some of the easiest people to get along with.

10. Posted by hednorth (Budding Member 31 posts) 10y

We get a lot of the "typical" american tourists in Norway, with the white shorts, big sunglasses, white socks and sneakers and of course the camera around the neck...and loud. but they are mostly in their 50s-70s. Don`t think I could recognize a younger american traveller. Met a guy in Thailand who said he was from Canada, till we got to know him a little better...
Think we all know there are different kinds of people in this world.:)