4 Things Americans Get Wrong When Travelling Internationally

4 Things Americans Get Wrong When Travelling Internationally

One of the greatest things about America (and there are many), is its cultural and topographical diversity. Even in the state of California you can go sunbathing and skiing on the same day. With 50 states rich in diverse architecture, couture, language, and foods, is it any wonder that less than 40% of Americans own passports?

As rich and diverse as the US of A’s appeals are, there’s nothing to round out one’s cultural palette than venturing overseas. The thing is, when many Americans reach further shores they realize that one or two less than flattering stereotypes have arisen around American tourists. While most aren’t the bullish, obnoxious, arrogant or culturally ignorant as portrayed in overseas popular media, there are a few things that don’t exactly help matters. Here are 4 things Americans get wrong when travelling internationally:

Over-tipping

This is one of the most bamboozling culture shocks for Americans but in many areas, including most of Europe tipping is not only unnecessary, it can even be viewed as slightly insulting. A great many European restaurants pay their service staff more than their American counterparts, so the need for tipping is less urgent. Sometimes restaurants will add an additional voluntary service charge as part of your bill for parties of a certain size. Before traveling to a country, it’s best to research the cultural etiquette before getting there.

In many parts of the world, tipping is viewed as a measure of impeccable service rather than a cultural obligation. Which makes sense when you think about it.

Mis-time their passport applications

Many US citizens get their passport specifically for an overseas trip rather than having one for its own sake. While this is absolutely fine, it’s important to ensure that your passport application is well timed to coincide with your outbound flight. Check out this guide to passport fees and waiting times for more information.

If you need a visa, (which as an American you don’t need in most countries), they might require that it’s expiry date is more than 6 months away.

Expecting everyone to speak English

People all over the world are exposed to the English language whether as a throwback to British colonialism or as the result of watching a lot of Hollywood movies. (The latter is the reason why, to a British ear, many European English speakers have a vaguely American accent).

While many countries teach English as part of their curriculum, many (most notably the French) choose not to speak it. Parisians are particularly judgmental of tourists who have not at least attempted to learn their mother tongue.

It’s way more common for people from non-English speaking countries to be bilingual. I for one, grew up in Mexico learning Spanish and English at school. By the time I reached High School, half of my classes were in English including math. I did attend an Americanized High School, though.

Comparing everything to its American counterpart

This may be one of American’s biggest travelling flaws. It’s great that Americans have so much pride in their country but they fail to appreciate or understand that culture in other countries is different and not necessarily wrong.

As John Travolta’s character remarked in pop culture, many countries around the world have the same facilities and brands as their American counterparts with a few differences. That is, after all, the nature of globalization. When travelling abroad it’s not surprising to see American brands in abundance virtually anywhere you go. Just try and throw a rock in West London without hitting a Starbucks. You’ll even find a McDonalds in rural India.

While it’s fine to enjoy this familiarity, if you’re American, don’t sour the experience by comparing it unfavorably to what you have ‘back home’. Try to enjoy the subtle differences however much cognitive dissonance they may inspire.

However, despite what you may have heard, many people all over the world have an overwhelmingly positive attitude towards Americans. They’ll likely be intrigued by you and ask you a whole lot of questions about your home state. Just steer clear of these stereotypical behaviors and people will be sure to get along with you just fine, unless you are an obnoxious, arrogant, entitled, loud American.

7 Comments

  1. This is a good list. When I first moved abroad to Korea, I thought it was so strange to not leave tips. When I did people thought I didn’t know how to count. They always returned it. Then, I learned that tipping was a no in Korea. Even when I would have food delivered, the delivery person rarely would take it. I also think it is hard for us as Americans to stop comparing other nations to our own. I did that a lot in my early days as an expat, not so much now. Good read!

    Reply
    • No, of course we (non-Americans) can’t say Americans are bad people. I mean, I married one ha. But I do think, there’s a bit of a feeling of superiority over other nations, and sometimes it IS warranted and is definitely one of if not the most powerful nation, but maybe just maybe Americans need to be more humble. 😉

      Reply
      • Agreed.

        I was at the Musee D’Orsay once and a American wearing a ginormous cowboy hat stared at one of the marble nudes and said – with a Texas accent but without volume control – “Geez, that’s a big sumbitch.”

        Lovely.

        Reply
        • Hahaha I can’t imagine if I was there 😀
          But, fortunately I often meet nice American travelers. The last one when I was on Everest Base Camp trek, I met an internist. He’s so humble and we became friend along the trekking path. Though, I won’t deny that I met some superior ones as well, before.

          Reply

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