Bad news, fellow Americans. The rest of the world thinks we're terrible travelers. It's so bad, in fact, that the term "Ugly American" has become shorthand for any tourist that sticks out or misbehaves abroad. (Don't blame us, we didn't coin the phrase.) Read on to see if you fit the stereotype.
White sneakers, a fanny pack, a baseball hat ... and a Canadian-flag patch sewn onto your backpack. This uniform can make a tourist stand out--and not in a good way. Wear what's comfortable, but do make an effort to blend in with what the locals wear, especially when it comes to covering up in more modest countries. We've also seen many Americans utilize the Canadian flag to pretend they're not from the US while traveling. Don't be ashamed of our country -- be an example of what's good about it. Let your behavior and attitude leave a positive impression when you travel instead of pretending to be from somewhere else.
We're not saying that you have to be fluent in a country's native language in order to visit it--but you should at least make an effort to learn key phrases and words. Knowing how to say things like "Hello" and "Do you speak English?" in the local language can go a long way. American tourists are notorious for just repeating English questions louder when a nonspeaker doesn't understand, so don't do that. Try to use hand gestures, phrasebooks, or even apps to get your point across instead.
Complaining About Portions
To the rest of the world, it's not just Texas where everything's bigger -- it's America. It doesn't help the stereotype when Americans complain about small portion sizes while dining out abroad. Think of smaller portions as a way to sample more dishes or to reevaluate your own eating choices.
Demanding to Know the Price in Dollars
It's fine to do the math in your head or on a calculator, but don't ask a merchant how much their wares are in "real money." Get a rough idea of the conversion rate before you leave and do the mental math instead, or download a currency-converter app for your smartphone. You'll be shopping like a local in no time.
We can't even count the number of times we've heard a fellow American tourist brag about "how America does it." It's great to discuss cultural differences, but if you're pointing out customs that you think are flawed or not as good as "how we do it here" then you're missing out on the whole idea of travel.
Trying to Recreate America Abroad
You're traveling for a reason--to experience new things! So don't automatically seek out the nearest Starbucks when you're overseas. Sample the local restaurants as well as the cool fast-food chains that we don't have here. Remember that amenities we take for granted (like air-conditioning or Western-style toilets) aren't available everywhere, so be prepared to adjust to a new standard of living temporarily.
Americans have a reputation for being "oversized" abroad, but your luggage doesn't have to be. Overpacking can be a clear indication of an American tourist, so don't struggle up the stairs of your European hotel with a huge suitcase if you don't have to. Downsize to a backpack or small suitcase--if you run out of clothing, you can always go shopping while you're on vacation, and then you'll really look like you belong. Or, do laundry at a Laundromat near your hotel--it's the perfect chance to mingle with locals.
-- By Caroline Morse