When it comes to representing the U.S. abroad, some Americans don’t do us proud. Have you been guilty of a foreign faux pas? This is my list of ten things NOT to do while traveling overseas. Being a good citizen of the world will come in handy the next time you get your passport stamped! Don't misunderstand me: I'm proud to be an American, and I don't mind saying so — whether I'm here in Dallas or standing on foreign soil. But unfortunately, I've seen the embarrassing U.S. traveler abroad — The idiot wearing the "I'm With Stupid" T-shirt while visiting the Holocaust museum in Paris, the big shot flashing a wallet full of pounds and credit cards on the London Tube, or the family that insists on eating American fast food while in Rome. I witnessed all of these things just last Summer. So how do you avoid being caught as the tasteless American? Below are a few simple things Americans should not do while overseas if they want to blend in and make their vacation memorable.
DRESSING AND ACTING LIKE A TOURIST
ORDERING AMERICAN FOOD ABROAD
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 — believe me, I was treated with great disdain from a women in Paris years ago for not saying "bonjour" before asking for directions. 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, don't do as I Do — do as I SAY! I've been told it really irritates locals when tourist automatically 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 so is really obnoxious. If nothing else, learn how to say hello, thank you, and please in the local language of the country you are visiting.
RELYING ONLY ON CREDIT CARDS FOR PURCHASES
Carrying zero cash and using only your debit card to pay for a bottle of water is growing more and more common in the U.S., but when you're abroad, you can't count on plastic. Credit cards are not widely accepted in some countries, before touring the Colosseum last Summer in Rome the vendor out front selling water was 'CASH ONLY' — and if you know me, I had to have a bottle of water! However you do want to bring along a credit card and even a debit card, it is a good idea, but leave all unnecessary credit cards at home. If for some bizarre reason you run out of cash, the U.S. Embassy can help you with everything from contacting friends and family on your behalf for wire transfers or giving you a loan to get back to the States. This shouldn't happen though if you have planned well.
NEGLECTING TO RESEARCH A COUNTRY'S CUSTOMS
If you have been watching the Olympics this last month you may have noticed that when the crowd is whistling, the television announcer will quickly explain that it is the Eastern European symbol of booing. Seriously who knew? Wouldn't that be awful if you were unaware of the local customs and whistled loudly for a job well done and instead of a show of positive affirmation the crowd thinks you are booing, a very negative gesture in America. Whether it is a greeting, gift giving, exchanges of money (to put money in someones hand or on the table), handshakes, body language or food — do your research!
BRINGING BACK SOUVENIRS/ANTIQUES THEY THINK THEY ARE ENTITLED TO
Don't be too hasty hauling that vase out of the country. Absconding with a piece of a country's history —whether you knew it was authentic or not — isn't smiled upon. Some countries, like Turkey, Egypt, and Mexico, have strict laws on antiques. If you purchase a souvenir that authorities believe is a national treasure, you may be arrested, whether you knew them to be or not. In countries with strict control of antiques, document your purchases as reproductions if that is the case.
You can't cancel out the bad behavior of every American traveling abroad, but you can make a difference by being a positive example of a U.S. citizen. Americans in general have a pretty bad reputation to try to live down. Any time you can go the extra mile to use every courtesy that's available to you to show appreciation— even if they don't return it, I think that is part of what it means to be an ambassador for your country when you travel abroad.
Other countries' regulations can make going through airport security in the States look easy. Abroad, if you bring over an item that so much as looks dangerous, you might find yourself on the wrong side of the law. A foreign country's laws can be different from laws in the United States. For example, some countries have strict laws on weapons — in some cases, possessing something as small as a pocketknife or a single bullet can get you into legal trouble. Clean out your suitcase before you start packing.
Peeling bills off of wads of cash won't endear you to the locals. However, showing the contents of your wallet and taking large 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. Travel smart!
Having vacation savings to burn doesn't guarantee the royal treatment everywhere you go. There are two keys to not being a rude American: "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. Sadly, this is why most of the world's population hates Americans.
AMERICANS WHO FORGET THEY ARE REPRESENTING THE REST OF US
PACKING SOMETHING STUPID
FLASHING MONEY AROUND
ASSUMING EVERYONE'S THERE TO WAIT ON THEM
Be prepared, read up on any number of subjects you find important to your travel. You work hard, save for sometimes years at a time for a vacation of a lifetime. Don't let it be ruined by your 'foreign faux pas'!