Friday, February 21

Stupid Things Americans Do Overseas

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.


Traveling is one time when it's actually cool to be an impostor. Try your best to fit in with a country's style of dress and customs by ditching the fanny packs, visors, dark socks with sandals, and Hawaiian shirts — and not using your outdoor voice indoors. The golden rule of travel is that blending in and conformity are a form of flattery. Honestly, if you take nothing but black clothes with you, you'll fit right in. Less is more in Europe — don't wear your hot pink Moo Moo on the Metro, not only will you be an easy target for thieves, you can be sure they are looking for Americans, but most Parisians will just be thinking 'Oh what tacky American tourists'. Most countries will not expect you to be an expert on their culture, but they will appreciate a show of interest in matters of importance to them. Taking your usual overbearing behavior down a notch is a good idea too. People of other nationalities are more reserved than we are, so it's important not to come across as the ugly American: gregarious, overly familiar and loud!


Don't be that person who orders KFC in the middle of Italy. The absolute worst thing you can do is to ignore the local food in favor of what's familiar to you. If you always seek out American-style burgers and pizza on a menu or, worse yet, eating at fast-food restaurants you know from home — you are ruining your chance at experiencing the culture you traveled so far to be apart of. Not sampling local food means you'll miss a large chunk of the area's culture that will enrich your travel experience. That said, everyone has heard a few horror stories about getting food poisoning abroad. I have a close friend that visited several of the smaller countries in Southeast Asia last Fall. They traveled the back roads and some mornings ate their breakfast out of metal buckets with no problems, image that. If you are travelling in rural areas be smart — wash your hands a lot, avoid tap water, ice and be careful with fruits and vegetables.


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.


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.


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!


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.

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'!

American, tourist, foreign faux pas, good citizen of the world, things NOT to do as you travel abroad,


  1. These are great tips that we should intuitively know but don't always practice.

  2. I don't understand people who order McDonald's in a foreign country. I guess it's because I love food so much, but the different foods when traveling are one of the BEST parts!

  3. Love to travel and experience it all, this list is a great reminder especially for newer adventurists! boo to the golden arches more so when out of the country!!

  4. I would probably be guilty of ordering familiar-looking food when overseas, simply because I get overwhelmed and I need a "break" from new stuff. But I agree with you completely that overall, you need to take time ahead of your trip and think about how to behave!