If you’ve talked to me for longer than ten minutes, you know that I’m about as patriotic as a potato. (Read: not patriotic at all.)
Whenever anyone asks me where I’m from, I always say “California” instead of America. I even went as far to lie on my Couchsurfing.com account that I’m from Montreal (which only led to my host in Venice, Italy trying to speak to me in French).
Aside from all the obvious reasons that I’m not a huge fan of my own country (NSA get at me), the main reason I’m not quick to announce I’m American when I’m traveling is simply because, generally speaking, American tourists suck.
We’re loud, we’re entitled, we get too drunk in public too early in the day, we assume everyone speaks English, we act like the rest of the world is our personal maid and exists only to pick up all of our red Solo cups and cigarette butts.
Clearly, not every American tourist is like this. I’ve met plenty of lovely Americans while out here in Spain, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve also met a lot of people who remind me exactly why I’m still saying “California” and not tying an American flag to my luggage.
Without further ado, here are some ways to not suck as an American tourist when repping our country while abroad (based on things I’ve noticed my fellow American tourists doing).
1. Learn (at least a little bit of) the language
I’ve talked about this before, but when you’re traveling, it’s just straight-up a good idea to know at least a few key phrases in the language of whatever country you’re in, if not out of respect then just to make your own life easier. (Pretty hard to find out how much something costs if you don’t know how to ask).
I’ve witnessed a lot of American tourists walking up to restaurant workers and street vendors in various countries and just rattling off English phrases like there’s no tomorrow. If you were walking around in Florida and someone came up to you and started talking to you in Cantonese, you’d be like what the hell, right? Same deal. I definitely don’t speak Cantonese and the whole world definitely does not speak English. I’m not saying learn a whole new dialect, but at least make the effort. People will appreciate it.
2. Pack your trash.
I know I knocked red Solo cups earlier, but I enjoy a mixed drink in a plastic cup as much as the next guy. I also try to throw my garbage in the trash can a little more than the next guy. If you make a mess, clean it up. Boom.
3. Maintain a sense of cultural sensitivity.
You know what Americans love aside from guns, beer, and chanting “USA” at inappropriate times? Why, cultural appropriation, of course! Learn something about the country before you go, brush up on recent news events (not as much work as it sounds. Just be aware if there is a financial crisis or recent other traumatic event). Learn what is OK and not OK to do. For example, if you are visiting Which brings us to…
4. Be mindful.
One of my most cringe-worthy moments while traveling was when I was on a tour with a bunch of other Americans in Costa Rica and one older woman was trying to get a dude selling bracelets on the street to sell it for less than half of the original price. He was trying to sell it for the equivalent of less than one American dollar, and she was trying to haggle the price down. I could be wrong, but I am assuming that this American woman who was paying for a tour of Costa Rica has more money than the Costa Rican local selling beaded bracelets on the streets to American tourists. He probably could have used those extra few cents more than she could have. Exercise some sensitivity.