Acting like a tourist—including eating American fast food, sporting a fanny pack, and treating everyone as if they were there to wait on you—is one of the dumbest things you can do when traveling abroad
During my many years of travel, I have seen the embarrassing U.S. traveler abroad: The man wearing the "I'm With Stupid" T-shirt while visiting a museum of tolerance, the big shot flashing a wallet full of euros on the Paris metro, or the family that insists on chowing down on American fast food in Rome. So, I have decided to compile a list of things you should not do while traveling, or in other words, how not to be the ugly American?
DRESSING—AND ACTING—LIKE A TOURIST. 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. "The golden rule of travel is that blending in and conformity are a form of flattery," says Lisa Grotts, author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. "Most countries will not expect you to be an expert on the nuances of their culture, but they will appreciate a show of interest in matters of importance to them. People of other nationalities are more reserved than we are, so it's important not to come across as the ugly American: overbearing, overly familiar, loud," Grotts says.
FLASHING MONEY AROUND - Peeling bills off or wads of cash won't endear you to the locals—nor does it carry much favor here in the U.S.—but 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,"
ASSUMING EVERYONE'S THERE TO WAIT ON THEM -Just like money doesn't buy taste or love, having vacation savings to burn doesn't guarantee the royal treatment everywhere you go. There are two keys to not being an American jerk: "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," she wrote. Try to buck those stereotypes. Read "Who Should You Tip—and How Much?"
ORDERING AMERICAN FOOD ABROAD-Don't be that person who orders French fries 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, always seeking out the American-style burgers and pizza and Caesar salads on a menu or, worse, eating at fast-food or chain restaurants you know from home. Not sampling exotic food means you'll miss a large chunk of the area's culture that will enrich your travel experience. That said, everyone has heard at least one horror story about getting food poisoning abroad, in fact I personally experienced food poisoning one time in Mexico. Wash your hands a lot and be smart about the basic things—avoid tap water and ice and unpeeled fruits and vegetables—and you can eat plenty of local food.
NOT BOTHERING TO LEARN BASIC FOREIGN PHRASES-English is widely spoken all over the world, but not making any effort will just make everyone hate you. If at all possible, at least say a greeting in the other person's language, and then say, 'Do you speak English?' It's likely that a lot of people, especially in touristy spots, will speak English, but the presumption that they do is really obnoxious. If nothing else, learn how to say hello, thank you, and please.
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Audrey Hyman is the owner and CEO of the Hyman Travel Network, a full service travel agency located in the suburbs of Washington, that specializes in cruises and all inclusive vacations