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Culture shock #4: stereotypes of traveling Americans

Apr. 23, 2018

Give yourself a pat on the back, amigo. Your struggles of foregoing countless gourmet lattes and gold-dusted avocado toast have been justified at last. Your bank account has taken notice and, in turn, enabled you to save a pretty penny that would entice any looting pirate… You’ve finally managed to save up for that fabulous trip social media has been taunting you with for months! It’s time to pack your bag, book a hostel, and jet off to the sparkling city of your choice. Sounds pretty spiffy, right? Now, I’d hate to burst your bubble here, but if you’re thinking your nationality will be anonymous on this trip, you’re in for a surprise. We Americans have quite a few infamous travel stereotypes any keen-eyed local can recognize from a mile away. So if you’d prefer not to waltz around with USA painted across your forehead, check and see how easily you allude to those stars and stripes.

Stereotype #1: Smile, smile, smile—bear those pearly whites no matter what! American culture puts a lot of emphasis on perfect teeth (and hygiene in general). People abroad have always seen my frequently-present smile as a sure sign of being American. And after years of dental work growing up, why shouldn’t I smile as I please? We tend to flash a grin in most situations, from making eye contact with strangers to dealing with uncomfortable situations. Although it may feel harmless, many see this naturally friendly gesture as a cry for something more. I’ve learned to cut back on smiling at strangers while traveling to put unsolicited attention to rest.

 Stereotype #2: Death to formal wear, hail to thy yoga pant and running shoe. We like to be comfortable, and this shouldn’t be a crime—especially when you’re on your feet all day traveling. But good arch support and functional attire come at a cost, my fellow Nike lover. Foreigners are always mocking our comfort-friendly fashion and so-called “humorous” footwear, especially at upscale venues. But if anyone says sporty chic isn’t cool, I say peace out. What are you packing?

Stereotype #3: The Drunk American. Maybe it stems from movies portraying fraternity debacles or TV shows like Jersey Shore, but most foreigners think we have a real problem with alcohol, and we often make it worse by not keeping ourselves composed in public. Yes, having such a high drinking age in the states can definitely cause young Americans to get out of hand while traveling to countries with looser laws, but we should show others that we can drink for flavor and not just sport. Watch your intake, drink maturely, and don’t make us look worse.

Stereotype #4: The Picky American. How can we not hate this generalization? Any true patriot should have some soft spot for unhealthy food, and we all know that few can resist a good cheeseburger and fries… so why do people fault us for it? Many love to say we’re unadventurous eaters with a childlike palate of fried food and sauces on the side… so watch what you order, because they’ll be watching you. And if you complain about portion size, obsessively Instagram your meals, or ask for a to-go box at the end, you’re finished!   

Stereotype #5: What is geography? We can try to blame our education system for this one, but our knowledge of the globe tends to be quite pitiful. I have to admit, my breadth of geography was pretty sad before moving abroad, but obsessively checking international discount flights has greatly improved it. Let others know you understand the world is bigger than the U.S. and study the map a little closer before traveling. Wouldn’t it be grand to show a foreigner we’re not quite so uninformed?

Stereotype #6: Stay hydrated or die! We seriously care about agua and blame almost any ailment on a lack of it. Headache? Hurry and drink your weight in water! Stomach cramp? Get on that H2O! And don’t even start with trying to give us a plastic bag if you’re under 30 because we will cut you.

So how will you act on this trip? Like a “typical” American, or a wise and savvy traveler? The choice is yours.