Considering the LL community is far reaching - perhaps even worldwide, I would be interested in hearing member comments on how Americans can best be good ambassadors for our country when traveling abroad. WITHOUT BEING TOO POLITICAL - kindly give suggestions for safe, friendly and inspiring experiences in todays climate, when we are often viewed as "ugly Americans". I would like to help correct that image - Your comments are appreciated ...Funtimes
What has always worked for me, both in Western nations and in the Middle East, is being open, curious, and keep a learning attitude. Do not compareour culture to which ever culture you are in. Ask questions, inquire, learn about how they develop relationships - do they ask about families? Do they get down to business in the market? Most importantly, learn some basic phrases in their language - and I don't mean 'where's the toilet.'
Keeping an open mind and a relaxed attitude work well for me. Don't expect things to work the way they do at home, or complain when they don't. Try to adapt to local norms, whether that means taking a siesta during the day or eating dinner at 9pm, or dressing a bit more modestly than you might otherwise do (this goes for men too -- in some cultures respectable men do not wear shorts!). And make it clear that you're happy to be visiting the country you're in and learning about its history and culture.
Even feeble attempts to speak the local language (and my Arabic is feeble indeed) are met with appreciation, and are usually the subject of a lot of humour as well.
I have always found that a smile goes a verylong way, as does enthusiasm for learning about the culture I'm visiting and its people. (Not hard, sinceit is mychoice to be there.) I never, ever compare our way of doing things with theirs unless specifically asked, and even then I downplay any advantage or upgraded situation that we may have in the US. I always adjust my expectations regarding things like food, communication, infrastructure, etc. and accept what is available with grace. Ido some homeworkto find outsome of the nuts and bolts about a place,and learn how to politely greet people and communicate on a basic level. The State Department website and the CIA Fact Book site bothare treasure troves ofinformationabout all sorts of things that can come in handy, from temperature and currency to cultural norms, as well asthings that might be useful and/or fun in startingconversations or understanding certain nuances within a culture (not language).I always, alwaysremember that I am a guest, and act with great respect. If I don't know how to behave in a certain situation, I politely ask the best way to respond, explaining that I am new to their country or culture and am trying to learn. I have been richly reward for showing a bit of humility and showing gratitude for kindness.
As a non-American who lives in Europe and has traveled widely over the past 35 years to many different countries, my perspective as an outsider may be quite different but useful in this discussion. On my travels, I've had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know a whole lot of warm, wonderful and thoughtful Americans who do their country proud.
Unfortunately, I've also run into many who do not. Generally, these "Ugly Americans" display many of the hallmarks of the model most non-Americans have in mind. One of the worst is ignorance of the country they're visiting, its people, culture, language, religions, history and economy. Nothing irks a non-American more than to meet up with someone who has little or no knowledge of, nor interest in, anything that's not American.
To help correct that unfortunate image, Americans would do well to remeber that the world outside the USA is not their "oyster" and is usually very little like "back home". Also, some forethought and research into the place they're going to will go a long way toward understanding the differences and values of other places and peoples.
I agree wholeheartedly with the previous comments. Showing a little respect for the culture and customs of the place one is visiting is probably #1. Attempts to speak the language, instead of opening a conversation with "Do you speak English?" also helps. Again, no one expects a tourist to know everything about the culture and the language of the place they're visiting, but a little effort goes a long way.
(I live in NYC and we often see a lot of lost tourists - many from Europe and Asia - I think about how many times I've been stopped for directions, and not once has anyoneopened the conversationin their native language! Yet, sadly, I've seen Americans ask questions in English all over the world.)**
There are also ways one can dress that help deal with others' preconceptions about Americans. Some of this goes hand in hand with respect for culture and customs - As someone else said previously, shorts are not accepted everywhere, often women are expected to keep our shoulders and/or knees covered, sometimes heads should be covered, sometimes not. But in any event, the stereotypical "ugly American tourist" look is probably better avoided - sneakers, athletic socks, shorts, T-shirt (especially one that has writing on it), and a baseball cap. Even if it is comfortable, there can be ignorance in the people who are interacting with the tourist, too, and why arouse others' prejudices needlessly?
**This doesn't only happen outside of the U.S. either. I was at a luau in Maui many years ago, and we were walking around to the various food/culture displays. We got to the poi, and the guy was talking about how it wasa staple of the native Hawaiians and its importance in Hawaiian culture. This woman next to me shouted, "EEEEWWW! GROSS! You eat that??!!" She then went on a tirade about how, now that they're "Americans," they should eat "American food." The host who was doing his best to stay pleasant (I wanted to slap her for him), finally muttered under his breath as she left, "Lady, what are you doing at a luau then?"
It's been very interesting to read all the comments posted so far, and it seems as though everyone is in agreement, and these also apply to all people who are visitors:
1. Courtesy, patience, and a smile goes a long way
2. Try to memorise at least "please" and "thank you", and if you can "excuse me, do you speak English?" in the language. I ALWAYS thank people for speaking in English to me when I am in their country.
3. Remember why you are visiting in he first place (if it isn't solely for business)
4. Make an effort if engaged in social conversation with people to comment favourably on the places you have visited (this was especially welcomed in Russia, I remember)
5. Observe the local dress habits - while there is a difference between holiday attire and "casual" business dress, a lot of the younger Americans look as though they have crawled out of bed, and I have seen several no even wearing proper shoes (thongs/flip-flops), and I agree with one of the other contributors that it boils down to respect.
6. Remember that in some countries people do not speak very loudly or laugh out loud because their culture is not one of drawing attention to oneself.
7. If someone compliments you on something, just say "thank-you" - a lot of Americans will explain that it only cost x dollars and was a real bargain etc..
8. Make an effort to try the food - several times I have been in places where I was asked, or overheard the fatal question - "Is there a Macdonalds around here?".
These are all excellent suggestions but I think we may be preaching to the choir in this particular forum as most members appear to be well-traveled, inquisitive regarding cultures and customs, comfortable in other places and climates, etc. Now, how can we get these thoughts out to the rest of the American travelers out there?
As for me (an American) I've of course encountered a mix of people in every destination. Most Americans I've found to be wonderful and pleasant but unfortunately the "Ugly Americans" are the ones who really stand out in a crowd. For me, the key is voice level - inevitably, no matter where we are, be it in a large crowd or in a quiet sacred place there is that one person with a raised voice asking an embarrassingly impolite, silly or perhaps even unknowingly racist or offensive question that can be heard far and wide. And, 8 times out of ten that person is an American. We just need to learn to lower our voices! I believe this and the aforementioned offenses will change as the general population becomes more open-minded, better traveled and more worldly which is definitely occurring with each generation.
As for attire, I tend to agree that it is important to dress respectively. Especially in religious locations and more conservative locations (i.e. Middle East, India) where it is important to cover up. I dont necessarily think the way younger Americans dress is any worse than the way many older Americans dress, especially since the younger American style of jeans, t-shirts, flip flops, etc. is being worn by young people worldwide. That's not exactly how I dress when I travel (although I do favor nice jeans) and Im not encouraging looking sloppy, but I for one am more offended by the fanny packs and socks/sandals combinations Ive seen on many older tourists! Im saying this tongue-in-cheek, just to point out that what works for one may not work for another, and in the end outside of some European countries Americans wearing American clothing will never really blend in. We are obviously tourists. Thats why its all the more important that we represent ourselves well by the way we act in public perhaps we can finally get rid of the label of Ugly American over time.
Thank you one and all for your thoughts I will take these to heart I have been practicing with Berlitz tapes and phrase books already and you are right this is often quite humorous! I hope our efforts at learning culture, language and most definitely RESPECT will come accross Thanks again! This crowd is very well traveled I'm certain You're the best! ...Funtimes
funtimes...from early childhood, we were instructed in proper conduct when visiting the homes of other people. Would you go to another individual's home and spend the visit extolling the superiority of your own home, general wealth,wardrobe, automobiles, food, education, etc., etc. If so, count on never being invited back as a guest!
Common sense dictates you use the same judgment when visiting a foreign country.Read and investigate the customs of the country youplan tovisit...engage the services of a local guide, if possible, and ask questions. Independent travel affords you the opportunity to "avoid being herded" about in tour buses.
Just remember, if you think everything about your home and country is better than the remainder of the world (and you have that right to feel that way...even though you might be wrong)....then stay home and spend your time exploring your country. Otherwise, enjoy the varied experiences offered by foreign travel and encounters.