If you’re traveling abroad and trying to blend in, here’s a hint: stop trying. Everyone probably knows you’re American. At least, that’s what a video from YouTube user SW Yoon that went viral last week would suggest.
Yoon’s video features interviews with students of varying nationalities at Japan’s Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University about how they distinguish students visiting from the U.S. from students of other nationalities. The results? Not exactly flattering.
According to travel expert and TV/radio host Rick Steves, the international students aren't that far off when it comes to Europeans' perceptions of Americans.
“Europeans see American students exactly like the students reported. We’re sloppy, we’re overweight, we’re noisy, we’re drunk, we travel in groups, and we like McDonald’s hamburgers. That’s not to say we’re bad, I think that’s good news that Americans are getting exposed to other countries and other sensibilities. If we’re ethnocentric, we’re the ones who need to travel more.”
Just as the rest of the world subscribes to certain stereotypes of Americans, so have Americans subscribed to certain stereotypes of people of other nationalities. For example, the British are often associated with bad dental hygiene, the French are frequently stereotyped as arrogant, and the Irish are said to be drunks.
“I believe there are stereotypes for a reason," says blogger and author Toni Hargis, "But they’re very easily busted. Once you get to know Americans, you realize a lot of us aren’t those stereotypical Americans.”
Maybe Americans are doomed to be stuck with some of these stereotypes forever, but Rick Steves says he doesn't let it get him down.
“We’re just a wonderful, energetic, confident, informal, wide-eyed, curious, wealthy, ethnocentric group of people, and we’re lovable but we’re also not very well house-trained.”
For those who might be looking for a few tips on how to blend in a bit better next time you're traveling abroad, we've compiled a few tips from our experts, Toni Hargis and Rick Steves.
1. Don't be a lush.
One of the biggest giveaways that you’re American abroad, says travel guru Rick Steves, can be if you’re very clearly inebriated. “I’m impressed by how alcohol-centric [American] students are these days,” says Steves. “They’re just famously drunk.” It’s not to say you shouldn’t enjoy yourself with a few drinks when you’re traveling, but maybe it’s not the best idea to get lampshade-on-your-head-while-singing-Bohemian-Rhapsody-at-the-top-of-your-lungs drunk if you’re out for a night on the town.
2. Use your inside voice.
Admit it. Americans are loud. Like, really loud. And it can be a red flag for locals that you’re not one of them if you’re holding court in the middle of a café with a huge group of friends. “We take hundreds of groups around Europe every year, and we have a meeting with them on the first day, and we explain that Europeans are quiet. When you go out to eat, you don’t talk in a way that everybody in the restaurant has to listen to you.” British-American blogger/author Toni Hargis adds, “The stereotype about loud Americans? I’m afraid it is true. Americans aren’t really shouting or being aggressive, they just have loud voices.”
3. Ditch the white kicks, and the baggy pants while you're at it.
You know those brand new, shiny white sneakers you just bought for your trip abroad? You might as well color them red, white, and blue and draw stars and stripes all over them. It would probably be a more understated way to say you’re from the U.S. “That’s the big giveaway, as well as baggy clothing,” says Toni Hargis. “You can generally tell Americans in Europe…you can see them a mile off because of the way they dress.” This isn’t to say you shouldn’t dress how you like when traveling, just know that there are certain styles that scream ‘American.’
4. Less is more.
While this rule also applies to the previous three rules when it comes to Americans abroad, in this case, we’re referring to traveling in huge groups. You might be traveling with a tour group, which makes it sort of hard to travel in smaller numbers. But it’s a lot easier to blend in if you’re not one in a pack of fanny pack-clad, camera-toting tourists. If you are traveling in a big group, remembering the rule about using inside voices won’t make it so glaringly obvious that you’re American.
5. Check your ego with your luggage.
“You’ll hear a lot that American students act like they’re entitled,” says Rick Steves. “Well, that’s more than just American students. Our society in general acts like we’re entitled, on a global scale. It’s our trade policy, it’s our foreign policy, it’s the way adults travel, it’s the way students travel.” Maybe some Americans come by this sense of entitlement honestly, but that doesn’t mean it reflects well around the world. Remember where you are, why you’re there, and that you’re not at home, so act like a guest in someone else’s house.
Rick Steves, author, TV/radio host, and travel expert. He has authored more than 50 guidebooks on European travel, hosts a weekly radio program called ‘Travel with Rick Steves,’ and writes and hosts the public television series ‘Rick Steves’ Europe.’
Toni Hargis, author, blogger, and journalist. She runs a blog called "Expat Mum," is a freelance writer for BBC America’s “Mind the Gap: A Brit’s Guide To Surviving America,” and the author of “The Stress-Free Guide to Studying in the States.” (Summertime, 2013).