I coach internationally, so I hear the stereotypes about “Americans” up-close and personal. In one tele-session, with coaches on the call from Bermuda, China, and Canada as well as the US, when I began the legal part, I was interrupted with laughter.
“You Americans,” the Bermudian said. “Someone’s always suing someone. Down here we just have to cope with ineptness.” Note to self: Get with it multiculturally!
Yes, we have more lawyers per capita than anywhere in the world: In 2000, we had 281/100,000; Britain had 94/100,000; France; 33/100,000; and Japan, a piddling 7/100,000. (By 2003, we were at 361/100,000.)
The rest of the world is very different from us (the US), and not just because they have less lawyers per capita!
1. WE ARE COMPARATIVELY MORE AFFLUENT THAN YOU CAN IMAGINE.
I remember queuing up for massages on a Russian river cruise where the doctor was also the masseuse, and the massages, it turned out, were US$20 for an hour. “Hey Madge,” someone yelled, “It’s so cheap I can have two a day!” Imagine how this sounded to any Russians within hearing distance, to whom US$20 could be a week’s salary.
2. SOME THINGS ARE SACRED.
Don’t forget those churches aren’t “tourist sites,” they’re where people worship. Don’t wear shorts, and if you’re female, bring a shawl or head-covering, and act respectful.
The same applies to statues. Before you climb up on the lap of Peter the Great for a photo, make sure you see some Russian school kids doing it first. You never know what’s acceptable in another country. Keep your eyes and ears open, and don’t be on the leading edge.
3. BELIEVE IT.
We were warned repeatedly by our Russian tour guides about the gypsies, and to stay with the group. “They will steal from you,” we were told, “and they’re very adept at it.”
Now, we in American don’t like to hear that sort of thing.
However, those who didn’t listen, were robbed and beaten. By the gypsies. What a surprise. And how do you recognize a “gypsy”? Well, that’s the person who robbed you, while you watched their precious child playing a violin.
In addition to your safety, those who were robbed will go back and tell others it’s unsafe to travel in Moscow, which it is not, if you play by the rules. How safe would it be to get off the beaten path in New York City?
4. BUY TRAVELER’S INSURANCE & PRAY.
My friend who broke her ankle on a defective motor scooter in Mexico learned she wasn’t in Kansas any more. One is not innocent until proven guilty (she paid for the scooter damage – remember the lawyer thing?) and the ER wouldn’t see her without a US credit card. Insurance meant nothing (but can be haggled stateside).
Check to see if your insurance covers travel abroad and international waters, and portage stateside, unless you fancy surgery in San Juan de Bad News. If not, buy travel insurance.
Put all prescription medication in one place and keep it with you, either in purse, wallet, clothing, backpack or carryon.
The stereotypical American tourist is loud, disrespectful, poorly dressed, and obvious. Learn the art of blending and you’ll experience more and enjoy it more. Adjust to the rhythms, pace and style of the country you’re in, and leave the worst of “you” at home. It isn’t going to kill you to drink tepid soda with a 9 pm dinner. Flaunting your diamonds and Rolodex won’t impress anyone except thieves, who will be grateful for such an easy mark.
6. EVERY PLACE LOVES AND HATES ITS TOURISTS.
I would know, since I live in San Antonio which has its tourist invasion, just like Dauphin Island, Atlantic City, and Hilton Head Island. We love the tourists for feeding our economy, and we hate them for their loudness, drunkenness, wreckless driving, the congestion they create, the “I’ll never see these people again” behavior, and negative criticisms. We live here after all. Yeah it’s hot here in August and our downtown looks like it was laid out by a drunk engineer, but if you wanted “home,” why didn’t you stay there? That sort of thing.
This applies uber when you travel abroad. One of the reasons travel is broadening is because you appreciate what you take for granted – like clean toilets, phones that work, orderly queuing up, people who understand your language, and familiar food. Be surprised, feel silly, be amazed at how different things are, but don’t complain. You’re basically a guest in someone else’s home.
7. WHERE YOU’RE FROM.
The fun comes when they ask you where you’re from. Now in my case, being from Texas, I not only have to fight the “cowboy boots” thing, but also must claim Bush and whatever he means to the person I’m talking with, which, being on vacation, I’m not always interested in hearing about. So sometimes I’m from another city. And in St. Petersburg, Russia, I certainly didn’t proclaim my German heritage. Those things die hard.
8. SORE POINTS.
I recall on a city tour of Seattle where our maverick female bus driver arbitrarily decided we should see the “slums” as part of our “education.”
Every city, every country has its problems, and they are not the personal responsibility of anyone present at the time. A tour guide may feel personally attacked, as ours did in Russia, by someone’s political diatribes, or “aghastness” at the living conditions. Is it appropriate to shout from the back of the bus, “How do you feel about Stalin?” I think not. How do you think the Russians feel about Stalin?
9. IT ISN’T ABOUT YOU.
The same goes for one-upmanship, and showing off. Men are particularly bad about this. Retired professors love to travel, and I’m sorry, but they’re the worst. You know a lot, which under different circumstances we’d appreciate, and are used to having the floor but, ladies and gentlemen, the venue is wrong. We pull up in front of a church, and some engineer is monopolizing the tour guide naddering on about how locks are built and it’s rude. We came to see the country and hear the tour guide, not you. Save it.
10. TRAVEL ETIQUETTE.
You’re an ambassador for the US wherever you are, and if you think it has no impact, think of the one person you met from Fargo and what you would now say about “North Dakotans”. Even though you know better.
You’re also a part of a group, if you’re touring. We want to see the country and people, learn about them, and enjoy ourselves. This was hardly possible on our tour bus back from Tijuana, where half the people on the bus were drunk and throwing up. Please.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK.
Learn some phrases in the language and some history. The rest of the world knows English, knows our currency and time zones, can talk centigrade, pounds and ounces. It’s the least you can do. And you don’t want to be asking the Russian doctor slash masseuse to touch your feet, or to be tipping or counting your change in Japan, do you? (google it!)