The Ugly American Tourist: Truth or Fiction?

You know the stereotype that’s out there.  Loud American tourists, you can spot them a mile away.  Now I have to say that my goal when I travel internationally is to try to experience things as close as I could to being a local.  I want to eat what they eat, see where they spend their time out and about and in general, try to blend in.  And unfortunately, yes, American’s can be a bit too much when they travel overseas.  How’s that you say?  Well, where do we start?

During one of my trips to Rio De Janeiro, which is notorious for robbery, I remember running into an American tourist at a bar.  I had been in-country for about five days, no problems whatsoever.  This guy from NYC was telling us harrowing stories about being robbed twice in three days.  Having his camera ripped off his neck, having his wallet stolen at the beach, on and on.  And you looked at the guy: loud, polo shirt with big logo on it, expensive watch, baseball cap, shorts, white socks and athletic shoes.  The typical American travel uniform.  First lesson is that if you don’t want to look like a tourist, blend in!  Minimize the jewelry, don’t go out in brand new clothes you bought for your exciting trip overseas, and dress like the locals.  Even when it’s really hot, in a lot of countries they rarely wear shorts.  Thankfully for some reason, I’m able to blend in.  Wherever I’ve traveled I’ve had locals come up and start talking to me in their native tongue.  French, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai, and Chinese, hasn’t matter where I’ve been.  Except for Budapest, don’t think there are too many Chinese-Hungarians out there.

And it’s not just about the looks, it’s about how you act.  On one trip to Buenos Aires, I had one of my colleagues complain, “I can’t believe the hotel bill is in Spanish!!”.  It was one of those hit yourself in the forehead moments.  Uhm dude, we’re in Argentina right now and uh yeah, they speak Spanish here.  It’s just disrespectful to not bend and work with the local language and customs, that’s the whole point of travelling overseas, to learn about different people and cultures.  I remember being in Tahiti and having a friend send back his breakfast eggs because they weren’t cooked just right.  He literally sent them back four times.  The poor little Tahitian kid at the restaurant was totally confused and on the verge of tears.  And my friend just couldn’t relax and eat the eggs as is, or put them aside.  Way embarrassing, my other friend wanted to bitch-slap him for that.  When you’re traveling, be a bit flexible and open-minded to trying different things.

And finally when Americans travel overseas, they often just stick out like sore thumbs and want things the way they are back home.  They get loud and obnoxiously drunk.  They stay in plush hotels, eat American breakfasts and really don’t check out the local scene.  Sort of like when Jersey Shore hit up Italy during the last season.  For many reasons, I’ve found Europeans to be much more welcome as travelers overseas.  Maybe it’s their early exposure to multiple languages and cultures due to proximity.  Maybe it’s because they often travel overseas right out of high school as part of their path to adulthood.  I remember running into two young and beautiful Finnish girls who had set out to backpack around the globe, solo.  They had run into each other and decided to pair up but I can’t imagine any American women doing that.

So are Americans ugly tourists?  Well certainly not all of them but yeah, a lot of people don’t represent this country very well overseas and set a bad example.  I’ll confess that sometimes when I traveled, I’d tell people I was Canadian.  You’d find the going much easier if people thought you were from up there.  In the end countries want you to visit because you’ve got the money but I’m hoping everyone will do their best to enjoy the local culture and do their best to fit in.  It’s not Disney World or Epcot Center, some safe and sanitized version of what Americans want to believe is culture.  It’s the real deal with people going about their daily lives.  But I gotta tell you, it’s not always fair to pick on the Americans.  When I was in Budapest, the discussion was never about ugly American tourists, it was about the ugly British tourists.

Hmmm, maybe that explains where we got it from…

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