Before you read this and think that I burn flags in my spare time I want to express that I love America! Ok with that being said, there are a lot of negatives (and some positives) to being an American when I’m traveling. As a tourist, it’s your responsibility to break the negative stereotypes of American travelers.
Scroll to the bottom to skip my ramblings and see my tips on breaking stereotypes by not seeming like an idiot abroad.
When I first went overseas, having just turned 20, I was shocked by the anti-American graffiti and drawings of President Bush’s head on fire. I come from the Midwest, was raised by Republican parents, and have been shooting guns since I was a kid. I don’t consider myself any political party. I wasn’t aware that when we went to war after 9/11, other countries started to hate us… more. I’ve been told Americans only care about their own country, are uneducated about the world and their own country. Because of that, and because statistically we don’t travel as much, we are looked down on abroad.
For some reason, maybe because major wars didn’t take place on our soil, European travelers are more knowledgeable about the past (and we all know you need to understand the past so you don’t make the same mistakes in the future). I took extra history classes and considered it my favorite subject growing up, yet I knew so little compared to the people I meet. Why is that? Because our studies are focused on America (we didn’t learn as much about the devastation we caused dropping bombs or other naughty things we’ve done) When people talk about recent events, for example, invading Syria, they only care about the U.S. involvement; they may not even know what happened initially in Syria to get to that point, or even who the leaders are in Syria.
Chatting over dinner in Pushkar you might find backpackers talking about the mass amount of rapes in India, monks causing chaos in Burma, religious wars in Africa, or women getting acid thrown on them in the middle east. Maybe the reason is because everyone is from somewhere different, everyone is traveling the world and seeing these things first hand. What you’ll find is other than drinking, world affairs are what traverlers have in common. In the U.S. over dinner, talk would be about the last Breaking Bad, your job, if you like the president or not, and other very normal things.
Backpackers are an odd bunch for sure, but most are really in tune with what is going on around them. In general, in the U.S. when people talk about politics it’s about money, taxes (boring), political and civil rights, and healthcare. Abroad, it’s obviously a lot less self centered, people are talking about the whole world’s involvement in all the many wars and tragedies that are happening right now. It’s not whether gay people can get married; it’s whether or not they can be killed on the spot, like in Uganda, where they had a “wanted dead homosexuals” ad in the local newspaper, complete with photos of the accused.
One of the many places America’s state department warned me not to go… once Idi Amin swam laps here?
Many travelers from other countries, and Americans, are liberals and will not so subtly frown upon someone admitting to being a Republican. Tip: no matter your party, just keep it to yourself unless you can have a seriously informed conversation because some people can be very intense.
Traveling has taught me so much about the world, both past and present. Walking tours with a great guide through major European cities affected by war can really allow you to understand what happened. Seeing places that are recovering from a recent terrorist attack like Kampala puts things into perspective. Living in a state in India with multiple active mafias, police corruption, and a lack of equality between sexes, not to mention the fact homosexuality is yet to be accepted, forces me to learn. I think I know more about general world affairs than I do the workings of the American Government… and I’m okay with that.
I didn’t take long to find out people actually hated our country. Even Americans I met were anti-America. I was stunned. Other travelers look at me like “wow, I never see Americans this far from home”. There is a joke someone told me on a train: “what’s it called when you speak 3 languages? Trilingual. 2 languages? Bilingual. 1 language? American.
Even now, I rarely meet an American in India and when I do I’m surprised how many act ashamed to be American and claim to “hate America”. I find that sooo irritating. I love America. I love my home. Unfortunately, Americans have a bum rap and travelers should help to change that. For some reason, they also think we are all really fat and loud. How rude!
We, as Americans, are lucky in so many ways.
I love the freedom we have, the fact that I can speak English and be understood in so many countries, and that my American status lets me get visas to enter most countries with ease. But, then there was the time in Sarajevo when a tour guide was rude to me for “Bill Clinton ignoring the genocide” against their people. I was there to learn, see the destruction first hand, and to donate, but it didn’t stop this man’s judgement.
Can you imagine.. the seige in Sarajevo lasted 4 years, ending in 1996, about 8 people died a day, 40% of children admit to being shot at.. and 89% of the city were living in underground shelters. This statue is a memorial for the children who died.
The owner of a guesthouse in Dharamsala had left Kashmir looking for work. He told me he would like me to marry him and take him to America, the land of opportunity. We watched the news report that Obama was president again and he cheered and gave me a free beer. He said I was lucky to be American…
…Then he told me he would take me home just outside Kashmir but maybe not then as maybe it’s not safe enough for an American. *sigh
Other travelers want to talk about the U.S. all the time it seems: “Is smoking weed legal where you’re from? Do you have a gun? Doesn’t your healthcare suck? Are people really still racist? Do gay people get married where you’re from? Why is everyone fat? Who’d you vote for?” Not to be the typical American, but other countries DO follow American politics a lot more than Americans follow others. Do you know the Prime Minister in Canada? Can you actually even be sure that Canada has a Prime Minister and not a President?
Many people here in India will say “America!” (After guessing Russian…), and then they’ll say “Obama!” as I walk by. These are people that don’t even speak much English, yet they know America’s president.
You do have to be careful when you discuss politics especially over beer because some people have very strong feelings about America “poking it’s nose where we don’t belong” It’s best to just stay away from these conversations.
Americans are stereotyped as only knowledgeable about the U.S. You don’t want to be the American girl on the plane flying into Bombay, looking over the slums with blue tarps as roofs, who said “OMG, look at all those swimming pools!” Eek. True story.
Here are my tips to not seeming like an idiot:
- Read BBC. Download the app on your phone
- Follow BBC, CNN, and someone awesome like Anderson Cooper on twitter.
- Read about the past of the country you’re going to. Know who they’ve been to war with. Know if you’re in Bosnia you shouldn’t say you just came from Serbia and loved it so much.
- Don’t tell salespeople you’re American. They think we’re all rich. Don’t lie and say you’re English- that’s worse- they know how much different currencies are worth.
- Don’t be afraid to go anywhere because you hear they are mean to Americans. Mostly, they are curious. People who follow politics enough to talk to you about it know that as a citizen you are not to blame for what our leaders do. Uganda was on the “do not travel list” when I went, and I was accepted and safe. I recently met an American who learned Arabic and spent two years studying Islam, he even changed his name, just because he wanted to see places that were inaccessible to Americans in Iraq. Anything is possible as long as you put in the effort.
- If you love America so much, just accept ahead of time that others may not. Save yourself from the arguments and just change the subject when people say things you disagree with. Keep in mind many people get their opinions solely from Michael Moore documentaries (not saying these are good or bad… sort of). Some may tell you that the CIA caused 9/11. Just take a deep breath, smile, and change the subject.
- If you’re sick of people asking you a million questions about guns and gay rights just tell people you’re Canadian. They won’t have any follow up questions. (Sorry, Canadians ;)) Don’t use this because you’re ashamed/embarrassed of America; I’ve just taught you not to be, but instead because you are tired of questions for that day.
now, my rant is over! hopefully this sunset from India will make you smile
Join my email list and get exclusive updates & news straight to your inbox.
I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.
I’m sick of all the American bashing as well! There can be ignorant and rude travelers from anywhere. Actually, some of the worst are the English when they are on a weekend getaway!
I love the U.S. and I own it, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with any of its political policies. Same should go for everyone else. :)
Nice post Rachel :)
I agree when you said some of the worst are the English when they are on a weekend getaway! I’m from Estonia, Tallinn, and there are always quite a lot single English guys. I don’t want to say anything bad, but they’re always so drunk and loud. It’s pretty annoying when you’re sitting in a bar and try to enjoy the evening. It’s even worse when you’re outside only with girls, then they’re extra annoying.
But yeah, there’s annoying travelers everywhere for sure.
Oh cool you live in such an exciting place! Your right there are annoying travelers from everywhere, so we have to rep our home countries well !
I agree! I accidently bumped into an english guy on holiday here in Goa and he called me a C*** . been bumping into people in bars in america for years and never had that happen lol
Oh dear! The English love the c word, and use it much more than us Americans. It can sound so harsh! Sadly I think I’ve been around too many Brits since it’s starting to sound normal to me! haha
This was an excellent post, Rachel. Thank you! I know it’d get my back up in a bad way to actually hear OTHER americans badmouth our country. I get sick of people who only see the bad, not the people who are always fighting for making things better. This is a GREAT country, even if we disagree with some of its policies, and I would always want to share our history, and the things we always are fighting for. Man. I don’t know how I’d feel actually coming across an american slurring on their own country–I respect other people’s right for an opinion, but still–certain things just really make me want to punch the jerks in the mouth.
I do think that there are NOT enough people who actually understand what is going on around the world. It’s hard to actually get enough of everything, and keep up on one’s own things to take care of, but I do think that in general, too many people are ignorant.
Yeah, it’s a strange thing. In India there aren’t many American backpackers and I think the negative stereotype is set so that when an American does come here, they get a lot of attitude- so maybe they’ve taken the other approach of acting like they hate america. Sad
Amazing post. Learning about the American stereotype (recently of course because I was too much of an American stereotype to know there was an American stereotype) proved to be quite a benefit to me as it is that which encouraged me to do more research about places I was going. Beyond, “best nightlife”, “most secluded beach” searches in Google. I think #2 up there is perfect and something everyone should do to look outside our (Still awesome) American Bubble.
I used to say I was fine being blissfully unaware… but it’s not practical. You’re right- it’s much better to know what’s being said about Americans, yes #2 is the easiest one- no reason not to!
Fantastic post!! America bashing is so annoying and so ignorant. How can you generalize a country with 300+ million people? C’mon, guys. I don’t even bother with people when I hear them slam Americans. The smarter ones know better than to assume everyone from the States is the same. Personally, I LOVE my country and beyond that I LOVE that I’m from the South. That being sad, when traveling I do tell people I’m Canadian. Haha. Just easier, and I don’t have to strain myself with eye rolls at their comments…
so many travelers pull out the canadian card :) it’s too easy. I’ve finally been able to ignore the American bashing and get a bit of a big head when people say “wow you’re not like other americans” but then I remember hey- how many other Americans do you know?
As a Canadian, I get pissed off when ignorant Americans fob themselves off as Canadians to avoid confronting the high level of scorn and contempt that much of the world has about America.
If you really love being a gun toting, middle America Republican, then don’t hide and pretend you’re something your not. Especially not a Canadian! Bah.
You’ve completely missed the entire point of this post.
Thank you for this article! It truly is unfortunate how U.S.-centric our education and news outlets are; it reminds me of an article I saw recently comparing two different covers of Time magazine- one meant for U.S. readers and the other meant for the rest of the world. The U.S. publication only featured headlines on rather banal topics relating to America, whereas the other publication had headlines referring to world news. I believe that it is time to end the belief that America is the center of the world.
That being said, it is never fair to judge an entire population of people. If I was in Saravejo, and a tour guide got mad at me for Clinton’s actions in 1996, it’s like… I was four years old then. I am not Clinton. I am not my government. Yes, we do elect our government officials, but they don’t always represent us properly. It is our responsibility as American tourists to be informed about the world around us, yet it is others’ responsibility to not pre-judge us.
WOW about the Times magazine, how embarrassing for the U.S. I think people love to pick on someone and as American backpackers it won’t change until we show them we aren’t what they think! Thanks for the comment :)
Yeah it’s pretty bad…
This is a great post – I like your tips! (Except for the last one, cause I’m Canadian and I hate when Americans pretend they’re Canadian haha!!) I don’t believe in America-bashing at home or abroad, but at the same time I totally agree with you that it’s American’s responsibilities to break the stereotypes. When I first traveled to Cuba (very, very few American tourists) it was a bit of a shock as I had just come from Mexico (tons of American tourists) and I have to say, there was quite a difference. Although the Cuban staff hated it, they treated us like royalty because we tipped them and the Europeans didn’t…so I’m sure they would have welcomed American tourists :)
hahah sorry to pretend to be from your great country! I know that one is touchy. Yes I think with tipping Americans and Canadians are the best, because our tipping culture is a little out of hand lol.
Thanks for your comment, I’ve been following your blog for a while, but just found you on Bloglovin’!
I just read your comments on this post. I can’t believe what that English guy called you! I travelled in Mexico and Belize and met loads of really nice Americans especially many from Texas. I haven’t met many in other parts of the world except for a couple on their honeymoon in Albania and Greece which I thought was amazing and a lovely couple in Italy.
I have a similar problem with British travellers as most have the stereotype of partying, getting drunk and being completely disrespectful to the country they are travelling in including not even learning a few of the local words like ‘hello’ and ‘thank you.’ I’m always so aware when I travel of not adding to giving British people a bad name and try show that some of us are respectful and want to learn about the culture and not just come for sea, sand and whatever else.
Yea, I couldn’t believe he called me that either! he was obvi drunk and my boyfriend is british so I’m aware that brits just throw the C word around all the time. British do have a little of that rep, and it depends on where the travel is happening. In the Thailand islands, most of the British I met were partying like crazy- but that’s what you go there for! When I visited England, I saw how laid back all my boyfriends’ friends were outside the party environment
Our HelpX host in Italy was an expat American, the kind who hates America (but not blindly, just critically).
We definitely didn’t find Americans as large as we expected (hardly any overweight people in fact, though we stuck more to cities than rural areas). But yes, Americans are loud. It’s a fact – I’ve never come across one who isn’t, either in the US or out of it. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, though it can be.
Early on in Europe we were on a train with two Canadian girls who were trashing Americans as a whole for being small minded (though they did give people in the coastal cities a pass). Tarring a whole nation like that irritates me. Stereotypes exist for a reason, but they’re never a blanket rule.
I agree a whole nation shouldn’t be considered small-minded, but I also find we aren’t ALL loud. I have many very timid and quiet friends, and could easily say my boyfriends’ british friends or kiwi’s here in Goa are much louder- it’s all an opinion. It’s not cool to sit around trashing any country, thank you for your comment!
It’s definitely a complicated situation. I generally keep my opinions (which are very moderate and align with different parties depending on the issues) to myself when traveling. There’s definitely a liberal bias among travelers but I like to remember that there isn’t a good side and a bad side – there are a lot of grey areas! I think part of the negativity is just what comes with being such a world power. You often hear people wishing the US would stay out of, say, Iraq, but then get chastised for not intervening in other places. The great thing about travel is people can realize that just because you are from a place doesn’t mean that you as an individual represent all that’s good or bad about that place.
Very well said, I agree completely!
Being from Texas takes it to the whole next level. All I hear is “Bush” or “guns” when I say it. I think I will consider this Canadian bit in the future… the problem is everyone thinks they know everything about the US even though they only have their own biased media. Even if they’ve been, it’s usually like “I’ve been to NYC and Vegas” and I think WOW you must know exactly about life in the US…
omgsh, I bet! people have so many opinions on Texas! It can be so frustrating sometimes!
In the end, I don’t think anybody has a clear picture of anyone else’s country, its practices or its citizens…you may not have felt as aware to certain foreign affairs as other travelers did, but other travelers thinking America is only filled with fat people who don’t travel is completely ignorant and incorrect too. People overgeneralize too much because the world is too big to understand and know everything about!
It all depends on where you go too…in Northern Thailand I feel like there are more negative stereotypes about the Chinese tourists than American ones, partly because there are more Chinese tourists here…
I agree, and I actually noticed that in Thailand as well. Thanks for your comment!
I abhor stereotypes, especially where nationalities are concerned. To me, it comes down to the individual, not the country they are from. Thankfully, I’ve never encountered any “nasty” stereotypes when traveling, just more comical ones. I do get more and more annoyed when I read about non-American traveler bloggers and also non-American media pieces stating that Americans are the worst travelers, most obnoxious etc. I have seen PLENTY of obnoxiousness in a multitude of nationalities, this is SO not exclusive to just Americans :)
But one of the things I like most about travel is that you can help to chip away those stereotypes!
I agree! I’m finally able to just ignore the negativity & just keep trying to prove people wrong.
I’ve been travelling through the Middle East for the past couple months (Turkey, Iran, Egypt) and I actually haven’t noticed much anti-American sentiment. Of course, I am Canadian, so I have a limited exposure to it, but the people I’ve talked to all seem to like American people and the promise of America (freedom & opportunity).
Even in Iran I had people telling me how much they wished they could go to America. I only had one person tell me he didn’t like America, and ironically he’d lived in America for much of his life and only recently moved back.
I find any anti-American sentiment is directed more toward the government than the people, but it is hard to blame some people for disliking America when they’ve been personally impacted by military attacks or when they see America intervening in so many countries, but ignore them when they’re in a really desperate situation (like in the former Yugoslavia).
You say read BBC and CNN. I’d recommend you add Al Jazeera to the list, that way you’ll get a viewpoint that’s more outside the Western sphere. While BBC can be a little more critical than American media, you get good world coverage and a really different take on the news from Al Jazeera. Of course, they have always seemed more leftist (or “liberal”) to me, so if you’re a Republican you might not take well to all their reporting.
Since we’re on the topic of anti-Americanism, I have to admit to occasionally being guilty, but as I mentioned above, it’s not the people (usually), but the actions of the government. I simply feel America presents itself as a model to the world, but it’s sadly let itself fall behind in a lot of areas. I could flesh out why and in what ways, but I feel this really isn’t the place. They’re not uninformed opinions though.
Canadian PM: Stephen Harper, but hopefully we’ll finally be rid of him in 2015. :)
That’s a good idea about Al Jazeera and I used to use it as a resource back in college, I need to continue to do so! I can imagine that most people you met had kind words about Americans, surprisingly all the middle easterners I meet are kind; it’s like they are wise enough to know the difference between a government and it’s people. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s the random other travelers on the road who don’t know the difference. Thanks for you comment and have fun with your middle east travels!
I love this post. I’m so proud to be an American and hate the (mostly) unfair stereotypes but remind myself that it’s an opportunity to prove them wrong. Our country sure has it flaws but so does every other country!
Thanks Michelle! We just have to continue to break the stereotypes :)
I definitely used to be guilty of not admitting I was American while traveling. A lot seemed to change though when Obama became president (no more annoying questions about HOW we could have elected Bush) and I’ve actually heard from a lot of travelers that Americans are some of the least obnoxious travelers… because we’re the ones who chose to leave the country. At any rate, I think your tips are golden! Especially on avoiding political opinions.
Yes, that’s what I WISH I would hear (that we are least obnoxious) but I never meet those nice people! Just yesterday, my boyfriend introduced me & my english friend to this older italian lady, she asked where we were from, I said U.S. and she rolled her eyes, and my friend said UK and she beamed and shook her hand….!?
Great article. I’m British and have travelled Asia for the last six months and am now actually in the USA. I’ve met Americans who have fulfilled the stereotypes you mention but I’ve also met so many who haven’t. At the same time I’ve met rude French people, quirky Scandinavians, drunk British and chilled out Australians! Pretty much every stereotype about a country can be applied to a small minority of the people from EVERY country and it makes you a much happier traveller to never judge a book by its cover!
Exactly, no one is going to fit the same mold
Interesting post, and definitely agree that a lot of “American-bashing” does go on, but the Americans I’ve met abroad have been fantastic people. Many of my expat friends in Taiwan were American and they didn’t fit the stereotypes at all. All of them were well-read, well informed on current affairs and ethical issues, and super well educated. I learned a lot from them.
What saddens me is that on a post that tries to put an end to “American-bashing,” so many of the comments are actually “Brit-bashing.” People seem to have missed the point that there are many Westerners travelling Asia and other countries who are a bit ignorant and go out there just looking for cheap beer and a party – it’s not just all Brits and it’s not just all Americans.
Certainly Americans commenting on this blog who don’t want to be negatively stereotyped themselves, shouldn’t be negatively stereotyping other cultures either!! I agree that there are a lot of crude Brits who behave badly abroad, but that’s true of nearly all Western countries, and it’s sad that people would tar us with the same brush. People shouldn’t be judging and labelling people based on their nationality, but seeing the individual for who they personally are.
I agree which is exactly what this post is about as well as most of the comments. Only of which 3 of 36 talk about Brits being drunk and/or loud.. Jessica and I both have British boyfriends, so I think it’s fair to say we have nothing against the Brits, and as you said in your own comment there are crude Brits behaving badly abroad like their are other nationalities.
“If you are so ashamed to be American and would rather claim to be Canadian, move to Canada. By lying, you are perpetuating the myth that the world hates America and that we should all be afraid.”
That’s a nice quote and I like that article by Matt but actually it doesn’t have much to do with anything that I said. This entire post is about NOT being ashamed of being American, and definitely not being scared. The Canadian comment was said with laughter, and the only time I would say I’m from Canada is if I’m on a bus/train exhausted & don’t feel like answering 21 questions- that’s why I said “if you’re sick of it…” as in, tired of talking politics with very opinionated people.
It was a fresh insight to see how another American handled this as well. It sounds like I grew up with the same background with you in the midwest, and a lot of my views go against how people feel. But I am open and willing to admit where we went wrong and where we went right in certain aspects. I love someone who will tell me great things about America as well as the bad. It’s just a shame when someone bashes America without trying to hear anything else. I have been asked many times in my travels if I am “proud to be American” Yes I sure am! But then this would start a rant on how bad America is and it makes me sad that we all can’t just see the positives in each others countries even though we may have conflicting views. Anyways this is the first time I have seen someone else discuss this issue and it makes me glad I am not the only one dealing with this!
Yeah, I agree with you. If someone asks me if I’m a proud American I say that I am and depending on my mood I might talk to them about it- but sometimes as you know people already have a formed opinion (sometimes having never visited the U.S.) and they just want to argue. In that case, instead of getting defensive I just shake it off and change the subject.
Very interesting perspective, Rachel, I’m very lucky that I’m Mexican and my copper skin can easily make me blend in most of the Arab World :D
That is lucky! My boyfriend is the same. In India they speak Hindi to him and in Mexico they think he’s Mexican!
Just stumbled onto your site and I have to say, I am loving it. Great post. My husband and I have been traveling for three months now and are constantly told by people that they never see other Americans on the road. So there are a few bad apples running around, or there is a lot of stereotyping going on haha. We are trying to be solid representatives of our country, but it can definitely be hard when people immediately jump into politics–when mentioning to someone that I was born in Arkansas they immediately said,”Oh, like Bill Clinton! Do you like him?” Which coincides with your other point, not only does someone in a country on the other side of the world know a former president, they also know the state he is from! I feel dreadfully uneducated about the world in comparison. Looking forward to reading more from you!
Thanks for reading Laura. I don’t meet many bad apples so I have a feeling it’s just stereotypes. It doesn’t help that they play Here Comes Honey Boo Boo in other countries lol. How random about Billy boy, I didn’t even know he was from Arkansas.
The swiss mountains are the most ideal places to see the American stereo types, especially this cute little hostel in Gimmelwald.
It is the only place where I had seen everyone speak English in an American accent, where Rick Steves was the ultimate traveler and everyone spoke about supermarkets :-P
hahaa rick steves is the ultimate traveler there, how funny!! :)
This post is so on point! I’ve been quizzed on world geography at the bar and asked how much my parents paid for my college. Someone even told me once that “americans don’t travel”. It is great that we can go out there and prove them wrong!
Don’t you hate having to prove it though!? But it’ll never change.. so we gotta keep working at it :)