By Adria Saracino, a fashion blogger and stylist with The Emerald Closet, a Seattle-based fashion blog that offers up street style, advice, news, and inspiration.
“Hey, Bobby! Hey! Ya gotchyer raincoat ready? Hey that Lye-chester Square was somethin’, wasn’t it?”
Of course, real Londoners know that the tube comes with a shroud of silence – except, of course, between 5pm and close, when the noise level raises along with the pub occupancy – and any kind of talk will be the mark of the tourist. But it’s not just the tube where American tourists stick out; it’s pretty much anywhere fashion is involved. Here are the top ten ways American tourists stand (or jump or shout) right out of the crowd.
1. Not observing local customs
You might not share the opinion of many cultures abroad that a woman should cover her head in public, but if that’s the cultural norm, the best way you (if you’re a woman) can show your respect and gain access to all that culture has to offer is by observing their tradition.Wearing a scarf may just help you empathise with the way other people live around the world – which is kind of the point of travel, right?
2. The smile
By and large, the American dental experience is far superior to most first-world countries. What’s more, we love our white, straight-toothed smiles, and we flash ‘em all around like the AmEx cards few non-American vendors accept. Beware that in most cultures, smiles are a rare invitation to chat, especially from women. Old-fashioned American friendliness might get you a lot of conversation, but it won’t help you blend in.
3. Beat up tennis shoes
Don’t get me wrong. The rest of the world loves their tennis shoes as well, but the sneakers they wear tend to be more fashionable than your run-of-the-mill track shoes. Rather than dull white sneakers, picture a fun, green pair peeking out from beneath the hem of two finely cut, high quality jean cuffs.
4. Not attempting to speak the language
Yes, English is the global language, so what? There’s nothing worse than an American who rants about immigrants in our country not speaking English or complains about having their calls outsourced to an Indian who’s really trying, only to travel abroad and begin shouting loudly and slowly at a Spanish waiter, “DO. YOU. HAVE. STEAK. EL STEAK-A?” Get a phrase book and some manners.
5. Fanny packs
First of all, fanny means something entirely different in British English, so beware. Secondly, fanny packs? Really? They don’t even look good in the United States, let alone abroad. They are a clear invitation for thieves, and they’ve got ‘tourist’ written all over them. Leave this fashion faux pas at the bottom of the closet where it belongs.
6. Schlumpy t-shirts
The surest way to spot an American tourist: look for the slob in the untucked t-shirt, sidling up to the travel currency exchange window and drawling about needing some buckaroos. First of all, you can handle your currency exchanges before you even leave the states. Secondly, have a little class; at least tuck the t-shirt in!
7. Talking about how awesome we are
Look, we can all agree that the US is a pretty kickin’ place. Home of the free, melting pot waves of amber grain and all that. But you didn’t go abroad to preach the gospel of America, you went to experience a new place and a fresh culture. Taste, touch, feel, listen and observe, and above all, refrain from saying, “See, in America, we do it more like this…” Believe me, they’ve seen what it’s like on every media channel out there, and they aren’t looking for yet another reminder.
8. City paraphernalia
You know how it’s super-lame to wear a band’s t-shirt to their concert? The same thing goes for tourism. Parisians don’t need to have a map of the metro printed on their t-shirts; they ride the thing every day.
9. Asking for tap water
In many places across the world, bottled mineral water is the just the norm. Asking for anything else is sure to reveal your tourist status. Also keep in mind that, in many other places around the world, you’re going to want bottled water, so just smile and accept it.
10. The North Face jacket
I know, I know. This will come across as sacrilege to college campuses far and wide, but the thing is, this popular brand is only popular among Americans. Europeans, for one, simply do not wear North Face, and pretty much no other culture wears jackets that are ten times puffier than the frame beneath it. There is one exception and that is, of course, the Nordic cultures, where that much warmth is actually needed. A trendy pea coat and scarf, despite not being as warm or as practical for inclement weather, is really the only route to a sophisticated, worldly look when traveling abroad.
So there you have it: the top 10 sure-fire ways to tell an American tourist. Ignore them at your own touristy peril.
Thanks to Ed Yourdon, ardenswayoflife for the excellent images from Flickr. Please note, all images were used under the Creative Commons License at the time of posting.
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United" (http://johnbrownnotesandessays.blogspot.com/2017/03/notes-and-references-for-discussion-e.html). Affiliated with Georgetown University (http://explore.georgetown.edu/people/jhb7/) for over ten years, he still shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."