40 Ways to Spot an American Abroad
If you’ve talked to someone from another country, they’ll almost always tell you that it’s easy to spot an American abroad. It’s not our fault that we’re proud of who we are! We think we're pretty awesome. Across the globe, not everyone will agree with that sentiment, however. Our culture makes it obvious who we are, just like many other countries out there. If you’re the type that doesn’t want to stick out like a sore thumb, we made a list of a few things to try and avoid.
Before we get started, we want to say that we're not saying there's anything wrong with being American. We have a lot to be proud of in our beautiful country, but that doesn't mean we don't have our fair share of eccentricities and oddities that can rub other cultures the wrong way. Every culture is different, after all! When you’re visiting somewhere else, it’s always better to abide by their customs. In fact, it’s highly encouraged to make your trip even better. Here are 40 sure-fire ways that other people spot an American abroad!
Perfectly Straight Pearly Whites
Braces are commonplace across the U.S., as is teeth-whitening. For a country whose health industry is in shambles compared to the rest of the world, we sure do take care of our teeth. It's commendable, and we certainly don't recommend stopping caring for your teeth. Just realize that your pearly whites give you away.
For us, a braces-straightened, bright smile is such a common sight that we don't even always notice it. For folks from other countries, it comes across a little...Stepford. And it definitely stands out. Again, not much you can really do about it or should do unless you are a secret agent.
Overly Sharing Your Feelings
Americans are super, weirdly, intimately open with complete and total strangers. Maybe it's the security of knowing we're never going to see this person again that makes us open up like they're a bartender and we're four drinks in. Share a little less with strangers overseas.
But if you can't help but unload on someone you've never met about how you're marriage is stalling, they're going to peg you for a Yank right off the bat. Discretion is a little more valued overseas and so giving your whole life story to anyone is going to make you come off a little too strong.
Wearing Baseball Caps
Baseball is the American pastime, right? At least, it was at one point, and it's still thought of that way, even though we watch more pro football than baseball at this point. Please leave the baseball cap at home unless you want to look like a total tourist. Baseball caps are decidedly not the latest craze in Paris.
Still, we love the caps, and we carry them around with us everywhere—including overseas, where they immediately mark us as Americans. if you want to wear a hat, you may want to try something a little more fashion-forward. An ivy cap may be a much better alternative to a baseball cap.
Clapping for a performance is important, and if you take in any kind of show anywhere, it's appreciated. But Americans have a reputation for clapping everywhere—like at the movie theater, for performers who obviously can't hear you, or for planes making a smooth landing. Applauding for everything is totally American.
That's not necessary anywhere, not even in the States. Stop it. Stop. Stop it. You look like a toddler who just discovered the ability to clap. Why must you make these excessive noises? Just tone it down. Not just the volume of it. Clapping is just completely necessary.
Saying "Bro" or "'Sup"
This is a dead giveaway that you are from the USA. Australians say "mate." Americans say, "bro." If you want to keep a low profile for whatever reason, update your slang. If you think throwing "shrimp on the Barbie" is funny, just imagine that people will be making fun of you for all your "bruhs."
But this is one thing that Americans don't have to be super embarrassed about. "Bro" is not particularly any dumber than "mate" or "bruv" or "gov'na" or whatever term of affection other countries use. Also, it can be pretty obnoxious over here, too, so that's only exponentially worse when you are doing it to people in other countries.
Americans don't actually wear fanny packs in the States. For some reason, though, they become a crucial part of the ensemble when we go overseas. Maybe it's the articles we read telling us to watch our wallets. Fanny packs are back in for some reason, and we aren't exactly sure why.
Maybe we don't know what to do with our stuff when we don't have our SUV to cart it all around in. Whatever the reason, here we are. (You might also want to check your white socks, gym shoes, shorts, and baseball caps.) Stop looking like nerds, people.
(image via instantvantage, CC)
Prudishness About Nudity
We may be able to drink our compatriots under the table, but that's where the risque behavior stops. We are, famously, a country that'll give a movie a harsher rating for showing a man gently making love to his wife than for showing the same man brutally murdering his wife with a baseball bat in slow motion.
If someone's in an art museum complaining that the woman in the Raphael painting isn't covered, that person is likely to be American. In other countries, people have a much more blase attitude about nudity. That's why nude beaches are a little more common in other countries.
Just remember: you were born naked. It's not a big deal.
Grown Men Wearing Shorts
Even when it isn't very hot outside, Americans LOVE to wear shorts. If you travel to India, for example, shorts are for children. You won't get scolded, but they will think that a grown man wearing shorts is a little odd. Think about a grown man in NYC sporting a child's Spider-Man backpack. It's just not common.
And that's not to say that having a Spider-Man backpack isn't totally cool cause it is, but just don't embarrass yourself overseas because they really won't understand that. If you are an adult, it's time you started dressing like one, at least for a little while. Leave the shorts at home.
Not Caring About Soccer (AKA Football)
If the game is on and everyone cares except for you, nobody has to guess where you're from. Our vast indifference to what is apparently a global pastime makes us stand out in a crowd, as does our insistence on using the word "football" to describe a game where only one person per team gets to put his foot on the ball.
We're not saying it's right or wrong not to be glued to the TV during a soccer match, just that you'll stand out if you aren't. Soccer is a pretty big deal worldwide, so if you are already pretending to care about American football in this country, all you have to do is pretend to care about soccer too. Go sports!
Walking While Eating
Army regulations prohibit soldiers from walking while "engaged in activities that would interfere with the hand salute...or detract from a professional image." This includes walking while eating. Walking while eating isn't necessarily safe, either. You are more likely to choke or not pay attention and run into someone.
So just don't do it. We don't know that this was specifically about helping people blend in overseas, but we wouldn't be surprised to learn as much. Walking while eating—or really, doing much of anything while eating beyond focusing on the meal—is distinctly American. Just sit down and enjoy your meal.
Not Understanding the Metric System
There are only three countries on the planet that don't use the Metric system, so unless you're in Myanmar or Liberia, you probably want to keep your degrees in Celsius and your feet to yourself. England doesn't even use the English system anymore, even though it's called the "English system."
Learn what a meter is. It's not that hard. By now, you should have had some understanding of it anyway since most math and science classes require you to use the metric system anyway. But despite the school system's efforts, Americans are just too stubborn to ditch their inches for centimeters.
Going to McDonald's
From a practical standpoint, it doesn't make sense to go to the expense of traveling abroad, paying for plane tickets, lodging, and transportation only to eat the same subpar hamburger you can get two miles from your house. Of course, Mcdonald's abroad does offer some menu options you can't get in other places, but I digress.
People do it—in fact, they seem to be the largest audience for McDonald's overseas, so much so that "Are they eating McDonald's?" is one question locals ask themselves to figure out whether a foreigner is American or not. We'd recommend exploring your horizons and trying new things.
(image via Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose, CC)
Requesting Ice In Drinks
You might find chilled wine or mineral water in other places, but if you're trying to find tap water—or, heaven forbid, soda—with ice in it, you're automatically marked as an American. It's just not a thing most non-Americans worry about. People in other countries like to taste their drinks on their own.
Our bizarre obsession with watering down our beverages is a dead giveaway—not to mention more likely to expose you to local waters that haven't been filtered as much as the drinking water. It's best to ditch the ice, especially if your drink is already cold. Why keep wasting the water?
Drinking Too Much
Look, it's not that we can't hold our liquor; it's just that alcohol is way more taboo in America than in most other countries. When kids go someplace that actually lets them drink, they don't know what their limit is because nobody told them how to drink responsibly. Thus drinking too much is usually an American thing.
And when Americans start drinking, they get even louder, and then everyone around you double loses. Plus, we like to check out your hospitals since we spend two and a half times more on healthcare than you guys do. Americans want to learn your secrets.
(images via caitlinator, CC)
Talking to Strangers
Granted, not all Americans do this, but for the ones who do, it's an immediate signal that you're from the U.S. It's not the accent that comes out when you open your mouth. It's the fact that you opened your mouth in the first place. You don't need to talk to everyone.
Most people just want to be left alone and that goes for some people here too. But American friendliness is a little different than what you see elsewhere. Maybe that's why we're always warning kids about strangers with candy — we just don't know how to keep our mouths shut.
(image via garryknight, CC)
Pulling Out the Purell
Americans aren't cleaner. That's not what we are saying. But they do seem more preoccupied with germs than people in other regions of the world. Believe it or not, germs are already in your body. You can't stop them all. And exposing yourself to some germs is ultimately better for your immune system.
Now that's not medical advice to go around licking banisters and door handles but just avoid germaphobe territory. When it comes time to eat with your hands out in public, Americans whip out their travel-sized Purell bottles quicker than anything. You don't really need to do that, and it's not really going to save you from the flu anyway.
Tipping is important in America because most waiters make less than $3 an hour and rely on tips to pay their rent. However, most other countries actually make restaurants pay their employees. Those other countries don't understand our concept of tipping or not paying your workers a living wage. Crazy, right?
Tipping is baffling across most of Europe, for instance. That being said, Americans are sometimes too cheap to tip at all--even though we feel an obligation to. Thus, know when to tip and when not to tip. Until we do away with the tipping culture, you'll just have to deal with the confusion.
This isn't a knock against one culture or another. But Americans have an unending supply of optimism and a sense that anything is possible. Even more so, they think large changes can happen quickly. Your optimism will give you away as an American, so you might want to take it down a notch.
Not every culture is like that. Take the French, for example. Maybe it's not fair to describe them as pessimistic, but there is a definite sense of malaise throughout the culture. Its much cooler to be brooding and pessimistic. Plus, it prepares you to deal with the inevitable disappointment in everything around you.
This isn't really something anyone can help with. As hilarious as other peoples attempt to "do an American accent"—America is a huge country with tons of different accents—the timbre of your voice is still a massive giveaway. Americans often think they have no accent because they are used to hearing it.
But the dialect in which you speak is your accent. If you speak a language, you have an accent. And whatever you do—don't try to disguise it with a "local" accent. Unless you're just a linguistic genius, it's going to sound very bad. Just be yourself - a less awkward version, anyway.
Trying Someone Else's Accent
Do NOT do this. Of course, when you're trying not to sound American, that's when you sound most American. We're notorious for being convinced that we can sound just like those we're around. And that's when we break out an Australian accent in London or a Northern accent in Wales.
We promise you, though, that your British accent isn't as good as you think it is. It only sounds like you are mocking British people or you are a failed acting student. Either way. If you try this in the U.K., you should know that being compared to Dick van Dyke is not a compliment in this context.
Not Knowing a Foreign Language
We live in a country where you can drive for over 2,500 miles without leaving the country. You can actually fly in a straight line for 2,802 miles over American soil. Sure much of the world speaks English to some degree, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't make an effort.
We don't grow up learning languages the way people do when the countries are crammed together like states in New England. We have Texas. There are whole countries smaller than Texas. Quite a few of them, in fact. Is our monolingual tendency healthy or useful? Probably not. But it's understandable, and it's definitely unique to the U.S.
Whether it's a question of day-to-day conversational volume or shouting across a room to get someone's attention, Americans haven't quite nailed the "inside voice" thing just yet. If the accent you speak with doesn't give you away, your volume will. Why are people so loud in America? It's a mystery.
Maybe they just haven't found their volume controls yet. But everyone talks as loudly as possible so the whole world can hear their conversation as if anyone actually cares. You don't have to whisper but assume that other people also want to be heard and don't talk over them with your projected volume.
Not Knowing the Customs
It makes sense. We live in a country that takes up an enormous amount of space, and while we do have a lot of differences in accent, food, and culture, we're not used to studying up before we travel. Still, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the customs of another country so you don't seem rude.
Learn what you can of the language instead of expecting people to speak English. Read about customs and manners. (Pay special attention to not making any obscene gestures.) You'll have more fun if you go in knowing what to expect, and you'll get along better, too.
(image via shankaronline, CC)
When They Meet Other Americans Abroad
When Americans meet other Americans abroad, it may seem to outsiders that they have met their long-lost relatives. But no. These are complete strangers. They'll get loud. Really loud. They'll talk about what states they are from. And they'll let everyone else around them know they are from the States.
But nobody cares. They aren't your brethren because they are from the same country as you. There are millions of people in America, and a lot of them travel. It's very likely that you are bound to run into them. It's not a strange coincidence. If you wouldn't talk to them in America, don't do it overseas.
Glued to the Phone
We spent hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to travel to foreign countries, and what do we do when we get there? Spend our precious travel time glued to the phone while new art and culture pass us by. You are missing out on precious moments every time you look at your phone.
If you can't bear to be away from your phone, then just save yourself the cost of a plane ticket and look at pictures of the Louvre online. There's really no point in traveling if you aren't going to enjoy life. The time you spend looking at your screen when you are traveling to another country is just time and dollars wasted.
They Are Often...But Not Always...Overweight
We have one of the highest rates of obesity in the world. So the odds are higher than average that someone who is overweight is from the USA. Sorry, America! And just a word of warning--not every culture is into polite fiction as much as the United States is. You very well may hear comments about your weight.
Not that it's okay, but that's just the way it is. Of course, people from other countries are also overweight too, but it's just more likely that you will be perceived as one, especially if you are dressed as one too. Just be prepared not to blend in so much.
Wearing White Socks
This is another huge giveaway. Here in the US, we may pick on people for wearing socks with sandals, but odds are the socks themselves are a giant white, uh...red flag whether you're wearing them with sandals or not. White socks scream both tourist and tasteless, for that matter.
By now, who doesn't know the rule of no socks with sandals? If you don't want to look like a huge nerd, please, for the love of all things, STOP. People across Europe and in the UK tend to wear darker socks, and if you're wearing those white numbers—especially if you've got them pulled way up onto your calves—you're an American.
Ordering Your Coffee "To Go"
Americans are always on the go and in a rush. In many places, especially in Europe, they take their coffee culture seriously. In some places, it's a ritual, so savor it. It's something that you should sit, sip, and take your time with, not chug down like your life depends on it.
If you're looking to grab your drink and dash, you're more than likely giving yourself away as an American visitor! In America, coffee is often cheap and plentiful, and there's no real art to it. People pick it up and drink it like they just picked up their medications from their local Walgreens, but it doesn't have to be like that.
Wearing North Face Jackets
Maybe it's not surprising that Americans would wear American brands abroad. But what makes The North Face particularly American is how much of the outwear market it owns. South Korea is getting in on the trend, as the brand has shot up in popularity in recent years but it's really not popular elsewhere.
People don't necessarily dress exactly the same wherever they go, so if you want to look less like a tourist, try to do as the Romans do. Be a little more fashion-forward and mix up your wardrobe with some attire that matches the climate and those around you. Don't be the only guy with a big, yellow, puffy jacket.
Flaunting wealth is America’s original pastime — and it doesn’t rest even when we go on vacation. At best, this is insulting to the people around you. At worst, you’re making yourself a magnet for pickpockets. If you look like to have a lot of money with you, then you are practically putting a target on your back.
Unless you are walking around the streets of Paris and some Parisian fashionista, there's no reason to be running around with all your luxury items and attire. What are you trying to prove? Who are you trying to impress? You're already rich — you won! Now keep it to yourself for everyone's sake.
Wearing Graphic Tees
If there's one dead giveaway from non-Americans that you are from the USA, it is that your shirt will say things like "Choose Love" or "Seattle" or "USC." Graphic tees are a dead giveaway of an American, and they certainly aren't as common for adults in foreign countries, so maybe leave them at home.
Graphic tees, or t-shirts with text on them at all, are less common throughout, say, Europe. I say it's time to ditch these both abroad and at home — they're only one step above a bumper sticker. You don't need to be a walking advertisement as much as we love advertising in America.
Talking About How Great the USA Is
As Americans, we love our country! And that's the way it should be, right? But we also seem to go on at length about just how great the good ol' U-S-of-A is. Alas, not everyone in the world agrees nor has the same patriotic feelings as us Americans. So, try not to embarrass yourself.
Even if the conversation starts about a dog that we saw in a public park, we can still turn it into a way to praise America for being its awesome self. When you are traveling abroad, try to embrace the good things about that country and enjoy your trip. If you try to compare everything to America, you won't have as much fun.
Leaving a Mess in Hotels
Hotels have a cleaning staff for a reason, but that’s still no excuse to leave a room looking like a war zone. And yet, it’s still one of the hallmarks of an American tourist. Have some courtesy for the people cleaning your rooms, and be less of a rude American.
If you're gonna absolutely ruin the room, maybe leave a big tip for the cleaners. I know that tipping is an American thing too, but I'm sure they'd be willing to make an exception in this messy case. Nobody really signed up for your disaster of a room, and remember if you mess things up too much, you might not get your security deposit back.
Getting in the Way in Public
We’re not sure what it is about public spaces that make Americans lose all sense of spatial awareness but don't just stop wherever you want. Whatever the reason, you’re likely to see us taking up prime real estate on busy sidewalks and other areas where people are in a hurry.
It should also be noted that people overseas don't stop on the escalator. It's for walking up faster, not carrying you up the stairs. That being said, we're also very good about yelling at people who are in our way. So this isn't much of a problem at home, but not everyone in the world is willing to shout at a stranger.
Traveling with Too Much Stuff
If you see someone in the airport that looks like they’ve packed for a month-long caravan, they’re probably an American. From multiple checked bags to backpacks that make your spine hurt, we’re not great at the concept of packing lightly. A traveler carrying an entire wardrobe with them is likely an American.
Traveling with too much stuff is also just a plain hassle. You lose a ton of time carrying your bags around the airport and picking them up after your flight. If you can avoid checking any bags at all, it's pretty ideal and pretty freeing. Too many bags can just drag you down.
Disrespecting Foreign Cultures
It turns out that people aren’t crazy about it when Americans poke fun at their deeply held cultural traditions or really anyone in America either. But we’ve never let human decency get in the way of a good punch line. If you're gonna crack jokes, at least make sure they're hilarious.
When you go overseas, try to embrace the culture rather than make fun of it. People aren't living to be the butt of your jokes. And if there is one thing that Americans typically don't like, it's getting made fun of. So, try to have some empathy and be a little less American.
Too Many Selfies
Americans and non-Americans alike use photos to commemorate special occasions, and there’s nothing wrong with that! But if you’re whipping out the selfie stick nonstop, you might be an American. You don't need to capture every moment with a picture of yourself. God forbid we actually put down the phone and enjoy the experience all around us.
Life is just a series of moments - moments that can be cheapened by a quick photo that you post on social media for likes. And every time you do that, you are really missing out on life. Sure, a photo can capture an image, but it can't capture the feeling a moment gives you.
Trying to Haggle
In some places and cultures, haggling is a way of life. But as Americans, we’re not big on “minor” details like where it’s appropriate and where it’s not. Don’t be surprised to see Americans arguing about everything from the price of a meal to the price of some trinket souvenir.
To be though, this is a myth that often gets perpetrated by fellow travelers who have been to select places where it happened. But prices are not always negotiable and you'll need to be a little more privy as to where it is acceptable. Imagine trying to haggle at Walmart. That's about the equivalent.
Listening to Music without Headphones
Even though you might have impeccable taste in music, no one wants an unsolicited concert coming out of your iPhone. Unfortunately, not all Americans have gotten the memo about this, and you can spot them just about anywhere in the world jamming to their loud noises. So plug in or forgo your jams.
We promise that no one is as interested in what you're listening to as you. In fact, a lot of people in the world prefer quiet in general. It can be rude to just make as loud of noises as you want. People just want some peace and quiet. You don't need to bring your party with you wherever you go.
We have no qualms about dirtying up our own country, so what makes you think we’d worry about it when we’re away from home? Littering is practically an American pastime, despite the fact that its illegal in many states, often coming with a penalty of hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
If you absolutely feel compelled to litter, pack it up in your suitcase and toss it out the window on the drive home from the airport. If you are going abroad, don't just litter because you can get away with it. There are much better ways to exercise your freedom than hurting the environment.