Spread the love

These tourists don't want anyone to know they're American. Here's why.Shirley Barchi doesn’t want anyone to know she’s American when she travels abroad.

“The loudest voices are almost always Americans,” she complains. “They don’t respect the culture and language of the country I’m visiting. And they’re often rude if a server or clerk doesn’t speak English.”

So Barchi, like many other well-traveled Americans, is distancing herself from her countrymen. 

“There’s no need to associate myself with them,” says Barchi, a retired IT professional from Clermont, Fla.

Barchi avoids large groups of her compatriots and tries to blend in with other guests. And when someone asks where she’s from, she hesitates, preferring to change the subject. But some visitors are going a step further.

Being culturally sensitive isn’t always easy.

There have always been travellers who have downplayed their nationality. That trend has accelerated this summer with a divisive U.S. election looming and some unpopular foreign policy decisions made by the U.S. government. Often, Americans are also targeted when they’re abroad

But there’s something else driving it: the American visitors themselves. Increasingly, it feels as if they forgot to pack their manners.

“In this era of social media and Instagrammable travel experiences, there’s been a rise in prioritizing personal gratification and comfort over full cultural immersion when traveling,” says Claire Law, a psychotherapist from Preston, England, who has studied travel behaviour. “With that mentality, it’s perhaps unsurprising that problematic behavior is becoming more commonplace.”

Law says the underlying causes behind abrasive behaviour are complicated and culturally rooted. For example, while assertiveness may be an essential quality for Americans, it may be frowned upon in Asia. That doesn’t necessarily mean Americans are rude. They’re acting as they usually would instead of adapting to the culture of the country they’re visiting.

I travel 365 days a year, almost exclusively outside the United States. I’ve seen other Americans act abrasively so often lately that it surprises me when they behave respectfully. A whole suite of Americanisms rubs people the wrong way, from the volume (loud) to the way we dress (logoed T-shirts and sneakers) to the seemingly polite phrases that somehow come off as phony. (You know, “please,” “thank you” and “I appreciate it.”)

I love being American, but sometimes I don’t love being around Americans when I travel. And I’m not alone.

How are travellers distancing themselves from American tourists?

Here are some of the ways American travellers are keeping a polite distance from the rest of the group:

Change of clothes

If you don’t want anyone to think you’re American, you have to dress the part. “I don’t believe in dressing in T-shirts and cutoffs or jeans when I travel abroad,” says Gloria Howard, a retired credit manager from Waterloo, Ill. “I try to always look well-kept and dressed according to the venue I will be attending.” No logoed shirts, no baseball caps worn backward. All those things identify you as an American tourist.

No sneakers.

How do people spot an American abroad? “Our shoes are a giveaway,” says Thomas Plante, a psychology professor who has studied visitor behaviour. U.S. guests love to wear designer sneakers, which are uncommon in other parts of the world. When Plante doesn’t want anyone to know he’s an American, he switches footwear. When he was in Hungary a few years ago, he even bought an inexpensive pair of casual shoes to look like he belonged.

Turn down the volume.

It’s true; compared to many other countries, Americans are a little louder. But it doesn’t have to be that way. “Don’t talk loudly with one another or on speaker phones,” says Barry Maher, a professional speaker based in Santa Barbara, Calif. “Have a little awareness of your surroundings.” If you did, you might notice that no one else is yelling into their phones — or at each other. Or that doing so immediately identifies you as an American visitor.

Mind your manners.

Often, it’s just a matter of brushing up on your etiquette. “I see Americans who are loud, rude, and entitled when I’m abroad,” says Sergio Diaz, a talent agent who travels internationally. “Many Americans think they are the center of the world and then act that way,” he says. Diaz believes this behaviour has gotten worse during an election year. He says he recoils when he sees MAGA caps and T-shirts because of the behaviour it often brings with it.

American tourists do one more thing that immediately identifies them as U.S. tourists. They tip, even when it’s not the local custom. And it’s often done publicly, with bills being parcelled out to a bellman or server for the whole world to see. Some feel this public kind of payment is offensive.

Should you deny you’re American?

No wonder then that some visitors are taking an extra step away from the other Americans by denying their nationality.

Ross Copas, a retired electrician from Tweed, Canada, was travelling with some American friends in Europe when a restaurant server asked where they were from. 

“Ontario, Canada,” said Copas while the Americans remained silent.

Copas had a good laugh. Canadian tourists are known for being polite and quieter than Americans, so the goodwill benefits their travel companions. 

I asked Copas how he would feel about Americans who wear a Canadian flag pin, leaving others with the impression they’re Canadian when they are not. He says he has mixed feelings about that.

“I guess it’s OK,” he says, “as long as you act the part.”

Why should you keep your nationality to yourself this summer?

Has it gotten so bad that you have to dress down, shut up and lie about your nationality? 

Look around. Anti-American sentiment is not complex to find when you’re abroad. It’s probably not your fault. If you’re reading this story, you’re probably not in charge of setting U.S. foreign policy. But still. People think of you as an ambassador for your country. If you don’t want to be a target for anti-American sentiment, you’ll want to blend in. 

“It’s always best to maintain a low profile when you’re travelling overseas,” says Bob Bacheler, a frequent international traveller who runs a medical transportation service.

In other words, you can ditch your sneakers and hoodie, turn down the volume, be respectful, and still be proud of your nationality. I am.




Written by: Christopher Elliott



Christopher Elliott is an author, consumer advocate, and journalist. He founded Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps solve consumer problems. He publishes Elliott Confidential, a travel newsletter, and the Elliott Report, a news site about customer service. If you need help with a consumer problem, you can reach him here or email him at chris@elliott.org.