Those American Tourists

On Instagram the other day, and without even so much as an ICYMI (“In case you missed it”), Buzzfeed prominently recycled this April 2019 post:

We know we are all being forced to reuse travel pics on Instagram ourselves because no one is really going anywhere currently. So I can’t entirely blame Buzzfeed for re-sharing that two year old post. That duly noted, I thought it was also worth having some fun with its details:

[From Buzzfeed.]

That Buzzfeed writer starts off – in April 2019, remember – with…

Travel! A lot of us do it — whether it’s down the street or to a far-off destination. When we travel, we ~try~ to blend in, but alas, as tourists we can usually be spotted from a mile away.

Now, on to Buzzfeed’s “report” on certain Redditers’ observations on American tourists…

1. Talking too loudly:

“While in Korea, I was casually talking to a friend on the bus in a regular speaking voice. Not even a minute later, the lady in front of us turned around in her seat and very casually said, ‘Please calm down.’ I guess American volume is noticeably louder.”

—jrlags

Yes, Americans do tend to speak louder than Europeans and many others. I have been living here in Britain for over twenty years and visited Europe before that regularly for – dear God – some ten years. I learned early on to tone it down here in Europe.

In short, as an American in Europe, the best-remembered rule to live by is this: If you are the loudest one in the room, you are speaking too loudly.

But the idea that we aim to draw attention to ourselves is not always the case. In fact many of us seek to do precisely the opposite: to keep our heads down. However, for instance, it is FRIENDS here who give me presents like this:

[U.S. flag. A Christmas present from British friends. Photo by me.]

That said, if you are also watching any European team play a Euro 2020 match and are sitting among its supporters, I suspect you would not think Americans were the loudest talkers in the world, that’s for sure.

2. Also, sharing their inner thoughts out loud a bit too loudly:

“Americans are very outspoken. At my local aquarium the other day, I heard a lady very loudly say, ‘Have the penguins gone to bed? Can we not see them? Y’all, the penguins have gone to bed! Y’all, we missed ’em.’”

—Rangersgers

There is an element of that. I am not quite sure why some Americans are so “outspoken.” They are likely much the same way at home.

At some point, someone may actually ask them why.

Most of us just can’t be bothered with them, and when we overhear them here we too wish they would just go home.

3. Waiting to be seated at a restaurant:

“When we were visiting Paris, my wife and I learned that they don’t seat you at restaurants. You just walk in and sit down at an available table. We figured it out after standing around at the entrance a few times. Then we started noticing other American tourists doing the same.”

—dcabines

That is Paris. But be careful. That is not necessarily universal in Paris, let alone in France.

[A dinner. Photo by me, Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, 2019.]

Sticking to France (here in Britain, in a restaurant – as opposed to a “cafe” – wait to be seated), chances are as you enter, you will be met by a member of staff regardless. If not, and if the restaurant is relatively empty and you don’t see anyone, sure, you go in and seat yourself. However, try to acknowledge a server or host as you do so.

But if it is pretty full, it is worth catching the eye of one of the servers. Don’t just muscle to a seat.

Always try to “read the room” and … note what the “natives” are doing.

4. Saying which state we’re from:

“When Americans introduce themselves, they never say they’re from America. They mostly say the state/city they’re from.”

—hazily

The state they are from is a way Americans define themselves often to each other. To non-Americans, rather than just blandly stating they are from the U.S., they include the state perhaps as a way of further positioning themselves within the U.S. for you. I have learned that if I say only that I am from the U.S., someone from Britain or the continent will usually ask me next from where I am from more specifically – meaning my state.

Think as well of the British who will remark that they are English or Welsh or Scottish or from Northern Ireland, and even what county they are from… if you ask them.

I am a New Yorker. A Texan is another type of American. So is a Californian. So is a Missisippian.

5. Talking to baristas/cashiers:

“Saying, ‘Hi, how are you?’ to baristas, servers, retail workers, etc. My country doesn’t quite have that culture, so I find it really sweet.”

—tomayto_tomaahto

Many Americans do like friendly small talk in shops, cafes, etc. They consider it a way to better connect. To a server or a barista, that is also a means of the American displaying to you that you are not considered some automaton.

Europeans servers do have laughs too, believe it or not. One of the most amusing meals I have ever had was in the French Alps particularly due to how it ended. “Uh, she is Belgian…” a male French young server walking by chuckled and said to us in English about our young woman server as just behind him she danced around waving the handheld credit card machine repeatedly over her head trying to get it to find the restaurant wifi. It was about the most perfect “comic” timing I had ever encountered in my entire life.

6. Talking to strangers:

“The absolute fearlessness of asking anyone on the street about anything.”

—AthleticallyLazy

I don’t know how true that actually is. I would need an example or two. Indeed I would first ask just how might Americans who don’t speak the local language well manage to ask “anyone on the street about anything?”

7. Calling black people “African American”:

“Being called African American while living in the Netherlands.”

—Your_Black_Nemesis

That could be just outright cluelessness.

It may also be a mere slip up that reveals a habit from home – where Black Americans have been commonly referred to as African Americans particularly since (as I recall) the Rev. Jesse Jackson started asking they be called “African-Americans” in the 1980s and 1990s. Jackson had believed rather than calling them “black” it would be better to give the descendants of enslaved persons in the U.S. whose ancestors were from that continent a geographical description much as there are Irish-Americans or Asian-Americans, etc., and it does make perfect sense in that regard.

In 2021, however, “African American” seems to be falling out of favor as “Black” capitalized is becoming more common.

8. Being overly polite:

“Some Americans are way more polite than expected. Whenever I hear someone say ‘ma’am,’ I know they’re American. One time I was in Lidl and there was an American family asking a worker if they sold cellphones. When the woman said they didn’t, they were all, ‘Oh, okay, thank you for your time, ma’am! Have a great day!’ which is a lot cheerier than the average Scot.”

[Uncredited]

I cannot see what is wrong with being “overly” polite.

Because nothing is wrong with it.

The world could use more politeness.

9. Smiling:

“I went to Russia once, and they knew I was American because I smiled too much.”

—Bangbangsmashsmash

Interesting an American would make that observation about Russia. For in the U.S., Russians as being perpetually unsmiling is a stereotype held about them by many Americans. That very general American view of Russians probably stems at least in part from the Cold War and images of perpetually stone-faced Soviet officialdom – both male and female – Americans saw every night on the evening news.

Thinking back now, the first Soviet leader who seemed to smile in a genuine sense was Gorbachev. Previously, for example, we had sensed when we saw Stalin – who I know was Georgian not Russian, but he was Soviet – occasionally smiling and puffing on his pipe in photos or film that he was actually thinking in the back of his mind of exiling that guy to his right to run the Novosibirsk Military District… or perhaps just having him shot. Also seeing almost none come to the U.S. as “ordinary” tourist visitors – because they were not permitted by the Soviet communist dictatorship to travel easily to the West – Russians were not known to us then as “accessible” and “friendly” types.

As for the “smiling” American stereotype held abroad, an important point is usually overlooked as to why they probably are. And I think it is so obvious I am surprised no one has evidently realized it. When I was commuting in London, I always saw that when American tourists got on the trains they were usually smiling… because Americans tend to smile when abroad mostly because they are probably on holiday… and most humans tend to be happier when on holiday.

[Me. France, 2001. On holiday.]

Americans at home in the U.S., on a work day, stuck in traffic or on a train, in comparison, do tend to smile a lot less.

Shocking, eh?

10. Smiling, pt. 2:

“When I went to Italy with a friend, I couldn’t figure out why everyone greeted me in English before I said a word. I don’t wear running shoes outside of the gym, I dress pretty posh, I can’t remember the last time I owned a baseball cap, and I try to have a basic grasp on the local language. How could they tell I’m American? My friend told me, ‘It’s because you’re smiling at them.'”

—thewidowgorey

It may have been something else about that American woman. (She uses there the word “posh,” which I would have not have thought an American woman would use. Perhaps she had lived here in Britain and “learned” it.) I am of more than half Italian distant ancestry and so have a somewhat “Mediterranean” complexion, dark brown eyes, and brown (well, some is gray now, but never mind) hair. Whenever I have visited Italy, despite being an American I am regularly greeted by Italians… speaking Italian at me… and, yes, they are often smiling.

And that they do speak Italian at me usually makes for a laugh when the Italians realize it: I don’t speak more than a few pleasantries in Italian.

My English wife of nearly twenty-two years now, on the other hand – a blue-eyed, freckled, light-skinned, redhead – speaks Italian far better than me. Yet upon encountering her, they ALWAYS speak English to her first... also with a smile.

11. Wearing specific types of headwear:

“Today I learned that we have a monopoly on baseball caps.”

—Pyrollamas

This applies when it is raised it seems mostly to women. There was a time – back in the 1990s – we did as Americans still have a “monopoly” on them. I cannot recall back then EVER seeing a British or European woman of any age wearing a baseball cap.

But that is now a dated stereotype because it simply is not true any longer. It is not “1990” anymore.

Much as with American women, baseball caps are pretty common now on young British and European women.

12. And footwear:

“Americans always wear sneakers.”

—mikehauptman

Again, we as Americans started that footwear trend. In the mid-late 20th century, American tourists tended to wear them for comfort in traipsing around cobbled European streets. And again, yes, there was a time – as I recall, back in the 1990s – that you still almost NEVER saw a European (especially one over age 21), man or woman, wearing “sneakers” (meaning trainers or running shoes).

Now sneakers (trainers or running shoes) are pretty common on Europeans, too.

I still recall my then fifteen year old English niece in 2013 – good grief, she is going to turn 23 later this year! – went absolutely nuts when in Florida she was able to buy a pair of Converse sneakers while on a trip there with us.

Indeed, often you now see BOTH baseball caps AND sneakers worn TOGETHER...

And – eeks! – even in PARIS, too! LOL!

13. And…overall choice of apparel, really:

“Baseball caps, university spirit wear, cargo shorts, free T-shirts from events with ads and text all over them, and, for the older Americans, they always seem to just kinda stand in the middle of everything and look around.”

—Zack1018

See #11 and #12 above for the reply to that dated view of that “Americans only” clothing issue.

As you see, Europeans and Americans far more “overlap” in terms of clothing than they did 30 years ago.

As for “older Americans” kinda standing around? Well, they are probably in an unfamiliar city and on holiday. So of course they are in “the middle of everything” and “look around.”

Don’t overthink this stuff, people. LOL!

14. Being shook by history and architecture:

“Americans are amazed by old things. My girlfriend used to work on a farm in an estate in the UK and would often have Americans in awe of the old buildings. One time someone said, ‘Some of these buildings are older than my country.'”

—curved_oracle

But that is true. Some of those buildings are older than the U.S. This former coach inn, now four private houses, in Codicote, Hertfordshire (30 minutes north of London), was originally built in the 1600s, as I recall:

[On the rainy High Street, Codicote, Hertfordshire, England. Photo by me,]

We lived in a cottage in that same town from 2016-2019. The house had been built, as near as we could figure out, sometime in the 1680s. The upstairs was where the family lived, while the modern downstairs – what was in our twenty-first century the lounge and the kitchen – may have been where animals were once kept. It was a source of occasional historical distraction to me whenever I paused to reflect upon just how many people had lived in that same cottage… and then I – a New York City born, Long Islander – turned up.

Aside from the earliest founded cities on the east coast – such as New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, Boston, Newport, Saint Augustine, etc. – most U.S. cities west of the original 13 states and Florida (aside from New Orleans and imperial Spanish settlements in Texas, California, and the southwest – as the most noteworthy) were mostly founded more recently in the 1800s and even early 1900s. As a result they are all newer and do generally have a similar architectural style.

When I hear an observation like #14 above, I often recall this, too. Rome has been built upon so often that it contains thousands of years of “layers” of history. An Italian woman once noted the downside to us: “It is a nightmare if workers digging in your cellar to fix a pipe find anything. They have to report it. The antiquities people then come to look for more and the work on your cellar has to stop and your pipe will take months to be fixed!”

15. Using public trash cans:

“If you see an American in Japan, they will frantically look for public trash cans. The absence of trash receptacles is something unfounded in the US, and they become confused at the idea of having to hold onto their trash for extended periods of time.”

—Dayoldpancakes

I have not been to Japan. As for here in the United Kingdom, public trash bins were largely removed from (particularly English) town and city centers in the mid-1990s… after there had been IRA bombs left in trash bins. Today, thankfully the bins are mostly back.

The British and the Irish are both our friends, and as Americans we must do our utmost to help to see there is NEVER a repeat of “The Troubles.”

[Orange parade outside Belfast City Hall. Photo by me, 2016.]

Notice above the public litter bin to the extreme right (a few steps behind the hugging couple) in the photo.

That is in downtown Belfast, Northern Ireland itself.

16. Asking to use a “restroom”:

“I mean, obviously you could tell they were an American when they spoke, but once in my little village in Scotland I was in the pub and a woman politely asked the barman where the restrooms were. He didn’t know wtf she was on about and then it obviously clicked. ‘Ye mean the toilet? Aye hen it’s joost back ‘err.'”

—MogadonMandy

Yes, that Americanism: the “restroom” euphemism for toilets or the WC.

Visiting the States, in a large department store my mother-in-law once asked an associate where the toilets were.

The woman replied: “You mean the restroom?”

My mother-in-law laughed and responded, “Restroom? I don’t want to have a lie down.”

17. Tipping:

“Americans will try to tip everyone, even in countries where tipping isn’t a thing/is considered a serious insult.”

—lukan2

Americans tip because they consider it a way to say they appreciate good service. A large tip is definitely not an insult. It is huge compliment.

The U.S. is a “tipping” culture in which staff often rely on tips to supplement meager salaries to survive. That is especially the norm in the restaurant business. It is stupid that is the case, but it is what it is.

Americans often simply don’t realize that, unlike in the States, restaurant staff in Europe receive a fixed salary and do not rely on tips.

18. Expecting stores to be open late:

“They’re looking for a store to be open at like 11 p.m. In most European countries stores close at like 7–8 p.m.”

—millennium-popsicle

A European who says that does not know their own continent very well. For the shopping times, uh, are a-changing.

UK supermarkets, for example, may now be open pretty late. The Tesco – one of the UK’s biggest chains – in Sandy (about 3 miles from us) is open until 11pm every night.

[Photo by me. Purchases at Auchan. Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, 2019.]

Even in France, bigger stores are open later than a decade or two ago. For example, the Auchan hypermarket in Boulogne just across the Channel, where we have been several times, is open until 9pm M-Th and 9:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays. (Sundays are still only half-days – until 12:30pm.)

19. Using excessive amounts of ice in our drinks:

“There was a bowl of ice in the middle of the table for everyone to share between them, and this American guy took the bowl and dumped all of the ice in his own drink. Apparently Americans like ice more than Europeans.”

—BestUserEU

I am never entirely sure how to respond to an example of the “this American guy” did something.

There are about 150 million adult “American guys.”

I suspect most of them would think what THAT one did there was, well, weird and inconsiderate… even in the U.S.

20. Singing along to our fave tunes:

“I was at a beach where music was playing and ‘Sweet Caroline’ came on. I told my sister (we are both Hispanic, but I live in the US): ‘Hey, if you are wondering who here is from the US, you are about to find out.’ Ten seconds later, we heard: ‘BA BA BAAAAAA.'”

[Unidentified]

Come on. Regardless of where you are in the world, how can you NOT sing along to “Sweet Caroline?”:

LOL!

As for no one else but Americans just breaking out in song? Nonsense:

I will never forget my then girlfriend, knowing I liked this singer, and having a laugh, suddenly singing along loudly when Il Me Dit Que Je Suis Belle (one of her biggest hits) once came on the radio.

21. Crossing the road with blind faith:

“When Americans cross the street, they expect cars to stop for them. In my country, the cars will run you down without thinking twice.”

—ToeRagger

It is unclear what murderous country that commenter is from. (Although isn’t “toeragger” an Australian expression?) All countries have different norms of crossing streets.

UK and continental crosswalks are sacrosanct. You can freely cross them and all drivers will STOP for you:

[By chance, I snapped a pedestrian crossing in Pembroke, Wales, in 2018. Cars will stop to allow you to cross that.]

How to use them? Don’t dance around indecisively near the crossing. If you want to be extra-safe, look at the traffic and make sure the drivers seem attentive, and then stride across the street with confidence within the crossing.

(If you are going to jaywalk, though, all bets are off.)

Oh, and an extra bit from that pic above for Americans who may be unaware. In the U.S., double yellow lines are typically used in the middle of the road as a way to indicate traffic going in the opposite directions and passing is not allowed. In Britain, though, they are near curbs and mean no parking.

Lastly, speaking of “confident”:

22. Being confident:

“Confidence. I have never seen someone walk so confidently in the wrong direction like an American can.”

—olaolie

That barb was evidently so amusing to Buzzfeed it used it as the post’s subtitle/tag line – which I have encircled below:

[From Buzzfeed.]

The problem with it? To get a joke, you have to get a joke. But I have no idea what that trenchant observer is referring to there.

Presumably the person did not mean in this direction – toward the enemy:

[U.S. troops in Normandy, summer 1944. U.S. Army photo. Public domain.]

Hope you are having a nice weekend, wherever you are. 🙂