Friday, January 9, 2015

How to Spot the American

When I travel abroad one thing I worry about (and my European friends say I'm ridiculous for worrying about it) is if I will look American. I don’t necessarily want to look American; I just want to blend in.

Yahoo!Travel has a list out of habits us Americans have that scream, "I'M AN AMERICAN!"

1. We’re the only ones wearing white athletic socks.
For real. Others around the world mostly wear darker-colored socks. In fact, according to Olivier Magny (French author of Stuff Parisians Like) in Paris, people actually find white socks offensive. Why are you looking at my socks? Mine usually are colored anyway.

2. We have superwhite, supernice teeth
Un-naturally white, perfectly straight-toothed smiles have “U.S.A.” written all over them. Ricky Gervais, the English comic known for his notoriously bad imperfect even says so: “Americans, they are obsessed with perfect teeth.” Whereas others, like the Brits, are more comfortable having teeth with “character.” I would NEVER trade my beautiful smile (that I have been working on since the 3rd grade) for teeth with "character"

3. We’re shocked by all the naked breasts.
America likes to pretend it’s puritanical. Europeans, Australians, Brazilians, etc., just put it out there more, what with naked girls in the newspapers and on TV commercials, and with all those topless beaches. We Americans are the ones staring at all the toplessness, looking slightly uncomfortable, yet fascinated.

4. We don’t care about the soccer match.
If there’s a good soccer game (or “football” as much of the world refers to it) on TV, in just about any country in the world, you’ll see a crowd of rowdy and very emotionally involved fans watching and cheering. Americans barely know when the World Cup is happening, and most of us probably couldn’t name too many soccer players beyond David Beckham (Does he even play anymore?) and Cristiano Ronaldo – and let’s be honest, that’s mostly because they’re adorable. I don’t know who Cristiano Ronaldo is either…

5. We say ethnocentric things like: “What’s that in normal degrees [a.k.a., Fahrenheit]?”
FYI - Only five countries in the world use Fahrenheit (U.S., Bahamas, Belize, Cayman Islands, and Palau). So technically, “normal” temperatures are actually Celsius temperatures. That being the case, we should probably have an idea of it when traveling abroad. (Hint: Zero degrees Celsius is freezing – literally – and 32 degrees Celsius is pretty darn hot.) Just put an app on your phone, is that so hard? I'm one to admit I don’t know the conversion off the top of my head and when I see 19C I have no idea what that is in Fahrenheit. Honestly, I don’t know why the world all can't get on the same measuring system…it's annoying.

6. We clap at everything.
For example, you know how sometimes people clap when the pilot lands the plane safely after a bumpy flight? International folk say they just don’t get it. I don’t clap at everything, I find it annoying and sometimes uncalled for.

7. We’re obsessed with Purell.
“Why do you use so much hand sanitizer?” asks German Sophie-Claire Hoeller. We’re not good with germs or dirt (hence the more intense showering and deodorizing habits than say, Europeans, for example). Come to think of it, this American writer is often the only one with a supply of antibacterial wipes on group trips with international travelers. Of course, everyone’s always asking to use one when things get icky… I do have a small hand sanitizer in my purse that I carry with me all the time. But I only use it when there isn’t a sink and need to wash my hands for some reason - whether it's because the sink at the truck stop wasn’t working or I just dropped my dogs off at the groomer and now my hands smell of dog and slobber.

8. We ask for tap water.
Why is that so weird to non-Americans? “It’s simply not part of the culture,” says one Amsterdam resident. That’s true throughout Europe (where they often drink sparkling or mineral water with meals) and in other countries around the world where tap water may not taste good or be safe to drink. I do ask for tap water, mainly because I don’t want to for over the equivalent of $4 for a small bottle of water…

9. We’re the ones sporting all The North Face jackets.
The North Face accounted for more than a third of the outdoor apparel market by 2012, according to the New York Times. And the brand is just not as popular in Europe and other countries abroad with colder climates. There are some exceptions: Koreans have a recent obsession with the jackets – with teens actually ranking each other on the type of North Face they own. I only own North Face snow boots

10. We eat while walking.
In other lands, for example in many European countries, and in Asian countries like Japan, where dining is more sacred and savored, it’s considered uncivilized – or at least weird – to eat and walk. I don’t like to eat and walk. Plus in a foreign city with pick-pockets I want to keep my hands free and hold on to my bags.

11. We talk to strangers.
Ask a bunch of foreigners how to spot an American abroad and this is the one that comes up the most often. In fact, our outgoing personalities are often startling to more reserved types like Germans and Brits. Says one Swede, for example: “We don’t talk to people here.” Americans do seem to be more friendly and talkative then other cultures. I remember when we were on the subway in London my friends and I were chatting away and then we realized we were the only ones talking…

12. We tip.
Even if we know it’s not customary to tip in other countries around the world, somehow as Americans, it still feels wrong not to. But be careful – in some places, like Japan, it’s actually an insult to leave a gratuity. Hey if you don’t want me to tip I won't! Saves me some money!

13. We speak English. Only. And we expect everyone else to, as well.
There’s even a joke: What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call someone who speaks one language? American. Maybe we need to work on that one. Ah, yes. The sad, sad fact that they do not push a foreign language on us here in America. I'm not sure why this is but I only had the option to start Spanish when I was in 8th grade (so like 13/14 yrs old). And we only have to take a year of it in high school.
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