The Not-So-Grand Tour

Is it just me, or do you ever wonder whether righties ever leave home?

Americans tourists have pretty much always been regarded as “ugly” in the sense that we have the temerity to be wealthy enough to afford vacations to foreign countries, then show up over there and instead of just handing over our traveler’s checks, we actually talk, dress and act in an American fashion.

Does this guy think all foreigners live in dirt hovels and dress in lederhosen? Good grief. In Europe these days, about the only way you can pick an American tourist out of the crowd is by the big red maple leaf on his T-shirt.

And given the currency exchange rates, I ‘spect your average foreign tourist finds it more affordable to come here than average Americans can afford to go there.

The rightie had linked to an article in the Telegraph (UK) that says the US State Department is issuing guides on how to behave abroad. The advice may be more aimed at businessmen than tourists.

Under a programme starting next month, several leading US companies will give employees heading abroad a “World Citizens Guide” featuring 16 etiquette tips on how they can help improve America’s battered international image.

Get this:

Business for Diplomatic Action (BDA), a non-profit group funded by big American companies, has also met Karen Hughes, the head of public diplomacy at the State Department, to discuss issuing the guide with every new US passport. The goal is to create an army of civilian ambassadors.

Let’s be sure Karen Hughes gets some copies before she takes another Middle East goodwill tour and embarrasses us all again.

The guidelines boil down to don’t brag, don’t lecture, don’t proselytize, and don’t argue about politics. Especially US politics.

Hmm, maybe it’s better if the righties continue to stay home.

Other than “whenever possible, let them think you’re Canadian,” what other guidelines might we suggest for American innocents abroad?

37 thoughts on “The Not-So-Grand Tour

  1. One of the very best travel guide writers is Rick Steves, who is also on PBS. His books talk extensively about the importance of travel as a learning experience. He also writes about how expecting every place else to be like the US..and acting a quick way to get the least out of your traveling.

    I met Karen Hughes in 2000. It was quite an experience. I wrote about it over at Preemptive Karma.

  2. Take the trouble to learn a few phrases of whatever language they’ve got over there and always try to use those first. Even if they reply in english, you’ve broken the ice in the best way. After that, just use your best guest manners, which is exactly what you are. Take things in stride, and expect the unexpected.

  3. Among righties I know, their financial wherewithal and ability to travel wherever they’d like, is surpassed only by their lack of interest in doing so, unless it can be to some sort of island of American business or resort culture. It’s more than Incurious George, it’s an active disdain or fear of the Other.

  4. I’ve traveled a great deal, and have repeatedly been embarrassed by the rudeness and arrogance displayed by many American tourists. Learning a little of the language, as suggested above, is a good idea, as is remembering that shouting in English doesn’t make it any more comprehensible to a non-English speaker. Mostly, just using common courtesy and remembering that you’re a guest in someone else’s country is really all you need to do.

  5. I’ve been to the UK twice in the last three years and the things that embarrass me are mainly the people who walk around London like they own the place, or expect it to be more American. Anyone travelling abroad needs to bear in mind that they’re in a foreign country, not an amusement park, and that they are essentially guests in someone else’s home, just on a larger scale. Going into a shop and complaining because they don’t have your favorite brand of something, or that the money confuses you, or that the experience is vastly inferior to what you have at home are not going to win you any fans–and why are you in another country if not to experience something you wouldn’t get to do at home?

    Turns out that British chocolate–even the cheap stuff–is far superior to Hershey’s, but you’ll never know that if you don’t try it. The William Hurt character in The Accidental Tourist, reassembling his Burger King hamburger to American standards, is a perfect example of an unwillingness to try something new. Frankly, the US would be a better place if more people did travel abroad and see that not only are we not the only country on Earth, other folks have legitimate ways of doing things that might be better than ours. It’s the only way to stop this mad quest for eternal superiority that I see among average folks as well as the current leadership.

  6. You are a foreigner in their country. They are going to look at you weird, and be stern with you; just as we treat our foreigners, this conservojewish “they want to stuff me into an oven and befoul jesus’ name!!” is pure paranoia.
    I also hate Americans who want to move to Europe, especially the racially homogeneous areas, such as Iceland, just being “white” is not good enough to live in Iceland or Rural regions of Europe, “white” is a lowly unlanded serf city-dweller. Americans would ruin the wonder of Iceland, and why it is a place of wonder, the Icelandic people, if allowed a sizable minority. The British territories have historically been for Europe’s misfits.

  7. Take your own chef to Buckingham palace, that’ll go over well. [/snark] Or perhaps read Miss Manners. I agree with Rebecca Allen, common courtesy is best. Of course, being a somewhat attractive female helps, too, but that works for more than just travelling abroad. 😉

    Alto2, Turns out that British chocolate-even the cheap stuff-is far superior to Hershey’s.
    When we visited England last (in 1999) we couldn’t get enough of Cadbury’s fruit and nut chocolate bars (I was pregnant and sick, I needed lots of chocolate). When we got them here at home, they seemed different. I recall them being creamier and more delicious in England.

  8. I read a wonderful book on French customs several years ago – the name and author have slipped my mind, but she said you can’t go wrong with prefacing all your requests for assistance (especially in Paris) with the French for “Pardon me for disturbing you…” If you don’t, you are considered very rude and you’ll probably get the cold shoulder.

    Anyone ever have this experience?

  9. I live in Austria now, and I can tell you all a little secret! Foreigners love it when Americans are loud, bumptious and scream at them in English! It really feeds their jones for US-dissin! Don’t change a thing, keep up the good work, fellow Uncle Samsters!

  10. Going into a shop and complaining because they don’t have your favorite brand of something, or that the money confuses you, or that the experience is vastly inferior to what you have at home are not going to win you any fans–and why are you in another country if not to experience something you wouldn’t get to do at home?

    I’m with you, especially about food. I want to eat what the locals eat and wash it down with the local brew.

  11. heh, well if its one thing you ‘lefties’ lack, its a sense of humor.
    Read the post again hun, slowly, or have an independent or a ‘rightie’ explain it to you.

    Humorlessness is the hallmark of every single one of the lefty blahgz I moniter, and looks like the minor ones are as dour as the major ones.

    Maybe that’s why studies show Republicans are happier than Democrats 😉

  12. Another clue to identifying the us tourist: tennis shoes & fanny packs.
    When we visited our son in Sweden over 2 years ago (also Iceland, Finland, Estonia), we definitely were not eager to advertise that we were americans. Scandinavian countries are so glaringly sane compared to the us. TV news was more informative than ours (suprise, suprise), CNN in us doesn’t resemble CNN in Europe. People are shocked when I say that the us ranks only 24 in the world for a free press.
    How can a son (shrub) of a president have never traveled outside his country before he became prez? Daddy traveled a lot, seemed to be more comfortable with relationships with other world figures (Saudi’s come to mind) than the Pat Robertson’s here. Why didn’t they ever take junior along? What parent wouldn’t want their children to have those experiences? It’s just plain peculiar.
    Americans are ignorant, ignorant, ignorant & too many are just plain proud of that & that emanates right from the top with our clueless leader.

  13. They (in other countries) must not like the Americans who, when you see them here, will be quickly, deeply and vocally upset whenever they are not pampered at a restaurant.

  14. samiam: ‘you can’t go wrong with prefacing all your requests for assistance (especially in Paris) with the French for “Pardon me for disturbing you…” If you don’t, you are considered very rude and you’ll probably get the cold shoulder.’

    this is excellent advice and has been my experience in Belgium, Germany and Holland as well as here in the UK.

  15. docweasel points out that the referenced post was [intended as] humor, though it’s obviously in the “Let’s celebrate our bumptious parochialism” vein. To quote: “Don’t be afraid to ask questions and show interest in your hosts’ country. ‘Why does this place smell so bad?’ is a good conversation starter.” Good thing that rightwingers have a sense of humor to take up the slack for those on the left.

    But the first thing I wondered was how long it’s been since the writer of the post has traveled outside the U.S. Has anyone used travelers’ checks in the past decade or so?

  16. Has anyone used travelers’ checks in the past decade or so?

    I had the same thought. Nobody uses them anywhere I’ve been.

  17. Here’s how NOT to travel abroad:

    12 years ago I went on a river cruise trip in Russia — Moscow to Karelia to ST. Petersburg. Among the people on the cruise were some very pleasant evangelical Protestants from Arkansas who were bringing Bibles in their luggage to donate to a Protestant church in St. Petersburg. On the first day of the trip, they were telling the Russian tour manager, Valerie, what a great thing they were doing because the Russians had been deprived of the gospel for 70+ years.

    Well. Valerie went up in smoke. She was in her early 20s and said that Russian Orthodox church services had always been available throughout the communist regime, if you knew where to go and wanted to attend, that although of course the official line was that religion was wrong and awful and the church had been harassed, the communist government had never made an organized, concerted effort to stamp out Orthodoxy or destroy all the churches, and hadn’t these people read their tour brochure which included a tour of a Russian Orthodox church EVERY DAY. She said that the Kremlin was full of churches (quite true as we saw the next day) and that Stalin himself had passed five or six churches every day as he walked from his Kremlin quarters to his office.

    We did see a church or monastery every single day of tha

  18. Here’s maybe a better way to travel, in response to AnnieCat’s story: My wife went on a trip to a remote town in Guatemala this past summer (on a disastrous archeological dig, but that’s not relevant). Before she left, she started up a collection of toys at a local community center, and when she went down there, half her luggage was stuff for the kids: crayons and coloring books, plush toys, etc. It was a good way to make friends.

  19. Wow, doc, you’re hilariously not funny!

    The only place outside of the US that I’ve been is Canada, so I don’t know much about this traveling abroad business, but I do run into a whole lot of tourists here in the Big Apple, especially now that it’s Spring Break season. And most New Yorkers have picking out the tourists down to a science. You can actually tell the difference between the American and foreign tourists because the foreign tourists tend to blend in more. (I met some British tourists once who I would have labeled New Yorkers had they not asked me how to navigate the subway system back to their hotel.)

    Didn’t it used to be conventional wisdom to try not to look like a tourist? If you prance around Paris in a “God Bless America!” tee-shirt, the locals will mock you. It’s okay to dial it down and try to adapt to your surroundings rather than being all “America, F*ck Yeah!” all the time.

  20. Well, well, well,

    The Big Boned Gal, Karen Hughes, working with Big Corporations.

    What does she know about how to behave when travelling abroad?

    Did anyone see her on her tour to Middle East? I saw her on CNN and she was stooping/squatting talking to children of that country showing them an 8-1/2 X 10 or larger framed photo of George W Bush. She was saying, something along the lines as I best recall,”See this is my Boss, George Bush. He is the President of the United States. He is a good man.

    I couldn’t believe it!

  21. AnnieCat – Wow, what a story. How did the pleasant folks from Arkansas fare on the rest of their trip? Did their world view widen just a little, I hope? Of course, your travel companions were on a “mission” and so their objectives were kind-hearted, but ignorant. Which speaks for many of us Americans!

    It’s astonishing how little history many Americans know about other nations. Citizens of other countries always know so much more about ours (which feeds into our sense of superiority, I’m afraid). Our schools don’t seem to teach the cultural history of other nations in a memorable or interesting way. To me this is shortsighted – foolhardy, even. And what a fascinating subject it is, too!

    By the way, I envy you your trip!

  22. Julie–

    Here’s Cadbury’s deep dark secret in the US–it’s made by Hershey. (Flip a bar of US Cadbury over and you’ll see it right on the label.) Hershey has the license to use the Cadbury name in this country even though the chocolate is no better than the regularly-labeled Hershey bars. I wish I understood why the actual Cadbury company would let such an inferior company use their name, but there you have it. (Clearly, large sums of cash must be involved, but you’d think they’d want the integrity of their name preserved as well!)

  23. Some rules for Americans visiting Ireland:

    Even if it’s St. Patrick’s Day, don’t dress like something the dog threw up.
    Even Aran Island fishermen don’t wear Aran Island sweaters any more. Only American tourists do.
    For Christ’s sake turn down the decibel level. They can hear you over in Sweden.
    Time did not stand still in Ireland from the moment your great-great-grandfather set foot on the both. There are no pigs in the parlor any more.
    The IRA is not a Catholic freedom fighter group, it’s a Marxist terrorist group and the main organised crime gang (drugs, prostitution etc.) If you support them, the blood they spill is on your hands.
    If you ask about Leprechauns, fairies etc, people will look at you like you’re an idiot, which you are.

  24. Great list, Nice Guy! Though I gotta say, when I lived in Northern Ireland ten years ago, I knew several folks who wore Aran sweaters 🙂

  25. The item about the guidelines for U.S. tourists abroad called to mind a short story by Thomas Disch I had read years ago (“Casablanca”) that was about a couple of typically arrogant American tourists in Morocco trapped there when a nuclear war breaks out. The subsequent horror of their existence when cut off from the support infrastructure that comes with just being an American — when you can tell the rest of the world to go fuck itself because by god I’m an American and you can’t touch me — is chilling and very believable. It was a result, I’m sure, of the author’s experiences with American tourists when he was living in numerous exotic places around the world. The story was from 1967, but I can see that not much has changed.

  26. Alto2, you do know your chocolate.

    Now it all makes sense. We’ve been aching for another trip to England, and now we have good reason, authentic Cadbury’s.

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