Sunday, January 21, 2007

Ugly Americans

The stereotype of the ugly American traveller has spread far and wide. Our government's foreign adventures are not helping our case either. I daresay I even believe it. When travelling in foreign lands we have often arranged it so we we with groups from England or Scotland because they have a better reputation around the world and that lets us look down our noses at the regular American touristas and touristos. It's really all about pretension.

The kind folks at the State department are trying to help American travellers by providing some useful guidelines, and they are releasing it in the most accessible place possible, Australian newspapers. The rules requires quoting here:

Think as big as you like but talk and act smaller In many countries, any form of boasting is considered very rude. Talking about wealth, power or status - corporate or personal - can create resentment.

Listen at least as much as you talk By all means, talk about America and your life in our country. But also ask people you're visiting about themselves and their way of life.

Save the lectures for your kids Whatever your subject of discussion, let it be a discussion not a lecture. Justified or not, the US is seen as imposing its will on the world.

Think a little locally Try to find a few topics that are important in the local popular culture. Remember, most people in the world have little or no interest in the World Series or the Super Bowl. What we call "soccer" is football everywhere else. And it's the most popular sport on the planet.

Slow down We talk fast, eat fast, move fast, live fast. Many cultures do not.

Speak lower and slower A loud voice is often perceived as bragging. A fast talker can be seen as aggressive.

Your religion is your religion and not necessarily theirs Religion is usually considered deeply personal, not a subject for public discussions.

If you talk politics, talk - don't argue Steer clear of arguments about American politics, even if someone is attacking US politicians or policies. Agree to disagree.

I think these are good rules for everyday, not just for travel in foreign countries. The suggestions about not talking about religion or politics seem to be something that should be taught at the youngest age and for all occasions. Save that stuff for your friends, not for work, or strangers you meet travelling, or the checkout counter of the grocery store.

Of course as an ugly, loud, brash American I am offended that these obvious rules of politeness are being pointed out to me by a press release spread by Australians, or any foreigner for that matter.

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