Are American tourists really all that rude?
Reading eemusings account of trying to teach English alongside some Americans, made me think back to the number of comments I’ve received from foreigners.
The main reaction I get is that they can’t believe is that I am an “American” who doesn’t act like what a stereotypical American acts like. I of course, correct them to say I am NORTH American but am actually Canadian.
I am not “American” because that means I’d be from the United States of America, and while some of them know the difference, they think the two countries are pretty much the same in terms of culture, and we get grouped into under the same “American” label which irks some Canadians, but I have a “meh” reaction to this unless they start saying things like: “Why the hell did you elect George Bush Jr. as your President?”
Anyway, once we were talking to a guy from France who was talking about how he went to a resort in the Caribbean, and it was absolutely perfect except for this massive group of loud, annoying Americans, or “Amerloques” as he called them. (This is a rude slur by the way..)
I asked out of curiousity what made them so annoying, and he listed 4 main factors:
- No idea how to turn down the volume in their voices when talking to each other
- Always seemed to be glued and yelling (talking normally for Americans) into some cellphone
- Being rude and loud to waiters / waitresses when they weren’t satisfied
- Not understanding that not everyone speaks English
I wasn’t quite convinced this is just an American trait, but it got me wondering if Americans are really THAT rude compared to other cultures.
Note: Not all Europeans, or French people think that about Americans. Please don’t think I’m stereotyping the other way as well.
I have also met my share of Europeans who have heard I live in Canada and in some parts of the U.S., and their eyes light up with a fervent, emphatic: “J’adore les Américans!” They are seriously into U.S. culture and life, and many dream of coming abroad to live in the U.S. because it’s so different.
TALKING LOUDLY IS NOT A UNIQUELY AMERICAN TRAIT
This one is pretty annoying I must say, but it is not limited to Americans in the slightest!
When I was in Spain and Portugal, all they know is how to talk loudly to each other which is their “normal” volume. In China, it was the same. Their normal volume is yelling at each other, and if they’re angry, it gets worse if you can believe it. They’re passionate cultures, and they talk loudly, and usually with their hands. Is that very “American”?
You know what culture is the quietest and most respectful out of all the tourists I have ever encountered? The Japanese. They may be a huge group of 30, but they NEVER make noise.
They all speak softly, they gesture and point out things without being rude and abrasive, and it isn’t until they pass by like a school of polite fish that you realize they were even there.
This applies to every single tour group of Japanese folks I have ever encountered in my life. Even school children on a trip outside of their native Japan are polite by their age standards. They don’t try and climb poles, dance on them, or otherwise act like crazies. The quietest tour groups of all are the retired Japanese folks.
WE NORTH AMERICANS ARE USED TO A HIGHER LEVEL OF CUSTOMER SERVICE
There’s a fine line between being rude and being firm in expecting a certain level of service. However neither of the two work outside of Canada and the U.S., particularly in Europe and you certainly might have to resort to being rude at times.
Let me explain what I mean:
In Canada and the U.S., you think it’s perfectly normal that when you get a bad hotel room, you can go back down and request for another, and you’ll be accommodated if there are rooms available to switch into… right?
This is not the case in Europe. Sometimes, they don’t want to give you another room. They don’t care, it’s not their concern (they’re employees not owners in independent hotels), they have plenty of tourists waiting to take your spot at that price, etc etc.
Even worse, some Europeans consider this “normal business behaviour”. They don’t even want to argue or change it, they just resignedly accept it (as they seem to do most things, like with the way their politicians are ruining their country and lives) and are pleasantly blown away when they visit upper North America as tourists and are treated so well.
It sort of shocks me each time I visit *laugh* .. how much I have to dial back on my expectations because I am so used to people saying: “Sure, let me check on that for you!”
Gad Elmaleh (one of my favourite comedians) even made a hilarious joke about it in his standup about how coming from France, he went to a store and wanted to get a pair of shoes, and the American employee just bent over backwards, and couldn’t do enough to help him. He’s right – this is not really what you expect in Europe, especially in France.
Whatever it is, we are spoiled by what we consider BASIC customer service, and in Europe, it would be called “VIP treatment”.
The customer is always right in upper North America, but the customer is never right in Europe. In fact, the foreign customer should be scammed, taken advantage of and otherwise given the runaround because they’re foreigners and not likely to come back, much less to their business. They cynically believe in one-shot customers in Europe, not in trying to have repeat customers for life who will spread a good word of mouth
In eemusings’ example about iced tea:
I hate to say it, but a lot of the Americans on the course (who made up the majority of the ‘Anglos’, or English-speaking volunteer teachers) were pretty stereotypically American.
The kind who give the US a bad name.
Some were lovely for the most part (as long as you avoided saying ANYTHING vaguely critical about the US) while others were of the brash, ‘do you have tea? is it fresh? oh, you don’t have iced tea? well, can I get a pot of tea and a glass of ice cubes so I can make my own iced tea rather than just GET SOMETHING THAT YOU ACTUALLY SERVE?‘ variety.
(eemusings no longer blogs. But the above was taken from her blog.)
THAT, is being universally rude, American or not. It isn’t cultural, it’s just being bloody rude. You don’t need to be sarcastic to get your point across, and you certainly don’t need to do it in such an awful way.
A more polite way to do it would have been to ask for some brewed tea, and some ice on the side in a bowl with some sugar.
They would have gotten the hint, without having it rammed down their throats, and perhaps will even put it on the menu next time, finally understanding what “iced tea” means to tourists. Iced tea here doesn’t mean the same as it means elsewhere. I am sure you don’t mean Chinese tea that is brewed hot with ice cubes, is what you consider ‘iced tea’ now is it? You’re expecting orange pekoe black tea, with ice cubes in it. Perhaps sugar as well, although even that is up for debate, knowing that some places serve SWEET tea, which means they have another version without sugar.
However when you encounter bad service in Europe, you aren’t really being that demanding. At least, not in my opinion. You might seem rude to them for asking for a higher level of customer service, but we are simply used to a higher level of babying or customer service.
GLUED AND TALKING LOUDLY INTO THEIR CELLPHONES
This is not a uniquely American trait.
You see it more in the U.S. than Canada, and more in upper North America than elsewhere only because we have more money and most people (even CHILDREN!) can afford to have a cellphone (I don’t, and I’m considered a weirdo).
- Update: I got a cellphone in 2018. Finally.
In Europe, they don’t all have iPhones, Blackberries and Samsungs, they are lucky if they just have a regular Nokia flip phone. As a result, they talk less on their phones because they don’t have them to begin with.
If they do have them, I have encountered plenty of people in other countries who were on their phones, talking like the other person is deaf, for a good half hour to an hour, with no regard for others’ private sound bubbles on the bus or train.
In China, they ALL HAD CELLPHONES. They were all texting on them, talking fairly loudly into them and otherwise playing with them to choose the most annoying ringtone possible as with ALL modernizing and modern countries. They are ALL just as loud as Americans on their cellphones.
NOT EVERYONE SPEAKS ENGLISH OR YOUR NATIVE LANGUAGE
This one is very true, that Americans seem to have a bad rap with not realizing that the whole world didn’t grow up learning English to be able to serve them. … but by the same vein, it is also not something totally unique to Americans, because I was in the French metro the other day and a guy from Eastern Europe (that’s what the language sounded like), was talking in a steady stream of his language (I’m taking a stab at Hungarian) at the poor Frenchwoman.
She gave him a blank stare, and rolled her eyes as if to say:
“We’re in France. I speak French. A bit of English, and maybe a third language if I happened to study it. Hungarian? Not even close.”
If you want to visit a country, you should pick up a book with some basic phrases translated from your language to theirs so you can point to them in desperation if you are in need of help. Otherwise, don’t expect everyone to speak all the languages of the world.
Yes, it is true that more countries make an effort to speak English, particularly in the hospitality industry to serve tourists but that’s because English is the MAIN language among foreigners.
If you get a group of Germans, French, Swedes, Chinese, Japanese and South Africans together, they’re all going to speak in English with varying levels of proficiency.
Even among Chinese people who don’t speak each others’ native languages, I noticed in Macau that they switched to English, not to Mandarin (official language) or Cantonese (other major language).
That said, Americans tourists on the whole do tend to be a little ignorant (JUST A LITTLE!) from my observation in going around asking people: Do you speak English?
I remember once a German guy saying rudely back to them rather meanly: Do you speak German?, to underscore rather subtly how entitled their question seemed to him.
The worst is not that we ask if people speak English, it is more that if they DON’T speak English, some of us proceed to talk louder, as if they are deaf, rather than unable to speak English. “I’m not deaf, I just don’t speak English“, was something I once heard from a rather frustrated shopkeeper in his native language.
IN THE END, IT JUST DEPENDS ON HOW YOU WERE RAISED
It has (almost) nothing to do with what country you are from, Canada, U.S., China, France, England, and everything to do with your manners and awareness of those around you in public spaces.
If you were raised to be rude and loud, you’re going to be loud and rude for your entire life unless someone properly shames you into behaving.
If you were raised to talk softly, you are going to find other lesser-behaved people extremely annoying.
If you’re just used to being loud and wild, that’s all you’ll think is normal, so it isn’t weird to be excited and loud when you’re on vacation, it just might seem a bit much to others. It’s all in context and perspective of your own bias and others around you reacting to you.
You also just can’t expect other cultures to be like yours, period. Otherwise, don’t travel if you’re going to be rude, condescending and not at all open-minded. Things are DIFFERENT around the world, and that’s what makes traveling so interesting, and a perfect way to teach and learn.
The only difference between any country is in cultural expectations because as I mentioned above, Canadians and Americans will expect a slightly higher level of customer service as the “standard”, and may be disappointed to not receive such service in Europe without a fight.
SO WHAT DO YOU THINK?
What you say is false and ignorant. I live in the US and no we are not taught that we are great from birth or exceptional. Quite the opposite, there is constant complaining about the way things are here in the US from , everybody here complains about everything from
taxes to politics etc. We’ve had plenty of ugly tourists here in the USA who refuse to tip, bash our country and say how much better it is
back home, only thing is they say it in a quiet voice. I’ll add that all countries were founded on war and conquest and racism including
Canada, so you better point the finger back at yourself.
I work in tourism in Europe and routinly plan holidays for North American Visitors to Europe. While it’s true to say both Candians and Americans expect a higher level of service, I generally find Candians less demanding, bmore undestanding of cultures outside North American and don’t need the same level of “hand holding” as Americans. I’ve had visitors calling me night and day stressing over the tiniest detail of what is frankly, common sense and they haven’t paid nearly enough money for the one on one attention they expect. Complainingv about things such as Europe not displaying US dollars on their prices or that their budget hotel doesn’t have aircon in the middle of winter. They generally fail to see the world doesn’t revolve around them and that we really don’t care if theyre 5th generation Italian. That said they spend a lot of money in Europe and we’re happy to take it!!!
I’m Canadian and Americans are the most rudest people I’ve ever met in my life! Super rude and ignorant people who have 0 respect for anyone and they are very loud and love to get into fights!
I’m a gamer and I played the american version of a game (Onigiri Online US) and holy shit I am not used to the way they communicate because everything they said is extremely rude! I tried my best to keep quiet…but they randomly started to socialize with me I got scared because I didn’t know how to respond as I suck at talking (and got a mental disability that makes it hard to speak)..and they thought I was being rude..(AHUHDUHSUDHUS!!)) because I wasn’t talking loudly?!?!?!? or talking at all?!?!? did it ever cross there mind that I didn’t wanna speak?! or that I’m busy?!?!?!
I openly told a group of players I’m gay and they all made fun of me (mind you I thought they where my friends) and every-time I loged onto the game they made fun of LGBT people to the point of making me wanna suicide.
also about my mental disability they made fun of that as well making me with that I was never born!! God they were so rude about it.
So in all that I lost friends and never ended up making new ones and I switched to the Japanese server because at least they are nice in Japan and not rude!(like Americans)
NEVER EVER PLAY A GAME CALLED ONIGIRI ONLINE US!! YOU WILL GET BULLIED IF YOUR LGBT AND OR HAVE A MENTAL DISABILITY! PLAY THE JAPANESE VERSION ONLY BECAUSE I AM WORRIED FOR PLAYERS OF THIS GAME WHO HAVE GOTTEN THE SAME TREATMENT I DID! STAY AWAY FROM AMERICANS!!
Hello, I’m from Italy and I like this article, very smart.
I often read online that people consider us Italians to be rude, loud and stuff. As you’ve written it all depends the way you were raised by your parents.
I think most foreigners ignore the Italian tourists well-mannered like me (I’m not loud, arrogant, rude, I’m pretty reserved and quiet) and focus their attention to those very rude Italian I have the misfortune to meet either.
When I meet a rude American tourist I don’t generalize the entire American people, the rude one is just this person. Same goes for other tourists.
In my opinion we Americans get singles out for being loud but its WAY TO normal for us and we get a little cocky as I have heard foreigners say but I really do t see that
I have another take on this. I am an American expat having lived half my life in various east Asian countries. I currently live in a remote but touristy part of a 3rd world country. I will relate My experience as to my present place of residence.
Yes. I have known some rude and stupid Americans here and am currently dealing with one of the worst examples. But for the most part Americans here are living good and exemplary lives and several have received public recognition for their contributions to the local community. But sadly not one Canadian here has been able hold up to this reputation we have. Here are just a few examples.
The first Canadian I became acquainted with was actually a very likeable guy and we became friendly with each other. His one BIG flaw was that he always had a stash of marijuana or some kind of bi-product. This is quite serious in this country which get you life or get you executed! When my American friends and I would warn him He always laughed at American “stupidity and arrogance” about marijuana and brag about how enlightened Canadians were highly skilled at smuggling marijuana into the US and by extension to this nation we’re living in. He had some other behavior that would downright embarrass other Canadians but this problem of disregarding locals laws about marijuana, whether he agreed with it or not, finally brought him down in the end despite his arrogance that Canadians were on a mission to educate the world about weed. He ended up arrested and paid a king ‘s ransom to corrupt officials to get off the hook to the financial ruin of his elderly parents.
Another example was a middle aged Canadian man and his elderly parents came into the immigration office to renew their visas. When told they would have to go back outside to get a photo and photocopies of their passports (a no brainer) they began to loudly berate the local staff for their failure at accommodating them because “we Bring money to your country, you know! It would seem that you people could be a bit nicer since you’re so poor!”. They were loud and demeaning and although I’m not Canadian I cringed with embarrassment at being associated with them. (Like It or not, Americans and Canadians are associated in people’s minds). This family is well-known in the community for being rude, arrogant and berating the locals for their poverty and laziness.
The next example is my best friend who is also Canadian. One strange thing is that he dislikes/hates his Canadian compatriots and is quite verbal in saying so and prefers only Americans as friends. I love the guy but his personality is to pretend he’s a cranky old man as part of his humor. Unfortunately this type of humor surpasses comprehension of the locals. A few examples is at a restaurant he gives his order to the waitress and with a mean snarl in his face and in a loud shout at the waitress he’ll say, “Now F*** Off, Slut!” or when not getting the service he wants he’ll demean them for being monkeys! A few times at restaurants he’ll drink a bit too much and run around to all the locals also patronizing the place, drop to his knees, bow down at their feet and thank them for allowing him to leave Canada which he hates and live in their “Monkey infested Banana Republic”.
The last example was one Canadian who was a new arrival who thought he knew everything about this country and would take No advice from expats who’ve been here for a while. He made a video of his New life in this country and paid a small village to allow him to decorate that village with thousands of Canadian flags then video tape all the villagers singing Oh Canada! He distributed that video to anyone who could pass it too. He was laughed at all the way back to Canada.
I could give you other examples but suffice it to say that you Canadians Are Not the perfect examples you like to claim you are. In fact the tide turns the other way and I have seen instances in which Americans have been embarrassed and ashamed of our Canadian bothers.
I Went To England And Europeans English,Irish,French,Germans,Greeks Rude And Cheap.You Will Be Shock,And Also Some Latin Countries Shouting Racist Slurs,Beer All Over The Place.No Clothes.Indians Are Demanding And Push Without Commonsense.And Forget About Chinese I Won’t Even Go There.Talk Loud,Table Manners.I Found It Something Russians,Japanese,Israeli,Mexicans,Iranians,Some Americans One Of The Politest People Ever Meet.Find For Out For Yourself.Education Vs Manners.I Prefer Manners.Test Someone How They Talk,Dress,Eat,Listen,And Do Things At Medium Pace.Take Airflight And See.And Respect American Again.
Other factors come into play such as theocation of where you see these U.S tourists. For an example a 5 star hotel in an English speaking country may attract more tourists from the U.S. And they will need to have money to stay in a 5 star hotel. Therefore you are inclined to experience higher volumes of tourists who are accustomed to western hospitality and service. My experience with u.s tourists is that they are more demanding; which is what they are used to. They may seem more rude this way (perception of them plays a big part of it, if you are used to serving this type of guest you may not think they are rude). I have had experience with Indian tourists who stay in 5 star hotels. They can come across rude and demanding also. However if this is what they are accustomed to from wherever they are from it may not be rude in their culture. Different cultures plays a big role, both the tourist and the other person may have completely opposite cultures and backgrounds. it would seem that the greater the difference in culture, the more noticeable one is towards the other persons attitude. depending on how much experience people have had with other cultures and how they understand them.
This is precisely the sort of dribble that makes us, I would not say dislike, but to be disinclined to find north americans at all sophisticated. The strange psychology that lets them to write an article like this.
Most definitely, YES! It is rare to see a tourist nice and polite.
Everyone should remember treat others how you want to be treated. People think the world owes them…. Owes them what?
To all the obnoxious, rude, prejudice, racist, arrogant, assholes of the World. I hope karma throws rotten tomatoes at you.
its a shame im sure americans can be better tourists
with learning a bit more respect of other cultures.
I spent two months in Europe this fall (England, Germany, France, and Spain, not my first visit to any of them), and found very good helpful service everywhere. With a smile and a few words of the local language, people respond wonderfully. IN Europe (and other places), you have to remember to greet everyone (toll booth operator, bus driver, waiter, store clerk) as though you were entering their home. Hello, good-bye, thank you are required for every encounter. This ritual is important and after adapting to it, you can see the advantages to the formality.
There is a difference from Canada and US in that they do not change everything for the customer. Personally, I like this because I think we have too much choice. I like the discipline of eating what they have without changes, when the restaurant is open, having to shop when the store is open, not having absolutely any food and drink available anywhere anytime. I enjoy everything more when there is some limitations and discrimination to the pleasures.
I also like adapting myself to a different culture, living like they do as much as I can, to learn and enjoy.
The other thing I like to do is research by thinking, asking, reading, etc. why there is a cultural difference. Sometimes (nearly always) the motivation and history behind these differences is fascinating and far from random.
I think the reference to Canadians having a different accent is to the key words that differentiate us — about, roof, for instance, give Americans away and vice versa every time.
Americans tourists who I have spoken with in my native Dublin have come in a variety of volumes. The loud ones are just easier to notice…
I never encountered any rudeness from them either. Words I would use to describe American tourists I’ve met here include honest, direct and easy-going.
I used to walk to work past the Guinness Brewery, and you’d frequently get tourists from all over asking you to take a group picture for them.
I think the one place where I felt like the loud, obnoxious American was in Paris. I’ve travelled all over Latin and Central America and the Middle East, meaning I spoke the languages there, but I only took two semesters of French and it never really stuck. So I found myself getting frustrated at not being able to communicate and feeling like an idiot American, which I think in turn caused me to act somewhat more entitled than I ever normally would. I swore I would never travel somewhere again where I don’t know at least some basic phrases or study them before I get there.
I read this late last night, then I thought about my answer for awhile. I think there are several things happening that affect how people perceive American tourists.
1.) Politics-I am an EXCELLENT traveler. I am self-aware and honestly, I travel a lot, and read up on the country that I’m going to. I try to make sure I have a basic understanding of the country’s social norms, politics, and food. Despite this I have been mocked because of my American Accent in England (it was the Bush year’s but I didn’t vote for him and last time I checked there are 300 million Americans-we’re all different!) I was yelled at, and treated horribly. It was shocking because the basic assumption people should make when a foreign tourist is IN their country is that that individual is trying at least on a basic level to expand their mind/their world/their world view. I have had more negative experiences in England even after the Bush years. Ironically, I have a lot of English friends who I think believe me to be self-aware and they know I have an awareness of the world. Or else we probably wouldn’t be friends.
2.) People’s own personal behavior-Everyone has been raised differently. Some people are more aggressive/polite/etc. Based on how they were raised and their personalities.
3.) American Social Norms-A wilting flower will have a hard time getting their needs taken care of in the U.S. when there is a problem. Even shy people have an awareness of when it’s time to “pipe up” and be heard.
4.) American Nationalism-Let’s face it-Americans love the U.S. despite its many flaws. This love is shown in playing the national anthem at every sporting event with hand on heart, flags flying outside homes, the amount we talk about our country and sorry Putin just like the Russians we do think we’re exceptional-because that’s part of our national lexicon
5.) Cultural Mix-We have generations of people mixing from every country in the world. But I find that I am a lot more at ease traveling to countries such as most of South America, I imagine I would really like Ireland, most of Africa, and I love Europe. Basically, countries that reflect the cultural mix of America. I feel a lot more at ease in those countries.
6.) Volume-We are a loud people. There is no point in pretending otherwise. We are loud because of the cultural mixture, because being in a country with such a big population you have to “pipe up in order to be heard!” It would be nice if some travelers were more aware of their volume when traveling but at least most of these people are gaining more of a world view.
7.) Lack of a World View…and the U.S.’s place in the world-If you haven’t really traveled and it’s your first trip you have no idea of how your country is perceived by other people. This problem is made worse because we have such a high immigrant population and mixture that we thing we’re perceived in a positive light because people keep moving here.
8.) People Dislike tourists/Americans-because of this dislike people will look for all that we do wrong…even when we’re trying.
9.) Lack of Foreign Language skills-I have studied two foreign languages and work with an International clientele. There is nothing harder than being a well educated adult and then being put in the position of communicating on the level of a confused 4 year old. It is a very humbling experience and it teaches compassion towards those people who are communicating in English as a Second Language. We don’t learn other languages because the business language of the world is English AND when people immigrate to the U.S. (and any other country) by the 2nd or 3rd generation they are speaking English.
Oh, you didn’t understand me when I said it the first time? Let me say it again… still in English… and mouth the words slowly, annoyingly, and loudly. Surely when you see the exaggerated way my lips are moving you’ll suddenly understand!
(I don’t think American are the worst though – ‘we’ weren’t recently adding graffiti to Egyptian Temples)
Spent the month in Greece being polite and as quiet as possible. The locals were confused. I guess they got used to loud, drunk Americans spending freely in Athens.
BTW, I agree with you on the Asian tour groups. There are two ways to distinguish them: (1) how loud/quiet they are; (2) the style of clothes they wear.
For the second, you have to have had some experience in their fashion styles, but I think a categorisation is this: a) Chinese: fancy brands (whether fake or not), a bit garish fashion style, lots of very bright colour, not always matching; b) Koreans: bright, very stylish, lots of new technology gadgets; c) Japanese: even in clothing, in general they can be a bit more subdued and uniform (unless they dress up in harajuku style of course ;), but Japanese people don’t dress like that every single day!).
First: Chinese are very very loud; Japanese are the quietest people I’ve ever met; Koreans are kind of in between. Example, the amount they talk in the metro in these respective countries. In China, you can overhear a minimum of five conversations (whether by telephone or in-person) in the metro; in Korea (Seoul), people talked in the metro, but not too loudly – not in an annoying way; in Japan, almost no one talked! they are all staring at their smartphones or reading books – only once did I catch two ladies talking on the train, and they were whispering so quietly you could hardly hear them over the noise the train was making!
As to the American stereotype/speaking English thing, I’ve seen more than once Americans speaking English and if the person they were talking to didn’t understand them, speaking LOUDER. As if that is going to help.
Learning another language is very hard work. People who have never learned a second language usually have no comprehension how stressful it can be to try to converse in another language than your own. People from countries where the native language is English (America, Australia) and there is very little opportunity to experience other cultures with other languages fall into this category.
I am European, Dutch actually, and because my country is so small, I spend a lot of holidays or excursions in other countries. I started learning English at 10, French at 12, German at 13. I forgot pretty much everything French (though I could probably order a croissant or something like that), but I can do simple conversations in German. On skiing holidays in Austria, I would be the only Dutch kid in a group of German kids and my dad taught me a few German words (my first German sentence at probably age 6-7 I believe is “I need to pee” to say to the teacher in case I had to go) to get around. Especially when I started German in high school I was less isolated from the group and could have actual conversations with the kids at the table at lunch time or on the skiing lift, which I thought was pretty cool at the time.
But my level in those languages is still quite low and it is a bit stressful to speak them. Especially for people who have not had a lot of education, it is stressful or embarrassing to speak another language than their own. I don’t think it is right to expect everyone to speak good English, even if they are in the hospitality industry.
An example, I was in a hotel in China with my parents and there was a problem with my parents’ room – the stuff of the previous occupant was still there, so the bell boy went to get the manager. She tried to explain in English what she was going to do, but her English was not so good and you could see she was stressed. I came from my room and joined them. I told the lady I could speak Chinese and she could use Chinese to explain it to me. You could really see a huge sense of relief coming over her face and her confidence coming back when she started to explain in Chinese that she had asked someone to get new keys for a new room already and that we just had to wait for a bit.
Basically, my point is, in my experience the majority of people who don’t speak a 2nd language don’t realise how stressful speaking a 2nd language is, especially if your proficiency is not good enough, and how that can affect your confidence.
If I don’t speak the local language, I don’t expect the locals to speak good English automatically (it would probably be near impossible to expect them to speak my native language 😉 ). And if there are problems or misunderstandings, I realise that I may be to blame because I couldn’t communicate clearly enough what I wanted. In those situations, I think it is better to just let it slide (or what you would call, keep our heads down).
NB: I should note, Americans/Australians who *have* taken the trouble to learn a 2nd language, are usually more sensitive to these issues and don’t fall into this stereotype. It is amazing how much learning a new language can do for people’s outlook on life.
Yes I agree – a lot of this is not uniquely american. I find almost any large group of tourists annoying.
I also think people feel more comfortable criticizing american politics to the citizens without actually making it into a conversation. This is probably because america causes a lot of news, of course.
I’m always careful around people of other countries to ask a lot of questions and to limit criticism and judgements. I mean, what kind of reaction would one expect if they insult / criticize your home country within minutes of meeting you without first at least asking you what YOU think, as a citizen with likely more first hand knowledge? My philosophy is to ask a lot of questions and try to understand the perspective. As a “super power”, some people think america is a fair target (which may be true), but that doesn’t mean an individual american is a fair target!
I agree our customer service tends to be superior, but sometimes in the cities it is not so great. The midwest is noticeably superior to me, compared to L.A.! I don’t think it is fake at all – there is very much a “make the customer happy” attitude at most places
We’re also known for being open and friendly and fun, though! 🙂 Most of the other Americans that I’ve met (read: they travel) have been really cool. It’s only when I come back to the US, to those that DON’T travel abroad, that I have issues with how Americans act.
The Japanese are just as you describe. It was awesome being on the quiet trains there, save for the perv with the p0rnographic newspaper clearly savouring the pictures openly in the seat across from us.
I have run across some pretty awful Aussies, though. 🙁 This one group in Vanuatu was drunk and kept flirting with and (appallingly) goosing the extremely patient and increasingly uncomfortable Vatu waitress. The Ni Vatu people are the friendliest on Earth, and will bend over totally backwards for you–there was no way she was ever going to say ANYTHING–so my friend and I had to eventually step in to save her by complaining to the management (who was also Aussie). We also left her a huge tip (even though they don’t do that there) and she ended up bringing us to her uncle’s local nakamah that night. Had a great time. Hopefully we gave Americans a good name that evening. 🙂
Great points! The “rude american” is a stereotype, plain and simple. The US has cultural differences on what is rude and what isn’t even varies by region or from state to state. As someone who grew up and lives in Hawaii but traveled to the east coast and west coast for work and play including one month jaunts, our culture in Hawaii is quite different from NYC or the Bay Area. For example, in most of the US cities, it is expected people who stand on an escalator stand on the right to let people pass on the left. In Honolulu if you pass anyone on an escalator, they will think it very rude, pushy and impatient. They will assume you think you are so much more important than them and superior. In some areas of the US, if you see a Eurasian and inquire on their ethnicity, they will get offended and assume some prejudice or judgemental ulterior motive for asking. In Hawaii, it is a point of interest, “what are you?” is a way to learn more about you and usually a compliment as it means they think you are attractive or your children are very cute and are curious what type of mix you or they are. Even in Hawaii, many local Japanese are quiet (but not all, I have some loud Japanese friends!)and they don’t raise voices when having a friendly debate or telling a story but other ethnicities get more animated waving the arms all about and talking loud (but again, not all!). When I have a passionate discussion with my Puerto Rican/Hawaiian/Portuguese BF I sometimes feel like he’s yelling at me but to him he’s just talking and I’m being too sensitive (I’m Japanese).
When I used to travel to Hong Kong I always felt like I was being yelled at but really they were just trying to help me (customer service). When the Italians used to come visit (I worked for an Italian company) they were not always the most polite and gracious to us or hotels/dining/limo service. In fact, there were many times I had to manage our relationships after they left because the impression they gave to our vendors and employees was a high maka maka attitude (I’m better than you and this is unacceptable) rather than a humble and down to earth approach when they were displeased. They made it very clear repeatedly to us that they felt no one could do things as well as they do in Italy.
I agree with you and the person you asked about the English but again not all Americans. But, in general I would say we are one country that does not stress as much as other countries do to learn another language in our school system.
Michelle's Finance Journal
I’m American, but of Asian heritage. I went overseas and this drunk American guy was shouting racial slurs at my hubby and I while we were passing him by. I was fuming and ready to jump on him but my hubby calmed me down. My hubby approached the drunk loud American and respectfully but firmly talked to him. The guy seemed surprised that we spoke English(jerk!!!). The lady who was with him who wasn’t an American looked embarassed, but the guy had no shame and continued to harass everyone around him. Though he’s a “special” case, I can see why other people have bad perception of Americans.
This was amusing for me, a European! Obviously, you can never shove everyone into one pot, but there do seem to be typical types. The British have become very obnoxious abroad (usually drunk), the Germans are loud and always right, the French often grumble and can be snooty and so on. I find that Japanese tourists (we have a lot of them in Switzerland!) can be very giggly – and always admire my dog! Chinese and Koreans are also no problem. Sadly, it is true that Americans, Canadians and Australians are often seen in the same light in Europe and quite often, that light is unfavourable. I don’t think they are particularly loud or rude (Mediterraneans could take that label easily!), but there is something very brash that makes them quickly identifiable, as if they took up more room than the rest of us, and it is unfortunate that the twang of their various kinds of English catches the ear worse than British English… I think the general attitude is that they embarrass us Europeans somehow and we feel a certain pity (especially for Americans, who blow their freedom, liberty etc. trumpets and yet are so obviously tied down by their politics!!). The excitement because something is sooo old, which for us is also amazing but normal, or the assumption that we have no idea how wonderful their country is (it has its limits and we usually know it pretty well from our own travels), i.e. a certain amount of ignorance which goes hand in hand with rarely speaking anything but English! It’s not really easy to pinpoint. I think we often find them superficial, too (I have a lot of acquaintances and old schoolmates of those nationalities! i.e. rather than what I would term “friends”!).
As for customer service, it’s a bit of a myth – our experience in the US is that at a superficial level there is service but it doesn’t actually happen or exist in many cases!! My husband’s favourite story is of a business trip to Las Vegas, where they were bombarded by ads for Cirque du Soleil everywhere; although he’d already seen them in Europe, eventually after a few days, he thought ok, why not, and asked for tickets, only to be told the show was on holiday for 2 weeks… he also never got the promised laundry or shoe services at hotels all over the US, despite all the Colgate smiles and assurances. It’s just all really fake. In New York, he and his brother tried to shop at high-end stores but found there was rarely much choice and in one case, the assistant in a shoe shop had to go to another store to buy shoelaces for some shoes they were interested in!!! They came away with a lot less than they’d hoped (they are both tall and expected to find more choice in the Big Apple…). My own experiences in the US support this, it seems pretty backward to me compared to what I know here.
The Swiss, despite being a tiny landlocked nation, are great travellers to all parts of the world and from what I have seen, keep pretty quiet (though I have heard stories of them complaining – they do have high standards and generally travel high-end!).
In case anyone is wondering, I have British, German and Swiss passports, live between Switzerland, France and England and have done so all my life!
Well, people in western Europe have a reputation here in the USA and in many other countries for being pompous, arrogant and ignorant. Your comments live up to that reputation I’m afraid “Meld”.
HEY, WADDYA TALKIN ABOUT! AMERICANS AINT LOUD, WE’RE JUST DEAF FROM LISTENING TO EACH OTHER. 🙂 Sure, discriminate against the handicapped 😉
Actually, the last time I was in Canada, I got threatened and called names because a group of teenagers saw my New York license plate as I was driving by them. I avoided looking at them and hit the gas.
There are good polite people and rude nasties everywhere, it’s just who we choose to remember.
I have traveled over a lot of Europe as well as a few Mexican and Caribbean resorts. While I do sometimes see my fellow Americans being rude or loud or annoying that has mostly been at the resorts where alcohol is flowing, at the same time I have seen some pretty obnoxious Europeans in the same places.
I cannot recall seeing such behavior much in Europe itself. My husband and I are sensitive to the perception of Americans and go out of our way to be non-annoying Americans (well I don’t think we normally are anyway) and have had nothing but good experiences with service or getting along with locals. I think once in Paris we were ignored for service at a table and had to go complain but did so politely and the issue was resolved. We are all in the end ambassadors of our countries when we travel abroad, something I take very seriously.
To her credit, she wasn’t being sarcastic (it’s probably in the snarky way I retold the story, sorry!), just kind of haughty and utterly BEMUSED. On the other hand, after the ordering drama she turned to us and sniffily remarked that the staff didn’t seem to speak very good English. (IMO, if the local staff know enough to accept orders for items that *are* on the menu, that’s perfectly adequate and about as much as you can expect.)
Some of the southern countries (Italy and Greece) tend to be pretty loud too. Public arguments are always fun to watch.
The German students were generally baffled by why the Americans’ default volume was always loud, and in turn, the Americans generally baffled by the European ‘keep your head down’ mentality. Really interesting.
T laughs at my butchered pronunciation, but I always try and use whatever local phrases I do know to start with, say, when in a shop – I think it beats asking ‘Do you speak English?’ right off the bat.
That said, we’re definitely looking forward to the US and Canada. Europe has been great, but it’ll be nice to be somewhere with no language barriers.
@eemusings: Italy is a country composed of many cultural groups, northern Italians aren’t loud, I’m Italian ans I’m not loud. Please don’t generalize a country that is a mosaic of very different cultures.
Hi Mochimac. I haven’t traveled enough to weigh in on the stereotypes. I do know that of all the students I’ve taught from many, many countries around the world, the quietest were the Japanese. They were also the students that wrote to me after they left my classroom – even when they moved back to Japan. One of them drew three pictures I have hanging in my office. They always get stares and compliments. She went quietly about her business and made things happen. I bet she’s graduated from high school by now and is kicking butt right now.
Americans’ learning another countries language seem to snap out of all these stereotypes, thankfully. Though, I’ve had French homeless men spit on the shopping centre floor and tell me that’s what he thinks of Americans (after hearing English). Imagine his shock when I replied in French that I wasn’t American or English (whom they also hate), but Australian. Not Austrian. He was SHOCKED and toddled off in silence.
I work hard to be ‘quiet’ whilst I’m overseas, and when in doubt, I’m silent rather than noisy, a real ‘point at what I want’ style person, even in Germany where they are great with English!! Such a change in my character.
Lagarto Grande Pinche Chapulin
Obnoxious tourists are obnoxious tourists. Amerikans do however, sometimes throw that “we are exceptional” vibe. They are taught from birth how great they are, how EXCEPTIONAL their country and way of life is. It is a mixture of being insular and xenophobic at the same time. The u.s. is founded and built upon racism and the appropriation of cultures. That is a fact. Generally, they know very little of, or really care about other cutures. They will appropriate a culture because they really have none of their own. Their non-culture is based on military conquest and or Hollywood. They distort “freedom” and “liberty” to the point of discounting all else. They find it difficult to endure any form of derision regarding their “exceptualness” The Monroe Doctrine is their religion, and it shows in how they deal with the humans of the rest of the world. When traveling, they will hardly attemp to learn the language of their host country, and when they do, it is cursory and completely without context. So they stomp through their vacations being completely void of any true respect and understanding…THEY are doing you a favor by visiting your country.Canadians do not have that frame of mind, therefore they do not behave like that. Canada is MULTI CULTURAL, the u.s. is a “Melting Pot” (you gotta be an amerikan). Perhaps amerikans should just visit Florida. Go to Disney.Take a ride on one of those cruise barges they seem to be so enamoured with. Oh, and if you do not like what I am saying here, well just call in an air strike.