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.