Traveling to a foreign country for the first time can be a rough experience for some. Language barriers are intimidating and cultural differences abound, not to mention the fact that you are in a new place and have no idea where much of anything is located. It can be tough for anyone to remain calm and practice kindness in moments like this — and unfortunately, Americans aren’t always known as the best at doing so.
A lighthearted thread developed on Quora surrounding this topic, started by a self-conscious American reflecting on her first visit to Russia. A few common themes stood out in the comments. “Failing to try to speak the local language (even just a couple of basic words), and/or assuming that everyone there can and will speak to you in your own language,” as user Diana Arneson pointed out, is one theme that came up multiple times.
Diana went on to note that Americans often tend to view their country as superior and that this isn’t an acceptable behavior when abroad. Things tend to go awry when Americans begin “Boasting about your own country’s beauties and perceived superiority in some way,” she said. “We Americans don’t like it when foreigners come over here and turn up their noses at our achievements, claiming that those of their own country are superior. They don’t like it when we do it, either.”
Making assumptions about locals is another no-no, particularly when that preconception is made public. Theodora Gwatidzo, a Zimbabwean, found herself on a shuttle bus from an airport to a hotel in her home country when she was caught off-guard by such an instance. “We soon strike up a conversation with our nearest neighbours (the natives are friendly here ). A woman in the next seat interrupts and says, in baffled tones, “Your English is really good”, and her male companion adds, almost accusingly: “you sound educated!”
I cringed just reading this, but Theodora noted, “I don’t remember feeling offended, just mildly taken aback and amused at the level of unconscious presumptuousness.”
Stuff like asking locals about basic services like electricity and comparing everything to back home tends to show a lack of research on our end, something that many Americans seem to be guilty of. This tends to result in some awkward questions and bewildered stares. “In my experience, some Americans visit foreign countries with an attitude that is very often full of sincere wonder, but also often patronizing, as if they were visiting a theme park,” said Giorgio Anselmi.
It’s not all negative on our end, however. Many commenters noted that the majority of Americans are “the cool, friendly and fun tourists,” as put by Nikola Englová. The thread highlighted that Americans are generally a happy and outgoing bunch, even when our voices carry a bit too far. If there’s anything conclusive to draw from this thread, it’s that Americans can be really well received, as long as we view the places we visit through a level, respectful lense.