Last summer, I took part in a group dinner at Bali Bohemia in Ubud, Bali. Amid my plate of goreng and an arak madu cocktail, I happened to glance around our table of ten or so expats and nomads, all of whom were part of the Outpost coworking space. What I noticed surprised me: nearly every person came from a different country. We had travelers from across Europe, the US, multiple Asian countries, even a guy from The Bahamas, all intermingled in conversation over post-work dinner and drinks. It was a truly beautiful thing that I’ll never forget.
It got me thinking, how do Americans stand out? When we sat down, what signifiers did our server pick up from me that I am “for sure” an American? I actively avoid wearing American flag apparel. I never buy those street-stand tank tops sporting the logo of the local mass-produced light beer in whatever country I’m in.
But still, everyone always seems to know where I’m from. What are the signifiers, even before I come forth with my hometown (Denver)? I took to Quora and Matador’s extensive back catalog of expat content to find out. Here’s what I discovered:
We’ll start with something that even I pick up on:
American dudes and their tendency to rock those tank tops sporting the local domestic beer, no matter the weather:
“When Americans come for summer they think it will be 50ºC every day,” explains Natalia Corak, a resident of Croatia, on Quora, “but weather can change easily and then when you spot people with short pants, flip-flops, and colorful T-shirts without an umbrella running through the city to get ASAP to somewhere dry, they for sure are Americans.”
Michael Marian adds: “I can spot Americans by their clothes. It always looks like they went shopping especially for the trip. The men always have knee-length shorts with massive pockets on the sides, pristine white socks, and brand new white trainers. Baseball caps are a must.”
On our inability to talk at a reasonable volume:
In my time abroad, this is the most common observation I hear about Americans. We talk loud, and we like to be heard. “Before anything, we will hear them,” said Colina Arakis on Quora. “They can be so extremely loud! Any tourist can be loud but you can hear ‘OH MY GAWWWWDDDD’ from across the street and assume that they are either American or making fun of Americans.”
While Colina certainly isn’t alone in making this observation, perhaps we have an excuse: our accents just don’t allow for quiet communication! “It’s not just the volume, there’s something about American accents which carries especially well,” notes Nick Leroy on Quora.
Thomas L. Johnson offers a possible explanation for our boisterous behavior: “Americans are loud around friends and American culture erects very few barriers to friendship.” He continued: “Americans occupy a larger personal space, probably due to the fact that they live in a large and mostly uncrowded country. When in a French or German restaurant, for instance, it is not unusual to see them talking between tables, which usually leads to louder voices. Until they are reminded that they are louder than anyone in the place, they are usually unaware of their noise-making.”
In the interest of fairness here, Matador’s own Matt Hershberger offers a classic American rebuttal: “The next time you hear an American talking loudly, no matter where you are in the world, please understand they aren’t doing it because they’re inconsiderate or obnoxious. They’re doing it because their local bartender back home is going through a serious Katy Perry phase and just can’t bring himself to dial back on ‘Teenage Dream.'”
On our unusual diets and eating habits:
Are Americans always on a diet? It appears that much of the world thinks so, anyway. “I’ve watched a svelte Romanian woman put away two pounds of polenta with ease and no one batted an eye,” noted Eileen Cotter Wright in this piece for Matador. “But God forbid I tuck into a plate of ribs. I’ll get chastised by men around me for being too much of a ‘fat American girl.'”
On our continued amazement in other countries’ ability to have cool stuff:
Colina Arakis brings us home with this point: “(The) last thing that lets my ‘American tourist radar’ go off the charts? If I hear a tourist say ‘WHAAAAT? THEY HAVE [any modern thing] HERE????’ It is very American to treat most, if not all countries, like a place where the time stood still.”
Apparently, we Americans need to wipe that flabbergasted look off our collective faces.