A while back, I came across a list of things American tourists are guilty of doing in foreign countries. Things that we obviously don't give a second thought. Some are merely odd and others are considered offensive.
Expecting American Food To Be Everywhere
When traveling in a foreign country, if you're looking for McDonalds or Starbucks, you won't be disappointed since these chains and many other familiar ones are readily available worldwide. But that doesn't mean you can order your favorite food item. These franchises succeed in foreign countries by accommodating local tastes and customs.
Exposing Your Toes For All To See
In some Middle Eastern and Asian countries, feet are treated as the filthiest part of the body. Americans don't view toes this way, so our lack of foot concern comes off as strange and impolite. In many countries, you're expected to take off your shoes before entering a room and don't point your feet in anyone's direction. In other countries, showing the bottom of your feet is considered very rude.
A surefire way to stand out as different when traveling in a foreign country is to dress like an American. Shorts, skirts, and short-sleeved shirts might seem like smart choices, especially if you're visiting a place that's hot all year or traveling in summer. Depending on where you go, your exposed skin could be offensive. Not only do these fashion errors make us stand out, they can mark us as tourist targets for scammers and criminals.
Wasting Food And Water
When Americans decided that bigger was better (as they say at McDonalds, do you want that super-sized?), we also began wasting resource at a dangerous rate. All-you-can-eat buffets, huge food portions, and needlessly leaving water running while brushing our teeth or washing our hands makes us one of the most wasteful countries in the world. Places like France have passed laws making food waste for supermarkets illegal, encouraging businesses to donate it to charity. When in a foreign country, conserve like a local.
Expecting Rush Service
Expecting quick service while in a foreign country is the quickest way to get a double glance from the locals. In the U.S., our tipping culture encourages fast service. In most countries, tradition requires little or no tip. As soon as you complain that you've been waiting too long, don't be surprised if you are ignored completely. [On one of my trips to London, we sat in the lobby of the hotel for three hours with our luggage because nobody could find a key for our room. The hotel manager apologized by saying, "I know things happen quickly in the States…" After another hour, I finally asked if someone could use a passkey and let us in the room so we could deposit our luggage and at least change clothes since we'd been on a flight all night. It was the next day before they could produce a key for us. The hotel had actual keys rather than the electronic key cards that the registration clerk swipes and assigns to a specific room when you check in.]
Wearing Fanny Packs
If you don't like the idea of wearing a money belt because you think it's too touristy, then just wait until you decide on a fanny pack in another country. They are far out of fashion's reach and visually mark you as an easy target.
Putting Ice In Everything
Ice is an automatic part of American life. We want it in every cold drink. We fill ice chests with it to go to the beach or camping. We even changed the design of freezers to produce more ice quicker. If you weren't born in the U.S., you probably don't understand our fascination with ice. If you're from the U.S. and are traveling in a foreign country, back off of the ice requests.
Giving Rude Hand Gestures
Americans tend to communicate with our hands, some more than others. Even automatic things like offering a hand shake when meeting someone or giving a thumbs up or an ok sign can be misinterpreted when done in a foreign country. And in China, pointing is very rude.
Using Your Left Hand
Middle Eastern, Indian, Asian, and African countries all have one thing in common—they expect food to be eaten with the right hand only. Common practice for those of us who are right-handed. But for you left-handers, they consider the left hand unclean.
Not learning Local Phrases
In case those born in the U.S. don't realize it, English is one of the most difficult languages to learn. That's why it's particularly hypocritical when we travel in foreign countries that we expect the locals to know at least a few English phrases. Showing cultural respect can be as simple as memorizing a greeting and a couple of basic questions. Americans expect everyone coming to our country to speak English. On the other hand, when we travel to foreign countries, we expect them to accommodate us by speaking English.
Showing Bad Table Manners
Just because we use knives, forks, and spoons doesn't mean other countries do, too. It's ok to use utensils if available, but you should know what is and isn't considered rude at the dinner table. Bad manners—eating anything with your hands in Chile, using a fork to shovel food in your mouth in Korea, putting used chopsticks on your empty plate when you've finished eating in Japan.
Requesting Menu Changes
In the U.S., no one would give a second though if someone requested more salt or pepper in a restaurant, in fact, salt and pepper shakers are common as part of the table setting. In Europe, this might insult the chef since it changes the way he prepared the food. And don't ask for a 'doggy bag' for your leftovers. They might think you intend to feed their food to your dog rather than finishing your meal in the restaurant.
Smiling At Strangers
Maybe we're wanting to show off our expensive dental work or just want to be polite. Whatever the reason, Americans smile too much, especially at strangers when we make eye contact. In some foreign countries, that could get you a nasty look in return.
Talking Too Loudly
The U.S. is an expressive culture. Freedom in American means you can usually be as loud as you want, mostly wherever you want. But when U.S. citizens travel to foreign countries, we attract attention by raising the volume of our voices a tad higher than everyone else in the room. Make sure you aren't the annoying tourist who won't pipe down.
And finally, there's…
Writing Dates Backward
Unlike many places in the world, we don't use metric measurements, our spelling system makes no sense to anyone else (even in the U.K. where English began), and our date format is out of order. While most countries use the DD/MM/YYYY format, we've stepped outside the box since July 4, 1776. We write the numerical date as MM/DD/YYYY. When you travel, be aware that 07/04/2021 is April 7, 2021, and not the 4th of July.