What Americans Do Wrong
Americans, despite having our protected, well-geared home nation, are almost always in the hot seat. Politically, financially, you name it: we are conflict collectors. It's no wonder so many foreigners hate our guts.
In a conversation I had with Julie, my friend from Dublin, the first thing she surmised was about manners. Americans crumple up European manners and "shove" their loud personalities around in public settings. My first instinct was to be defensive, but then I realized she was right.
We love to walk into other people's nations and live like we're in our own.
So, here is a growing list of things American tourists neglect or butcher in public settings. And, since I'm a devout American citizen as well, there had to be a list of things we're doing right.
Things Americans do wrong in public settings:
We're shocked by small portions.
Quality over quantity. Who knows? Maybe your very American stomach could use a bit of that. Prepare to spend more for less, but more for better.
We're shocked by the price of street vendors products.
Most vendors in Europe and Asia handcraft their goods (unless, of course, they were visibly printed or mass produced). Bargaining these down can be a slap in the face, since people come from all around the globe to take salt from these artisans. Careful, Toto. We're not on Canal Street anymore.
We scourge for details about the menu.
Pick out two things that your eyes revert to, save your questions for those, and get yourself through line quickly. When we go foreign, we tend to think that strange things will appear in our foods - we’re right! They usually do. Accept it and be willing to try.
We Americanize our meals.
Whether by the powers of ketchup, mayo, mustard, or fry sauce, or by having anything foreign-sounding removed from our burgers, we set ourselves up to have food spat on. Careful! That’s a universal thing.
We take offense to the minor things
Honking in the USA is a bit of a road rage hit. In cities anywhere else, it's part of a common street language. Getting riled up about horn honks, less-than-friendly waiters, and unaccommodating fellow people is just to your disadvantage: getting over it is the only solution. Cops? The justice system? It won't work here.
When I hear people doling out gaping, "You don't carry pickles here?" and "You've never heard of In n Out?" with that all too familiar disgust, Betsy Ross rolls over in her grave. Insulting a culture is a one way ticket to being shut off. Bashing on a culture only fires them up, and besides being rude, it's also very ignorant. Come on, guys! Love your moments, love where you are.
Here are some things Americans do right, but maybe not for the setting:
We let people go before us.
For being the loudest ones in the room, we sure do let people push past. In city settings, you’ll get trampled. Be aggressive in line, don’t be scared to force your space on the subway.
Do this, and generously. BUT: it’s very common for restaurants in Europe to take the tips right out of the check, so make sure each time you sign a bill that you’re not adding a few unnecessary bucks to the tab.
We trust people.
It’s easy to get caught in a conversation about someone’s mixed tape, or something they’re handing you in a frenzy, but the second they start asking for donations, that’s when you realize the hole you’ve dug.
We talk to strangers.
“Hello, ma’am, can you spare a minute?” Ignoring is a perfectly suitable response. All locals do it.
We help people.
In dire situations, our sense of unity really shines through, and there's no downside to this. Sure, someone might take advantage of us for swooping in when a woman loses her bags down the stairs, but when it comes to Americans, we're the first on the scene.
Maybe, if you're destined to travel Europe at some point soon, you can avoid the same ills that Americans catch the blame for.
Never forget that manners are vital to understanding a culture. Do research. Be aware. Brush up. Being proud of your own home is a great thing, but you wouldn't run through a stranger's home with your shoes on, would you?
Do good, be good, live well.