Before an American traveler even opens his or her mouth, chances are everyone around them already knows where they came from. (Not to mention where they went to school, their mothers’ names, and probably even all their current travel plans.) There are tell-tale signs in their mannerisms, their habits, what shocks them, and often it’s even written all over their faces.
It’s not necessarily intentional; they probably don’t even know they’re doing it. They’re just being themselves, the same way French people are French and Chinese people are Chinese. But, for certain reasons, it’s just easier to spot them in a foreign crowd than it is travelers from other cultures.
Here are the ways to single out an American anywhere in the world.
They don’t understand the metric system.
There are only three countries in the entire world that don’t use the metric system and the United States is one of them. Instead of meters, kilometers, and liters, for instance, Americans use things called inches, feet, miles, and gallons that have little to no consistent relation to one another. And instead of the Celsius temperature scale, Americans use a system of measuring temperature called Fahrenheit which flat-out just doesn’t make any sense.
Despite the fact that Americans have their own weird way of measuring things, they also have no idea how to use the metric system when venturing out into the rest of the world.
They have perfectly straight, pearly white teeth.
Americans take their dental health seriously and tend to showcase a mouthful of perfectly straight, unnaturally white teeth you don’t find in many other places. In the United States, getting braces is a common occurrence in one’s early teenage years while the process of teeth-whitening can, and does, take place at any age.
Teeth whitening in America comes in many forms—from simple whitening toothpastes that include hydrogen peroxide as an active ingredient, to at-home bleaching kits, and all the way up to expensive procedures involving dental professionals and their lasers.
A mouth that seems normal to an American often seems fake to a foreigner, and for good reason—it is.
They get publicly drunk.
It’s obvious—Americans like to have a good time. Perhaps it’s having too much of a good time they have an issue with. Americans are always looking for an excuse to party and, understandably, spending time in a foreign country is something that needs celebrating. Back home, heavy public drinking is the norm while drinking at home is somewhat taboo.
Besides, the drinking age in the United States is 21 and much, much lower in most other countries, if they have them at all. It’s no surprise American drinking habits are so much more extreme—they’re making up for lost time.
They’re prudes where nudity is concerned.
Americans didn’t grow up with uncensored television, communal showers, and topless beaches. They weren’t raised on Renaissance art and stark realities. So, when an American travels abroad and encounters such things, he/she is typically shocked at what they’re seeing displayed so nonchalantly.
Eyes are covered, the channels are changed, and apologies are given. Bathing suits are worn to bathhouses and priceless works of art are giggled at. And chances are that is all done by an American.
They are always asking for ice.
With the exception of coffee, tea, and a select few other beverages, Americans prefer their drinks cold. Ice cold, that is.
Drinks of all kinds, from cocktails to colas, are served with a glass full of ice. And when that runs low, they add more. When traveling abroad, being served a room temperature beverage with no ice in sight is almost always an American traveler’s first rendezvous with culture shock.
To other cultures, adding ice to these drinks is merely a manner in which to water them down—and why would anyone want that? But to Americans, it’s a way of keeping the drink cold—they often don’t last long enough to get watered down anyway.
They take everything to-go.
Perhaps it has something to do with the American ideal to not waste a single minute, but Americans are always on the go. They eat while they walk and they drink their coffee from paper cups while
on their way somewhere. In Europe, coffee in all its forms would be consumed while sitting at a café or standing up at the bar—never while on the go.
The dining aspect of many cultures is something to be respected and focused on, while the American focus is on getting as much done and wasting as little time as possible. Because of this, eating and drinking are often seen as obstacles to overcome and “fast food” is the way to go.
And speaking of…
They eat at McDonald’s.
In what some may call “the world’s biggest mystery” (okay, that may be an exaggeration), American travelers find nothing wrong with hopping a plane to a foreign country, shelling out money for new experiences in a new part of the world, yet still eating the same mediocre (if that) hamburger they can get across the street from their own apartments.
It’s somewhat understandable, McDonald’s is familiar and has been a staple in their lives from the very beginning. But when Americans travel abroad, something about those golden arches draws them in with magnet-like force.
There’s a chance they’re overweight.
That American characteristic of being ever on-the-go results in a lot of unhealthy food being consumed in an effort to save time. This is just part of the reason the United States has the highest obesity rate in the world—32.2% for men and 35.5% for women.
While 66% of American men and women are either obese or overweight, that same statistic is just 37% for the rest of the world. This isn’t to say that spotting an overweight person abroad means they’re American, but it does say the odds are in their favor.
They wear baseball caps.
Baseball became the American pastime way back in the early 1900s and still today it seems American travelers are insistent on being ready for a game at a moment’s notice.
The baseball cap—though not entirely baseball-centric anymore—is the American version of France’s beret, of Mexico’s sombrero, of Morocco’s fez. It’s the quintessential piece of American headwear.
Baseball caps in America have evolved way past baseball at this point. You can (and will) find just about anything on one whether it be teams from other sports, clothing brands, random illustrations, or words and phrases to make their own personal statements. Baseball caps these days are worn by men and women, athlete or not, adults and children, and sometimes even pets because America is an interesting place.
They don’t care about soccer.
For whatever reason, the most popular sport on Earth never made it into the hearts and minds of Americans. (It’s probably all that baseball, right?) That’s not to say there aren’t professional soccer (known as ‘football’ in the rest of the world) leagues in the United States—they’re just not as popular as American football, baseball, basketball, and even hockey.
In the U.S., soccer is typically reserved for young children and is often played as their first team sport.
They wear fanny packs.
It’s no surprise really, given the amount of warnings American travelers are given about pick-pockets abroad, that they’d prefer to keep their valuables where they can see them. Right there on their
hips in a zippered pouch.
Fanny packs are not actually all that common in America, but for one reason or another have become part of the standard packing ritual.
They’re obsessed with hand sanitizer.
For whatever reason, Americans tend to have more preoccupation with germs than citizens of other countries and are quick to pull out the Purell at a moment’s notice. Check in almost any American traveler’s fanny pack and you’ll undoubtedly find a tiny bottle or two of the stuff.
Americans are stereotypically a cleaner group of people—showering religiously, never going without deodorant, and slathering on the creams, lotions, and perfumes. Whether it actually protects the user from global germs or just acts as a false sense of security, Americans aren’t soon to give up their hand sanitizer. They are willing to share though.
They talk to anyone and everyone.
And it’s not just the accents that give them away.
Americans are an outgoing bunch, openly conversing with strangers about anything and everything. Maybe it’s asking for directions, maybe it’s complimenting someone’s shoes, or maybe it’s just an innocent ‘hello.’ Whatever it is, friendly Americans do not shy at talking to strangers abroad—a characteristic that can immediately single one out.
This trait can be especially off-putting to some whose cultures are quite the opposite, like Germany. This very American attribute can often come off as suspicious and can potentially make locals a little uncomfortable.
They will also talk about anything and everything.
Americans are also generous—they openly share anything and everything with people they meet, even for the first time. Americans are quick to open up to strangers, sharing their feelings, their plans, and other intimate details of their lives back home. Is it because knowing they’ll probably never see those people again is comforting in a way? Empowering even?
While other cultures tend to be more on the reserved side, Americans are an open book. Until someone shows some breasts on TV, that is.
They’re generous with the applause.
Clapping after a live performance when the artist(s) can see or hear is understandable. But it’s how Americans applaud things like an exciting scene in a movie or when a plane lands safely that confuse many others around the world.
Americans were brought up to show respect for a job well done, whatever that job is. They’re taught to say ‘thank you’ from a young age and the rousing applause is just another way for them to show their appreciation.
And in relation to that…
Americans are bursting with positivity.
Americans were brought up being told that anything in possible. Because of this, Americans tend to have a sense of outwardly, unbridled optimism. Americans tend to smile more than other travelers, strike up conversations with random strangers, will cheer for almost anything, and have an unyielding belief that everything is going to be okay.
Everything to Americans is ‘awesome’—everything. A word that used to describe ‘something that which inspired awe’ is now used to describe, well, just about anything that doesn’t suck.
They tip. Very well.
In many other countries around the world, tipping in a restaurant is not a common practice. In America, on the other hand, tipping is the sole method through which workers in the service industry
make a living.
In America, restaurant servers are paid extremely low wages by their employers and it’s up to the customer to pay for their service accordingly. In Europe, for instance, employees are paid a generous living wage by the restaurants and therefore do not require to be tipped. Americans tend to feel guilty about not leaving extra money for the server and err on the side of common decency.
They use a lot of slang.
Most notably, words like ‘bro’ and ‘sup’ help Americans stand out among the crowds. American English is very, very slang-driven and the terms and phrases differ all over the huge country. Though some may not translate, Americans still use them when they travel abroad even if they fall on deaf
Just like Australians say ‘mate’, Americans say ‘ bro’. It’s their tell.
They speak only English and expect everyone else to also.
Foreign languages are taught in American schools, but only as electives and second thoughts, not as mandatory curriculum. Because of this, and the fact that English is so prominent in their home country, Americans typically speak nothing else. Despite being the “Great American Melting Pot”, the United States is extremely large and Americans can be hard pressed to be exposed to other languages on a regular basis.
Also, word has gotten out that English is spoken all around the world. Though not always a first language, learning English in foreign countries is often required from a very young age. Almost all over the world you’ll find that English is spoken even if in small doses. Americans know this and therefore don’t work too hard on assimilating during their travels.
They are super loud.
Maybe the most obvious way an American traveler abroad gives themselves away is by their volume. Americans’ “inside voices” are on a totally different scale than the rest of the world and can be heard over everyone else’s. Whether it be shouting across a crowded restaurant, chit-chatting on the street, laughing unabashedly at a hilarious joke, or just having a regular face-to-face conversation, American conversationalists are louder than your average traveler.
They’re not familiar with the local customs.
When Americans travel, it’s often to see the world’s sights—not to experience the culture. Americans show up for sightseeing without doing much more than the bare minimum amount of research. They concentrate on museum opening times, recommended restaurants, and the best photographic opportunities and not so much on proper local etiquette and rituals.
Americans on the road are constantly being shocked—by the age of famous monuments, by the way locals are acting in a particular circumstance, by the foods they’re presented with, and so much more. And a lot of that is due to a lack of research beforehand.
They get really excited when they meet other Americans.
You’d think coming from a country with a population of over 320 million that seeing another American wouldn’t be all that special. However, when American travelers meet other American travelers abroad, celebrations ensue. They’ll high-five and buy each other drinks. Then, things get loud.
At first sight you may think they’ve just run into a long-lost relative when, in fact, they’re perfect strangers who just happen to understand each other’s perfectly white teeth. They’ll probably also say things like, “’Sup bro?”
Grown men wear shorts.
Shorts in general are not as common in the rest of the world as they are in the United States. Grown men wearing shorts, especially, is just about unheard of. In most of the world, shorts are reserved for children and only in very warm environments. Americans tend to wear shorts at every opportunity, even when the weather isn’t all that stifling.
Pair these with some white socks and a fanny pack and you’ve just hit the trifecta.
They wear American brands.
Americans wear American brands and American brands advertise themselves right there on their products, making them easy to identify anywhere in the world. A jacket isn’t just a jacket—it’s a North Face jacket. Brands like Old Navy, Ralph Lauren, American Eagle, Hollister, Gap, and so many more very American brands all sell products with their company names displayed all over them.
Additionally, wearing T-shirts showcasing various events you took part in or places you visited will do the trick in the same way. Think: the one you have from that 10k you completed, or that fundraising event you attended, or that museum you visited.
They’re incredibly patriotic.
America is the greatest country in the world—as every American will be quick to tell you. Start a conversation with an American traveler abroad and chances are you’ll get an earful about how much
they love their country. And that’s a great thing!
Americans were brought up to love their country and the ideals that formed it. They hang American flags from their houses, sing the National Anthem on a regular basis, and, most likely, own at least a few pieces of American flag-adorned pieces of clothing or accessories. What else would they wear to BBQs in the summer? U-S-A! U-S-A!