Advice to Americans travelling abroad – pretend to be Canadian

Our latest column from William Thomas

Apparently Americans are loud, arrogant and poorly dressed. Oh, – and they’re fat too. That revelation came from American journalist Jayne Clark in her lifestyle article: “That ‘ugly American’ image is getting a makeover guide.”

According to Wikipedia “Ugly American” is a pejorative term used to refer to perceptions of loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtlessness, ignorant and ethnocentric behavior of American citizens abroad. Somehow you never hear the Swiss described that way. And beside that definition is a photo of a half-naked American guy smoking a cigar, wearing a sombrero with two bottles of beer in each hand. No, it’s not Jimmy Buffett.

As a result a US business organization launched World Citizen Guide, a helpful yardstick that politely suggests Americans travelling in foreign lands should tone it down, dress it up and miss a meal once in a while. Their point: “People overseas don’t just dislike our foreign policy; they dislike us.”

It’s like that old Bob Hope line: “It’s a thrill to be here in Russia. Surprisingly enough, I’m not having any trouble with the language. Nobody speaks to me.”

I don’t see Americans as loud, arrogant or poorly dressed … at least not since I quit going to Florida. And anybody who thinks Americans are exclusively obnoxious and overweight has not stayed at a Caribbean resort hotel popular with middle-class Germans.

Every traveler could benefit for the advice offered by World Citizen Guide – speak lower and slower, avoid slang, listen as much as you talk, lose the cut-offs and keep your religion and politics to yourself. If the discussion of religion and politics get you into a brawl at bars in Buffalo, New York, boasting about Trump and God in Egypt could get you mummified.

Part of the problem might be words that are lost in translation. Like: ‘Eco tour?’ “Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to brag so much – I thought you said ‘Ego tour’!”

Here then are a few dos and don’ts for Americans wanting to be better accepted while travelling abroad.

Do not say: “Why two toilets in one bathroom?”

Say: “It’s pronounced ‘bid-ay’. It’s like a carwash for your undercarriage”

Do not say: “That’s the Eiffel Tower? It looks like the Lego version of the Empire State Building.”

Say: “Ah Pareee! It’s great they allow dogs in restaurants here. No, he can keep the chop.”

Do not say: “Did I see Florence? She clipped me for half my traveler’s cheques and stole my iPhone. If I wasn’t married, I’d have called the cops!”

Do not say: “The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Sounds great. Back home we use mostly lethal injection or the electric chair.”

Say: “I agree, those guys and their gondolas are really cute. It’s a great way to celebrate flooding.”

Do not say: “You’d think a taxi driver in London, England would be able to speak American!”

Say: “Yeah, Harry and Meghan. I loved the wedding. Will there be another parade if they divorce?”

Do not say: “You don’t need to tell me about the bell-ringers in the abbey. We got at least two Avon ladies in our neighbourhood alone!”

Say: “I love opera. It’s like the Sopranos, except they sing.”

Do not say: “You call that a car? Back home, I’d keep one of those in my trunk for a spare!”

Say: “No, I love soccer. I just wish they’d throw a few more touchdowns instead of punting all the time.”

Do not say: “Yeah, we had a delightful seven-course meal last night in Dublin – boiled potatoes and a six-pack of beer.”

Say: “No, that’s good to know. If it’s cold, it’s soup and if it’s warm, it’s beer.”

And finally, say “Eh?” a lot. It never hurts to be mistaken for an overly polite Canadian. Just learn how to say please and thank you in the local language and all the words to the Hockey Song. I love ice hockey, barn hockey, road hockey, table hockey, pond hockey, field hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey … Wear a toque, start every sentence with ‘Sorry’ and you’ll be right as rain abroad my friend.

For comments, ideas and copies of Never Hitchhike On The Road Less Travelled, go to www.williamthomas.ca

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