10 Sure-Fire Ways to Spot an American Tourist

By Adria Saracino, a fashion blogger and stylist with The Emerald Closet, a Seattle-based fashion blog that offers up street style, advice, news, and inspiration.

“Hey, Bobby! Hey! Ya gotchyer raincoat ready? Hey that Lye-chester Square was somethin’, wasn’t it?”

Of course, real Londoners know that the tube comes with a shroud of silence – except, of course, between 5pm and close, when the noise level raises along with the pub occupancy – and any kind of talk will be the mark of the tourist. But it’s not just the tube where American tourists stick out; it’s pretty much anywhere fashion is involved. Here are the top ten ways American tourists stand (or jump or shout) right out of the crowd.

1. Not observing local customs

You might not share the opinion of many cultures abroad that a woman should cover her head in public, but if that’s the cultural norm, the best way you (if you’re a woman) can show your respect and gain access to all that culture has to offer is by observing their tradition. Wearing a scarf may just help you empathise with the way other people live around the world – which is kind of the point of travel, right?

2. The smile

By and large, the American dental experience is far superior to most first-world countries. What’s more, we love our white, straight-toothed smiles, and we flash ’em all around like the AmEx cards few non-American vendors accept. Beware that in most cultures, smiles are a rare invitation to chat, especially from women. Old-fashioned American friendliness might get you a lot of conversation, but it won’t help you blend in.

3. Beat up tennis shoes

Don’t get me wrong. The rest of the world loves their tennis shoes as well, but the sneakers they wear tend to be more fashionable than your run-of-the-mill track shoes. Rather than dull white sneakers, picture a fun, green pair peeking out from beneath the hem of two finely cut, high quality jean cuffs.

4. Not attempting to speak the language

Yes, English is the global language, so what? There’s nothing worse than an American who rants about immigrants in our country not speaking English or complains about having their calls outsourced to an Indian who’s really trying, only to travel abroad and begin shouting loudly and slowly at a Spanish waiter, “DO. YOU. HAVE. STEAK. EL STEAK-A?” Get a phrase book and some manners.

How to tell American tourists

5. Fanny packs

First of all, fanny means something entirely different in British English, so beware. Secondly, fanny packs? Really? They don’t even look good in the United States, let alone abroad. They are a clear invitation for thieves, and they’ve got ‘tourist’ written all over them. Leave this fashion faux pas at the bottom of the closet where it belongs.

6. Schlumpy t-shirts

The surest way to spot an American tourist: look for the slob in the untucked t-shirt, sidling up to the travel currency exchange window and drawling about needing some buckaroos. First of all, you can handle your currency exchanges before you even leave the states. Secondly, have a little class; at least tuck the t-shirt in!

7. Talking about how awesome we are

Look, we can all agree that the US is a pretty kickin’ place. Home of the free, melting pot waves of amber grain and all that. But you didn’t go abroad to preach the gospel of America, you went to experience a new place and a fresh culture. Taste, touch, feel, listen and observe, and above all, refrain from saying, “See, in America, we do it more like this…” Believe me, they’ve seen what it’s like on every media channel out there, and they aren’t looking for yet another reminder.

Spotting an American tourist

8. City paraphernalia

You know how it’s super-lame to wear a band’s t-shirt to their concert? The same thing goes for tourism. Parisians don’t need to have a map of the metro printed on their t-shirts; they ride the thing every day.

9. Asking for tap water

In many places across the world, bottled mineral water is the just the norm. Asking for anything else is sure to reveal your tourist status. Also keep in mind that, in many other places around the world, you’re going to want bottled water, so just smile and accept it.

10. The North Face jacket

I know, I know. This will come across as sacrilege to college campuses far and wide, but the thing is, this popular brand is only popular among Americans. Europeans, for one, simply do not wear North Face, and pretty much no other culture wears jackets that are ten times puffier than the frame beneath it. There is one exception and that is, of course, the Nordic cultures, where that much warmth is actually needed. A trendy pea coat and scarf, despite not being as warm or as practical for inclement weather, is really the only route to a sophisticated, worldly look when traveling abroad.

So there you have it: the top 10 sure-fire ways to tell an American tourist. Ignore them at your own touristy peril.

Thanks to  Ed Yourdonardenswayoflife for the excellent images from Flickr. Please note, all images were used under the Creative Commons License at the time of posting. 

Yikes! What do you think about this guest post – agree or disagree, let us know in the comments box below… 

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34 Responses to “10 Sure-Fire Ways to Spot an American Tourist”

  1. I don’t know what is more hilarious, the article or the Americans who just cannot laugh at themselves and take themselves too seriously. Get used to it guys, the world is better off without the 10 kinds of tourists described above, whether they are American or not! If the joke’s on you, you could still laugh at it instead of being too American about it. It’s called class, unfortunately not very abundant these days. It’ll also separate you from the kind of people who fit in the 10 categories that some of the readers have taken a mighty offence to. 🙂

  2. I’ve noticed that people travelling with giant suitcases and a travel neck pillow attached to their hand luggage are nearly always people from the US. Plus, fairly often dressing for the plane like for a pajama party is an indicator as well. That said, it’s just spotting, not judging!

  3. Just went to Eastern Europe for 3 weeks and back in the U.S. I thought what you wrote was funny. Yes, it is full of stereotypes, but why not laugh at ourselves? Through the years I’ve seen these stereotypes (including this last trip!), probably did a few myself when I first started traveling, and have also seen a lot of intelligent, respectful U.S. tourists. I am guilty of wearing a light North Face jacket in rainy Ireland, wearing tennis shoes in London, already accused in U.S. of smiling all the time, have a hard time learning languages, etc….However, the more you travel, the more you understand the world, cultures and how to adapt to other environments.

  4. All lies.

    We love friendly people that smile in Europe and in Ireland saying hello will prompt a total stranger to tell you what he is doing that day and will impart on to you all the local secrets (we don’t ever write about the best places to visit & eat, ever, mostly because all our food is organic free range and even the worst Irish food, in one of our many castles (real, not Disneyland) would impress an American. But we li e to chat). Looking like a tourist in Ireland will actually get you better treatment, not worse. Were too friendly to mug or kill you, this is not Paris, London or new york, which, if you realize it or not, is full of self obsessed people, there’s more to life in Ireland and a guide book, a tour guide and a blog won’t help you realize what some good old fashioned adventure can achieve.

  5. “9. Asking for tap water

    In many places across the world, bottled mineral water is the just the norm. Asking for anything else is sure to reveal your tourist status. ”

    And what about “it depends of the place”? Asking for tap water is pretty common in France and in the UK.

  6. Nice, Jim Ireland — you sound like a real gentleman.
    It’s true about the Irish — I’ve been here for more than 2 years now, and finally figured out that the Irish are not “cool” towards everyone, it’s just that they want “us” to engage first. Once “we” engage, a delightful conversation always ensues.
    Anyway, I have no time to chat further — thanks to this article, I now have to run downtown to pick up a nice new pair of runners. I mean, trainers. 🙂

  7. I would like to disagree with this entire article. It is a stereotypical Rant, bordering on smug bigotry. I could write an article disrespecting British tourists in Europe, or Russian ones, and certainly German ones. They would all certainly ID the obvious newbies to travelling but would not address most. Americans are good tourists generally speaking, I could name considerably worse. And no, I am not an American. but I am a tourist.

  8. I noticed in South America that they dress up like Indiana Jones or the Crocodile Hunter in the countries that are considered more exotic. It seemed to be a thing, especially among older Americans… It was quite funny.

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