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. Hilarious list… except the love of North Face extends to Korea, where it’s a matter of pride to dress for an everest expedition when you’re just going to the shops!

  2. Hostelbookers, you’re better than this. There isn’t a single original thought in this trite little article. That, and the author seems to be speaking to the worst kind of American travelers, who get a lot of attention but are actually relatively few in number. Plus the rude ones probably aren’t reading this blog. I’d like to think that people who take the time to read a travel blog on a hosteling website are more worldly, respectful and well traveled. When you get away from Temple Bar or Cancun, you find that the majority of American travelers are polite, curious and genuinely interested in the local culture.

    Why not write a piece with a positive spin, instead of reinforcing the clique mentality “we are the best kind of travelers and we will look down on everyone who isn’t as experienced and wise?” That doesn’t encourage people to travel. In fact, it probably does the opposite. Who cares if someone’s wearing a shirt from the city they’re visiting? The point is that they are out in the world, exploring.

    It’s one thing to poke good-natured fun at other travelers, but this piece reeks of superiority and condescension. The reality is, no matter how many stylish peacoats or green sneakers you stuff into your bag, you’re still a tourist.

  3. Enrico Caruso Reply

    @Erin…because it is all so true. Best investment I ever made was my PG Field waxed coat for my trips to Scotland. I’m still pretty obviously an Amurricun, and I’m old enough to realize that everyone in Europe knows it, but every once in a while I’ll get asked for directions in Kirkwall, and that means I’ve at least made the effort to acknowledge that Europe is not some kind of travel museum for Americans.

  4. Well said Erin! I agree wholeheartedly. This article does not support what the HostelBookers community of devoted travelers stand for and goes way beyond poking fun at one country’s quirks. Remember we’re all tourists somewhere.

  5. This is rank stereotype and also a classic self loathing article. When I travel I find myself around other Americans who are supposedly informed and enlightened talking down about the lesser American travelers apologetically and sarcastically in order to fit in with young non American travelers, its pathetic. Yes American tourists can be annoying, but there are many(European)tourists which rank right up along side in annoyance. This is essentially how ALL tourists are in touristy places. I watched a young English woman storm out of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul because they asked her to wear a head scarf. Italian tourists are quite load on the Metro line in DC. City tshirts…yea your right no foreign tourist to the US has ever worn an I Love NY shirt or Washington DC tshirt around the city while touring.

  6. Adria Saracino Reply

    Hey guys, really appreciate your comments on this. Apologies if offended – it was meant to be funny, poking at the extremities for some light humor. But agreed, not everyone is like this, and agree @Rob, there can be equally as “annoying” European travelers. It was all in good fun, meant to get a few laughs.

  7. The only thing that offended me was the bit about t-shirts. You talk about how North Face jackets are soooooooo laaaame, but seriously…it’s more of a fashion faux pas to tuck in a t-shirt. It just sounds like you’re making fun of the fat women in that pretty picture up there….

  8. I have lived oversees for over half of my life and these are overused stereotypes that do not exist anywhere in the world. Get real.

  9. Have a laugh at yourself guys, news flash some Americans are like that, whether you like it or not there are a lot of you and stereotypes exist. I’m an Australian so I’m sure you could rattle off about 50 stereotypes of Australian backpackers in Europe. Learn to laugh at yourself and you’ll have a much better time of it.

  10. Chill guys! It’s a fun article, learn to laught at yourselves, as Chris said, every culture has its clichés and the article was written by an American so man up and have a laugh 🙂

  11. What a list! I didn’t realize North Face jackets were hip. They certainly aren’t in Northern California! Also, at the shows I go to, it is VERY COOL to wear the band’s t-shirts, so stop being full of yourself!! And no, tucking t-shirts in is never cool.

  12. That’s the problem with America, they love joking around about your country, but when you joke around with them, it’s all “Don’t mess with Texas!” Oh wait, I am American. I wonder what it’s like to be an Asian in a Western country not trying to blend in at all…

  13. Some European cities are either completely goth in fashion, or totally dorky. Have you ever been to an Addidas Store in Germany? Yeeecchh. No one works out and athletic footwear is simply something which is an alternative to poor quality leather, with two dye color options – black and shiny black, and lots of belts and tags. And Europeans think that a COLD weather jacket should make you look like the Michelin Man, with lots of purples involved. Yes, there are no fanny packs, but there are man-bags. The problem is that Americans bring, easy sub-urban clothing t-shirts, white tennis shoes and jeans, when a dark shirt, scarf and a earth tone leather jacket might be a better choice. So this totally makes sense. Then there are some countries, where no matter what you do, you will not blend in.

  14. Its all true. Every bit of it. Americans though these days are the 2nd most annoying visitors in Europe after Chinese tourists. Atleast Americans have some manners and politeness and don’t try to steal anything that isn’t (or sometimes is) nailed down!

  15. 11. Using “we” and “you” interchangeably, implying that anyone reading this article is American by default.

  16. I think the author must have been travelling in their time machine. I haven’t seen most of these stereotypes since the mid 90s.

  17. I have been travelling for going on ten years and lived in many different countries. As an aussie i have heard and read many articles poking fun at my background. Particularly now living in london you always cop some banter. Embrace these steyotypes american travellers its ment as a joke and a bit of light hearted fun otherwise u might be an awesome fanny pack wearing, city slogan tshirt, tap water drinking tourist with no sence of humour.

  18. I bet if the article wasn’t about Americans….every American would agree whole heartedly..and laught out loud…its just the way things are..enjoyed the funny article…

  19. Articles like this empty, trite rubbish are unfortunately not hard to find on lots of sites.

    Lazy, pointless “journalism”. What benefit does anybody get from reading this? What has the writer achieved? Nothing, all round.

    Yes, Americans can be bad travellers, but guess what – so CAN everyone else, English, Australian French, South African, Chinese – Take your pick. There’s faults in the cliched behavioural traits of all nationalities.

    Wake up Hostelbookers, stop publishing rubbish and encourage people, educate people and inspire travel – that’s the point of this blog? to encourage and promote sales of hostel beds? Right???

  20. After reading the comments I think that you should add one more thing to the list: ”They have no sense of humour”.

  21. Yanks are travelling less and less and when the US dollar is trashed as a currencz accepted in many countries (which is already happenning) they will travel even less and that is good because we don’t need them.

  22. It’s easy to spot a guest in British society. We’re the ones not falling down dead drunk or vomiting in the alley. Public intoxication is considerably frowned on here in the oh-so-slobby USA. In fact, it’s against the law.

    So, keep your uptight opinions and WAGs out of our way, please. We are intelligent, well-speaking people who are sick and tired of being cast as completely ill-mannered, sloppily dressed and all other things supposedly non-British.

    Nobody minds our check book when things go wrong so try being good hosts and treat any visitor to your country with courtesy instead of disdain and humiliation. I’ll never ever go back. I was treated with such contempt while I was there and I travel all the time, wear black shoes, clothes and nice rain gear, am always polite, but YEP, I do smile. What a travesty! How about trying it yourself some time.

    Guess what. We’re always welcoming to any tourist in this country and feel very proud of the US and only hope you enjoy your stay. Take that point of view out for a ride and you might see more tourist dollars filling your anemic coffers.

  23. I think something the offended commenters here are not taking into account is this: Paris is TEEMING with pickpockets, etc. in the areas where tourists frequent. (Same in Rome, by the way). I am not saying we should be paranoid- there are plenty of the seedy types in NYC, for example (born and raised there, BTW). If you make an attempt to at least blend in a bit, you make yourself much less of a target. Sure, as soon as I try to speak I’m “out” but I’ve given myself a chance to be seen as someone who is trying to be respective of the FRENCH customs.

    I’ve been 3 times, returning a 4th time this summer. The first time were were in Paris, we were guilty of the white sneaker thing- and I felt like we stuck out the minute we got there, lol. Never made that mistake again! I personally believe that experiencing a new county is one of the best things to do- and trying to do things from their perspective is refreshing and awesome. Isn’t that the reason we travel- to get new experiences?

    And to the last poster who hates “Yanks”- we spend plenty of our $ all over the world, and most places are grateful for the tourism dollars. I have been fortunate to not run into someone as rude as you. And there are plenty of Europeans, etc who come to America to visit our country, too. So do us all a favor- if you hate us so much, don’t come. There are plenty of others who will jump at the chance to!

  24. 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. 🙂

  25. 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!

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. “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.

  29. 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. 🙂

  30. 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.

  31. 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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