Word on the street is, American travelers aren't very good at blending in. It pains me to hear this because I think I am QUITE the awesome traveler but many international folks disagree and feel we Americans can be quite noticeable and have some easily recognizable traits. When I studied abroad in London, I was quickly initiated into how different things were going to be as "the American abroad" when the customs agent looked at my passport, looked at me, and then said "American, eh? What do you think of that twat* you call a President?" (*referring to George W. Bush). I was a bit hungover after having spent the last week in Belgium enjoying their chocolate and beer and celebrating my first World Cup Finals while in Europe (I ingested more beer than chocolate, if I am going to be honest) and in my surprise I just stammered back "Uh, I didn't vote in that election", blushed red from my roots to toes, and scurried away to try and find the rest of my group.
Throughout my travels and conversations with the locals, the topic of Americans traveling seems to be a common one people enjoy. They are truly curious and just want to know, "What's up with Americans and why do they do ________ (fill in the blank here)". We seem to be quite the curious species of traveler. So, why is that? What exactly is on this list of things that make us immediately recognizable when leaving the good ol' U.S. of A? Here's my (definitely not conclusive nor entirely reliable) list based on super non-scientific surveying methods done while traveling (and possibly drinking).
First off, it's our puffy white sneakers. Yup, you read that read. We are immediately recognizable because we wear these puffy sneakers (you know, those sensible ones you put on because you know you are going to be walking all day and don't want your feet to hurt? Yeah, those). The sneakers that are so popular in the U.S. are just not that popular elsewhere. Instead, locals overseas tend to wear the slim, dark, soccer-inspired trainers/runners (the different nickname depends on where you are). When we go tromping around in our giant sneakers, the neon sign screaming "American, right here!" points directly at our feet.
Next, it's our teeth. I will never forget being in a pub in Ireland and, before saying a word, the bartender says "You're an American, aren't you? I can tell by that big white smile of yours!" I asked some other folks our group was chatting with and they agreed they believe all Americans have amazing teeth and big white smiles. They had so many questions to ask those of us who had worn braces, why we spent so much money on our teeth, and if we thought it was worth it. I had grown up being told what a nice smile I had and, for the first time, I was weirdly aware of my teeth in an opposite way than before. Now, don't get me wrong. Everyone was super nice and really loved our big toothy "model teeth" but just pointed out it's an immediate sign you're usually American.
Gentleman, another indicator you're an American are your baseball hats. I don't personally wear hats but this was top on the list of things people say tell them immediately it's an American coming down the street. Baseball hats are hugely popular here in the U.S. but not really elsewhere. It was really funny how fascinated the group of guys were asking our fellow American male students why those "duck bill hats" are so popular in the States.
Ladies (and I LOVE this), many of the locals said they know we are American because we are so NICE. WHAT?!? Yes, they said we are super approachable, willing to chat, always smiling (with those amazing teeth), and are super enjoyable to be around. You know what that means? If you are single and traveling abroad, make sure you head to the local pubs and get your chat on because the gents overseas will just eat that right up.
Sadly, there is also a negative trait that makes people realize we are American very quickly and it is our tendency to CONSTANTLY compare how we do things in America versus where we are visiting and feel the need to remind everyone around us of this. We sometimes (hold your breath) even feel the need to explain to the locals why Americans do it better. Why? Why would we do this?
Maybe we do it because of nerves or an attempt to find a way to feel a little less off kilter in all the changes but whatever the reasons, it's very noticeable. Knock it off. Seriously. Imagine your Aunt Tilda coming to visit your house and rather than telling you what a nice home you have, she starts to point out how she would have done the curtains differently and picked a different shade for the walls (and don't get her started on your choice for wall art). You'd probably want to escort Aunt Tilda right back to the driveway while muttering unpleasant words about her inside your head, right? It's the same thing when you travel. Just chillax. Enjoy the different. That's the whole point to traveling - to get outside your comfort zone.
So my fellow Americans, I hope this list is something you will think of next time you travel so you, too, can be an expert American traveler who blends into your amazing international surroundings like a ninja with a passport.
If it doesn't work - don't blame me. Blame the beer I drank while getting this "scientific" data.