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Pros and Cons of Looking Like an American

Lets forget about the ability to truly not look like a tourist. That's a different debate (maybe I will post it). But assuming you could, why would you or why would you not.

EDIT: I changed the title to remove "tourist". Looking like a tourist has a bad connotation. To many it means a slob in a baseball cap, TU T-shirt, khaki cargo shorts, long white socks and tennis shoes. That's another topic. This is about not wanting people around you to know you are not one of them.

Posted by
13559 posts

I'll start with a con.

There is one city in Europe that I travel to frequently and have done so for nearly 20 years. I've made close friends and have had the joy of watching their children grow up.

One of the things they always ask about is my last encounter that was counter to the norm of the city. They always shake their heads in disbelief when I describe the acts of kindness, the wonderful service and the sheer lack of complication I encounter ... all totally opposed to their own experiences of life in the city. We have come to the conclusion that a small part of it is that I am on holiday and I come to enjoy so I see the good and am not even aware of the less than stellar. But I think the majority of it is that people are so proud of their city that they want tourists to see it in the best possible light and part of that is treating tourists better than they treat each other. I dont know why other locations would be different, and if they were, I wouldn't want to be there.

This sort of demonstrates that I couldn't "blend" in if I wanted ot as I neither try and look local or tourist. I just be myself. And if I do want really special treatment, I put on my Silver Beaver and Lucchese's. A smash with the tux at the annual Opera Gala.

Posted by
2717 posts

I’d rather not look like a stereotypical tourist, at least. I feel like, for better or worse, people are judged by how they look and treated accordingly. Not by all, and not always maliciously, but it’s there. The unscrupulous will try rip off the obvious tourists more than people that look more unobtrusive. Nice people you meet briefly may only recommend “touristy” things to you thinking that’s what tourists want when maybe you want to go to the market and eat weird dishes. Also, I’m a bit reserved and self-conscious so I don’t like standing out in a crowd. Generally blending in allows you to observe your surroundings rather than make the surroundings about you. I don’t want to be the focus, I want to be a part of the natural flow of a place.

Finally in some cases it’s a matter of respect. Following cultural norms (modest clothes in conservative countries or religious buildings, dressing up where expected like theaters) shows respect for your destination. The Tourist look is not always appropriate.

Posted by
1896 posts

Part of the function of rituals and special occasions is to mark off a distinction that separates times/places/events/people from the everyday and the regular - 'customary' is in opposition (yet in dialogue) with 'holiday', yet the terms 'holiday' and 'vacation' have slightly different valences for traveling -- am I getting away from the workaday and therefore want to let it all hang out, or am I aspiring to do something more than the usual grind and therefore dressing up a bit?

I carry different accessories on my person on the weekends than during the workweek, not just because I'm doing things that require different tools but because I want to cultivate and express different parts of myself. Travel days have parallels - time to kick off your shoes, no?

So, if I'm off the clock I want to be seen as off the clock, and I want to enter a mental and attitudinal space that is off the clock, and dress and comportment can contribute to that switch in status.

This gets into class difference territory -- if a laborer has to get churched up on Sundays so that switching roles means becoming more refined, then that's a different directionality than an executive who has to dress down and loosen her mien on the weekends so she doesn't come off as stand-offish.

Maybe I want to wear a tie and jacket to the museum and be mistaken for a curator? Would I be so crazy?

Posted by
13559 posts

Mira, excellent response.

I feel like, for better or worse, people are judged by how they look
and treated accordingly.

Dead on topic. Lets not confuse looking like a tourist with being a slob. That is yet another topic.. And treated accordingly could mean better than average in some places. But I have to remind myself that I dont travel to locations that are burned out on tourists.

Not by all, and not always maliciously, but it’s there. The
unscrupulous will try rip off the obvious tourists more than people
that look more unobtrusive.

Dead on topic. And especially true in areas where tourists have become a food group for the jackals.

Nice people you meet briefly may only recommend “touristy” things to
you thinking that’s what tourists want when maybe you want to go to
the market and eat weird dishes.

Dead on Topic. With this my experience has been a bit to the opposite, in that I have run into some of that, but at least they were trying to be helpful, but mostly suggestions for places off the beaten path.

Also, I’m a bit reserved and self-conscious so I don’t like standing
out in a crowd. Generally blending in allows you to observe your
surroundings rather than make the surroundings about you. I don’t want
to be the focus, I want to be a part of the natural flow of a place.

That I get 100%. Especially true if you stay out of tourist venues.

Finally in some cases it’s a matter of respect. Following cultural
norms (modest clothes in conservative countries or religious
buildings, dressing up where expected like theaters) shows respect for
your destination. The Tourist look is not always appropriate.

Not sure what the "tourist look" is the clothes I wear are what I wear at home and they are all sold in then city I visit.

But dressing respectfully I also get 100%; but you might get some pushback here on part of it. I dont know how many times I have see the question "what can I get away with wearing at the opera" to which the responses are, "they wont throw you out if you wear jeans and a t-shirt". Well, its not about being thrown out, its about respect.

But let me give you a similar situation to consider. I suspect that my boots and hat at the Opera might get more push back from Americans commenting on tourist behavior in Europe than an Indian woman wearing a Sari to the Opera ... and google the Indian PM photo when he met with the president. They are both respectful but without trying to be something they are not.

But all good for consideration.

Posted by
13559 posts

Maybe I want to wear a tie and jacket to the museum and be mistaken
for a curator? Would I be so crazy?

Here and abroad, I often overdress a tad just for the service and respect it brings. Not bad at all. People claim we are all the same and dress means nothing, but when you see someone at the next table dressed a bit better than the norm, we all assume they are someone successful who expects courtesy and service. And that is generally the result they get.

Posted by
2610 posts

Pickpockets and con-artists will be more embolden to try their luck with an obviously American tourist, I've seen it many times in Barcelona. Americans tend to unknowingly flaunt their valuables and are mostly oblivious to the pickpockets on their tail.

For example, on the Barceloneta beach, I saw a group of American women leave their oversized day bags unattended while they made a selfie, right away 2-3 pickpockets scooped up their bags and disappeared into a nearby alley, before the women knew what was happening.

While living in the USA, I was shocked by how the people leave their valuables (laptops, bags etc.) on tables for minutes at a time, I was even more shocked when no one stole them. I guess it's a more courteous culture, even for the thieves in America 😅

Posted by
104 posts

Love all the posts but would like to add the (frequently true) stereotype of being loud!

My husband and I were talking about this yesterday!

Posted by
1122 posts

I find once you are identified as an American it is an automatic tag as a tourist. Now, depending what the situation is that can be a plus or a minus. If you are in a place to spend money I find it a plus because owners want your business and they know recommendations are important. It is a minus because you may be targeted by petty thieves, but as long as you are smart, you can avoid issues.

I think you should dress appropriately no matter where you travel. I do find it interesting that many people think they have to hide the fact they are American. Not sure why?

Posted by
2717 posts

I just saw that you updated this from “tourist” to “American”. In most cases, these are synonymous in Europe. Yes, plenty of Americans are living or working in Europe, therefore aren’t tourists, but I’d bet that a much larger percentage of Americans there are visiting as tourists of one sort or another.
For me, I have no need to hide that I’m American specifically, but as I said above I do like to blend in. That can be contradictory. So I guess I don’t do the obvious American things with regard to dress and actions but if someone can tell by some subtle clue…fine. I want people to not be analyzing me enough to care to guess my nationality unless I’m actually interacting with them, in which case my accent will make it obvious.

So it’s not about American specifically. It’s about wanting to participate and observe the place as it is. Standing out as a very obvious non-local from whatever country can make this harder, even if you are appropriately dressed and behaved.

I will note that there is a racial/ethnic component to this. As an American of European ancestry I can blend in in much of Europe. More so in Spain than Norway for me, and I can also blend in many parts of Latin America as well. But going to Japan, for example, no matter what I do I can’t blend in so my non-local status would be very obvious. No one can blend in everywhere so at some point it’s a matter of being respectful of the culture and not calling undue attention to yourself.

Posted by
14919 posts

I always look like a tourist. If it's not the camera around my neck and the map in my hand, neither of which I used on my last trip abroad, it's that I amble along the street usually looking up at the buildings, stopping often to look in shop windows and to take photos on my phone. On a bus or tram or train, I look out the window at the view.

Side note. On my last visit to New York City, about 3 years ago, I realized why the locals dislike the tourists so much. I'm long past being awed by the skyscrapers and just want to get to where I'm going (much like when I'm at home). The bloody tourists, mostly Americans, dawdle in groups and block the sidewalks slowing down everyone else.

Posted by
5042 posts

I've never worried about looking like an American or a tourist - after all, I am both. But as I was reading this thread I suddenly remembered an incident from many years ago, in Poland.

I was with an academic group, comprised of students and professors. We were being given an orientation tour of Kraków before we dispersed to our assigned cities. Our group was standing on a street corner, listening to our guide, when an elderly Polish man neared us, spat on the ground at our feet, mumbled something in Polish, scowled, and walked away.

None of had understood what he had said, so we asked our guide. She was reluctant to explain what had happened, but finally gave in. It turns out the man was a WWII vet, and was still angry at Franklin Roosevelt for Yalta! Hence his dislike for all Americans.

I had a similar experience years later in another Polish city, when an elderly peasant woman refused to sell me any of her wares in the market, or even talk to me. But in that case she thought I was German!

Posted by
5492 posts

I have lived overseas for 9 years (4 in Germany and 5 in Saudi Arabia) and widely traveled the World. I don't try to look like a local, but I don't dress like a slob.

When I lived in Germany, I had a couple of heavy European sweaters that I wore a lot (except in the Summer). It wasn't unusual for people to come up to me speaking German asking for directions. They mistook me for German. My ancestry is largely British Isles, France, Germany and Scandinavia.

When traveling, I do usually wear a baseball cap as protection from the sun, I don't mind being a know American. I am careful not to be a pickpocket victim, wearing either a money belt or other device strapped under my trousers protecting my wallet.

I have seen so many people that lost valuables in places like Barcelona, Paris and Rome.

Posted by
1812 posts

Hmmm, I have been thinking about this idea. It strikes me that I have had really nice conversations with people who are curious or interested in some facet of American life and don’t mind initiating a conversation. I really enjoy this - I mean, having some sort of international experience is why I travel, after all. And what better way than talking to people? If they don’t perceive me to be American, then maybe that lessens this opportunity.

Posted by
21726 posts

It has been a while since we beat up on this subject -- a subject with no conclusions. We all have our own travel style and adapts that which we think works best for us. We fall in the group that wishes not to stand out, be obvious in a crowd. Some call it blending in, I just don't want any additional notice when I am in a large group, traveling on the subway/train. We tend to dress at or a touch better/nicer than the surrounding folks. My big advantage is that I am a little taller than most so I can "watch" the crowd as we move down the street. And because of some prior training in my earlier life, I tend to be little more observant of what is happening around me in an automatic sort of way. Part of that result (we like to think) is that we have never had a theft problem, haven't really seen a pickpocket in over 30 years of European travel. Always the next trip. I am a guest in the country and prefer to act like a good guest.

Posted by
13559 posts

Frank II you nailed it. A few made an assumption that to look like an American meant to be a slob. That's a red hearing. And maybe I should have said " Pros and Cons of being known to be American when traveling."

You may have noted that I travel to one country habitually. I know where to go, how everything work, and what the world looks like up in the air (so i am usually looking straight ahead). Most of the time I dress sort of neutral in clothes that could have been purchased anywhere. Some were actually purchased in that country. And, still, if anyone cared to notice, I still can be observed to be "not local", probably American. But no one really cares one way or the other. I think I would be flattering myself to think otherwise.

So maybe the question is; why fight it, maybe, for some, it is a plus. But if its not a plus, what are the downsides?

Theft prevention? I've got close to 2 years in Europe now, and I have never seen a theft, and only heard of one. No, that's not true. In Paris about 7 years ago I saw the aftermath of a theft (the young lady emptying the wallet and tossing it in the bushes) and on the same trip another young lady tried to unzip my back pack (clumsy try and it failed). But that's it in two years. The one I heard of was a friend on a tram in Vienna; another young lady also stopped. Of course I have never been to Barcelona? So, I dont think Americans get pickpocketed because they are Americans, I think it happens because their wallet is in their back pocket.

I beat the stereotype "tourist" once. I was given this hideous twill flat cap. I wore it on a tram and when the ticket cops showed up they checked everyone but me ....... not once, but twice (native pensioners travel for free). I carry it with me on public transportation always now.

And yes, I knew the answers we would get here. i just did the post to pass the time.

Posted by
959 posts

I don't know if by substituting American for Tourist you changed anything ,its like people who say "fricking" - you know what they mean.

My husband and I talk about the Brits we encountered at a small restaurant in Stresa a few year back ... loud, complaining, impatient. After that we think Americans get a bad rap. And sadly we seem to notice the "Brits" more now.

I think people form US look healthier and that's a giveaway that we can't avoid. And sadly I think also more obese in many cases.

When we travel with our Italian friends - they have way more suit cases, bring their own coffee and moka pots everywhere, the two guys wear jeans, tennis shoes and logo shirts and the two women dress like they are going to the gala - it's their choice and we love them and don't judge. I'm sure they wonder why I wear the same clothes over and over :)

Posted by
802 posts

"I think people form US look healthier and that's a giveaway that we can't avoid. "
My daughter is an All American distance runner. She runs 6 days/week, rain or shine, domestic or international. She was running one morning in Oslo and was stopped by someone asking for directions - in Norwegian. She had to explain that (1) she didn't speak Norwegian and (2) she had arrived in Oslo the day before and was a tourist.
Being asked for directions in Norwegian was probably less about whether my daughter looked like an American or a tourist and more about the activity she was engaged in.

Posted by
13559 posts

Donna, I have a business in Europe with an English man married to a Hungarian woman. When we go out and when we discuss clients from other countries their perspective is pretty interesting. In business they are not unhappy at all with American clients; but there are some other categories (I dont want to offend anyone so I wont go into detail), they cringe every time we have to work with. And it's not any that you would expect. Socially, if they are loud but not crude, they are probably Americans; if they are very loud and crude and their kids are tearing up the place, they are probably from the UK. If they are shoving in line, then it falls to one of two other groups. All in all very little criticism of Americans compared to some other groups. Their perspective, not mine. I'm not there enough to have an opinion; but I do get the impression that we are more hateful towards ourselves (of course that is always directed towards other Americans, and never us individually) than others are.

Trotter, I thought it was the flat cap, maybe it was that I lost 30 lbs?

Posted by
802 posts

Nah, James E. It was the fly fishing!
Of course, looking good while fly fishing is always a plus. ;-)

Posted by
13559 posts

I went a whole season without fishing!! The last trip was September of 2020 (Albania). But I will be back in a river someplace in May. Maybe Bosnia..... And actually, fishing, people assume I am from the UK.

Posted by
959 posts

Trotter .... I've been mistaken as a local in Denmark. It happens

Posted by
1896 posts

If you review my comment from 03 Dec above you will see that I tried to provide some larger explanatory context for the observations reported in subsequent comments about bad behavior -- the particular manifestations are very often ways of acting out one's sense of being in an opposite status to one's normal/typical time and place, either letting your hair down // letting it all hang out in instances where you (the tourist) are particularly immersed in the status of being not-at-work or not-at-home, or putting on airs // aspiring to give a good impression in instances where you (the tourist) are thinking this activity is a special occasion.

A hundred years ago sociologists regularly noted that if you want to know what behaviors a particular culture deems deviant or unacceptable, you just look at how those declared insane (or criminally insane) behave. The taboos that crazy people violate are the norms that the society holds dear. Those norms vary across a range of groups such that what seems nuts in one may not seem so bad in another. Vacation time is a prime time for anyone and everyone who can afford to get away to dip their toe into the crazy pool!

Illustrative anecdote: coming out of the tube stairway near Leicester Square a bunch of yobs around me were bouncing (literally) with excitement at the prospect of joining the fun and were getting disheveled. With a side-eye towards me [behaving like an adult] one or two of them buttonholed the others and barked "Oi! Regulate yourselves!" to get them to settle down. They're not a bunch of yobs, after all. Well, they were indeed a bunch of yobs, but English ones, and therefore they knew the parameters within which they were permitted to have fun. Now imagine putting them on a beach in Greece or a plaza in southern Spain and what would ensue.

Posted by
13559 posts

I am afraid I was contributory to taking things off topic. The topic isn't about behavior or dress. Assuming you are behaving, and not dressed like a heathen or running naked with Christmas lights wrapped around you (I haven't done that in years); what are the pros and cons if someone were to be able to identify you as a tourist or an American tourist.

Posted by
21726 posts

.... the pros and cons if someone were to be able to identify you as a tourist or an American tourist. ..... That is a hard question and really no way to test it. I often believe your behavior is reflected back to you in a fairly quick manner when greeting a stranger anywhere. For the question to have any validity you would have to assume that there is a built-in reaction (response) to a tourist and or an American tourist. And the response is different. We all are fairly quick to read body language (even if we are not accurate) and build assumptions. So --- to have an advantage in identifying as an American tourist there would have to be a set of desirable characteristics associate with an American tourist. Not sure that works. Some of us are real jerks. O' we can stereotype various races and cultures but only with the broadest of strokes. And that seldom works well either. I think it is primarily individual interactions based on the individual. A polite tourist of any nationality probably will be treated well.

Posted by
2398 posts

On our last trip to Europe, I felt bad for a family group wearing clothes with Texas A&M insignia. Not that the Locals cared, but the other Americans could barely conceal their contempt for them. I tried to defend them, but no avail.

Posted by
1896 posts

Con: A worry that I admit comes to my mind in the moment is that I will be overcharged for a purchase - in a bar or cafe that has no posted prices I will sometimes listen in on what the locals around me are ordering and then say that I'll have the same thing, having heard what they were charged already.

Illustrative anecdote: a Madrileña and I were at a cafe and they handed me a menu in English and she, suspicious, grabbed it from me and showed that the prices were indeed higher than on the regular menu. Still, I don't think this is a major concern; the worry is more that it shouldn't be something that comes to my mind just because I look like an American.

Posted by
13559 posts

For the question to have any validity you would have to assume that
there is a built-in reaction (response) to a tourist and or an
American tourist.

Frank, I just have hear a few mention that they don’t want to look like a tourist and try to “blend in”. First my freshman design professor 40 something years ago (and he is still alive and only retired last year) said to blend you need a very powerful electric blender. Nothing else will work. Second, I was just curious why. I can see wanting to be perceived as a polite and respectful tourist… but ….

So far we have identified two opinions actually on topic: You will be robbed and you will be sent to tourist traps. The post was for fun, figured it would be better than more COVID arguments or which $500 carry on is best. But yes, ranks right up there with is Budapest or Prague better?

On our last trip to Europe, I felt bad for a family group wearing
clothes with Texas A&M insignia. Not that the Locals cared, but the
other Americans could barely conceal their contempt for them. I tried
to defend them, but no avail.

If the locals didn’t care, why did the Americans? What was their problem? Rather than defend the Aggies, you should have been lambasting the ones with contempt. If you are serious, it’s a bit sick. Wish we could post pictures here. I have a very nice one on the beach in Crete a few months back … wearing my Aggie hat. We are a bit of a cult and look for each other when traveling. No different than RS type folks looking for other RS folks guide books in hand leaving their obviously RS standard hotel.

On the menus. Hasn't happened to me yet, that I know of (so probably has). Wouldn't care if it did. Life is too short. But I do know that when you go into a restaurant outside of the EU it isn't terribly uncommon to get a menu with the local currency and the Euro on it (Budapest for example). The Euro is always more. Why? cause the exchange rate fluctuates and they dont want to have to keep printing new menus. And they have to take the Euros to the exchange house. That's time and labor.

Posted by
5492 posts

James,
Didn't know that you were an Aggie. You have a right to be proud, it is a great university.

I can't agree that wearing a Texas A&M cap is a badge of shame, in my opinion it is a badge of honor.
I am a Georgia Bulldog and may wear my cap while traveling, if I am not wearing another from my collection.

Posted by
34 posts

Well the fact is I stand out, at 6'4" it is very hard to "blend in". I also wear a ball cap, hate when I sun burn my balding head. So I try to be respectful, and polite. One of my joys of travel is to learn more about other cultures, and I would guess that is somewhat easier when people know you are not the same as them. Many, many times I get questions about life in the U.S., then I can ask questions right back about where ever I happen to be.

I will also admit it is nice to run into to people that live near home at times too. I will never forget walking thru St. Peter's Square to hear "Go Cards" referring to my St. Louis Cardinals hat. I also enjoy chatting with those folks to hear their travel adventures, sugestions and at times warnings.

Posted by
2472 posts

My husband wears his Croatian team’s soccer gear quite proudly everywhere! Many a conversation was started that way. In many of the Balkan countries people also ask us about life in America. I don’t think they travel as far as the other Europeans do. When I tell relatives we went to a Chinese or Indian wedding where the family wears traditional dress they always ask to see pictures. One told me they would never see these kinds of weddings in their own country. America truly is diverse.
Cons - I really don’t know any besides the obvious - targeted by pickpockets/scammers.