Why I Hate American Travelers (Okay, not all of them.)

I was on a plane yesterday waiting for it to take off and thrilled to be headed back to Morocco—one of my favorite places I’ve ever been. I was busy thinking about taking a much-needed nap on the flight, the wonderful tastes of tajine again, and how much I was looking forward to braving trying my very rusty French. As I boarded the plane, I managed to hear a number of voices that I recognized. I cringed. They were fellow American voices. And they were young Americans—clearly on a Spring Break vacation with pop music playing over their headphones and talking about how they were able to get frequent flier miles from Daddy.

It seems like it’s either hit or miss when I come across other Americans when I travel. On the one hand, it’s a bit of a relief to hear something familiar, but it takes only about a moment after hearing them speak that I wish I could turn the other way. I want to say to the surrounding people on my bus, airplane, or train, “I’m not one of them. I’m really not.” Other times, I connect and have a great time.

It’s a complicated relationship. On the one hand, I can’t fault my countrymen and women for traveling. In fact, I’m very happy that they are. Nothing kills American exceptionalism like hitting the road and finding out we’re just one of many civilizations that have graced this earth. The world is a better place when you travel—you’re reaching out to others you might not have if you hadn’t taken the opportunity to see it. Your perceptions change, and you learn how to become independent and a little less reliant on your family and friends.

On the other hand, I cringe because I don’t want other societies to think of us as spoiled, selfish, and a little bit loud and annoying. I’m aware that we are, and the best travelers try hard to always present themselves in a reasonable manner. We’re entering someone else’s domain. While we shouldn’t lose our identities or our values (and some cultures are more receptive toward bad behavior than others), we should be reminded that we are guests while seeing another country.

I wrote about this topic a few years ago, and it’s something I think about often when going new places. What if I am one of those Americans? How can I act so I don’t come across as someone who seems to think as though our culture is the best culture? How can I relate to others around me and be respectful?

The question of whether or not we are ambassadors while traveling is a tricky one. Some don’t like to have that responsibility when they go someplace new. Some would rather see us positively represented than not. As a reminder to my fellow Americans (because, after our current leader taking office, we really don’t need to be embarrassed further), if not for yourselves, please keep your other American wanderers in mind. Be kind to those from other cultures. Be wary of what the customs are. Don’t tell an individual from another place that the way he or she does things is “wrong.” And please, please, please keep racist thoughts to yourself.

We live in a connected world now. And what you say and do really does change how others from various parts of the world see us. If we didn’t want to understand how others live, we might as well have stayed at home.

Keep wandering (responsibly),

Alex Signature Wander


19 thoughts on “Why I Hate American Travelers (Okay, not all of them.)

  1. Staci says:

    Ah, I know these feelings well. We can just try to do our best to prove that not all Americans are spoiled brats!

  2. Tom @ Abroad American says:

    Alex, great post. I have lots of the same thoughts rushing through my head when I hear other American voices in the streets. It’s hit-or-miss, as you said. You get both travelers like you and me, willing to accept and learn about other cultures, and those who just aren’t. HOWEVER, I believe that many of those who cause us to cringe, just haven’t been made aware of their own image to others yet. They haven’t been told that they’re being loud, or disrespectful, or arrogant.

    Now, I am in no way encouraging everyone to scold Americans traveling abroad for being “Americans”, what I am saying is interact with them. Engage with them, if you are in the right setting. On a plane may not be the best of places. However, for me, since I live in Munich, when I hear other American voices in the street or on the main square, I have engaged with them and try, indirectly through the conversation, to get them to see it all from a new perspective. I want them to see it as a home of other people, people who have their own families, jobs, histories, and stories.

    This isn’t something that can be done easily, or quickly most of the time. I’ve found that just by sharing my story – how I found myself living in Germany, the process of moving here, learning German, and making a life for myself, etc. – I can act as a link which allows them to relate to the city, and to its people. THAT is how you can get us Americans, or any group of people, to see others as people and not as “others”. Often this is best done with beer at a Bierhall or in a Biergarten. I find that the magical Bavarian brew lets people think of things differently 🙂

    So – yea, I hate some American travelers too. But, I love interacting with them and having a chance to show them other perspectives so that (maybe) my fellow ‘Muricans would be less cringe-y next time! While being an ambassador for Americans while abroad is something I think about a lot too, that’s not exactly what I’m getting at here. I’m talking about acting as an ambassador TO Americans FROM abroad. I think that’s a bit easier of a pill to swallow.

    Sorry for the novel – this is something I love to talk about!

    1. Alex Schnee says:

      Thanks for your comment! I agree a lot with this. As I mentioned, there are some Americans abroad I’ve met where I’ve connected with them. They tend to be responsible travelers and truly interested in seeing things from a new angle.

      I’m also glad that even the people I don’t necessarily want to hang out with while traveling are still out on the road. It might change perspectives if they have someone like you to show them the way (and I’d like to think maybe I can change a few minds too).

      Thanks again for your thoughts and keep traveling–we need more people like you!

  3. nickymackenzie says:

    I’m British and have the exact same thoughts about my countrymen and women…we all have a duty to behave decently and none judgementally wherever we go in life!

    1. Alex Schnee says:

      Thanks for your comment! I agree. It’s about being understanding and kind. I think everyone feels a bit this way when they run into their own countrymen and women. Thanks again!

  4. Candiss says:

    As a fellow American I feel this so hard! I could write at many lengths about this (and have a bit and will more in the future). What has made me feel better is that there are basically two kinds of travelers and every country has them. In being super general there are the “Tour Group Travelers”, which are the kind that even if not on a tour are usually the more unaware of their surroundings and impact and then the “Backpackers” which if even not backpacking are the ones that are trying to see the culture, do the off the beaten path things, and in general make a positive impression. Like I said this is super general but it seems like every country has the two times its just our own folks from the USofA that we notice being the most annoying since we can recognize them more intimately.
    It is a complex subject and thanks for bringing it up!

    1. Alex Schnee says:

      Thanks for the comment! I agree–there are those who are aware and those who have yet to be aware. Maybe if we show them that we can travel respectfully, more and more will become so.

  5. ivegotbigbulls says:

    I’ve traveled internationally with other Americans who are just flat out embarrassing. It’s really frustrating. I loved how you wrote this and you made some very valid points.

    1. Alex Schnee says:

      Thanks for the comment. It’s tough, because I do like many other Americans. Just every now and then you run across some others and it’s tough to justify the behavior. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Maartje says:

    Thank you for being so open about this subject! Somehow I think we all experience this while being abroad. I feel so embarrassed when I hear or see fellow Dutchies being rude or arrogant. I observe and learn about ‘what not to be (come)’.


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