April 3, 2011

How to Avoid Being "The Ugly American"

The phrase "The Ugly American" was coined by the 1958 novel by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer. Today, it is used as a pejorative epithet for Americans who act differently abroad. A Burmese journalist in the novel says, "A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They're loud and ostentatious." When traveling, especially for business, this is exactly the type of image one does not want to portray. One should seek to redefine the portrayal of Americans, not to feed into it. Today, we will discuss the top 5 tips for someone who seeks to successfully avoid this increasingly negative stereotype of American travellers:

5) SLOW DOWN AND DO NOT GET MAD. The pace of life in the United States is very fast. This seems like a tired expression, but it is not until you leave the US that you can see this definitely the case. Embrace the opportunity to live a slower pace of life. Expect to spend extensive time at meals and in conversation with locals. This change of pace is something that could definitely benefit stressed out Americans.
4) TRY AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE TO SPEAK THE LANGUAGE. It does not matter if your accent is horrific, the effort it takes to speak basic words of the local language will be noticed. In almost every situation, a local will appreciate the attempt to speak their language over forcing them to speak as much English as they possibly can. Brush up on basic phrases and common questions and you will notice a tremendous difference.
3) DO NOT BE AFRAID TO GO BEYOND THE GUIDEBOOK. Buying a guidebook is an important moment in preparation for an upcoming trip. It helps you plan itineraries, figure out how to get around the city and where you want to stay. There will be times, however, when it is best to go beyond the guidebook.
2) WHEN IN DOUBT, DRESS UP. Dress in the United States is far more casual than it is in several countries abroad. While it may be acceptable to wander around a mall in your pajamas in the US, you cannot do the same while shopping abroad. One enters a store as though they are entering someone's home: you greet the shopkeeper and say hello upon entrance. If you ever find yourself unsure of what to do, dress up instead of dressing down. It cannot hurt to pack a couple nicer outfits to have around just in case. No one wants to find themselves having to dress in the stereotypical t-shirt, sneakers and shorts combo.
And, the most important tip to remember:
1) BLEND IN AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. Remember that people in the country you are visiting have different cultural preferences. While they may listen to some similar music, they probably do not care about the upsets in the NCAA March Madness tournament or the fact that all of the girls have been eliminated before the boys on this season of American Idol. Take your opportunity abroad to immerse yourself in the culture as much as possible. See a local show, watch street musicians and catch a local sports match at a neighborhood pub. After going through customs, you can always catch up on your American reality TV and see whether or not the Yankees won in their series against the Red Sox.

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