When journeying abroad, American tourists must contend with a myriad of unflattering stereotypes, ranging from a severe lack of fashion sense to an off-putting air of ignorance and entitlement, usually found in the form of demanding, "DOES ANYONE HERE SPEAK ANY ENGLISH?!"
Venture even further, and you'll quickly find that the image of the American tourist is reflective of how the world at large views Americans: self-entitled, oblivious to matters outside of the U.S., with little desire to learn of different cultures or languages. Needless to say, the worldview of Americans is in drastic need of a PR makeover.
To start, it's worth asking where, exactly, did the global brand of the annoying American come from? Look no further than this one essential element: U.S. foreign policy.
How the U.S. conducts itself on the international stage has an incredible amount of influence and significance because of its standing as a hegemonic power, especially relating to military strength. However, too often U.S. foreign policy relies solely on its military to achieve measures that otherwise would not be permitted by other nations.
With no one to curtail or match this military prowess, the U.S. can intervene and enact political reforms throughout various nations, with the excuse of moral goodness and superiority governing its actions. Somewhere, along the way, the U.S. decided its military strength could be used to a greater extent if paired with associations of democracy, liberation, and freedom -- in short, moral guardians, here to save the world!
But that didn't really work out so well. Turns out, American exceptionalism makes it hard to forge allies, let alone approval, with the very people the U.S. too often tries to "liberate." Needless to say, tactics like relying too much on military power and imposing forced policies and governments drastically impacted the perception of America and its citizens. A reputation was gained for being an international bully, a nation that cares little about the agendas and issues of other countries, and focuses solely on bolstering up its authority and influence. For Americans going abroad, these characteristics are associated with them, like it or not.
This shouldn't be a surprise: when Americans go somewhere else in the world, they -- like other travelers in a foreign location -- represent an extension of their homeland. Reveal your American citizenship, if you dare, and the result will be a barrage of frustrated questions relating to the use of drones, our love of guns, the policy decisions of American presidents, and the Iraq war (and that's just the tip of the iceberg). In some cases, Americans are also the recipients of hostility and even anger.
So, what's an American traveling abroad to do? An important first step is to determine your true intent in visiting a different part of the world. Hopefully, one of the reasons will be something along the lines of wanting to learn and explore a new culture and location. To prepare for such a trip, research is a must: master essential vocabulary, read up on the history of the country, and take note of the current political structure and climate (make sure, for example, you can name the Prime Minister). Make a conscious decision to prove the annoying American tourist stereotype wrong: initiate conversations in the native language, be respectful of new customs, and appreciate the chance to expand your worldview. Most importantly, traveling should be considered a chance to learn and adapt to an unfamiliar way of life, rather than checking in on an extension of the American kingdom, expecting to be served.
Traveling to a different part of the world provides tremendous opportunities to become a more informed global citizen. Travelers return home with the ability to question preconceived notions, learn about various cultures, and develop a critical eye in determining the interconnectedness among all human beings. The end result of time abroad makes navigating unflattering stereotypes and assumptions well worth it.