“Do you think they know we’re American? We’re not that obvious, are we?”
Yes, they knew. Yes, we were.
Being American in a foreign country is obvious even when you think you’re being subtle. You dress differently and talk differently and act differently. Unless being American becomes a threat to your safety, owning up to your country of origin is always a better option than trying to cover it up. The locals knew you were American the minute you walked in the door anyway.
One mistake a lot of Americans make when traveling abroad is being apologetic for being from the US. “Yeah…I’m American…” followed by an eye roll. I’ve never heard anyone else apologize for where they’re from. Maybe it’s because I’ve been around more Americans, but I think it has more to do with our awareness of the stereotypes and stigmas attached to our Americanism. Showing a lack of pride for your country doesn’t make you look better, however. Why would anyone change his or her mind about America if you aren’t even proud to be from here?
Another mistake is not taking the time or effort to make friends with locals. This is easier to do in some places than others, but it’s worth the effort every time. I have lived abroad twice, in Central Mexico and in London. In Mexico, we made friends. In London, we didn’t. I learned a lot more about what it means to be American in Mexico than in England, which was directly related to the amount of local contact I had in each place.
Oh, and a word on blending in. No matter how hard you try, your fashion is going to differ from your local counterparts. I spent a lot of time worrying about this unnecessarily. Wear what you’re comfortable in as long as it’s not offensive.
You’ll meet people who are utterly fascinated by you and where you’re from, but you’ll also meet people who make fun of it and believe every stereotype they’ve ever heard about you. (Including, but not limited to, your lack of intelligence, sexual easiness, and abundance of money.) The curious minds will embrace your differences and accept that not all stereotypes are true. The rest won’t, but they wouldn’t embrace you even if you were exactly the same.
Be smart, American travelers. Remember that everyone knows you’re American and that there isn’t anything wrong with that. Keep your chins up and your minds open. And, as always, be respectful and kind.
How do you handle being American in a foreign country
feature photo via Tiffany Debban
photos via Caitlin Feldman