How Do Other Nationalities Know You Are An American Traveler?

A Few Tell-tale Signs.

While traveling in a foreign country, have you been readily identified as an American?  Certainly stereotypical profiles for different nationalities exist and for decades American tourists were perceived as loud, boorish, culturally insensitive and exceedingly ethnocentric, earning the label “Ugly Americans.”   Is this still the case?  What behaviors today shout out “I am an American tourist”? The following are some of the most frequently noted characteristics attributed to American travelers.

Sloppy Attire

American tourists are readily spotted when wearing the standard travel uniform of sneakers, fanny packs, shorts (even when it is not particularly warm), tee shirts, baseball hats and a North Face jacket. Almost every article I came across discussing American tourists included disparaging remarks on our fashion choices for travel.  As a rule other nationalities take more care in their appearance.

Bright white, super nice teeth

Yes – it’s true, American are admired for their big white toothy smiles.   We can credit healthy teeth to good home dental care, but it is interesting to note that medical travel is one of the fastest growing segments of the American travel industry. Increasingly our impressive dentistry can be credited to clinics in Thailand and Mexico.

Loud and Incessant Talkers

Sad, but still true –  Americans are ubiquitously described as loud and boisterous, opining on multiple subjects and not listening to others.


Sorry to say the characterization that we are ethnocentric and geographically challenged is still specifically applied to American tourists. Few other nationalities spout as much jingoistic noise and can confuse the locations of the Alps, Andes and Himalaya.

Personal Space Requirements

Americans require more personal space than most cultures and noticeably back up when others “get in our face.”  Travelers to India and other densely populated countries of the world are frequently intimidated by the lack of personal distance and their discomfort at the closeness of crowds is a sure give-away of their nationality.

Cold Drinks with Ice

Americans want ice in their drinks and if its water – they want tap not mineral water.  In many local restaurants ice water is a no-no as the water used may not be filtered and the only bottled water is bubbly.  If there is a request for a coke with ice – it’s an American asking.

Purell Obsession

We are a germ phobic nation and we are not comfortable with dirt. So, Americans travel with ample supplies of hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes, which they generously share with non Americans who do not make it an essential travel item.

Generous Tippers

Service people love Americans.  Not only do we automatically tip – we generally tip 20% even when tipping isn’t part of the culture. Many workers, especially in tourist areas, count on our tips to support their families.

Perceive Guides as Equals not Hired Hands

Americans are more equalitarian than many nationalities.  We don’t perceive our guides as “hired hands” but as knowledgeable representatives of their culture.  We want to become their friend so as to learn about their personal lives.  If an individual is peppering the guide with constant questions, s/he is probably an American.

Seek Authentic Experiences

Different travelers have different perceptions about what constitutes an “authentic” experience.  In some cases our expectations are based on unrealistic preconceived notions. It’s actually a topic worthy of a full newsletter. Suffice to say, Americans want to experience the “real thing” whatever that means to us.

In sum, yes Americans are identifiable by some commonplace characteristics, some positive, some negative. But, overall, even negative assessments are balanced by comments that Americans are kind, generous, thoughtful and increasingly culturally sensitive and curious.   Most of the articles I read did not consider American tourists to be the “ugly” ones.  Other nationalities are now claiming that distinction.