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Even Pants Could Scream Ugly American

We took our own advice to avoid being the Ugly American.

It happened while packing for an upcoming Asia excursion.

These great pants are lightweight with pockets down the legs -- perfect for shooting video and carrying equipment.

But look at the color -- army green, resembling military fatigues. Add a black t-shirt and it bellows military police security.

So I conferred with Susan. Does that color give the wrong vibe? Hey, the US has the mightiest military in the world. The early 2000s reminds the world of American military incursions into the Middle East.

Susan agreed. Err to the side of caution. Leave the pants at home. (I'd also leave the Loud Mouth pants my golf namesake endorses too.)

Caution is always a good rule overseas.

Here are some over-riding thoughts to remember as a foreign traveler.

  • You’re visiting another culture. Act like you want people to act in your country.

  • Most people in other countries really like Americans. I can’t remember anyone dissing me because they thought I was an American. They might bargain for a higher price on an item at an outdoor mall.

  • You’re lucky to be an American. We won the cultural lottery. Our country has massive natural resources. Our economy thrives because our rivers flow to the ocean making commerce easy. We’ve avoided massive wars because we are protected by two oceans. Don’t believe in the dumb luck theory? That’s fine. But others might. So act with humility since other folks aren’t as lucky.

So how do you achieve Beautiful American stature? Here are specifics.

  • Read about the country you’re visiting. Here’s a blog on what to read ahead of time. Can’t do that? Then Google that country’s Wikipedia page. Read for 5 minutes. You will get something.

  • Know some words in their language. Even if it’s just hello, goodbye, thank you, and -- my go-to -- where is the toilet? Most people in foreign countries are charmed by your effort. However, in France, don’t do what I do. Avoid my dead-on impersonation of the Pink Panther’s Inspector Clouseau. If I see a dog in Paris, you know what comes next.

  • Don’t talk politics. We covered this in a previous post. Many times an American’s perception of another culture is totally different when you get there. Think this way: would you want a foreigner coming to the US and telling you how to vote for president or Congress?

  • Respect local customers. Google “cultural mistakes when traveling abroad” for that country. You will know in most places in Asia to remove your shoes entering a house; in Japan you don’t tip your waiter; in Ireland you don’t order an Irish Car Bomb.

  • Try to know the culture. What is the ethnic background and the different religions? We are heading to Malaysia, a country comprising three different cultures: the indigenous Malay, Chinese; and Indian. We’re also heading to Vietnam. What’s it like there after The Vietnam War?

  • Don’t be loud – in your speech or your clothing. Don’t look like a crazy, “look at me look at me” American.

  • Avoid getting drunk. Losing inhibitions hurts your perception of how people see you.

Remember, you are really representing us. Now go out there and make us proud.

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