It’s been a ghastly summer for Americans visiting foreign countries this year.
The fiasco in Rio involving the after-hours behavior of American Olympic athletes and the recent news of Americans frolicking in the public fountains of Rome are cringe-worthy and embarrassing, especially for those of us who regularly travel internationally for business and pleasure. (Two obviously points: at the Olympics, no American athlete can for one moment forget that they are ambassadors for all of us, like it or not. In Rome, it’s best to remember that the fountains there are magnificent works of art that simply have water flowing through them. They are not an amusement park or a stage for childish antics.)
The American government’s often heavy-handed and arrogant foreign policy is one thing. Most citizens of the global community are intelligent and thoughtful enough to differentiate between the American people–warm, open, and easygoing most often–and the behavior of the US as a world superpower.
But we just can’t add insult to injury by behaving poorly when visiting other countries. To that end, I’ve detailed A Few Things To Remember. They may not be original, but it’s apparent that they’ve been forgotten, at least momentarily.
First, Dress Appropriately. If you’re not a supermodel or professional athlete, people in foreign countries probably don’t want to see to much of your body. Feel free to dress modestly, comfortably, and appropriately for the countries and venues you’ll be visiting. The internet is full of instruction on this. Use it.
Second, Be Polite. Pretend you’re meeting The Parents for the first time, or that you’re going to your boss’s house for a party. Have fun, but keep it between the lines.
Third, Speak A Little Of The Language. The legendary composer and music producer Quincy Jones suggests that you learn 20 words of a language before you visit a country. I’ve tried it, and it helps immensely. Just trying to speak someone’s language when you first encounter them in an airport, hotel, or restaurant is a tremendously gracious thing to do. The response from the natives will surprise you, in a good way.
Fourth, Have Some Perspective. As Americans, it’s easy to think that we’re the greatest country in the history of the world. That may be true, but history ain’t over yet. The Romans were once on top. At one point in time, the sun never set on the British Empire. Now it’s our turn. Don’t get a fat head. Nothing last forever.
Finally, if you manage to ignore all of these suggestions and act like an Ugly American instead of Old Money, or someone who aspires to Old Money, don’t think that simply leaving a big tip at a restaurant or pub will help. It won’t.
I’ll still be the one, sitting quietly on the other side of the place, to get up after you leave, walk over to the proprietor or waiter, and, in my very bad foreign language, apologize for the behavior my fellow Americans.
And candidly, I’m really tired of doing it. So let’s up our game a little when we visit the people who reside in other countries.