How To Be An Undercover American Abroad



Americans are an anomaly. We are a continent populated by people whose only thing in common is not having any one common cultural background. We display our many identities and cultural traditions with days of commemoration and parties. We are Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, English on St. George’s Day, Mexican on Cinco De Mayo. Give Americans a reason to celebrate and the subsequent outpouring of enthusiasm is unparalleled. American’s don’t celebrate with bells on, we build bell towers just to burn them down. If we are good at anything, it’s having a damn good time and we want everyone to know it! So when we go abroad, our notoriously loud American enthusiasm is sometimes not as well received as we would hope.

Don’t get me wrong. America’s great. Go Bears. ‘Murica. Whatever. But there is a time and a place to let your loud, pushy American burst at the seams and flail with pride and that place is definitely in the United States of America, land of the free and home of the obnoxious. Spotting an American abroad is about as challenging as spotting a pigeon in New York City. Y’all really want to eat where the locals eat? Party where the scene is? And drink where the “uni” kids drink? Then print this out next time you travel.

First tip: When you’re packing, get in touch with your inner minimalist – and stay there. Only Americans wear gym shoes outside of the gym and Sperry’s off a boat. Northface isn’t a thing anywhere other than here. Avoid wearing logos and brand names sprawled across your chest because that’s typical American (or Eurotrash.) When traveling abroad, sports teams and Greek affiliation mean nothing other than you’re a tourist out of place. Leave it all at home. If you find yourself packing any sort of bottoms with words on the butt just throw those away. Those shouldn’t even be okay here. It’s not about being the most fashionable; it’s about blending in.

Tip two: Don’t buy a guide a book. And by no means should you carry it around in your bag. Sight seeing is fantastic but reading about why you should visit the Eiffel Tower is pointless; you’re going to visit it anyway. Plus the day a restaurant is published in a guidebook is the day locals stop going. New Yorkers know what I’m talking about. Put down the book and pick up a map. When referencing the map be discreet! Let’s get real, if discretion was an Olympic sport we wouldn’t even qualify. Step off to the side, completely out of the way, before stopping and opening a giant map. As a city girl nothing is worse than taking that first step off the escalator from the train and into someone’s back.

Tip three: If you ignore any of the advice I have given thus far, puh-lease take this to heart: BE QUIET! I have no idea why we are the loudest human beings to walk this green earth but we are. I was sitting in Prague drinking a coffee with friends when a group of 20-somethings came in. As they walked across the patio we looked at each other and said, “Oh my God. They are so loud! They are Americans! That’s so embarrassing!” The group was casually chatting about how they just arrived in Prague several days prior and were excited for their trip. That’s when it hit us, “Were we that loud!? Oh my God, we were that loud!” Next time you are touring a beautiful international monument just listen for the voices rising above everyone else’s. I guarantee you they will have an American accent. I’m not sure why it’s so hard for us to speak at a reasonable tone but it is. I catch myself doing it even after being abroad for a while. My friends will just say, “Melinda, all your American is showing.” That’s my cue to turn down the volume.

Take these tips, go forth, get that passport stamped. Go see old friends; make new friends; then invite them to the United States and show them how tailgating, BBQing, pre-gaming, and celebrating is really done.

is an American from Chicago, Illinois.

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  • Reply April 29, 2013


    Melinda, Melinda, Melinda. This article is shameful. You’ve insulted pretty much everyone and made yourself look completely ignorant. Firstly, “We’re Irish on St. Patty’s, Mexican on Cinqo de Mayo, bla bla bla,” and yet other culture’s don’t know how to party like American’s do? That makes absolutely no sense.

    Secondly, why would you berate your readers fashion sense? Advice on how to “blend in” is fine if you’re trying to tip people off on how to avoid pick-pockets etc but how about offering some more practical advice (like make sure your bag zippers or don’t take your passport out of your hotel’s safe). “Don’t wear pants with words across the butt?” Um, okay thank you for that pearl of wisdom.

    Tip 2: WOW. Don’t read a guide book because it’s pointless to read about WHY something is important? Are you for real? If there is anything that American’s are notorious for its for being culturally unaware and ignorant to other cultures’ current events and history. Don’t bother learning about the history of the Eiffel Tower–just like, take a picture in front of it, so you can instagram it and make your friends jealous!!! Sounds like your time abroad must have been a very enriching experience. You may not have learned anything except for for where its appropriate to wear a sneaker or a Sperry, but at least you partied with Uni kids!

    Tip three: Please consider your own advice on this one. Be quiet. Your stupidity makes me cringe.

    • Reply April 29, 2013


      High five, Emma. Agreed!

  • Reply April 29, 2013


    I agree with Emma – your advice is a little off.

    Don’t knock the guide book! As someone who has traveled the whole globe, my guide books have taken me to places i would have never believed. Over the years i’ve found so many nooks and crannies of every city i’ve been to (and it’s also really nice to have a large collection of books on my shelf of all the places i’ve been) all because i thought to read them. You also get a ton of tips, history and background information.

  • Reply April 29, 2013


    As a student who studied abroad for a semester, I could not agree more with this post. After about a week in London, I found myself getting annoyed by tourists asking me to take their picture in front of Big Ben and other landmarks. I was never seen with a guide book {it was more fun to just explore} and I know I definitely learned to control how loud I talk. Great post!

    • Reply April 29, 2013


      of course it’s about exploring, but don’t you think your experience would have been richer if you stumbled upon something and then actually learned what it was?

  • Reply April 29, 2013


    Is this considered American shaming? Europeans come to America with guide books in tow. Who cares…

  • Reply April 29, 2013

    Ali Vitali

    While I agree that Americans tend towards the culturally inept at times, I would rather motivate people to go abroad sharing American culture, and learning those traditions of a host country than tell people that by venturing out of their comfort zone they’ll only look stupid by being themselves. While these tips have a place (ex: fending off pick pockets), I find the tone of this article patronizing and alienating to readers. The tone is blunting to their potential curiosity for abroad – or, as Marcel Pagnol (French author) once said: leur envie d’ailleurs. But then, that may just be me as a culturally inexperienced American…who lived in France.