My mother always says, when you go to another country to visit or to live, you should remember you are technically representing your own country. What this means is, if a foreigner meets you, they often judge your country by how you dress, how you behave and how you treat people. If you are polite and kind, they will probably have a good impression of you and your country. If you are rude and unhelpful, they will have a bad impression of your country.
Americans are often thought of as ‘ugly Americans’ when they travel overseas, whether this is deserved by the individual or not. This opinion has become widespread because so many Americans behave badly when they are out of their own country. It’s also become widespread due to the Iraq war and the perceived aggression of America. So, the next time you travel overseas, follow these simple tips and maybe you can leave others with a good impression of American and Americans.
1. Always be polite – No matter what situation you find yourself in when travelling overseas, remember to be polite. Even if you are stressed, remaining polite is likely to help you get the situation resolved much faster and easier than if you are rude. In Thailand especially, if you are rude, you are not very likely to find anyone to help you. But, if you remain polite, Thais will fall over themselves trying to give you a helping hand.
2. Be kind and helpful – Even if you’re in a foreign country, it doesn’t cost anything to be kind and helpful. Open doors for people, stand aside so others can pass, help old people onto the bus – anything that shows you are a kind person. This type of behavior goes a long way in making sure people have a good impression of you and your country. I’ve lived in Thailand for five years and always try to be kind and helpful (sure, we all have off days, so I don’t always succeed, but I try). I’ve been told by many Thais that I’m not ‘typically American’ because, from experience, they think of Americans as loud, aggressive, rude and unhelpful. I was not even born American (I was born British), but I still try to do my part to foster goodwill overseas about America.
3. Don’t Complain About the Country You’re Visiting – Many Westerners I know (American, British, Australian etc) spend their time complaining about other countries and saying why their country is better. This doesn’t leave people with a good impression of you. It’s aggressive and unnecessary and, in fact, downright rude. The people you are talking to are ‘hosting’ you in their country. It’s rude to visit someone then spend your time explaining why the place you come from is better than the place they live in. Every country has something wrong with it. Your country probably has as many things wrong with it as the country you’re visiting. You wouldn’t like it if people pointed out the problems in your country, so don’t point out the problems in theirs.
4. Bring Gifts – If you’re visiting someone’s home or they’re taking you out for a meal or to show you around their town, make sure you bring a thank you gift. I’m amazed at how many Westerners I meet who are hosted all over Thailand by Thais and they never once think of giving them a thank you gift. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive, but it shows you appreciate their kindness.
5. Don’t Presume People Don’t Speak Your Language – Travelling around Asia, I often hear Westerners in cafes, restaurants and on public transportation complaining loudly about what’s wrong with the country they’re visiting. Many people speak English, others speak German, French, Spanish, Italian. So, just because you’re in a foreign country, don’t presume you can speak as loudly and as rudely as you like because people won’t understand you. Chances are, a good percentage of them will.
When you travel overseas and want to create a good impression of your country and your countrymen, just use a little common sense. Don’t say things you yourself wouldn’t want to hear about your own country, and don’t behave in ways you yourself would hate to see foreigners behave in your own country.