Do’s and Dont’s while International

    Do’s and Dont’s while International
    “Latarnia morska.” By Mariusz Nasieniewski - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

    While everyone gets a bit of culture shock and makes mistakes when they leave their country, Americans have a particular reputation for bulldozing through all social customs and expectations with a highhanded, serve-me-now entitlement. I would add a disclaimer that this behavior certainly does not resemble everyone. There are plenty of people out there who are perfectly polite and considerate to other cultures.

    Remember! Those of us who travel abroad represent our country! What they see in one American (or other countryman) is what they will believe all Americans are like. Make it a good picture!

    I think we all like to be prepared for what to expect and others expect from visitors in their land, so here’s some things to remember while abroad.



    1. Learn key phrases in the language of the country you visit
      • The locals will really appreciate it if you put in an effort, even if it’s badly done. We Americans are always complaining about people coming to our country without learning the language, so we should hold to the same standard in someone else’s country, yeah?
      • Please and thank you
      • Hello and goodbye
      • Do you speak [English or other language]?
      • Numbers
      • Where is [insert place here]?
    2. Respect their different traditions, beliefs, ideas, and opinions
      • Treat others as you wish to be treated (See! Kindergarten did teach us something with life-value!)
    3. Be the learner, not the teacher
      • You don’t leave your country to tell others how great it is. You go to discover other countries. (At least I hope so!)
    4. Speak in lower tones while in public
      • Most countries – especially in Europe – are much more reserved than America. Quiet in public is an unspoken rule. (Punny!)
    5. Pay attention to your surroundings
      • Don’t walk and talk on your phone while in transit – bus, walking, etc – instead wait until you are stopped somewhere to do so.
    6. Say please and thank you.
      • Everyone in unison: “I always do that!” Surprisingly, people really do forget and that sucks. So be decent and remember what your momma taught you!
    7. Laugh at your mistakes and sincerely apologize if there is an offended party
      • Even the most experienced traveler will make a mistake and cross some line accidentally. Once you realize it, apologies, and asking for an explanation so you don’t repeat it, go a long way.
    8. Assume you know nothing of the culture
      • Just because you’ve watched some TV show or movie about the country doesn’t mean you know the culture and what to expect. It’s easier to go in with a clean slate and an open mind.




    1. Initiate physical contact
      • Sometimes physical contact is a huge faux pax to a culture. Wait for the local to initiate contact before embarrassing them and/or yourself.
    2. Compare the country to your homeland
      • There are little to no ways to compare countries without coming off as insulting. Best to avoid it unless the local asks and then be careful.
    3. Make fun of the country
      • One would think this obvious, but it tends to be done anyway. Don’t joke about someone’s country. People will take offense to this, just like we would.
    4. Be loud in public
      • As previously stated, quiet in public is the norm.
    5. Be oblivious to your surroundings
      • Pay attention and put the phone away while in public
    6. Wear short shorts or sweatpants
      • Most countries have higher standards for public decency. Sweatpants are for home, shorts for the beach, not for exploring Paris, London, and other tourist cities.
    7. Take pictures unless you’re sure it’s acceptable
      • Check ahead of time to see if certain locales allow photography, especially churches.
    8. Ever use the flash on your camera
      • While it is sometimes acceptable, it’s best not to press your luck. Keep it off.
        • Pictures look better without flash anyway.
    9. Expect ice in your drinks
      • Apparently, Americans make a big deal about getting ice in their drinks abroad. Other countries don’t do this automatically, you have to ask, and they still might not. Don’t get pissy, just drink the beverage before it gets warm.
    10. Attempt a local accent
      • It won’t turn out, you will insult the locals and be the joke later when they’re with their friends.
    11. Be high-maintenance
      • Don’t demand special treatment because you’re American or a paying customer. Many places do not have the same ideas on customer-server relations. There, the customer is not “always right.”

    I know this came off a bit preachy, but I am really passionate about being a positive example for my country to people who may have already iffy views on our country. I have friends from abroad, and they all come with a very skeptical expectation of Americans than some would think.

    So when we travel, let’s not come off as the loud, fat, obnoxiously entitled Americans, but the decent, polite, and friendly Americans who respect others and are genuinely interested in learning new things and meeting new people.


    “Latarnia morska.” By Mariusz Nasieniewski – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0