As American citizens in 2017, it’s become quite hard to travel without being judged for our government’s actions. It’s not easy to come to terms with the fact that people will often judge you for your nationality before your character (picking at an fresh wound here, perhaps?)
While it is important that we embrace our unique culture, it is our responsibility as American travelers to show that we are indeed accepting and open to culture other than our own. How exactly can you do that? Don’t worry, I’ve got some ideas for you!
1. Travel with an open mind.
The beauty of travel is so often the unknown! There’s so much uncharted territory that we are completely oblivious to, and that’s the magnificence behind travel. That being said, there’s a lot of things we simply can’t learn from a textbook.
A textbook cannot teach you how to observe a culture without judging it; it’s a learned skill that takes many years to fully grasp. I’ve still got a long way to go with this, too!
This judgement often stems from expectation. Expectations are more than likely always going to lead to disappointment. Citizens of other countries will not live the same way as Americans do, and to expect them to is a dire mistake. Always enter a new place with they idea that you will not understand everything, and that’s okay.
2. Observe before you act.
Take a minute to people watch when you first arrive in your host country. Watch how the people behave. Are they loud? Do they put their elbows on the table while eating? Observation of these behaviors can help you learn and understand the culture just that much better.
Try to imitate these behaviors. It shows that you understand that you are a guest in their home and that you respect how they live their lifestyles. Of course many countries will understand that you are different and will not expect you to act as they do, but it doesn’t hurt to put that extra bit of effort it.
3. Show kindness in everything you do and everywhere you go.
I risk sounding too much like your mom when I say “Use your manners!”, but it’s true! Using your manners goes a long way in not only showing respect, but ultimately making your travels easier. Locals feel much more inclined to help a tourist or traveler when they show that they’re a good person, plain and simple!
Hold the door, let people merge into your lane. Those small acts of kindness can have a big effect!
4. Give back to your host country.
All those little things that you do throughout your travels really add up. It is important that we show our appreciation. Every little thing we do as we travel can show that!
Pick up litter that you see on the street; try to leave the place cleaner than when you came! Shop and stay local when possible; all the money you spend has the possibility of ending up in the hands of the locals!
5. Be culturally sensitive.
As both travelers and world citizens, it is our responsibility to live in harmony with one another and to be accepting even when we don’t always understand something about another culture. The differences between cultures and countries across the world are indeed what make them beautiful. We should embrace those differences with open arms.
After having lived in Italy for about two years now, I feel like I’ve only just barely broken the surface of Italian culture. There is so much to learn. I often find myself judging certain aspects of the culture and have to remind myself that it isn’t that these particular thing are wrong, they’re just different.
Coming from the United States, I have a certain foundation of morals and basis of thought that is different from those of Italians. It’s not any better or any worse, it’s simply different. It is my responsibility to acknowledge this and build my experience off of this.
Most Italians are also sensitive about the “power” that the Unites States has over them. After World War Two, the United States received agreements from many countries in Europe that included their limitation of military power and other miscellaneous clauses that limited what they can do as independent nations. This is still a fresh wound for many of these nations.
It is important that we look into things like this before we travel as to ensure respect is felt by the country and its citizens that are hosting us.
6. Be comfortable with less than ideal situations.
Throughout your travels you might find yourself in some shitty situations. And yes, I mean that both figuratively and literally.
In many parts of Asia, they have what some refer to as the “squatty potty” or more humorously the “shit pit”. It’s quite literally a hole that you squat over to do your business. This is a normal thing that many Westerners have a hard time being okay with. Take it with a grain of salt and think of it as a part of the experience.Click To Tweet
7. Learn a few words or phrases of the host language.
Essential to showing respect and equality is putting in a little effort to learn a bit of the host language of the country you will be visiting. Simple words and phrases like “please” and “thank you” will go a long way when traveling.
I’ve compiled a list of the “20 Words for When You Don’t Speak the Host Language” that’ll surely help you out with this!
8. Understand that many countries and their people do not approve of the shape American politics is taking and you don’t need to try to change their mind about that.
Simply put, the majority of people around the world do not approve of Donald Trump. They feel disrespected and as if they are second to the needs and wants of the American people. They do not respect the way American politics are headed, and that’s okay.
You do not need to tell them they’re wrong as you will not be changing their opinion. Express yourself as you will, but ensure that respect and understanding are always present.
9. Accept that there are negative stereotypes about Americans but don’t be afraid to prove them wrong.
At this point in time, America isn’t thought of as a welcoming, loving place. Many people think that we as Americans are to blame for that. We are sometimes thought of as feeling entitled, as being glutinous, as being cruel, and as being selfish. These are all stereotypes that I have personally come across throughout my time abroad.
“C’mon Jamie, why do you want all the refugees to die?! They’re going to if you don’t let them in!” This is the kind of thing I get asked without my opinion of refugee placement in the United States even being known. Why? Because I’m American and the actions my government takes are supposed to coincide with my personal ideals. I can personally attest that this is not always they case, but that cruelty has become a stereotype nonetheless.
“How aren’t you fat?! You’re American!” Yep, I’ve literally been asked this. It is a stereotype of Americans that definitely exists and it is a very strong one, indeed.
“Why would you even come to university here in Italy when you don’t even speak the language? You think you can just get by with English or something?” This was a question I was asked by one of my professors after taking a written exam and yes, passing it. Little did she know that I had been studying the Italian for the last three years. I had been working very hard to attain the language of my host country.
There’s this stereotype of Americans feeling entitled through means of our language and the strength of our military that many foreign citizens believe to be true. I’ll say first hand that I’ve witnessed this stereotype prove to be true in far too many instances, but I can also say that I know many Americans who work very hard to attain their host country’s language and appreciate the fact that they’re guests within that country.
It is our job as Americans to prove that these stereotypes do not always have validity. We can do that through the display of respect, kindness, and understanding. We need to tackle these stereotypes head on and show that American people can be loving and humble, as well.
10. Dig deeper.
Countries can offer so much more than just what they’re depicted to offer. Each country is known for certain aspects within their cultures. These stereotypes might not be negative, but there’s more than just those general perceptions.
A huge example of this is Italy; did you know Italians eat more than just pizza and pasta?! Can you believe it?! I know, I was shocked when I moved here and found out that there’s like meat and vegetables, too!
Go to the little towns and find the people that don’t speak a lic of English. Connect with those people; try to understand their way of life and taste the foods that encompass their culture. Speak through your kind, accepting nature and watch as you receive theirs in return.