10 Ways to Spot an American Abroad

A guy with blonde hair riding on the tip of a wide skateboard with his knees bent on a street with mint green handrails and the USA flag as his cape.

American Tourist

Back in the day, adventuring nomads would sew a flag onto their backpack and you always knew exactly where your fellow travelers were from. As soon as you dumped your gear in a hostel, you’d look for comrades from home or new friends from exotic lands. Now, it’s not so easy. Far less people openly display their country of origin and that means one less way to start a casual conversation.

Except for Americans. There’s never been any reason to sport the Stars and Stripes because most of us can spot an American at a hundred yards. If you’re from the U.S. and want to blend in on your next trip out of the country, you might want to avoid some of these tell tale traits.

1. Baseball Caps

The only other country in the world that seems to surgically attach a lid onto every male head is Canada, and that doesn’t count because nobody outside of North America can tell the difference anyway. If you must plonk something on top, try some other type of headgear and leave the cap at home. You might also want to stay away from the white knee socks and shorts.

2. Ice

It seems innocuous but asking for ice is a dead giveaway. No other culture automatically waters down their drinks, and you probably wouldn’t want them to. Ice is usually made from tap water, and that can make it a bit suspect in many countries. And no. Beer in Europe is never going to be as cold as at home.

3. Multi-tasking While You Eat

In most countries, eating is a social occasion marked by unhurried conversation with friends and family. You don’t do it walking down the street or sitting in your car, and you certainly don’t text, tweet, chat and post at the table. And the vast majority of people clutching a paper bag from McDonalds are Americans.

4. Wearing Slippers Outside

You may not be aware of it, but UGGs and Crocs are generally classified as slippers, or at the very least items of footwear you’d never take to a restaurant, theater or other public gathering. Unless you’re walking into a sketchy shower, take off the Crocs - and nobody needs to walk around town on the back of a sheep.

5. They’re Just Breasts

You can always spot Americans on a European beach because they’re the ones pretending not to admire all that exposed flesh. Americans are pretty uptight about public nudity, and you’ll be hard pressed to find them at any clothing-optional beach on the planet.

6. Talk About Your Hemorrhoids

Americans are notorious for talking to complete strangers, and when you’re on holiday that can be a good thing. They’re also noted for being very friendly, also a good thing. But nobody wants to hear about your colonoscopy, your brother’s marital problems or exactly what you and your new spouse are doing on your honeymoon.

7. Lug a Steamer Trunk

Despite the abundance of day packs on the markets, Americans seem to believe they only have two options when it comes to carrying their daily gear. The fanny pack and the I’m-Climbing-Mount-Everest-Today backpack. Fanny packs make you look like a dork. Enough said. You also don’t need to haul everything around in a huge bag that’s going to trip people up in restaurants and bother your neighbor on the bus. Day packs people, day packs.

8. Speaking One Language

For a huge and diverse country, it’s amazing that so few Americans speak anything other than English. You can always spot an American in a non-English speaking country because they expect everyone to understand what they’re saying. If not in their normal voice, then at considerable volume. And while we’re on the subject, practicing your inside voice is always a good way to prepare for overseas travel.

9. Excessive Drinking

Many countries are known for their love of a particular alcoholic beverage. The French and Italians have their wine. The Germans and Australians will often prefer to sip a pint. Then there’s Greek Ouzo, Caribbean rum and Japanese Sake. You don’t have to try them all at once, and it’s unfortunate that drunkenness ranks high on all “spot-an-American” pastimes.

10. Tipping

OK, we told you these were things to avoid if you don’t want to be spotted but American generosity is recognized, and appreciated, around the world. Most Asian and European countries pay their staff fair wages and workers don’t have to depend on tips to get by. That said, leaving something on the table will always get you a warm smile and being spotted as an American will be a good thing.