How to Avoid Looking Like an American Tourist

Three Methods:ClothingFoodBehavior

As an American traveling in a foreign country, the last thing you want to do is stand out like a sore thumb. Not only will you have a greater chance of getting sucked into tourist traps, but you'll also be a more obvious target for getting mugged. So, are you aware of the things you do, say, and wear that make you look like the stereotypical tourist? See Step 1 to learn how to avoid looking like an American tourist anywhere you go.

Method 1

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    Ditch the athletic shoes. White athletic shoes (otherwise referred to as tennis shoes or sneakers) are stereotypically American. Any shoes that don't look like they were meant for exercise will suffice. If you do wear socks, make sure they're dark or match the color of your pants. Flip-flops are also very noticeable as American attire, unless you're in a country like Brazil where Havaianas reign, or Australia or New Zealand where the Brazilian flip-flops are also ubiquitous. In most countries, open-toed sandals (Chacos, Tevas and Keens) are borderline at best, and may be totally unacceptable. Shoes are always the safest bet in urban areas. However, these are quite acceptable for hiking and active outdoor pursuits, just as they are here. Also, Crocs, the popular foam clogs, may be ubiquitous in the US, but in most of the world are regarded as ridiculous in the extreme and are worn mostly by gardeners and the very young, if at all. Sneakers like K-Swiss, Vans or Adidas in a dark color with no or very subtle logos are much less conspicuous and are a good compromise if you are planning to do a lot of walking.
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    Avoid wearing anything that has to do with the USA or America. In particular, avoid clothing with the city's name, the country or state's flag, or similar printing.
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    Buy accessories at local stores, especially ones that you see the locals wearing, like scarves. Sometimes not wearing something could signal that you are a tourist. For example, in some countries, hats or scarves are worn by the majority, or most people wear neck scarves during the winter. Also, head scarves or coverings are required in some religious establishments. It would be wise to research this in advance and be prepared to take something with you if you plan to visit religious places. Wearing a headscarf incorrectly will signal that you are a tourist, and local people may be offended and feel that you are appropriating their customs. If you do not normally wear a headscarf, it may be better to only wear one when it is required.
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    Avoid US brand name clothing with easily readable names (e.g., Nike, Gap, Abercrombie, etc.). In fact, don't wear any slogans (like "Virginia is for lovers") as that will tie you to a specific place. Notoriously American brands are becoming more popular outside of the US due to globalization. However, it's still a good idea to stick to non-slogan clothing.
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    Dress a little nicer than usual. Casual dress is not as common outside the USA. You will fit in better in most places if you wear long pants or skirts and buttoned shirts or blouses rather than sneakers, sweatshirts, t-shirts, jeans, or shorts -- especially athletic shorts. Blue jeans are not acceptable in all situations. Instead, pack versatile "casual Friday" business attire. Shorts are best avoided by all adults, especially women, except for hiking and similar activities. In many countries, adults wearing shorts are seen as silly, uncouth, half-naked, or worse. Use your eyes to adapt yourself to the finer points of personal appearance and grooming. Look around and see whether people tuck their shirts in or leave them hanging out. Sometimes this differs for men and women in the same country. In hot weather where you're tempted to wear shorts, consider a lightweight long sleeve shirt and linen pants instead. They may be more appropriate and will help limit sun exposure.
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    Dress appropriately for the local weather. Shorts and a t-shirt in cool climates (or wintertime) are a clear sign that you are not in touch with the local weather. Many Americans also tend to wear technical outdoor gear, such as down jackets and ski jackets, as casual winter outerwear. This is not common in most countries, even very cold ones. More formal coats of wool, fur, or leather are de rigueur. If you have one or are willing to buy one, bring it.
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    Camouflage. What colors do the locals wear? Mostly black and other neutral shades, like in London, or bright, bold colors like in the Caribbean? Wear colors that you see the locals wearing. Folks in Paris, London, and other European capitals tend to wear lots of black, and as a tourist, you tend to blend in if you’re wearing it, too. Your hot pink sweater vest or bright blue collared shirt might be fashionable in Minneapolis, but it won't fly in Budapest. In tropical climes, keep in mind that local modes of dress may still be less casual than you expect - so a t-shirt and loud board shorts may still look silly. Check travel forums and photos online to get a feel for what the locals wear. In SE Asia any shirt with a collar is preferable to a T shirt.
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    Leave your baseball hats, backpack, fanny pack and water bottles at home. Baseball caps and fanny packs scream "American!" Besides,"fanny" means something entirely different in some places, not to mention how unsafe these packs are. It's best to not carry bags of any kind, with your personal effects concealed about your person in pockets and on lanyards. A purse or tote bag, bought locally, may also work. If you are worried about getting sun in your eyes then wear sunglasses instead of a baseball cap.
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    Be careful about socks. In some countries like Brazil, avoid wearing shorts with black socks - most people wear white socks and clothes that go with them. And most important, they don't pull the socks up to their knees like football players. In many countries, socks are never worn with shorts at all. If you plan to walk a lot where it's warm (like Spain) and want to wear shorts and socks, choose short socks that aren't visible above the tops of your shoes.
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    Avoid the stereotypical nylon cargo pants and travel shirt. While they may dry quickly and offer appealing functionality, avoid these unless you're trekking, rafting, or otherwise truly out in the wilderness. If you're simply sightseeing in a developed area with plenty of residents, it's almost guaranteed that the residents will find you comical at best and be offended at worst. Nothing will set you apart faster. Thankfully, it is possible to obtain clothing that offers the technical advantages of quick-dry nylon in styles that are unobtrusive.
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    Wear the same swimwear as the locals. In many countries it is common for men to wear Speedos on the beach or at the pool. In some European countries, like France, men are even required by law to wear a Speedo in public pools. Wearing a swim short is forbidden. Also, wearing a swimming cap is required for both men and women in some countries.

Method 2

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    Take whatever condiments they give you. Requesting typical US condiments (ketchup, salt, pepper, etc.) is a sure giveaway that you are an American tourist. Use the typical condiments in your host country, and if you don't like them or can't bear to eat without your American condiments, bring your own. Take small packets with you to use rather than insisting that the restaurant supply you with it.
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    Give up the ice. In many parts of the world, you will be served your drinks with little or no ice - much less than you're accustomed to in the US. Of course, if you want ice in your drink because that's how you prefer it and you're paying for it, you're perfectly entitled to ask for it, but the point of this article is to help you avoid being labeled as an American, and requesting ice is a definite giveaway. What's more, be warned the tap water of some other countries isn't as safe as the water back home. Your beverage may be made with filtered or sterilized water, but often the ice is not. You can get a bad case of food poisoning from drinking safe bottled beverages with unsafe ice.
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    Eat local food. Many American tourists visit US chain restaurants for every meal, afraid to dabble in the local cuisine, but becoming a regular at the local McDonald's and Pizza Hut will tip everyone off that you're an American really quickly. You'll also deprive yourself of a fantastic window into the local culture. Don't be scared: if your host is eating it, it won't harm you. Let your host or waitress advise you about local specialties. And don't ever spit out the food you're given!
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    Use local table manners.
    • In Europe, a fork and knife are used differently than in the US. If you are right-handed, eat with the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right. Europeans cut each bite individually with the knife in the right hand and the fork in the left hand, and rest their arms midway between wrist and elbow. The elbow should stay off the table. Also, don't rest your arm in between yourself and your plate. This is considered as rude in some countries.
    • In some Asian nations chopsticks. It might be more appropriate than a knife and fork.
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    Order like a local. In some countries, for instance, a salad is the last item served, not the first. In others, people don't eat what we in the US think of as a "salad".
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    Don't request decaf unless you can see in the menu that it is offered.
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    Don't ask for a seat in the "non-smoking" section, unless you already know there is one. In some European countries there won't be one as it is illegal to smoke indoors in a public area. Alternatively, some places won't actually have a non-smoking area. If this is the case either try to live with the smoke or move outside. Don't kick up a fuss.
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    Avoid walking down the street while eating food; this is against proper etiquette in most countries.
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    Many restaurants have English menus available, but learn how to politely ask for one using the local language.
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    Don't ask for tap water. You will get grumpy stares. Accept the fact that you are going to get mineral water, with or without gas.

Method 3

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    Keep the map out of sight. Pulling out and looking at your map in a public space is a no-no. Study it before you leave your hotel, and if you do need to consult your map, step into a store or any other less public place. Have the maps pre-folded so they may be easily accessed and read. The same goes for other items:
    • If you must use a dictionary to translate a sign or menu, be discreet. For example, copy down the words of the sign and move aside to a less public place to work out the translation. Or copy some basic words in a notebook which you can easily pull out at dinner.
    • If you must consult a guidebook, keep it wrapped in a newspaper or novel. You may want to wrap the cover in brown paper before leaving home. You may wish to remove the pages detailing the day's destinations from your guidebook ahead of time, staple or paperclip them, and simply carry them as a sheaf of pages.
    • Don't carry US newspapers, magazines or books in plain view. Pick up a local/regional magazine or the local newspaper.
    • Just like in the US, most tourist friendly museums have literature in multiple languages. Look for the UK flag on them instead of an American flag.
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    Learn about the history, culture and politics. Try to find information online or in guidebooks. At least know what country you're going to, what language they speak and the name of their capital. Study the map in advance and learn about geography. (Thinking Copenhagen is in the Netherlands or Europe is a country is the fastest way to pick out an American tourist.)
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    Be quiet! Many Americans are recognized for being louder than is customary in other parts of the world. Large arm and hand movements and boisterous behavior should be avoided until you know how the locals act. Adults in many non-American cultures use lower voices in public places. Either way, you're always better off being a little more reserved and quiet, at least for starters, than blasting onto a foreign scene with your vitality and making the wrong impression.
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    Don't brag or be showy. When you pull things out of your bag in public to show your friends or family what you purchased, you might as well yell "I have money and I'm ready to spend it, unless you want to take it from me against my will!"
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    Avoid talking about the local people and culture. Something as seemingly harmless as "Oh, I just love the scarves here!" will mark you as a tourist. And don't assume people can't understand what you're saying, just because you said it in English. In many parts of the world, people are taught to speak English along with their native language.
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    Mind your personal space. Not every country is as "spacious" as the US (unless you're in New York City, where space is at a premium). When you're at a counter, for example, don't spread out your arms. When you're sitting down on the bus or train, don't stretch out your legs in a way that might get in someone's way. Be careful about physical contact. Get an idea of what is acceptable, and mind local customs, such as not touching the head or feet in most of South Asia. Don't get freaked out by the person in line behind you being very close, and if you leave too much room between you and the person in front of you, expect someone to step in to the space.
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    Don't chew a lot of gum. It's just not very common outside of the US, and even within the US, it's a breach of etiquette under some circumstances.
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    Don't wear your camera around your neck. When traveling to a foreign country, you are bound to take pictures. However, having a camera strap and wearing it around your neck for easy access is a sure way to look like a tourist. If you can, keep it in a pocket or in a purse and pull it out when needed.
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    Try to speak the language. If you're going to a country that speaks a different language, why not try to make an effort to speak the local language? It's a sign of respect and appreciation of the local culture. Learn a few basic words like "Hello", "Please" and "Thank you". Nobody will mind if your accent is not perfect; the fact that you've been willing to speak their language, even when you could well have spoken yours, is a thing that many people appreciate in tourists. While you are at it, learn the words for some foods that you like, and the ones that you don't like. It makes eating out much less scary.
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    Don't just stick your hand out. Shake hands with caution. In the west, the handshake is an acceptable greeting. In Thailand, handshakes are reserved for business with Westerners. The preferred greeting is the wai, hands pressed together in prayer position in front of the chin with a slight nod. In India the handshake is becoming common, but you must greet the eldest or most important person present first and work your way down, and shaking a woman's hand may be unacceptable. Your take-away message here? Do some research on etiquette and learn how to respectfully greet your hosts.
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    Research and observe "manners" and "mannerisms" or lack thereof. In some countries, merely saying "excuse me," "I'm sorry" or "Please" will mark you as a tourist.


  • If you are traveling alone, especially a woman, buy the local newspaper and keep it under your arm when walking, or open it if on a bus or train.
  • Use the local currency, not US dollars. You may be able to get it from a nearby ATM - if these are prevalent, use them exclusively. US dollars may be exchanged at many banks. Travelers' checks are less useful than they were in the past. Many banks and exchanges charge a hefty commission, if they accept them at all. Prepaid debit cards, especially the Visa TravelMoney card - may be used at ATMs, but offer the security of travelers' checks. This may be an easier alternative. Any form of electronic payment also helps you avoid fumbling uncertainly through a wad of foreign currency, which is sure to attract attention.
  • Take your time. Slow down, the pace of life in most other countries is slower. You will also make fewer mistakes, like getting on the wrong train, if you give yourself a little more time.
  • Have the basic phrases of the language down.
  • These are only guidelines to help outline some things you might want to avoid or attempt doing if fitting in and avoiding unwarranted attention is a concern. Sometimes fitting in can help guarantee safety in a foreign place.
  • Look at your train tickets ahead of time and make sure you know where you are going, where to sit and where to get off. The tickets almost never have English on them due to the limited space. Figure out which coach and seat you are in before the mad rush to get on.
  • Consider buying a pair of local shoes if you'll do minimal walking - especially what people wear for comfort. (If you'll be walking long distances however, be aware that new shoes can result in blisters.)
  • Don't expect the local people to live up to stereotypes. Don't be offended if they stare and point at you. Just smile back at them.
  • An alternative for a woman carrying a purse is to place all items in a plastic bag and carry that. this is also good for guide books and maps, especially in Latin America where plastic bags are de rigueur). Be aware that in many places, especially Europe, people don't carry plastic bags. Instead, carry your own plain canvas shopping bag or one of the trendy shoulder bags like locals are carrying.
  • Try to meet locals, they know the city better than a guidebook and will give you an authentic experience.
  • Asking for tap water is not unacceptable or unsafe in all countries. Although it is unwise in countries where the tap water may not be clean, it is perfectly acceptable to ask for tap water in the UK and Ireland, where restaurants are legally obliged to give you free tapwater if you ask for it. The waiter or waitress might think you're a little stingy for not wanting to pay for mineral water, but they will comply with your request and drinking UK tapwater will not make you ill.
  • With the language part, the article kinda gives it gently. Seriously make an effort to learn basic parts of the local language. One of the biggest reasons people so often see Americans as rude is because too many of us go on vacation and expect everyone to cater to us. It's their home; respect it and don't barge in. On the topic of catering to us, don't just expect everyone to drop what they're doing because you got lost.


  • Don't wear a fanny pack. A pickpocket could easily unzip the fanny pack and take out the contents without your being aware.
  • Be careful with backpacks, if you insist on carrying one at all. Thieves have been known to distract you, while an accomplice will slice open the bottom of your backpack with a box cutter and scoop up your belongings.
  • Distribute your cash, credit cards, and other valuables about your person. Keep no more in your wallet than you're willing to part with! Keep a small amount of cash in a wallet for easy access, and carry the rest unobtrusively - in a money belt or other money carrier. If you are accosted, hand over your wallet without question - don't even say anything. Most thieves will leave quickly if you give them something; resistance will gain you nothing but trouble.
  • Keep your passport in a safe or other secure location unless local laws require foreigners to carry passports at all times. Otherwise, do not carry it unless you are in transit - and as noted above, keep it close to your person, not in a purse or bag. Carry another form of ID for purposes of identification. If your passport is stolen, several days of your trip will go towards the difficult process of obtaining a new one from the nearest embassy or consulate.
  • Do not give money to beggars and urchins. Your money will frequently go to enrich criminals who keep beggars in involuntary servitude. Should your conscience demand you do something for these people, ask around for local charities to donate to.
  • It is best to wear your personal items such as money, ID, passport, credit card, etc. close to your body. You may not feel someone pulling objects out of your pocket. Inner pockets, or pockets on the front are easier to guard. Zippered or buttoned pockets are also preferable.
  • In many parts of the middle east, when you visit the outdoor marketplaces or bazaars the natives will pretend not to speak English as a way to discourage you from haggling. It is commonplace for natives to haggle, however, and you will not be seen as a "champion of small businesses" as much as a "moron" if you give in to this. If they type a price on a calculator or phone, or write it down on paper, it generally makes sense just to walk away. Often, if you start to walk away the price will very quickly go down. And if you can help it, have a native instruct you as to what is or is not reasonable behavior on the salesman's part.
  • Don't feel ashamed of being an American. You should feel proud of your heritage, regardless of if you have to keep yourself from showing it. Accept in yourself all the qualities that you strive to accept in others.

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