Americans who travel abroad for the first time are often shocked to discover that despite all the progress that has been made in the last 30 years, many foreign people still speak foreign languages. -Dave Barry
We’ve all heard the term before – “Ugly American” – but why were we ever labeled with such mean words? Maybe it was because there were some unfortunate souls who didn’t understand that you traveled the world to experience something other than what you were used to. Unfortunately, that has left a dark mark that we as globe-trotting Americans need to erase today. And you know what – it really doesn’t take too much to do it.
LEAVING A GOOD IMPRESSION STARTS BEFORE LEAVING HOME
I’ve learned through my own experience that leaving a good impression starts before leaving home. In my thirst for travel I am always doing research. That includes learning all sorts of stuff about the place I want to travel to next so that I am able to appreciate it more when I am there. For instance, tribal traditions are always cool to explore. Did you know the Chuukese have a “love stick”? Called a nipwepweiaa, it was a gift of adoration from a young man to the woman he admired. The Chuukese “love stick” is now something from days gone by, but it makes for a cool souvenir to bring home and share the story with friends. Had I not learned about this before I visited Chuuk, I might not have appreciated this piece of wood before me and admired the work that went into making it when I purchased it from a local vendor. My knowledge of what the work of art was made a good impression on the vendor selling it to me and opened a door to good relations.
LEARN A FEW KEY WORDS AND PHRASES BEFORE YOU GO
Another good icebreaker that generally leaves a good impression is to learn a few key words and phrases. You can never go wrong with learning please and thank you, as well as hello and goodbye. Of course, the ever important “where is the bathroom?” or “could I have the check please?” always come in handy too.
LEARN THE RULES OF PROPER CULTURAL ETIQUETTE
And let’s not forget proper cultural etiquette. It’s always best to research local customs so as not to offend the locals or embarrass yourself. For instance, when visiting Fijian villages it is proper etiquette for a lady to make sure her shoulders are covered. Or in Yap, as tradition dictates, you should carry a leaf from a croton plant to indicate that you are a stranger just visiting the village.
TRY THE LOCAL CUISINE
Whether or not you are a foodie, it is always good manners to taste the local cuisine, especially when it is offered to you. Ok, so something strange with eyes is staring back at you from your bowl of soup, just close your eyes, take a taste, and quickly swallow. Your host may admire your bravery, or they may just laugh at you because they are just playing with you and didn’t think you would really eat it. Either way it is a win and an icebreaker towards a new friendship.
LET’S PUT OUR BEST FOOT FORWARD
So let’s all make sure to put our best foot forward the next time we venture abroad to dispel the use of that terrible misnomer “Ugly American”. It really is fun to learn a little about a place before you go. If I haven’t done my job by providing you with enough destination information here in my blog or on my website, then by all means, please google it. I know you know there is a wealth of information online these days. What are your tips for making a world full of friends as you travel about? I’d love to hear from you.
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