More times than I can count while living in Hong Kong, people told me that Americans were a hard group of people to truly like*. Non-Americans complained that Americans were loud, wore inappropriate clothing, and acted entitled. I’d go to a museum and hear the Americans coming. I’d walk into a store and see a line of Americans complaining. It was embarrassing. I am proud to be an American, certainly, but I wasn’t proud that a select group of Americans were worldly enough to hop on a plane to Asia, but were not cultured enough to know how to assimilate, or at the very least, not stand out.
While traveling with a group of high schoolers not too long ago, these memories of “being an American overseas” re-appeared. They were loud. They wore Daisy Dukes (though probably had no idea what those are). They said things like, “We’re from America, so we wouldn’t know.” They walked 8 across on a sidewalk. They complained about everything and loudly. Again, I was embarrassed.
We don’t need to be just like everyone around us, but we shouldn’t stand out. We were in a safe European country, so I didn’t worry about being targeted. But, next summer I’ll be taking another group of high schoolers to Mexico. We will stand out no matter what, but we don’t want or need more attention.
I worry about this same thing when traveling alone as a female. I’m tall and blonde, an unmistakable Westerner. I get enough attention in Latin America and Asia for these facts alone and don’t want/need any more eyes on me.
For safety’s sake, I try to be as inconspicuous as possible. I dress modestly – that means no short shorts, no cleavage, no high heels. I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, and certainly nothing expensive. I talk in my indoor voice at all times. I don’t run around, act a fool, or behave in a way that would make people look at me. In all honesty, this means I don’t get drunk; in fact, I rarely drink when traveling (outside of my safety zone in HK).
I also don’t identify as an American at all while traveling. So no red, white, and blue. No stars and stripes. No blue passport out and proud. No screaming, “But, I’m an American…” Again, I love being an American, but not everyone loves America and I don’t want to be the brunt of that disdain.
As a female traveler – no matter if you’re American, by yourself, or a high schooler – I urge you to do the same. Be respectful of the culture around you. Protect yourself and be safe. Traveling is the best thing anyone can do, so do what you can to make your experience enjoyable.
*For the record, I did meet plenty of lovely Americans living in Hong Kong. It was more of the tourists I think that annoyed me/others.