Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Travel is my passion. I have been to 46 U.S. States and 26 countries so far on this journey of mine and have been enriched by every moment on the road. Well, almost, there have been a few stomach related episodes that were the opposite of enriching.

Along the way I have had the opportunity to observe closely how tourists from all over the world dress, speak, act, interact, and relate to the places they are visiting. Of course living in NYC allows me that opportunity on a daily basis as well.

Each group of tourists has a different reputation in regard to how they act on the road. Some say the Germans are pushy and will rob your deck chair right from under you. The Japanese have yet to discover that they can travel in groups of less than 30. Aussies tend to congregate in Ozzie ghettos. Canadians sew big Maple Leaf Flags on their backpacks and such to ensue no one mistakes them for an American. And the list goes on and on.

And of course there is the "Ugly American." Fat, loud, obnoxuios, entitled, clueless about the culture of the place they are visiting, horrible dressers.

From USA TODAY: "In man-on-the-street interviews conducted in more than 100 countries after 9/11 by the advertising conglomerate DDB Worldwide, respondents repeatedly mentioned "arrogant," "loud" and "uninterested in the world" when asked their perceptions of Americans, Eggspuehler says. "But the most consistent word in every region was 'respect.' They said we don't respect their cultures. That, and if we had to talk so much, we could at least dial down the volume."

Well a new group who hopes to improve the image of Americans abroad (both business and holiday travelers) is printing a book on the subject. They are called Business For Diplomatic Action and I applaud their organization and efforts.

Here is some sample advice from the new "World Citizens Guide" published by Business for Diplomatic Action:

-Speak lower and slower. In conversation, match your voice level and tonality to the environment and other people. A loud voice is often perceived as bragging. A fast talker can be seen as aggressive and threatening.

-Leave the slang at home. (It) means little or nothing in other cultures. .. (and) can make you seem insensitive.

-Listen at least as much as you talk. By all means, talk about America.. .. But also ask people you're visiting about themselves and their way of life.

-Dress up, you can always strip down. In some countries, casual dress is a sign of disrespect.

-Remember that your religion is your religion and not necessarily theirs. Most non-Western cultures have little knowledge of the Bible and will not understand references to it.

All of this is excellent advice. I see this not just from Americans, but other travelers as well, but Americans do seem to be guilty of these things more than others.

I was struck by an idea when I finished reading the list.

We live in a less civil, less polite, less formal age. Our culture at home IS what we bring on the road.

How much nicer would life be at home and abroad if people started following these rules everyday?

We wouldn't have to "turn on and turn off" our loud voices, slangy jargon, religious proclamations, and we would look better too. And we'd be smarter for studying other cultures more closely and giving them the respect they deserve.