Don't be the "Ugly American"

Travel is one of the things we enjoy most at Villa Luxe. We truly love being able to share our passion with our friends and clients! We want to design trips that truly capture all that you are looking for. In our minds, part of that is also preparing you for your destination. As we are traveling, one of the things that make us simultaneously laugh and blush are the ‘ugly Americans’ we see while on our travels.

The first caveat to this post is that culture affects both the locals at our destination and also how we interpret that same behavior. There are many facets of culture that we can’t possibly delve into in one blog post; stick with us and we will prepare you with the basics on how not to be the ugly American while abroad.

First, let’s look at American culture for just a quick second. Americans tend to be individualistic but rooted in equality. We tend to be on a very sequential time table (read punctual) and have more of a neutral affect in our communication style. Many of our favorite destinations operate on exactly the opposite cultural characteristics – doing the good of the collective group (rather than individual needs), value particular assessment of needs (treating each circumstance on it’s particular merits rather than applying the same standard across the board), operating in a more synchronous time schedule (read flexible), and emotionally expressive.  The most basic step in not appearing to be the Ugly American is to realize when culture is playing a role in your perception of the value you are observing. As we’ve mentioned, culture is deep – our entire being is steeped in culture. Culture shapes the way we view everything. Think of culture as the lens we see the world through much like a near-sighted person needs their glasses or contacts. The tips we have below are a very good start to help our friends experience a wonderful reception abroad:

  • Try and learn a few key phrases in the native language if the area is not known for English ability (for example, parts of Mexico, Thailand, etc). English is fairly widely spoken globally, but learning a few phrases will go a long way impressing your hosts. Good phrases to start with are: hello, thank you, please, where is the toilet?
  • Talk with the locals when possible. For example, some of our favorite meals have come from restaurants off the beaten path. You won’t find them in any travel magazine, but we spoke with people we met and found where they like to go. People like to show off the best they have to offer, so use that to your advantage! Likewise, engage with the chef when you can – you will likely learn all about the delicacy you are about to experience and may even learn about the origins of tradition. Your experience will delight both your mind and your taste buds.
  • Do some research! If you travel off-season or during the rains, be sure that you have some options other than the beach to occupy your time. This is another wonderful opportunity to find out from the locals what they suggest – you never know, you could find the next big thing!
  • Don’t shy away from hospitality. Tipping is common in many of our destinations – especially in service related industries. Though in others, tipping is a gross insult. If you have questions – be sure to ask your villa specialist for advice.
  • Be sure you are dressed appropriately for the venue. Most of our destinations are in locations where casual wear is completely appropriate. Be aware that some sightseeing opportunities may require certain attire (think European churches – women must be dressed more modestly while shorts are prohibited for men).
  • Manage how you interpret emotions. In many Latin and European cultures, communication is done with lots of emotions. People are expressing their thoughts often spontaneously with heavy body language and varying tones. Americans often interpret this type of communication style as threatening or respond in a defensive manner. The best option is to respond knowing that expression is a way to show importance and meaning from the sender (of the message). Try responding with positive body language and use more emotion to communicate than you would normally.

As we've said, culture impacts everything we do and the way we see the world. With these tips, you are well on your way to being a seasoned international traveler and avoiding being the ugly American.

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