5 cultural faux pas Americans make while traveling abroad


Female Tourist Looking at Map

Flickr / Jean-François Gornet

Don't be that tourist.

No one wants to be that offensive, insensitive tourist.


While you may not do it intentionally - or even realizing you're doing it - certain kinds of behavior that Americans wouldn't think twice about aren't as accepted or favored in other countries around the world.

We spoke to Robert Hickey, the deputy director of the Protocol School of Washington, and author of "Honor and Respect: The Official Guide to Names, Titles, and Forms of Address," to find out what some of these faux pas are.

Take a look below so you know what to avoid next time you're in a foreign country.

1. Don't assume that it's ok to address someone informally.

Hickey points out that most other countries are more formal than the US when it comes to addressing people.


For Americans, Hickey says, "intimacy equals respect." Whereas in most other countries, "formality equals respect."

So while calling someone you hardly know by their first name in America is a sign that you have a good relationship with them, in other countries calling them by Mr. or Mrs. is seen as a sign of respect, which in turn signifies a good relationship with that person.

"The Koreans work with someone for 20 years and they call them 'Mr. last name,'" Hickey said. "It doesn't mean they're not great friends, it just means they show one another that respect. In our culture that's distance."

2. Don't dress to impress.

Woman Wearing Blue Heels

Flickr / Rawle C. Jackman

Tone down your outfit.

According to Hickey, originality and individuality is valued much more in the US than it is in most other countries. Americans constantly strive to differentiate themselves - often with what they choose to wear - while in many other countries, such as those in Asia, it's not good to stand out.


"For us, getting dressed is a creative moment in our day because we're all struggling to be unique and different," Hickey said. "Most of these cultures don't value originality all that much. So in some ways, when you go there, dressing a little more in a boring way with less personality is seen to be respectful."

3. Don't assume all foreigners want to be like us.

Hickey says that while people from other countries around the world are often curious about Americans - mostly because of the prevalence of American media - they don't necessarily want to be an American or live in the US.

"They don't want to be like us," Hickey said. "They want to be citizens of the world, just like we're citizens of the world. They want to be comfortable anywhere. But they don't want to be like us because they see the holes in what we have."

4. Slow down while introducing yourself.

Friends Greeting Each Other

Flickr / Rod Waddington

Be sure to pause in between your first and last name.

In all of his classes, Hickey does an exercise where participants sit in a circle and throw a ball around. Whomever receives the ball has to state their name, but they have to pause in between their first and last names. Hickey says this is because names are important, and we have a tendency to speed through our names, which can confuse foreigners, especially since this may be the first time they're hearing that name.


"When you're dealing with internationals, slow down," Hickey said. He also recommends expressing interest in someone else's name by asking them about it, since people love to talk about their names, and there's often a story behind it. "You learn so much. Names are really cultural."

5. Don't only talk about the US in conversations.

When someone is talking about how things are done in their country, it's easy to reply with how things are done in your country. But Hickey says the conversation won't go anywhere this way, and that it's better to express interest in another country by asking follow up questions.

"It's not playing tennis; tennis is not a conversation," Hickey said. "A conversation is getting to know somebody. If you say, 'we do it this way in Chicago,' the other person can ask, 'has it always been that way, do you think that's the way your parents did it or has it changed in the last 30 years?' Then it becomes a conversation."

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