Don’t drink the water: Visitors’ travel tips for coming to America

Christy Karras

Travelers love coming to America, a land many of them have seen via exports from Hollywood. They rave about the landscapes, the recreational opportunities, the vibrant cities and the culture.

But like international travelers anywhere, foreigners visiting the U.S. from other countries can be flummoxed by some of what they encounter. Fortunately, their fellow travelers have plenty of advice. The picture they paint portrays Americans as relentlessly cheerful yet sensitive folks who just might raid your fridge.

What outsiders say about the U.S. will strike an American as very true, very strange, or both. Here (with some help from Google Translate) are some travel advice gems from around the world.

From Latin America:

It’s probably best not to drink the water. “There are strict laws regarding Hygiene eating places that must be met, so that restaurants and even street stalls are safe. In some areas you can take the tap water. Bottled water is available everywhere and is most recommended.”

From Germany:

Americans’ social boundaries are weirdly inconsistent. “Things like “We should get together sometime” doesn’t really mean anything, unless the same people keep mentioning it to you."

“During a party at your house, don’t be surprised if Americans will just walk up to your fridge and help themselves.”

From Italy:

Tipping is fraught with misunderstanding. Q. Is it true that I have to "force" to tip at all? A. It is not mandatory to tip, however, it is strongly recommended, because in many cases it is the only entry of workers. Generally in a restaurant, in the cab, and in many places where there is a service gratuity is 15%. Since the bill that will take you specify the city tax of 8.875%, is sufficient to double that sum, without bothering to do the calculations. In the hotel you leave two dollars per day per person cleaning. Obviously you do not leave tips in places like McDonalds or Starbucks.”

From Switzerland:

Forget public nudity, intoxication or urination. "The legal system can be very different from one state to another and is often inspired by moral principles stiffer than in Switzerland. For example it is forbidden to bathe topless or without shirt (kids), urinate on public roads or photograph partially unclothed children (even at home). It is forbidden for people under 21 to drink alcohol. Similarly, people who drink alcohol in public or carry alcoholic beverages without concealing from the eyes are guilty of an offense."

From France:

Do take a road trip across the American West, but don’t be weird about Indians or cops. “Do not miss and be certain to visit driving in a country that venerates it, but scrupulously respect the speed limits, the constabulary of the United States not kidding ... Remember that Indian reserves in the western United States are economic and human realities, not museums."

From Australia:

You will probably get sucked into a political discussion. “Americans are REALLY opinionated. And they want to know what you think about the government, about politics, about current issues. A typical conversation might go like this: ‘Hi I’m Matt. Nice to meet you.’ ‘The name’s Bob. Where you from Matt?’ ‘Sydney, Australia.’ ‘Oh I see. You’ve come a long way. So what’s your take on Obamacare?’”

Did we mention the violence of U.S. toilets? “A veritable swimming pool of water greets you when you open the toilet lid and when you flush, it all goes down the drain in a huge rotating whirlpool.”

From the UK:

America might give you fever. “There are occasional outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases, including West Nile virus, eastern equine encephalitis and dengue fever.”

Americans are proud of their Old World connections, no matter how tenuous. “When an American announces that they’re part Irish, part Polish and part Moldovan because their great-great-grandparents hailed from these far-off lands, you might find yourself snorting dismissively. Try to hold off until they’re out of earshot.”

From India:

The U.S. doesn’t offer much in terms of shopping. “Based on my experience everyone need to bring almost every basic thing you need on a daily basis.”

From China:

Americans love to follow rules, even when no one is looking. “Americans are such strict rule followers. I witnessed this once sitting on the sidelines of a high school dodge ball game. To me, it was goofy, a little violent, and very American. It struck me that my classmates followed the rules of the game so strictly. Even when no one noticed that a person had been hit and he could have kept playing, he voluntarily gave himself up and left the game. I was deeply impressed by how much people honored the rules even when they are not seen."

From Russia (via Mental Floss):

Gifts are not a big deal. And did you know bribery was illegal? “Gifts: Americans do not expect them. On the contrary, an unexpected gift while conducting business can put an American in an awkward position. Such things for Americans suggest reciprocity.

“Business gifts in the U.S. are not acceptable. Moreover, they often cause suspicion. Americans fear that they could be construed as a bribe, and in the United States that is strictly punishable by law.”

Socializing with Americans can be tricky. Sports help. “Showing up at a business associate’s home uninvited in the United States is not acceptable. You may be invited to a picnic — if you’ve known each other for several years and are social outside the office. As a rule, the invitation will be only on a weekend, and you don’t have to prepare for something extravagant. Everything is the same as ours, only with far less booze. Bring something sporty — ball, badminton, Americans are certainly fervent fans of these things.”

"Phone etiquette in America usually involves the gradual end of the conversation, confirmation agreements and standard closing remarks. By the way, 'see you later' should not be taken literally. That is a courtesy, and no more... Russian conversational patterns often sound harsh to Americans. Statements such as, 'You’re wrong,' can be offensive. This can be interpreted as 'You are telling lies!' Therefore it is better to say, 'I do not think I can agree with this.'"

American women are a little uptight. Don’t be too gallant when you meet them. “US etiquette prohibits flirting with a woman who is not your girlfriend or wife. If you are not acquainted with a woman, whether she be in a restaurant, on the street, or on the subway, do not look at her legs, etc. Americans could easily call the police on you, even for just ogling her.”

“Welcome and introductions: men and women tend to shake hands. Mutual kissing and kissing ladies' hands is not accepted. Also, women play a greater role in business. Often they insist to be treated exactly as an equal and not as a lady. In this regard, it is not acceptable to be excessively gallant, and you should avoid personal questions (do not find out whether she is married).”

Americans really are as optimistic as they seem. “Americans and Russians say different things when faced with the same situation. Seeing the man who had fallen in the street, an American asks, 'Are you all right?' Russians will inquire: 'Are you ill?' We see a victim of the incident; they see survivors. Survivors are perceived as heroes. Where we 'aren’t sick,' they 'stay well.' We discuss the problem. They discuss issues and items on the agenda."

“Americans: they are a nation that truly feels happy. These people get used to smiling from the cradle onwards, so they do not pretend to be cheerful. The desire for a successful happy life is inculcated from childhood.”

From Japan (via Mental Floss):

American food is highly disappointing. “American food is flat to the taste, indifferent in the subtle difference of taste. There is no such thing there as a little ‘secret ingredient.’ Sugar, salt, pepper, oils, and routine spices are used for family meals. There is no such thing as purely U.S. cuisine, except the hamburger, which isn’t made at home so much. There is almost nothing special to eat based on the different seasons of the year. Basically, they like sweet, high fat, high calories things.”

Beware rough areas where the clothes demand attention. “In Japan, hip hop clothes are considered stylish. But in the United States, it is wise to avoid them, as you might be mistaken for a member of a street gang. The entire United States does not have good security, unfortunately. However, the difference between a place with good regional security and a “rough area” is clear. People walk less, there is a lot of graffiti, windows and doors are strictly fitted with bars. And young people are dressed in hip hop clothes that say "I want you to pay attention to me!"

Nobody is impressed by how much you can drink. In fact, shame on you. “In the U.S., they do not have a sense of superiority if they are able to drink a large amount. Rather, if you drink a lot, there is a sense that you cannot manage yourself. There is something close to contempt toward someone who must drink a lot to be drunk. To drink alcohol habitually is to have alcoholism. Alcoholics are weak people mentally, to be one means you have spanned the label of social outcasts that can’t self-manage.”

They tend to horse laugh, even the women. It’s how they show they’re honest. “In Japan, when a woman laughs, she places her hand so it does not show her mouth. It is disgraceful to laugh by loudly opening the mouth. Adult males do not laugh much. There is the saying, ‘Man, do not laugh so much that you show your teeth.’

“In America, when men or women laugh, they do not turn away. They face front, open the mouth, and laugh in a loud voice. This is because in America if you muffle your laugh or turn away while laughing, you give the impression that you are talking about a secret or name-calling. It is nasty.”

But darn it all, they’re so weirdly optimistic you just can’t stay irritated at them. “In Japan, there is great fear of failure and mistakes in front of other people. It is better to do nothing and avoid being criticized than to taste the humiliation of failure. As a result, there are things we wanted to do, but did not, and often regret.

“In America, you can make mistakes, fail, and it doesn’t matter. It is a fundamental feeling that to sometimes be incorrect is natural. In addition, rather than thinking about mistakes and failures, American’s have curiosity and say, ‘Let’s try anyway!’”