Are you an 'ugly American?'
Leave old-fashioned hotel tassel keys with the desk clerk when you go sightseeing. (Photo: istock)
This article about customs in foreign countries first ran on Yahoo! Travel in August and was one of the most popular stories of the year. "Please, please always be polite and charming no matter the situation. Don't give us Americans a bad name!" implored commenter Menanny. A commenter named Joseph offered this advice: "No matter how much you may butcher their language, they will respect you for trying."
In foreign countries it’s natural to notice—and be enchanted by—customs that are different from those practiced in America. But it’s quite another thing to stand around slack-jawed in a perpetual state of confusion and perspiration, insulting the locals with your words and actions (and short pants). Here are 10 tips on how to blend into a foreign country a little bit better, and avoid being an "ugly American."
1. Keyed Up
To conserve electricity, many European hotels require the insertion of a key card into a slot beside the door. Use it. Desk clerks are tired of fielding calls about why the lights or TV don't work. The upside: You won’t lose your key (at least when it’s in the room).
On the other hand, a traditional hotel may provide you with a heavy, old-fashioned tassel key (check out the quaint rows of key boxes behind the front desk). When heading out, it’s customary to leave the key with the desk clerk so the cleaning staff knows when the room is vacant.
So do it. Not only will the hotel staff treat you better, but the custom also relieves you of the burden of key-carrying, so you can stuff your pockets with the requisite crumpled maps, Chapstick, and the local currency.
2. Tipping Tips
The U.S. dollar is still considered the world’s default currency. But that doesn’t mean that you’re excused from using the local euros, pounds, bahts, schekels, or quetzales. One exception in which it is permissible to use dollars: when you absolutely have no foreign currency and you need to tip the driver or bellman. Better to give them a greenback or two and mumble an apology than to give them nothing at all.
But beware that over-tipping makes you seem like a rube. Research the local tipping customs before you leave for your trip, because gratuities are almost always lower outside of America. And if you think you’re getting taken, you probably are. The five-minute taxi ride where the meter is “broken” and you’re charged by the bag? Pay the fare and nothing more; you’re done.
There’s rarely an excuse not to have the local currency on hand. (Photo: Digital Vision)
3. Currency Concerns
Avoid getting into a cashless situation. Sweaty, panicked Americans waving useless dollar bills are just too cliché. The key is to diversify, with plastic and paper. Bring your credit cards. Be sure you’ve called your credit card companies to make them aware of your travel dates and destinations. (American Express says there’s no need to notify them; call them anyway.) Credit cards are widely accepted and give you the best exchange rate, though it is true that some train station kiosks won’t accept U.S. credit cards because they lack a security “chip.”