(Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
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 United States 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.”
Americans’ social boundaries are very 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.”
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.”
Do take a road trip across the West, but don’t be weird about American 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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.’”
Americans really are as cheerful 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.”
The women are a little uptight, and they don’t appreciate chivalry. “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).”
From Japan (via Mental Floss):
American food is not subtle. American food is about big, bold taste, and is indifferent to subtleties. Hence “hidden ingredients” are seldom seen. 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 no such thing as purely U.S. cuisine, except for maybe the hamburger, and not many varieties that can be cooked at home. There’s not much emphasis on seasonal foods. Basically, they like sweet tasting foods, as well as foods that are high in fat and calories.
Watch out where you wear hip-hop clothes. “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.
Nobody is impressed by how much you can drink.“In the U.S., they do not have a sense of pride if they drink a large amount. Rather, if you drink a lot, there is a sense that you cannot manage yourself, and you can lose respect from those around you. Being drunk doesn’t excuse your actions, and to drink alcohol habitually is a sign of alcoholism. Alcoholics are seen as mentally weak, and are ostracized by society due to their inability to have self control.”
They tend to laugh out loud, even the women. It’s how they show they’re honest. “In Japan, when most woman laugh, they place their hand over their lips so it does not show their mouth. It is disgraceful to laugh by loudly opening the mouth. In reality, many adult males do not laugh. There is the saying, ‘A man should not show his teeth so much when laughing.’
“In America, when men or women laugh, they do not turn away. In general, 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 comes across as vulgar and insidious. ”
Below: Bostonians react to being declared America’s third snobbiest city (after San Francisco and New York).