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Making Americans Better Travelers

It’s no secret that American’s favorability around the world is on the decline. I was reminded of this earlier in the year when I traveled to Quebec with a slightly obnoxious stars-and-stripes luggage identifier tied to my suitcase, which mysteriously wound up getting “lost.” After speaking to the airline agent in Canada, who chuckled when I told her of the tag, I began to wonder if my missing piece of luggage had more to do with the red, white and blue than I could have anticipated.

My experience may have been a complete coincidence, a mistake made by a distracted baggage handler, but it served as a reminder that the patriotic, proud-to-be-American attitude doesn’t always translate well across borders (even when you’re just traveling next door). Does this increasingly anti-American sentiment stop me from traveling? Absolutely not, but it’s certainly something I think about (and plan for) when I travel internationally. I haven’t traveled out of the country since my trip to Quebec. Anxious that I would make another uninformed mistake, I turned to the World Citizen’s Guide for advice on crushing the “Ugly American” stereotype when I started preparing for my upcoming trip to Europe.

The guide serves as a reminder of how Americans in general have the ability to be rude when traveling: apparently, we speak too loudly, boast too frequently and tend to offend all too often. Utilizing the research of Business for Diplomatic Action, a non-profit organization dedicated to changing the worldwide view of America, five college students created the guide. BDA sited four root causes of anti-American sentiment in their research: U.S. public policy, the negative effects of globalization, our popular culture and our collective personality.

I’m personally going to incorporate the important tips from this pocket-sized guide into my future travels, with the hopes of becoming a better world citizen.

Jennifer

My name: Jennifer Gaines, but my friends call me Gaines, Jenni-Dallas or just plain Jenn.

(Find me on Twitter @jenngaines)

Travel ambitions: It's my mission to visit each of the New 7 Wonders and to step foot on every continent before my next milestone birthday.

Greatest travel lesson learned: Find the local hangouts to experience the real, true culture of a place. During a trip to Europe, my friends and I spent several days with a French family in the small town of Vichy. We had a private party in their family-run creperie, feasting on cheese-stuffed crepes and sampling wine that we picked up in the Bordeaux region a few days earlier. Their English wasn’t much better than my French, which is limited to a few well-known phrases from Moulin Rouge and the question: Parlez-vous anglais? (I'm proud to say that I can spout this question off in several different languages, and luckily most Europeans do indeed speak English!) After a few bottles of wine, the language barrier was hardly noticeable (slurring actually sounds the same in French!), and we managed to swap stories about life in other places. What a slice of local flavor!

My most beloved place in the whole world is: My grandparents place in Texas. It’s a 10-acre oasis in between two sprawling cities: Dallas and Fort Worth. A creek runs through their enormous backyard, where Granddad built a deck over the water. The entire place is shrouded with all types of trees (mainly pecan), blocking the Texas sun in the summer. Dusk is the best time to sit on the deck, drink a glass of ice tea and watch baby raccoons from the spring litter surround their back porch as Gram feeds them bread (no lie!). There will be dozens of raccoons eating on any given night. In the fall, my family gathers in the courtyard in front of their house for an annual “weenie roast.” Granddad lights the bonfire, and we roast dogs and s'mores. Yes, y’all, we’re from Texas!

Favorite way to get around: Well, I’m not much of a driver. I get lost easily and my tires have never come across a curb they didn’t want to get to know a little better. But, I do enjoy cruising around and listening to music. That said, I much rather explore a place by foot (with my iPod in tow) for a more intimate encounter.

View that took my breath away: Coming from Texas (where the view is wide but there’s not much to see), scenes from my new home of San Francisco never fail to amaze me. The city is a pedestrian’s dream, but don’t forget to turn around and look behind you as you meander through its neighborhoods. You won’t realize it, but you’ll be at the tip-top of a hill and the ocean will suddenly seem to be at eye level. Take a drive through the Presidio and over the Golden Gate Bridge where even more stunning views await!

Comments

Carrie
Reply

Jennifer, I agree – it’s something to think about. But, as world-traveling well-wishers, my husband and I tend to make friends wherever we are. Then I think proudly, we’re a good representation of being American and we should tell these people the truth, so they get a more balanced opinion of the U.S.
But, our internal debate always ends with “which is safe for us in the short term,” and I hate to think we’re being cowards.

Does anyone else proudly say who they are when traveling with the purpose of spreading the “good” image of being American?

Jenn G.
Reply

I think it’s great that you and your husband make friends when you travel! In fact, one of the tips the guide offers is for Americans to follow the locals to better understand the culture. Talk to them. Ask them about their favorite hangouts. What it’s like to live there. Allow the locals to get to know you, and they will see that not all Americans are boastful, loud and rude. Hats off to you and your husband for making the effort to get to know the local culture and showing the positive side of Americans!

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