May 10, 2006

"Guide" for "Ugly Americans"

Last month I had a post about the perception of "Ugly Americans" -- those of us who travel overseas and act all pompous and such. Now, the Business for Diplomatic Action Inc. (BDA) has issued a "'World Citizen's Guide" to corporate travelers." Regular travelers would do well to heed some of its advice, too! Included:

  • Speak lower and slower. In conversation, match your voice level and tonality to the environment and other people. A loud voice is often perceived as bragging. A fast talker can be seen as aggressive and threatening.

Unfortunately, many Americans abroad are uncomfortably loud in conversations among themselves as well as with locals. Recall my anecdote about the older couple at the ice cream shop.

  • Dress up. You can always dress down. In some countries, casual dress is a sign of disrespect. Check out what is expected and when in doubt, err on the side of the more formal and less casual attire. You can remove a jacket and tie if you are overdressed. But you can't make up for being too casual.

I noticed this a lot during my semester abroad in 1986. Then, wearing shorts around town was virtually taboo. Despite how hot it may have been, long pants were expected. Only at the beach or at some sporting event were shorts socially acceptable. Thus, I wore jeans always, even when the temperature got over 80-85 degrees. It sucked, but I, for one, wanted to fit in. It was hard to do generally (because of my height, light hair and green eyes) but if I dressed as near to a "local" as possible, I fit in much more easily. Most of our exchange group followed suit.

Interestingly now, however, wearing shorts around San José, Costa Rica is now quite normal. My last few visits there ('05 and '02) many men wear shorts when they're not working. For women, though, skirts are still the norm.

Posted by Hube at May 10, 2006 05:45 PM | TrackBack

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