Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Are Americans Rude(r)?

Before I moved to Germany, I was warned about the amount of anit-American sentiment there was in Europe. I was told stories by friends how they disguised themselves as Canadians and wore red maple leafs on their backpacks when they had travelled over here. I know there may be other reasons why people from other countries dislike Americans (multiple wars, foreign policy, and so on) but I wondered if Americans had a reputation for rudeness. I decided to check it out.

In the four months we had before we moved here, I watched everything on television I could find with the names of Europe or Germany in the description. A show that I became hooked on was 'House Hunters International.' It showed many families, mostly American, moving across the world and their experiences. If you're not familiar with the show, read about it here. A common theme I was seeing was that American families were told they were too loud in Europe. Well, that's a problem I can start on right here and now.

I started something with my kids called EV. What's EV? EV stands for European Voices. When we would be out in public, say like in Target, and my children would raise their voices, I would look at them and say "Shhh. EV." It worked really well. It got my children to pay attention that not everyone in a 25 foot radius is interested in hearing our conversation about how much the dog threw up that morning or who poked who in the eye back in the car. EV, people. EV.

We were quieter. I felt ready for Germany.

Our first trip down the Hauptstrasse, or main street, in Heidelberg was met with stares. A lot. I leaned over to Matt and asked why they were staring. He answered, "Probably because we have four kids. You never see that over here." Great. So much for being able to blend in with our European Voices.

I asked my friend who was born and raised in Germany if she thought Americans were rude. She gave me a weird look. "Really," I said. "I want to know." So in typical German form she gave me blunt answers. "I don't think Americans are rude, I think they are obnoxious. Americans are really loud. Their voices carry. They think everything is funny. They take up too much room when walking down the street. Instead of walking in smaller groups, they will all walk side-by-side preventing anyone from getting past them. And they don't dress warm enough and then they complain that it's cold."

Here are some other comments I received on the rudeness of Americans.

1. Americans are loud. (I heard this one a lot.)
2. Americans are too informal in meeting strangers and how we deal with people.
3. Americans think everyone is interested in them and what they are doing in Europe.
4. Americans assume everyone understands English.
5. Americans dress sloppily. Jeans, sweatshirts, and sneakers are workout wear. Not going out wear.
6. Americans are often late.

Ouch.

I am sad to say that this list seems mostly true. Americans are loud, but I don't know why. I know I am loud because I grew up with a parent who was partially deaf. We had to be loud in my family. The rest of America? Maybe it's all that rock music that we listen to. 

If we are informal with people, it's because we are comfortable with them or because we view others as our peers. Back home in my neighborhood in America, it was no big deal to walk into a neighbors house with a quick knock on the door and flop on the couch. You were family. We might not realize that that same open behavior comes across as disrespect in other cultures instead of familiarity which we view as a good thing.

I do think Americans think everyone is interested in Americans. That's because when people from Europe come to America, we are so interested in them. I spent a summer working in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. We got a lot of European vacationers. We, the employees, were always so excited to talk to them and ask them where they were from and where they were going. We just assume that the same will be thought of us when we travel abroad. I guess not.

We think everyone speaks English. I think this might not be all our fault because many people do speak English. In Sweden, the rate of people who speak English is 90%. In Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Belgium it's 60%. France and Italy lag behind at around 35%-40%. That's still a lot of English being spoken. It's not hard to find someone to understand you. I do understand though how it comes across as rude. I recently went to lunch with some friends in France and was a little shocked when the Americans next to us spoke English to the waitress without even asking if she spoke English in her native tongue. We had had the same waitress and I knew her English was spotty. I saw a look of fear cross her face as the Americans rattled off what they wanted. She scuttled away and I saw her conferring with another waitress who then came to their table to retake their order. I then spoke as much rusty French as I could dig out of my brain to her. I thought the Americans behavior was rude myself. But who knows? Maybe that was rude of me to slaughter her language. I tried, at least.

As far as Americans dressing like slobs, I just don't see that. I have been in nine different European countries now and it seems everyone dresses like that. When we went on our first trip out of Germany to Paris, I was really worried that people would think the way we were dressed was messy. Then I got there. I saw people wearing flip-flops, sneakers, pants with holes in them, hijabs, tank tops with no bras, track suits, saris, and T-Shirts with naughty slang words on them. So many different and beautiful styles of dress were there. When we were at a street cafe, a French family sat down right next to us. I looked over at them and they were all wearing shorts with white socks pulled half-way up their calves. And to top it all off, the mom and dad were wearing fanny packs.  Honest-to-goodness fanny packs or bum bags. If you don't know what that is, read about it here. In America, the fanny pack, or bum bag, is the epitome of a fashion disaster. I decided I wasn't going to worry too much about what we were wearing. That our attitudes and behavior while travelling abroad were much more important. 

And on being late. I think that is just part of our informal society. Aren't all times followed by an ish? As in, "I will be there at 4ish." Which means I will be there as close to 4:00 as humanly possible, but I might be late.

What about you? Do you think Americans are rude travelling abroad? Have you been told you are rude?

5 May 2014 - First, let me say, whoa. And wow. I was surprised about the backlash that came about during my blogging hiatus about how rude Americans are when traveling. Americans are in no way perfect. They can be very loud. I had to tell my own family to quiet down a couple of times when they visited. But I will be honest, everywhere we go people ask us where we are from. (You would be surprised how many Europeans assume we are from England. It's actually kind of cool.) When we tell them we are from America, 99% of the time we get "oh! I love Americans! So easy going! They smile! They want to see stuff! And they buy things from me! Let me tell you about my trip to America!" All good stuff, right?

I have my own list of who I think is rude in Europe. (Italians, I'm giving you a side glance...) Does this mean I think everyone from the country is rude? Absolutely not. Will I use one encounter to judge the whole country? Absolutely not. What I think needs to happen is visitors need to do their part to try not to offend. Notice how I said try. No matter what, sometimes people will get offended. Just like when I lived in America. I got offended by Americans every now and then, and I'm sure I did some offending. Visitees - I also think you need to relax a little. Tell people when they are being extremely rude. If it's just regular rudeness, feel free to let it go. Let's all try to get along! Travel on friends! And try not to be rude!

- Kelly

20 comments:

  1. Interesting, funny, entertaining post! I really enjoyed reading this! I learned so many things I never knew before.

    This was my favorite line: "Great. So much for being able to blend in with our European Voices."
    He, he he!

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  2. As an American living in Europe (first Ireland, now France) I completely agree with everything you wrote here. Since living in Europe I have adopted my EV as well, and have to admit, that I do find American tourists a bit on the loud side, but other than that, I think we're a fine bunch, and the same negative traits that Europeans feel about us, can be found in every single one of their countries as well. So there! :)

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    1. I think we are a fine bunch too! I do cringe when I hear loud Americans though. Thanks for reading!

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  3. Yes, I do think Americans are rude. I remember walking down the street and seeing two men throw beer bottles in the street...knew immediately they were American, as they got closer and I could hear them speaking, my thought was confirmed.
    Perhaps my WORST example is while at The Dom here in Bamberg, a 1,000 year old beautiful cathedral, and a working one at that...an American couple walks in laughing and speaking so loudly you would think they were at Disneyland. They not only drank a soda in the church, but when they were done with it, left it next to a crypt containing St. Kunigunda (spelling might be off). WTF makes people a) drink soda in a church, b) leave litter in a church, c) leave a soda next to a grave? Any grave, really, but the grave of a Saint? I was mortified, as an American.

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    1. I hate when we go to cathedrals and there are big signs "SILENCE!" and people still laugh, talk, and even sing in one in France. I love how the "SILENCE!" signs are mostly in English. Who needs to be told to be quiet here? Hmmm? Thanks for reading!!

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  4. "...Maybe that was rude of me to slaughter her language. I tried, at least."

    TRIED, AT LEAST.. this is what is really appreciated in countries other than the U.S... which is what most Americans forget.

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    1. I definitely think it is important to try to speak the language. All the times we were in France we have been thanked profusely for just using the word s'il vous plaît!

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  5. "...Maybe that was rude of me to slaughter her language. I tried, at least."

    TRIED, AT LEAST.. this is what is really appreciated in countries other than the U.S... which is what most Americans forget.

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  6. On the train in London you can hear the Americans from the other end of the carriage, no one wants to hear the British can't drive properly, why don't they drive on the left? Bit rich when you guys are stumped by manual cars.Or complaining that they can't pay in dollars. NEWSFLASH America!!! go to Europe you are the foreigner, you want to spend money, you spend whatever the national currency is.

    A friend of mine was visiting with his American fiance and she was saying things like 'We talk funny' This really pisses me off. Sweetheart you are speaking English. In England. It is YOU who talks funny. She was from Texas, don't remember where really somewhere in Houston I think,

    We went out to lunch, she kept saying things like 'Can I make an american request?' Why do you have to quantify your sentence with your nationality? Just ask your question, she also wasn't quiet about it. Had to try everything before she'd stop jabbering and actually order, this wasn't in a fancy restaurant by the way. Kept saying how the portions were too small and worried there would be no ice in her drink etc. She was not popular in the restaurant by a long shot I can tell you.. Why are you Americans so disrespectful of other people's countries if you don't like it stay home?!!

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  7. As an European married to an American, I totally understand your comments, many times I feel mortified when I find Americans around (and I really love Americans), I will give you examples of big no-nos (even if you see others Europeans doing it):
    do not drink coffee on the street at least you are in a coffee place, same goes with food, do not eat as you walk around. Dress properly according to the weather, and get rid of the baseball cap, please do. Learn how to use the fork, spoon and knife and do not keep your left hand in your lap when eating in a table, I do not know what you are touching with it, let us see BOTH hands. Do not accept invitations to people's homes at least you and your family is willing to eat everything is served (drop the "food allergy" excuses) Do not make yourself too comfortable in the couch, stay straight. Do not let me see that you are chewing gum. And do not watch a movie in the airplane as you eat, pause the movie and then eat. Keep these, even if you see others Europeans doing it. There are also lots of rude Europeans

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    1. "Do not accept invitations to people's homes at least you and your family is willing to eat everything is served (drop the "food allergy" excuses)"

      Some people have allergies. Failing to completely clean your plate does not make you rude.

      "and get rid of the baseball cap, please do"
      "Do not let me see that you are chewing gum."
      "And do not watch a movie in the airplane as you eat, pause the movie and then eat."

      And pinky out everyone!

      I'm sorry but some of this is simply absurd. I won't try to deny that some Americans can be rude, but with the same breath... some Europeans can be apparently be extremely stuck up.

      I mean honestly, don't watch a movie while you eat? Do you also come prepared with 6 different types of spoons and forks?

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    2. That's a bit extreme, don't you think?

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    3. In defense of America and Americans, almost every rude thing that Americans are accused of, I have seen done by Europeans in all of the 20 countries we've been too. Loud? Check. Italians = super loud. Brits = they can be loud as well. Complaining? Oh check by everyone. And honestly, eating while watching a movie on the plane? Who cares? Eat and watch for all I say!

      I think everyone just needs to relax.

      And I have to get one last thing in. People complain about Americans and all their rudeness. I sure don't hear businesses complain when those same rude Americans bring in their money and start spending. Just saying...

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    4. You are right. Italians are loud, but they dress appropiate, Brits get drunk, but they do not eat like pigs. French complain.but they are not loud.
      Americans are loud, eat like a lot, fast and unmannerly, dress unappropiately, complain all the time...
      When I married my American husband, my father (a Belgian) said: They have another culture, they lack manners, but the saddest thing is: they lack the humility to see it and get better.
      My husband is a great man, but I had to teach him manners (he was a West Point graduate, maybe polite by American standars, but not in Belgium)

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  8. No I don't, that would be extremely rude.
    The pinkie finger ALWAYS down. You don't need to "clean up" your plate, but serve yourself just as much as you think are going to eat, (that is what second servings are for)
    Do not worry, eating as you watch tv in a plane is not thaaat terrible, you just do not comprehend (neither do Arabs in the train in Brussels when they take their shoes off and they stink the whole wagon, they just think is not a big deal, everybody has to be comfortable, you know..."culture")




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  9. I think Americans are rude when traveling, yes. Last week, I was lucky to travel first class on a flight from Brussels to Washington DC. I had a window seat. In the aisle seat two columns away, in the middle of the plane and far from my window, sat this older American man. Soon after takeoff, he walked over to my place and shut my window, without asking for any sort of permission. I later opened the window because I wanted to enjoy the scenery. He told me to close it. At that point, I told him I will not. He then started shouting at me that "I am an idiot" and "am I 11 years old" and so on. Horribly entitled, older man. The flight attendant apologized, but damage was done. Probably some CEO somewhere or who knows what. This is typical of Americans. They want something and act like they are entitled. Then they don't get it, and then they become nasty. The richer and more powerful they are, the worse it is. And yes, there are people like that in every nation, but America sure has a very high percentage of them.

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  10. Coming from a European living in USA from past 5 years, Americans have redefined rudeness. They think they are entitled to everything aka very arrogant. Most of them are uncivilised and lack basic manners and etiquette !

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  11. It's funny because I've met just as many rude Americans as pretentious Europeans. There are faults in every country, yes, some are more noticeable, but it doesn't mean others are not just as prevalent underneath.

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  12. I totally agree! As a European who has been to USA and still talk with many Americans, I find Americans rude, ignorant, loud and sometimes weird. However, I like American people because they can be friendly, talkative and laid back. Every country has its positive and negative traits.

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  13. I'm an American who regularly visits New Zealand with my significant other (who is a Kiwi). Whenever we go over there, I am regularly mistaken for being Canadian. Guess I'm doing a good job.

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