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40 Ways to Spot an American Abroad

Requesting Ice In Drinks

You might find chilled wine or mineral water in other places, but if you're trying to find tap water—or, heaven forbid, soda—with ice in it, you're automatically marked as an American. It's just not a thing most non-Americans worry about.

Our bizarre obsession with watering down our beverages is a dead giveaway—not to mention more likely to expose you to local waters that haven't been filtered as much as the drinking water.

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Wearing Baseball Caps

Baseball is the American pastime, right? At least, it was at one point, and it's still thought of that way, even though we watch more pro football than baseball at this point.

Still, we love the caps, and we carry them around with us everywhere—including overseas, where they immediately mark us as Americans.

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Wearing White Socks

This is another huge giveaway. Here in the US, we may pick on people for wearing socks with sandals, but odds are the socks themselves are a giant white, uh...red flag whether you're wearing them with sandals or not.

People across Europe and in the UK tend to wear darker socks, and if you're wearing those white numbers—especially if you've got them pulled way up onto your calves—you're an American.

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Perfectly Straight Pearly Whites

Braces are commonplace across the U.S., as is teeth-whitening. For a country whose health industry is in shambles compared to the rest of the world, we sure do take care of our teeth.

For us, a braces-straightened, bright smile is such a common sight that we don't even always notice it. For folks from other countries, it comes across a little...Stepford. And it definitely stands out.

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Applauding

Clapping for a performance is important, and if you take in any kind of show anywhere, it's appreciated. But Americans have a reputation for clapping everywhere—like at the movie theater, for performers who obviously can't hear you, or for planes making a smooth landing.

That's not necessary anywhere, not even in the States. Stop it. Stop. Stop it.

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Saying "Bro" or "'Sup"

This is a dead giveaway that you are from the USA. Australians say "mate." Americans say "bro." If you want to keep a low profile for whatever reason, update your slang.

 

But this is one thing that Americans don't have to be super embarrassed about. "Bro" is not particularly any dumber than "mate" or "bruv" or "gov'na" or whatever term of affection other countries use. 

(Image via Unsplash)
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Fanny Packs

Americans don't actually wear fanny packs in the states. For some reason, though, they become a crucial part of the ensemble when we go overseas. Maybe it's the articles we read telling us to watch our wallet.

(image via instantvantage, CC)

Maybe we don't know what to do with our stuff when we don't have our SUV to cart it all around in. Whatever the reason, here we are. (You might also want to check your white socks, gym shoes, shorts, and baseball caps.)

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Not Caring About Soccer (AKA Football)

If the game is on and everyone cares except for you, nobody has to guess where you're from. Our vast indifference to what is apparently a global pastime makes us stand out in a crowd, as does our insistence on using the word "football" to describe a game where only one person per team gets to put his foot on the ball.

We're not saying it's right or wrong not to be glued to the TV during a soccer match, just that you'll stand out if you aren't.

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Walking While Eating

Army regulations prohibit soldiers from walking while "engaged in activities that would interfere with the hand salute...or detract from a professional image." This includes walking while eating.

We don't know that this was specifically about helping people blend in overseas, but we wouldn't be surprised to learn as much. Walking while eating—or really, doing much of anything while eating beyond focusing on the meal—is distinctly American.

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Not Understanding the Metric System

There are only three countries on the planet that don't use the Metric system, so unless you're in Myanmar or Liberia, you probably want to keep your degrees in celsius and your feet to yourself.

England doesn't even use the English system anymore even though it's called the "English system." Learn what a meter is. It's not that hard.

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Going to McDonald's

From a practicality standpoint, it doesn't make sense to go to the expense of traveling abroad, paying for plane tickets, lodging, and transportation only to eat the same subpar hamburger you can get two miles from your house.

(image via Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose, CC)

But people do it—in fact, they seem to be the largest audience for McDonald's overseas, so much so that "Are they eating McDonald's?" is one question locals ask themselves to figure out whether a foreigner is American or not.

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Drinking Too Much

Look, it's not that we can't hold our liquor. It's just that alcohol is way more taboo here than most other countries. When kids go some place that actually lets them drink, they don't know what their limit is because nobody told them how to drink responsibly.

(images via caitlinator, CC)

Plus, we like to check out your hospitals since we spend two and a half times more on healthcare than you guys do. Americans want to learn your secrets.

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Prudishness About Nudity

We may be able to drink our compatriots under the table, but that's where the risque behavior stops. We are, famously, a country that'll give a movie a harsher rating for showing a man gently making love to his wife than for showing the same man brutally murdering his wife with a baseball bat in slow motion.

If someone's in an art museum complaining that the woman in the Raphael painting isn't covered, that person is likely to be American.

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Talking to Strangers

Granted, not all Americans do this, but for the ones who do, it's an immediate signal that you're from the U.S. It's not the accent that comes out when you open your mouth, it's the fact that you opened your mouth in the first place.

(image via garryknight, CC)

American friendliness is a little different than what you see elsewhere. Maybe that's why we're always warning kids about strangers with candy--we just don't know how to keep our mouths shut. 

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Overly Sharing Your Feelings

It's not just that we're talking to the strangers. Americans are super, weirdly, intimately open with them. Maybe it's the security of knowing we're never going to see this person again that makes us open up like they're a bartender and we're four drinks in. 

 

But if you unload on a total stranger about how you're marriage is stalling, they're going to peg you for a Yank right off the bat.

(Image via Flickr)
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Grown Men Wearing Shorts

Even when it isn't very hot outside, Americans LOVE to wear shorts. If you travel to India, for example, shorts are for children.

 

You won't get scolded, but they will think that a grown man wearing shorts is a little odd. Think about a grown man in NYC sporting a child's Spider-Man backpack. It's just not common.

(Image via Pinterest)
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Tipping

Tipping is important in America because most waiters make less than $3 an hour and rely on tips to pay their rent. However, most other countries actually make restaurants pay their employees.

Tipping is baffling across most of Europe, for instance. That being said, Americans are sometimes too cheap to tip at all--even though we feel an obligation to. 

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Your Accent

This isn't really something anyone can help. As hilarious as other peoples' attempts are to "do an American accent"—America is a huge country with tons of different accents—the timbre of your voice is still a massive giveaway.

And whatever you do--don't try to disguise it with a "local" accent. Unless you're just a linguistic genius, it's going to sound very bad. 

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Trying Someone Else's Accent

Of course, when you're trying not to sound American, that's when you sound most American. We're notorious for being convinced that we can sound just like the people we're around.

 And that's when we break out an Australian accent in London or a Northern accent in Wales. If you try this in the U.K., you should know that being compared to Dick van Dyke is not a compliment in this context.

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Not Knowing a Foreign Language

We live in a country where you can drive for over 2,500 miles without leaving the country. You can actually fly in a straight line for 2,802 miles over American soil.

We don't grow up learning languages the way people do when the countries are crammed together like states in New England. We have Texas. There are whole countries smaller than Texas. Quite a few of them, in fact. Is our monolingual tendency healthy or useful? Probably not. But it's understandable, and it's definitely unique to the U.S.

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Loudness

Whether it's a question of day-to-day conversational volume, or shouting across a room to get someone's attention, Americans haven't quite nailed the "inside voice" thing just yet.

If the accent you speak with doesn't give you away, your volume will.

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Not Knowing the Customs

It makes sense. We live in a country that takes up an enormous amount of space, and while we do have a lot of differences in accent, food, and culture, we're not used to studying up before we travel. Still, it's a good idea.

(image via shankaronline, CC)

Learn what you can of the language instead of expecting people to speak English. Read about customs and manners. (Pay special attention to not making any obscene gestures.)  You'll have more fun if you go in knowing what to expect, and you'll get along better, too.

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When They Meet Other Americans Abroad

When Americans meet other Americans abroad, it may seem to an outsider that they have met their long-lost relatives. But no. These are complete strangers.

 

They'll get loud. They'll talk about what states they are from. And they'll let everyone else around them know they are from the States.

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They Are Often...But Not Always...Overweight

We have one of the highest rates of obesity in the world. So the odds are higher than average that someone who is overweight is from the USA. Sorry, America!

And just a word of warning--not every culture is into polite fiction as much as the United States is. You very well may hear comments about your weight. 

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Ordering Your Coffee "To Go"

Americans are always on the go and in a rush. In many places, especially Europe, they take their coffee culture seriously. And it's something that you should sit, sip, and take your time with.

If you're looking to grab your drink and dash, you're more than likely giving yourself away as an American visitor!

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Pulling Out the Purell

Americans aren't cleaner. That's not what we are saying. But they do seem more preoccupied with germs than people in other regions of the world.

 

When it comes time to eat with your hands out in public, Americans whip out their travel-sized Purell bottles quicker than duel participant.

(image via Pinterest)
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Wearing North Face Jackets

Maybe it's not surprising that Americans would wear American brands abroad. But what makes The North Face particularly American is how much of the outwear market it owns.

 

South Korea is getting in on the trend, as the brand has shot up in popularity in recent years.

(image via Pinterest)
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Wearing Graphic Tees

If there's one dead giveaway from non-Americans that you are from the USA, is that your shirt will say things like "Choose Love" or "Seattle" or "USC."

 

Graphic tees, or t-shirts with text on them at all, are less common throughout, say, Europe. I say it's time to ditch these both abroad and at home--they're only one step above a bumper sticker. 

(image via Unsplash)
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Unbridled Positivity

This isn't a knock against one culture or another. But Americans have an unending supply of optimism and a sense that anything is possible. Even more so, they think large change can happen quickly.

Not every culture is like that. Take the French, for example. Maybe it's not fair to describe them as pessimistic, but there is a definite sense of malaise throughout the culture.

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Talking About How Great the USA Is

As Americans, we love our country! And that's the way it should be, right? But we also seem to go on at length about just how great the good ol' U-S-of-A is.

Even if the conversation starts about a dog that we saw in a public park, we can still turn it into a way to praise America for being its awesome self.

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Leaving a Mess in Hotels

Hotels have a cleaning staff for a reason, but that’s still no excuse to leave a room looking like a war zone. And yet, it’s still one of the hallmarks of an American tourist. 

If you're gonna absolutely ruin the room, maybe leave a big tip for the cleaners. I know that tipping is an American thing too, but I'm sure they'd be willing to make an exception in this messy case. 

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Getting in the Way in Public

We’re not sure what it is about public spaces that make Americans lose all sense of spatial awareness. Whatever the reason, you’re likely to see us taking up prime real estate on busy sidewalks and other areas where people are in a hurry. 

That being said, we're also very good about yelling at people who are in our way. So this isn't much of a problem at home, but not everyone in the world is willing to shout at a stranger. 

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Traveling with Too Much Stuff

If you see someone in the airport that looks like they’ve packed for a month-long caravan, they’re probably an American.

From multiple checked bags to backpacks that make your spine hurt, we’re not great at the concept of packing lightly. 

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Disrespecting Foreign Cultures

It turns out that people aren’t crazy about it when Americans poke fun at their deeply held cultural traditions. But we’ve never let human decency get in the way of a good punch line. 

If you're gonna crack jokes, at least make sure they're hilarious. 

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Glued to the Phone

We spent hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to travel to foreign countries, and what do we do when we get there? Spend our precious travel time glued to the phone while new art and culture pass us by. 

If you can't bear to be away from your phone, then just save yourself the cost of a plane ticket and look at pictures of the Louvre online. 

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Too Many Selfies

Americans and non-Americans alike use photos to commemorate special occasions, and there’s nothing wrong with that! But if you’re whipping out the selfie stick nonstop, you might be an American. 

God forbid we actually put down the phone and enjoy the experience all around us. 

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Flaunting Wealth

Flaunting wealth is America’s original pastime--and it doesn’t rest even when we go on vacation. At best, this is insulting to the people around you, at worst, you’re making yourself a magnet for pickpockets. 

What are you trying to prove? Who are you trying to impress? You're already rich--you won! Now keep it to yourself. 

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Trying to Haggle

In some places and cultures, haggling is a way of life. But as Americans, we’re not big on “minor” details like where it’s appropriate and where it’s not.

Don’t be surprised to see Americans arguing about everything from the price of a meal to the price of some trinket souvenir. 

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Listening to Music without Headphones

Even though you might have impeccable taste in music, no one wants an unsolicited concert coming out of your iPhone. Unfortunately, not all Americans have gotten the memo about this. 

We promise that no one is as interested in what you're listening to as you. 

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Littering

We have no qualms about dirtying up our own country, so what makes you think we’d worry about it when we’re away from home? 

If you absolutely feel compelled to litter, pack it up in your suitcase and toss it out the window on the drive home from the airport. 

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