Tag Archives: cultural norms

As American as Baseball and Apple Pie: How Would You Describe the United States?

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Atlantic posted a fun, thought provoking article this week which explores travel advice offered by guidebooks for foreign travelers visiting the United States.

As someone who loves travel, and who would never dream of going to a foreign country without reading at least one travel guide from cover to cover, I was intrigued to learn what cultural traditions and advice travelers receive when visiting the United States.

Some guidebooks warn travelers to be aware of people’s sensitivities around politics and about the historical oppression of people of color and same sex couples in the United States.

Most guidebooks emphasize the importance of punctuality, which is practically a religion in this country – a religion which I practice faithfully, I might add, illustrated by the fact that I must show up at least 15 minutes early for any appointment.

It is fun to read about your own culture from a different perspective. That is one of the things I love about travel – it can change the entire framework through which you see the world in an instant.

The article includes a delightful excerpt from Wikitravel with advice about etiquette when visiting a home for a meal:

When invited to a meal in a private home it is considered polite for a guest to ask if they can bring anything for the meal, such a dessert, a side dish, or for an outdoor barbecue, something useful like ice or plastic cups or plates. The host will usually refuse except among very close friends, but it is nonetheless considered good manners to bring along a small gift for the host. A bottle of wine, box of candies or fresh cut flowers are most common. Gifts of cash, prepared ready-to-serve foods, or very personal items (e.g. toiletries) are not appropriate.    

I had never really thought much about this tradition – it is just what we naturally do!

Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Guidebooks also describe how much people from the United States love our personal space. I recall the first time a person came and sat at our table on our honeymoon in Europe – I am not sure the person even asked to join us – we loved it, but that never happens in the United States!

I was struck by the portion of the article where the author highlights issues of safety in inner cities. I have no doubt that this is important information to share with visitors and obviously every person has to use common sense when travelling, but reading about our street crime made me wonder about safety warnings in guide books that I have read for other countries. Perhaps the warnings in all guidebooks are a little over-exaggerated to ensure that people pay them heed.

What do you think? Isn’t this part of the fun of travel – to help you think about doing things in a completely different way? What travel advice would you want to give foreign travelers to your country to avoid committing a cultural faux pas? If you are from the United States, how does this list of cautions and cultural traditions fit for you? What would you add to the list? Do you use guidebooks when you travel? Which ones are your favorites? Have you made any cultural faux pas that you would care to share? Have you learned any ways to avoid these mistakes? What are your favorite cultural traditions and customs to explore when you travel?

I hope you will share your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading.     

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