International Travel Tips: How NOT to be a Jerk in Another Country

“Do you speak English?” the girl asked the German speaking waiter immediately after she and her friend set foot in the restaurant.

“No” came his curt reply, after which the girls promptly decided that they needed to find another restaurant.

We sat nearby at a table, immensely enjoying our authentic German lunch  and the lovely atmosphere of the nearly empty restaurant, complete with old wooden beams running across the ceiling.

German Restaurant Lubeck Germany

I smiled inwardly as the waiter told the girls that he didn’t speak English, as he had just been speaking quite passable English to us a few minutes before and was very helpful in aiding us with ordering as the menu was all in German.

By stepping into the restaurant with conditions and an expectations, the girls shut the door for themselves on what might have been a great authentic German dining experience.

As we travel around, we see many tourists from many countries that are frankly rude, arrogant and insensitive to local culture.  Warning- This may sound like a rant, but conditions in another country are not going to be exactly as the country that you came from.  That is why you travel to visit ANOTHER country.  If all you want is an Americanized interpretation of another country, visit Disney World and you will probably be happy with that.

We have seen many tourists like these girls in our journeys.  Instead of having enriching, engaging experiences in these countries, these tourists tend to have many problems.  Things are really difficult for them as they travel in the world.

Instead of thinking that perhaps they might be the cause of their own problems and try changing their attitudes, they end up thinking that the people in that country are just really rude, and that it isn’t a nice place to visit (I am really convinced that this is a big part of the reason that many people think that the French are rude.)

They then go off and tell everyone that they meet about how rude the people in “Suchandsuchacountry” were to them, and this is where cultural stereotypes get started. 

This causes other people to potentially change their travel plans because they remember that so and so told them a long time ago that the people in X country were rude, and they miss a beautiful place because of it.

International Travel Tips for Getting Along Well in a Foreign Country:

  • Next time you find yourself in an unfamiliar situation, take a moment to sit and assess the situation and then ask for help using “Please” and “Thank you” in the local language to open the doors of communication.  Most people in other countries are happy and willing to help you, even if they don’t speak your language.
  • “Please” and “Thank you” are the two most important words that you can learn in any language.  Learn them wherever you go and use them liberally.
  • Try as you travel in the world to fit in as much as you can with the local culture.  Any effort that you make at using the local language will usually be greatly rewarded, so do not feel self conscious if you only know a few words or are unsure of your pronunciation   The quickest way to make a new friend is to ask them how to say something in their language (and you will learn some new vocabulary!)

Travel can and is an amazing experience, but it requires being a little flexible to get the most out of it.  Make your expectations of a new country less rigid, and you will be better able to appreciate the wonderful things that you find there, instead of getting caught up on what you thought that you would find but didn’t.



Have you ever SEEN people like this in another country? Have you ever BEEN this person in another country? What tips can you share for adapting to new cultures?

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About Shanna

Shanna is a travel professional in the airline and hotel industries. She lives in Lonsdale, MN and there enjoys cooking and gardening. Her favorite places to travel are Scotland and France. Shanna writes about travel in the Midwestern part of the United States at her blog A Midwest Travel Companion More About Shanna Google

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26 Responses to International Travel Tips: How NOT to be a Jerk in Another Country

  1. Marco Fiori January 2, 2013 at 5:27 pm #

    Please, thank you and excuse me are like you said, barrier breakers. If you make a little effort, people open up and welcome you more.

    I’m always going to say to people, don’t be loud, brash and rude and you won’t get the same treatment back to yourself. SMILE. That’s another biggie as well.
    Marco Fiori recently posted..App: Duolingo iOS – Can You Learn A Language From Your iPhone?My Profile

    • Shanna January 3, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

      Please, thank you and excuse me have gotten me out of many confusing situations in the past…it is just like magic!

  2. ANGLO/Dale January 3, 2013 at 10:44 am #

    Have we seen this on our travels?

    How’s a MEGA YES suit you?

    Unfortunately for the majority of travellers, there are the small number of holiday seekers who are just in the area for the idilic movie setting in whichever place you are at the time, never for the meeting of locals & local culture that makes travel such a fun thing to be apart of.

    As long as the rest of us maintain our manners, the balance *might* hopefully correct itself in our favor – *might*.
    ANGLO/Dale recently posted..Artful Adoption for Abandoned Houses in NaoshimaMy Profile

    • Shanna January 3, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

      I can’t even imagine just being in a place for the idyllic scenery, though, and not caring anything about meeting the people that live there! I guess, to each his own, eh?

  3. Sarabell January 4, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

    I just love this! I am currently just a US traveler but have big plans for traveling abroad in the future. I grew up in northern Arizona where there is a lot of Spanish and Navajo (the Native American reservation nearby). It can be so, so frustrating to have someone come up to your counter at work and yell at you in Spanish/Navajo and then get frustrated at you for not knowing their language. I think seeing that and experiencing it since I was 14 years old really helped shape my views on it and I can’t imagine not prepping myself in the basics of a language, and bringing along an English-whichever language I need at the time dictionary wherever I go!
    How incredibly rude, to expect someone to have memorized an entirely different language just for you!
    Sarabell recently posted..Check Out This Place 36My Profile

    • Shanna January 4, 2013 at 8:25 pm #

      I know…I couldn’t believe it when I saw this happen…it really made me lose faith in my fellow US travelers. I couldn’t figure out how someone could be so blatantly RUDE in another country!

    • Shanna January 8, 2013 at 4:39 pm #

      And it is amazing how little preparation you really need to do to make such a substantial difference in your experience! Even just learning a small bit about local culture and a few words of the language can be HUGE!
      Shanna recently posted..Cruise Ship Dining Options: Fixed Time Dining VS. Anytime DiningMy Profile

  4. Laura @Travelocafe January 6, 2013 at 11:55 am #

    The last thing I want when I visit another country is to be rude, so thanks for the tips. :)
    Laura @Travelocafe recently posted..Japan Highlights: Top 10 Places to Visit in TokyoMy Profile

    • Shanna January 8, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

      Yeah, I know, generally something I try to avoid, too!

  5. Derek Freal January 10, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

    There is nothing that upsets me more than seeing a disgraceful tourist. And as an American I see all too many of my fellow “tourists” from the states doing this…everything from the blatantly obnoxious items, some of which you mentioned, to the more miniscule things such as listening to their iPod instead of enjoying the tour or experiencing the local music or opting for the McD’s instead of trying a local restaurant.

    And I totally agree with you that the reason we travel is for new experiences. As such, veteran travelers AND occasional tourists alike such be prepared to step out of their comfort zone every once in a while. After all, that is what many call LIVING!
    Derek Freal recently posted..Travel Blogger SEOMy Profile

  6. Just One Boomer (Suzanne) January 12, 2013 at 10:55 pm #

    I’m from the U.S. In the past, there was a phrase just for my fellow citizens who were in the habit of showing up in other countries and behaving badly, the “Ugly American”. However, as more and more people are able to travel internationally, I have seen versions of this behavior from nationals of many different countries.

    I’ve also seen the converse — where the locals assume that just because you’re an American you are the stand-in for whatever it is they think is wrong with your country. There was a time when traveling that when someone would ask me where I was from, I would automatically say, “I’m from the United States, but I didn’t vote for George Bush”.
    Just One Boomer (Suzanne) recently posted..The Philadelphia New Year’s Day Mummers ParadeMy Profile

  7. Ian January 18, 2013 at 7:16 am #

    the french are rude cheese eating surrender monkeys and they smell – you were saying……

  8. Ally January 20, 2013 at 3:08 am #

    I agree that it was close minded of the girls to leave the restaurant because they didn’t speak English, and they should have tried to learn some German words beforehand but it sounded quite rude of the waiter to lie about speaking it.
    I work one day a week in a restaurant and I would never treat a tourist like that, or indeed anyone. Just because someone is ignorant or culturally insensitive does it really mean that we should be rude back to them?

    Having said that though I agree that when you travel overseas you have to expect the place to be totally different from where you have come from and you should try and make an effort. I myself definitely wouldn’t opt out of a restaurant just because I couldn’t understand the menu, maybe I stumble along a new favourite meal.

    I don’t mean that to sound confrontational at all, just a different point of view. Nice post :)
    Ally recently posted..Bungy Jumping in QueenstownMy Profile

  9. Brian @toptravelbuzz.com January 23, 2013 at 12:55 am #

    I remember when I was coming back to the States, a traveler would shove and push himself out of the airline saying “Get out of the way, now you are in my country!”. This kind of arrogance is what has foreigners sometimes disliking Americans.

    • Shanna January 23, 2013 at 1:22 am #

      Yeah, I definitely understand it…now we just need to lead by example and convince people in other countries that not all Americans are like that…

  10. Alouise February 19, 2013 at 6:13 am #

    “Instead of thinking that perhaps they might be the cause of their own problems and try changing their attitudes, they end up thinking that the people in that country are just really rude, and that it isn’t a nice place to visit (I am really convinced that this is a big part of the reason that many people think that the French are rude.)

    They then go off and tell everyone that they meet about how rude the people in “Suchandsuchacountry” were to them, and this is where cultural stereotypes get started.

    This causes other people to potentially change their travel plans because they remember that so and so told them a long time ago that the people in X country were rude, and they miss a beautiful place because of it.”

    I don’t know how familiar you are with psychology (I only ever took a couple class at University, so I’m certainly not an expert) but this is actually sort of an example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. People do this subconsciously, and they don’t even realize it. For example A person has a preconceived notion about something (like people in Country X are rude). That person goes to Country X and starts treating people there as if they are being rude, even if those people are being nice. People in Country X act respond back to that person rudely because of how they’re being treated. The person leaves thinking, “I knew the people in Country X would be rude.” Of course if that person didn’t have that preconceived notion about people in Country X being rude, and had changed his/her attitude then he/she would have had a better experience.

    Having the right attitude, and making a little effort (like learning those basic phrases and words like please and thank you) can go a long way when traveling, and how people treat you. I’ve actually been on both sides of the coin. In Paris I knew I wasn’t speaking French 100% grammatically correct, but I think people seemed to appreciate the effort of me trying. Even learning how to say “I’m sorry I don’t speak *insert language here* do you know English (or whichever other language you might speak)” seems to be better than “can you speak English?” Of course I still think please, thank you, (especially those two) and making as much of an effort as possible is always a good thing.

    I also used to work at a retail store in an airport, and we’d get tour groups come through, usually people from China or Japan. They didn’t know English well, but they could say please, and thank you. In fact I remember many times, even when feeling a little frustrated with the communication breakdown, being very appreciative of the fact these people would say thank you (usually several times) and that they smiled and we polite. You can never say thank you too many times.
    Alouise recently posted..Visiting The Backstreet Cultural Museum in New OrleansMy Profile

    • Shanna February 19, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

      Agreed about never being able to say thank you too much. Thank you for the insight about self fulfilling prophecies.

      I realize that I am not always a perfect traveler, either, and thinking about this makes me more aware of when I might be projecting my own preconceived notions on a place before I even arrive.
      Shanna recently posted..Business Class vs First Class: A First Class ExperienceMy Profile

  11. northierthanthou May 13, 2013 at 6:46 pm #

    It’s funny, but I see some of the same things living and working in indigenous country. Visitors can piss off a whole room full of locals without even realizing it, then leave wondering why everyone was so rude to them.
    northierthanthou recently posted..Kivgiq II: The Box Drum DanceMy Profile

    • Shanna May 13, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

      Agreed. People are so oblivious and wrapped up in themselves sometimes that you wonder how they get ANYTHING out of their travel experience! Travel should be about projecting your awareness outwards and trying to expand your boundaries…

  12. Christoffer Moen August 30, 2013 at 1:33 am #

    I quite agree!A welcoming smile and an effort to say Thank you, Please, and the usual good morning/good evening/ hello pleasantries in the local language can get you a long way!
    Christoffer Moen recently posted..The Easiest Way to Learn a New Language FastMy Profile

    • Shanna September 5, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

      Yeah, it sure doesn’t take very much, in my opinion, to start an interaction with someone in another country out on the right foot…it just shocks me that this is so difficult for some people. Makes me lose faith in humanity sometimes…

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