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Seeing the U.S.A. is a dream for many people. However, not every visitor knows about certain cultural, legal, or societal norms. Europeans are renowned for not tipping when visiting America — something I discovered the hard way — resulting in some service antipathy.
America the Beautiful
Other visitors see the United States as one big country, whereas each state is like its own country in many ways. Famous journalist Colin Woodward said America is like 11 nations based on certain territories, each with similar customs. An online forum asks people for advice that would benefit first-time visitors to the Land of The Free. Here are ten things American tourists should not do.
1. Don’t Get Injured
“I know travelers that have broken limbs and had to go to the hospital,” our first commenter warns. “They end [sic] up with bills in the thousands of dollars.” This scene is a common problem for the uninsured traveler. Even a minor checkup will cost you more than the flight home.
2. Leave Your Preconceptions at Home
America is a vast land of over 330 million people from diverse backgrounds who differ widely from the next citizen. “Don’t assume that the U.S. is exactly the way it is portrayed in American films and series,” cautions the next poster. “American movies and TV shows don’t accurately represent the country.”
3. Keep Your Hands Visible
If you drive in the United States and see blue flashing lights in the rear-view mirror, you must remain seated. An Australian tourist risked his life exiting his vehicle during a routine traffic stop in Iowa. “I’m lucky to be alive,” he explains. His mistake was approaching the police car and reaching into his back pocket for the license. He promptly learned to kneel with his hands in the air.
4. Careful at Immigration Checkpoints
After returning from Canada, a couple realized their passports were packed in the trunk, so they got out. “When we seated ourselves in the car,” says the motorist, “we noticed the immigration officers staring at us intently.” Had they pulled anything looking like a weapon from that trunk, the border police are trained to be gun-ready.
5. Avoid Chain Restaurants
“Seriously, there is so much great food in the U.S.; please don’t miss out on it,” pleads a local foodie. “Even if you’re trying to save money, you can get great food for cheap here.” This gentleman fails to understand that eating a stuffed quesadilla taco or a glazed-donut breakfast sandwich retains considerable novelty to Europeans.
6. Go Off The Beaten Track
Some Americans believe the popular tourist hotspots are underwhelming and require only a short visit, if at all. They advise, “Go there to visit a friend, a relative, a date, somebody that can guide you.” I agree with this point. Having lived there myself, I know the best of America is hidden away from the cameras.
7. When in Rome
Americans are social creatures, always looking to invite new faces along to their favorite ballgames, barbecues, and birthday parties. The best way to understand America is to mingle with her people. “In Europe, the beauty lies mostly on the outside of the home doors. In America, mostly on the inside,” one resident argues.
8. Handshakes and High-Fives
In Europe, many cultures greet a new acquaintance with a double (or even triple; I’m looking at you, Netherlands) kiss. While I found this greeting still common in Hispanic New Mexico, most Americans favor a solid handshake or firm shoulder pat. However, hugs are on the table once you get to know them.
9. What’s Your Best Price?
The United States prides itself on a dynamic economy driven by hard cash, so anyone looking to haggle for a deal may find the cold shoulder coming their way. Negotiating prices in stores is a big no-no. “Not in the Apple Store, not at CVS, not at a food truck,” warns a contributor. “Bargaining here is highly offensive, not to mention most prices are already fixed.”
10. This Is America, Jack!
Our final comment comes from one gentleman’s self-styled Ten Commandments. “Thou shalt not call the USA ‘the States: It is America until you go back home.” Americans can be particular about place name pronunciation and frames of reference. Living in Santa Fe, I used to visit the neighboring town, Madrid. However, I was scolded for pronouncing the town’s name as I would the Spanish capital. “It’s Mah-drid, sir,” the store clerk grumbled, clearly having done so countless times before.
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