How To Spot An American In Europe: What Not To Do

by Tonya Tooley

Ever wonder why everyone abroad knew you spoke English before even talking to you or why you were constantly targeted by club promoters and vendors? The plain and simple truth is ... they knew you were American from a mile away. Here are 10 things that make American students stand out while studying abroad. If you want to blend in, do your best to avoid them. Or, if you have no problem being spotted, you can at least know what makes you stand out and how to keep it from affecting you negatively. 

These young people are doing a great job standing out.
These young people are doing a great job standing out. Photo Courtesy of Kaitlin Powers.

Wear U.S. College Gear & Sports Team Clothing 

Did you fill your suitcases with your favorite sports team sweatshirts and t-shirts? If so, you’re going to look like a beacon walking down the cobblestone streets of Europe. This is especially true for hats boys. The flat billed sports cap is not a popular accessory among many societies outside of young American men. 

Have a Money Belt, Necklace, or Fannypack

Hiding extra cash is a great idea. It is a fact that in touristy destinations the rate of pickpocketing is much higher. You should be smart about this. Make sure to divide your credit cards – only carry one or two at a time – that way if your wallet gets taken you aren’t completely out of luck. On the flip side, the money belts are great in theory, however it is painfully obvious you are a foreigner if every time you have to pay for something you have to dig in your shirt, or worse, your pants to find cash. Not only do you stand out as “not from here” but you look like you must have a lot of money. Why else would you be so protective? 

Drink Way Too Much

It is an unfortunate truth that American students have earned a reputation abroad for excessive drinking. Not only is this dangerous because your decision making skills are impaired, but it makes it more known that you are foreign. Keep in mind that if you wouldn’t do something at home, why on earth would you do it abroad. Just because drinking is legal, and alcohol is easily accessible doesn’t mean you need to drink as much of it as possible every night. Know your limits is you choose to partake.

Travel in Huge Groups

It is common that in the first few weeks of a study abroad program that many of the students will bond together. This is great because it creates a group of friends and  people to go on adventures with, but keep in mind there is nothing discreet about 20 American students walking down the street together. On top of that, not all restaurants are able to accommodate huge parties of people. Establishments in Europe tend to be smaller than in the U.S. so a giant group will stick out even more.  

Wear Inappropriate Clothing When Entering a Cathedral

When you are going to visit a cathedral, remember you are not entering a museum you are entering a sacred place of religion. There are rules in many places as to what is appropriate. You can always tell the foreigners that walk in and are dumbfounded by the fact they have to purchase a cloth to cover themselves in the church. Bear in mind you have to cover your shoulders, and ladies, no short skirts or shorts. 

Eat Too Much Mexican Food

Mexican food is something that is popular in the states, but for Europeans it is a pretty foreign concept. As much as you are craving that spicy bean and cheese burrito, it isn’t going to be the same in Europe. Eating or frequenting the Mexican restaurant too often is a sure way to stand out, and it is far from immersing yourself into local culture. This advice might seem a little strange but it’s true. Mexican restaurants just aren’t as common or popular and for some reason it seems to be the go-to for many Americans studying abroad. 

Be Super Loud 

Speaking slowly and loudly to compensate for not knowing the language doesn’t actually make someone understand you; it just makes you stand out and maybe even seem rude. If you are in a bigger group of friends try and be conscious of your volume, shouting in English is basically saying “I’M NOT FROM HERE!” or “I’M A TARGET!” Americans tend to be loud which can be fun but be mindful of your surroundings. 

Hopefully these tips on how to stand out have shown you how easily travelers seem like travelers. Don’t feel bad if you have pictured yourself “being that guy or girl” while reading this article; we’ve all done it. However, it’s good to keep in mind that there are ways to avoid standing out so much or for negative reasons. Do your best to immerse yourself in the culture and really soak up every moment of being abroad. You can always be “American” at home!