"The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become, until he goes abroad," Mark Twain wrote in The Innocents Abroad. The statement could surely apply to any number of nationalities, but Twain was referring to Americans — and this was long before fanny packs and Hard Rock Cafe T-shirts were even a thing.
Sure, there are plenty of us who strive to blend in, do as the locals do, and chalk up unusual cultural exchanges to fascinating new life experiences. Then, there are those who prowl around the Champs-Élysées in Steelers jerseys, loudly complaining about aching feet and asking (in English, of course) where the nearest McDonald's is. It's why Canadians put maple leaf emblems on their luggage. It's why locals sometimes wince when we walk into their shop or cafe. It's why the term "Ugly American" exists.
René Zografos spent seven years asking foreigners about their impressions of Americans for his new book, Attractive Unattractive Americans: How The World Sees America. There's not much of a consensus, but there is room for improvement. Zografos explained over email:
Americans are actually quite popular. In the beginning, when I started to work on this book, I got 90% negative opinions about America. The messages I got were strong and occasionally hateful, and the answers were often about war- and weapon-friendly Americans who liked to visit other countries to make them miserable. But that was not the whole truth. The truth is that Americans are very liked around the world. People who have met Americans are very fond of them. They like their politeness, outgoingness, and that Americans speak and bring everyone into a conversation.
So, why the bad rap? Zografos shared some common complaints about travelers from the U.S.
"Loud noise! Quite often, people say that you can hear Americans before you see them. Also: arrogance. Americans sometimes give the impression that they are better than others. Many people believe that Americans must learn to listen more. When you just listen and aren’t talking, you have the chance to learn something new."
That's just the tip of the iceberg. For more insight into how you might be rubbing locals the wrong way, refer to this handy etiquette cheat sheet. And, don't beat yourself up too much: It's not like you're the American dentist who just killed Cecil the lion, after all.