International Peas and Others: Help my daughter be a respectable "study abroad" American

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Posted 1/10/2013 by AmeliaBloomer in NSBR Board
 

AmeliaBloomer
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Posted: 1/10/2013 10:19:07 AM
My very-excited college daughter is leaving to spend the semester in Rome. She hopes to travel extensively - not just in Italy.

More than one well-traveled or expat friend has suggested to me that she self-identify as Canadian and/or sew a Canadian flag on her backpack.

I'd rather not caution her that it's necessary to deny her nationality. I would prefer that she make efforts to present herself genuinely, but in the best possible light.

I've mostly advised her to learn as much Italian as she can, make stabs at languages in other countries (no matter how clumsy), and - especially - speak more quietly than she normally does, especially when with friends.

Based on your observations of American students' behavior abroad, do you have any advice to help her surmount cultural differences or avoid reinforcing assumptions/stereotypes?

(Because...well... my sewing machine just broke and I would hate to have to HAND sew a big ol' maple leaf on her backpack.)


ETA: I'm posting now because of the time differences. I won't be able to read responses for several hours.

lotsokids
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Posted: 1/10/2013 10:29:22 AM
I am not sure why your daughter would have to "lay-low"-but maybe I am missing something here??? My daughter spent a semester in Sweden last year and all the Swedes welcomed her and her American friends with open arms. The Swedes were so excited to find out that there were going to be Americans on their floor in the dorm-they find "us" quite fascinating. She became such good friends with many of them and they still see each other even now.

BTW: Americans stick out like a sore thumb in Europe, so trying to mask that she is something she is not, is not going to help. My daughter also traveled around Europe and had absolutly no problems.

biochemipea
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Posted: 1/10/2013 10:31:03 AM
I really hate the suggestion of pretending to be Canadian!






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paigepea
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Posted: 1/10/2013 10:38:31 AM
Funny. We're Cnd and hate getting mistake for being American. We sew that flag on big and proud. But we're still considered North Americans when we're in Europe. I think your daughter will be fine if others know she's American.

Paige.






AmeliaBloomer
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Posted: 1/10/2013 10:44:32 AM
I'm still here. I'm not worried about her being identified as American. I was going to seek advice here anyway about appropriate behavior, or what might be viewed as inappropriate. Every region has different cultural norms. I offended people in Vietnam quite by accident.

Maybe I should have skipped the Canadian part, because it seems to be the focus now. I was just intrigued, though, by the more-than-once suggestion about the flag.

ETA: and I think that American teens are too loud HERE. I wish we could change THAT cultural norm.

PierKiss
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Posted: 1/10/2013 10:53:36 AM
When she's with a group of friends, try not to be too loud. I went to Spain for 2 weeks with a group from high school. One of the biggest markers for us being American was that we apparently were loud. I remember one night in a hotel room, there were about 4 of us. We were just talking and laughing, not really thinking anything of it. Didn't think we were being obnoxious at all. Well, the guy next door thought differently. Came over and yelled at us, and called us filthy Americans. And then went on a tirade about Clinton and his activities with interns... We felt horrible!

Learn as much Italian as possible, and use it most of the time, if not all the time. Our teacher required us to speak Spanish for the entire duration of our trip when we were outside of our hotel rooms.

Be conscious of clothing choices. Dress respectfully when necessary to do so (visiting churches, old palaces, etc).

Learn about the local culture(s), and social norms, and try to adapt. To prepare for our trip, my teacher had us take early morning lessons 1x/week for months before we left to learn what was acceptable behavior, dress, customs, speech patterns, etc. It was INVALUABLE. Is she studying Italian at school? If yes, could she ask one of her professors for advice/guidance on how to do that?



lotsokids
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Posted: 1/10/2013 10:56:33 AM
RE: American teens being too loud-the Swedish kids LOVED that about my daughter and her friends, they brought a whole new dimension to life in Sweden. The Swedes were actually bored when all the Americans left and went home! I guess your dd would have to do her homework regarding cultural differences.

Simply_Lovely
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Posted: 1/10/2013 11:00:16 AM
I think Rome is pretty american-friendly. If it was France, then I'd definitely suggest pretending to be Canadian. Just tell her to learn some phrases and not expect everyone to speak English. IME that's a huge "rude-American" giveaway. Make sure she understands and obeys their laws and tell her to be careful with natives.That's all =)

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Posted: 1/10/2013 11:00:44 AM

I'd rather not caution her that it's necessary to deny her nationality. I would prefer that she make efforts to present herself genuinely, but in the best possible light.
There's the answer. Be respectful, make an effort, leave preconceived ideas at home and immerse herself in the experience and she will do well.

And leave the Canadian flag to us Canadians.


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nutmeg86
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Posted: 1/10/2013 11:03:48 AM
It's been a while since I was in Rome, but I also studied abroad there for a semester. My best advice on being respectable is just to be polite. Everyone there is going to know she's not European (the only people who mistook me for Italian were other Americans), but as long as she's polite like she would be at home, nobody's going to be offended.

If people there asked, I told them I'm American, and often they were interested in discussing TV shows and old presidents with me.

Definitely yes on trying to speak Italian as much as possible. The owner of our favorite bakery/coffee shop loved that we tried to use Italian and he told all of the other customers that we were learning it.

divinghkns
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Posted: 1/10/2013 11:32:41 AM
I'm American, so take this with a grain of salt, but I was mistaken for an Italian by an Italian when I was staying in Lucca for awhile, so I must be doing something right.

First, your advice about speaking quietly is spot on. The first thing I notice about other Americans abroad is we seem very loud and boisterous....exaggerated movements, loud laughing and talking, etc. I don't know how to explain it but it's sort of a "look at me!" sort of feeling that I get. There are times that families or groups of people (locals) are out dining that burst out laughing or get a little loud but that is a different vibe than some of the unnecessary loudness I see from tourists.

Second, make sure she dresses nicely. The people that stand out as Americans are wearing hoodies, jeans, and in general look sort of shlubby in comparison. Young Italian women, especially, dress with flair and do not live in jeans, tees and sweatshirts....they may have some and wear them occasionally but more often than not, I saw lots of beautiful scarves, knit sweaters, dress pants, skirts, heels or nice dressy shoes, etc. They don't wear ballcaps and they don't have words written all over their clothing. In fact, an Italian wine tour guide I had once said "what is the American fascination with words all over your clothing"? Other than their sports jerseys, very little of their clothing has words on it.

Even if the nicer clothing is decidedly American (i.e. not what is trendy over there right now), people will appreciate that is trying to blend in a bit.

Like you advised, try to speak their language first, and if it's not working then humility and friendliness go a long way. Definitely learn common phrases...please, thank you, I'm sorry, etc.

I would also say once she gets there to just be quiet and observe until she feels comfortable. Go grab coffee in a local cafe and watch the locals. It will give her an idea of how loudly people speak, how people interact, etc. Have her watch for body language, and other social cues. Just get in the habit of observing new situations before jumping in.

One social cue that is very different for me, is that I tend to be a very smiley person. Even if I don't know you, if I pass you on the street, I will smile. I know that isn't what everyone does, even in the US, but it seemed to stand out even more in some parts of Europe. So those are the kinds of things I think she should watch for.

The nice thing about Rome is that it is a big city with lots of people from a lot of different places, a lot of youth and energy, etc. so it will be less likely that she will stick out like sore thumb than in rural quiet places. But even so, you are right that a good amount of caution and good common sense will be necessary.

Also, I noticed that tourists (not just Americans) tend to stand out because of their gear (i.e. camera bags or backpacks, instead of purses). Sometimes that's just necessary. But for days/events that don't require huge bags, perhaps she could pack a small purse to use. It also is a dead giveway that she is not from there if she is constantly looking at maps, guide books, etc. And also if she carries any English-language books or reading materials with her. I tried as much as possible to look at maps and guides in private. Not so much because I was worried about people not liking me because I'm American but because I don't want to attract muggers, or people who like to scam tourists.

I will say that I have been very lucky in my travels. I have encountered many wonderful, gracious people who didn't mind at all that I was an American. But they did seem to appreciate that I tried to behave politely. You are spot on that she should let her beautiful personality not be hidden.

I guess my point in trying to fit in when I travel is more to discourage people who would have an intention to harm me (like a mugger, or a con artist) and to leave the rest of the people I encounter thinking "she was a nice girl" or "she had manners" or "she tried hard to do the right thing"...whether they notice I'm an American or not doesn't matter as long as I leave them with a nice overall impression.

These are just funny observations, but one Italian told me that "only Americans order cappuccino after lunch...Italians only drink it in the morning". Another one told me that "true Italians eat at least 3 flavors of gelato at once" but tourists (he didn't specify Americans) are more likely to only have one flavor at a time. Once these things were said to me, in general I noticed them to be true, but I just love looking for those sorts of observations.

I also noticed that Americans eat way larger portions of food, and hurry through their meal more than Europeans. Italians, at least, tend to eat small portions of dishes in several courses, so a meal takes all evening.

And the last observation I noticed is that it seems like tourists tend to complain about the things that are different from home. This kind of goes in hand with the eating styles noted in the paragraph above.

One night I was at a restaurant in Bologna, Italy and I noticed a group of Americans sit down next to me. When the food they ordered was delivered, they noticed the small portion and immediately, rudely complained to the waitress about it. I understand as Americans they are used to larger portions, but I don't understand why they felt that the whole world had to operate on their expectation. And also, if he had understood better, he would have known that he had ordered a "first plate" so had he followed custom, he would have had more food by ordering something off the second course menu as well.

So I guess what I'm saying is that he looked like an idiot because he was complaining about something that was actually very customary for Italy. I guess I'm not saying that you shouldn't stand up for yourself if someone is doing something wrong or taking advantage of you, but actually have enough wits about you to notice if they are truly doing something wrong or if what they are doing is customary to them. And if you do have to say something, do it quietly and with as little drama as possible.

I know she will have a blast, and I know for me, travelling in high school and college was a wonderful confidence booster. Good luck to both of you, it will be a fun semester, and I'm willing to bet she will meet lots of wonderful people who will treat her kindly.




Roundtwo
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Posted: 1/10/2013 11:42:15 AM

I've mostly advised her to learn as much Italian as she can, make stabs at languages in other countries (no matter how clumsy), and - especially - speak more quietly than she normally does, especially when with friends.
You've given her the best advice right there!

I lived overseas for a few years and as someone else noted us North Americans do tend to stick out for the most part. I'm Canadian but was quite often mistaken for American simply due to the lack of accent - I wasn't offended but I did correct them as I am quite happy to be Canadian.

North Americans are in general louder - it is often due to enthusiasm while travelling in new and exciting places. A fun example: I was walking home from the market and came across a family of tourists - the dad was sporting a big cowboy hat, jeans and boots and they all had giant cameras around their necks. They thought I was a local and started chatting with me quite loudly about all the things they had done that day. I thought it was so cool that they were just so excited to be on this holiday. This kind of 'loud" was generally well received - I think we can all relate to visitors being happy to be in our hometown and it just makes us want to share in their enthusiasm.

However, there are times when we came across some really loud people who were just being completely rude - the type of person described in the thread about the woman at the hospital talking loudly on her phone. These folks are almost always from North America and it is rather embarassing.

One thing that really drives me crazy about North Americans is how so many negatively compare things in Europe to back home. I don't mean the homesick kind of comparing - we all miss home at some point! - but the constant claims of everything being better and bigger back home. Why travel if you aren't going to open your eyes to new and exciting experiences? If you want everything to be just like home, go home! It's certainly good to share information about home but not to constantly be negative about everything in the country you're visiting.

I was seated on a train beside a young American lad who was studying for a semester in Europe (I can't remember which country) and he was so excited to be there. He had arrived a couple of weeks early and was doing some trips before school started and had already met some other students from all over the world. Honestly, the enthuiasm was just pouring out of him and I was so excited for him and I didn't even know him! I hope your daughter has the same kind of experience!






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sunny 5
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Posted: 1/10/2013 11:59:26 AM
keep her nose clean...look at what happpened to amanda from seattle..

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Posted: 1/10/2013 12:00:36 PM
Dress in a more conservative way than she might at home. Avoid the cleavage showing and bare shoulder tops unless she is in her apt. Italians "dress up" to go out anywhere. A well fitted polished look, even for a run to the green grocer down on the corner.

Develop a quiet speaking voice.
UNPLUG! Take the earphones out when out and about. Turn off the electronics. Pay attention to the people and things around you.

The biggest thing is people from the US tend to isolate themselves by plugging into the ipod, cell phone, or similar. Then we go head down in a hurry and push past other people to get to our destination. It is rude and unfriendly. Unplug, engage even briefly the people around you. Don't isolate behind an electronic device. Be patient with the elderly and the very young. Give them time and space to walk slowly without feeling pushed by you.

Think of others. Make brief eye contact, smile, learn to say say please/thank you, excuse me and I'm sorry or it's equivalent; those phrases are generally simple and immediate bump smoothers.


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Monklady123
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Posted: 1/10/2013 12:29:06 PM
Excellent advice here, so I won't repeat any of it. However, the only thing I have to quibble with is this:

If it was France, then I'd definitely suggest pretending to be Canadian.

I love France. I've traveled all over and have never had any problems. I do speak French but definitely have an accent so it's clear I'm American (although I have had people tell me I sound Dutch, lol.) -- So if your dd wants to travel to France don't discourage her. Have her learn some French -- greetings, politeness, etc. My experience is that if you start the conversation in French then the French person will often continue it in English. We shouldn't go into any foreign travel with the assumption that everyone speaks English, but the fact is that most of them do. Their education system is miles ahead of ours here in terms of foreign languages and most people are on their second or even third by the time they get out of secondary school. They also have a much more practical use for them, obviously, since they don't have to travel very far to get to another country and another language. I have a French friend who speaks Spanish, English, German, some Italian, and some Moore (a West African language).

Anyway....good luck to your dd. It will be a fabulous experience.



dottyscrapper
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Posted: 1/10/2013 12:31:30 PM
Amelia, I'm a Brit but I have travelled in Europe quite extensively.


I'd rather not caution her that it's necessary to deny her nationality. I would prefer that she make efforts to present herself genuinely, but in the best possible light.




I think it's worng that anyone should feel that they have to deny their nationality. Everyone should be proud of who they are and you're right in not needing to caution her.

I had quite a long reply written out with hints and tips but I've scrapped it as divingkans has covered it all very eloquently.
I would completely agree with everything she has written. Some of it I was glad it came from an American rather than me.......it could have been construded by some as a Brit being insulting

Rome is a wonderful cosmopolitan city in many ways and she'll have a blast. As for the language, most italians can speak English but it's quite polite and appreciated to attempt to converse with them in their own language. If she's already studying Italian it will vastly improve with hearing it and attempting to speak it everyday.

I hope she has a wonderful time



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Posted: 1/10/2013 12:39:07 PM
I'd rather be treated poorly by being an American, than pretend to be something I'm not just for decent treatment.


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Posted: 1/10/2013 12:57:53 PM

keep her nose clean...look at what happpened to amanda from seattle..

Yeah I was going to suggest not murdering anyone! lol

I went to Italy a couple years ago and it's fine to be an American. Just watch out for the gypsys.




divinghkns
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Posted: 1/10/2013 1:04:01 PM

d rather be treated poorly by being an American, than pretend to be something I'm not just for decent treatment.


I agree....be yourself. People can always tell if someone is being genuine and that goes a long way. Besides, how will people change their stereotypes if they don't see the people who don't fit the mold? I mean, perhaps you'll encounter someone who will now say "I don't know why they say all Americans are rude, she was a downright fun, sweet person".

I don't just mean that about being an American, but anything you represent...a religion, a political view, a certain career choice, a country, a fan of a certain sports team. So often we have opinions of people based on those things, so when you meet someone that doesn't fit the stereotypes it's a good reminder that not everyone is like that and to keep your mind open to all new people.

jillt1405
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Posted: 1/10/2013 1:12:01 PM
I'm from the UK but have lived in Spain a long time and travelled a lot.
I agree with everything thats been said. Try the everyday phrases in each language..it really makes a difference. Also most europeans don't discuss religion and politics very much..so it might be wise to avoid the topics. I don't think being from the USA is any sort of "problem", I think people may well comment out of interest....a lot of europeans can't tell the difference between people from the USA, Canada, New Zealand or Australia.
Otherwise I hope she has a great time


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Posted: 1/10/2013 3:33:16 PM
There's really no reason to change or do anything different, as long as she's a respectful, generally good person to begin with, and if she's not sure what to do/how to act, just tell her to ask politely. (ie, if she enters a cathedral ask a security person if she should bow, cover head, walk in certain areas, etc.)

Having international friends and a good amount of travel, I think you will find you have much more in common with Europeans (or any other human being for that matter) than you would think. They have same issues we do...issues with gov't, economy, jobs, teenagers being teenagers, trying to save money, trying to have a fun life...its actually quite refreshing to know we aren't all that different.

I'm surprised someone with international experience would suggest that to you unless they are in a war-torn, sensitive area right now. I think sometimes people's own issues just get in the way.

I'm sure your daughter will have an experience of a lifetime! Safe travels.







UkSue
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Posted: 1/10/2013 3:45:11 PM
My daughter was at Toledo University in Spain Sept 2010- July 2011, and there was a fairly high proportion of American and Canadian students,along with a few from here in the UK and Germany and many from Eastern Europe. She never pointed out any differences about the American or Canadian students- they all seemed to get on really well and have loads of fun. I met a few of them when I visited here out there and went out to help her get her stuff home, and they were really confident, friendly kids with a lot of enthusiasm and were interested in other cultures- which I think always comes off really well. Many of them made more of an effort to learn and perfect the language than some of the other nationalities that she met, as well.

I don't think your daughter has anything to worry aout. My daughter had the best time of her life and came back so much more mature.


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UkSue
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Posted: 1/10/2013 3:50:22 PM

When she's with a group of friends, try not to be too loud. I went to Spain for 2 weeks with a group from high school. One of the biggest markers for us being American was that we apparently were loud


To be honest, my experience of the Spanish kids when we were out there 18 months ago is that they were themselves extremely loud and boisterous. My daughter said that she and her friends often avoided the bars with mainly local Spanish youngsters in because they were so loud it spoilt the night out for them. I experienced the same when we were out socialising whilst I was there- they were really excitable and totally not what I expected, especially as Toledo is considered more of a cultural/heritage site than a fun/partying sort of place.


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valincal
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Posted: 1/10/2013 3:51:50 PM
I think most young people with a desire to travel will embrace the
culture and do their best to fit in, more so than many older adults who seem to have certain expectations, IMO. My DS who is in his second year of university will be doing a semester overseas next winter (Copenhagen or Barcelona) and I'm so excited for him!

Your DD will have a great time! International travel is such a great experience. Good luck to her.





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Posted: 1/10/2013 4:04:50 PM
Lots of good suggestions above that I won't repeat except:

If it was France, then I'd definitely suggest pretending to be Canadian

This is absurd. We lived in Europe for several years and the French were always polite, welcoming and courteous to us. It helped that we respected their customs and manners, and tried very hard to speak the language.

Europeans are far more polite than we are. Learn greetings, please, thank you and excuse me in every possible language. They are also much more patient; tell her not to get antsy waiting in lines, or for a meal in a restaurant. Meal times are part of the social fabric and patrons are expected to enjoy a leisurely pace (like, 2-3 hours for dinner. Or longer). Honestly, I miss that part and still feel so rushed in American restaurants.

Tell her to be a good observer in her first few weeks in-country. She'll figure out the best way to acclimate to the country and culture.


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peaburt
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Posted: 1/10/2013 4:31:00 PM
My youngest is currently in Europe for the school year and much of the advise that has been given echos the advise he received from the program.

Be polite is a must - Europeans have excellent manners
Dress appropriately - DS was given a detailed list of what to take
Drinking - the program gave a lot of advice about drinking (his program is almost all sophomores and have not been legally able to drink in the US). People in Europe tend to social drink more than drink to get blotto so pace yourself accordingly.
Be Open - to many different experiences and people

DS is having a wonderful time and I am sure your daughter will too.

PB

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Posted: 1/10/2013 5:01:41 PM
That's just crazy....my friend's daughter has studied in France twice. There is no need to hide that she is an American or pretend to be Canadian....



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Posted: 1/10/2013 5:16:18 PM
All excellent advice!

I would advise her to *pay attention*. I twice saw a pickpocket in Rome, once on their Metro (rapid transit), and the other at a tourist spot. It was just a couple Americans not paying attention. On the metro we were all jammed in, and the pickpocket just reached in, lifted the wallet out of a jacket pocket, and walked out as the doors opened. There was no chance to do anything or help.





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Posted: 1/10/2013 5:30:30 PM
As a Canadian it irks me... I don't like how proud and patriotic people are, except when denying who they are gives them an advantage... If Canadians get treated better, look at what we're doing differently and steal that idea - don't steal our nationality... All that said, every person overseas that I've spoken to about it has said that they can tell if the person is Canadian, or an American pretending to be one... I never heard anyone say anything nasty about the habit, but they laughed at the people and a common comment was, "do they think we're stupid? That we can't tell?" Not sure sending that message does any good... Then there's meeting and talking with people - one of the best parts of travelling, and what do people say when they're asked about living in Canada? The locals I've met were very educated and aware of Canadian culture, more so than my cousin who live in Colorado... My cousin's British girlfriend and I tease him about Canadian trivia - drives him crazy, and we're in stitches

I would say your advice to her is good... The biggest thing I noticed while overseas is the difference in personal space... Perhaps because people live, work, shop, etc, in closer proximity, they're more restrained... They don't walk in one large group that takes up the whole path or fills all the aisle in a store... Their speech is more subdued, speaking to those next to them and not across the room or shop... And there is more of a sense of merging - not idea what else to call it... If people were all going to the same place, to line or or to go through a door as examples, they would casually merge instead of making a bee line or being aggressively direct... Not that these things always happened, there are rude locals and certain places where the energy is different, but in general those things stood out for me...


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matleavepea
PeaFixture

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Posted: 1/10/2013 5:52:04 PM
everyone has given great advice, especially attempting the language.

when i have travelled abroad, i have been pegged for being canadian almost every time. when i ask why, they say it's all the "please" and "thank you's". there are certainly worse things to be known for. lol!

one thing that makes me cringe is when you hear people ask "do you speak american?".

she's going have an experience she will cherish the rest of her life! how exciting!

cropduster
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Posted: 1/10/2013 6:16:31 PM
An acquaintance of mine worked at the Cannes Film Festival and said that while it was taking place, the wait staff at the restaurants knew fluent English. Her DH joined her at the end of the festival so they could do some sightseeing and have a second honeymoon. After everyone left town, they suddenly knew little English. As long as you try hard to communicate in the native language, the locals were very helpful. As for myself, I would want to know at least some of the local language so I don't appear arrogant. And I just don't think it's right to pretend to be something you are not. My aunt went to France when anti-American sentiment was high and she said she was treated very well.

Hope your DD has a great experience in her travels.


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BuckeyeSandy
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Posted: 1/10/2013 6:20:15 PM
Try to earn a few phrases in the language of where ever you are traveling to visit. Italian in Italy, French in France, etc...

Make use of the local tourism offices to find a place to stay, what to see, and do.

If someone helps you out, pay it forward, do random acts of kindness.

Dress in something OTHER than jeans and sneakers. It was true in the 1970s, the 1990s and still true today.

Also General Safety Stuff:
Where ever you go, be careful of pick-pockets. Keep your passport and tickets close or against your skin (under a layer of clothing) spread out your cash. In major cities there might be organized gangs of young kids that distract while someone else picks you clean!

Stick to drinking drinks from a bottle or container you opened yourself, or was opened in your presence.

Eat local foods, not McDonalds or KFC outlets.

Trust your gut if a situation seems "off" or "your spider senses tingle" and leave the immediate area.

As to the "Canadian" thing, I learn to speak French with relatives and family friends from Canada, thus I speak French (somewhat fluently) with a decidedly Quebequois accent. I had some waiters in Paris at a cafe being extremely sweet to me because it was so quaint.

Just remember outside of major cities like Paris (where anyone NOT from Paris is treated rudely by some, nothing to do with language) tourists and travelers are generally welcomed, just maybe not by the bus load.


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momof1child
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Posted: 1/10/2013 8:14:26 PM
As a Canadian, I am offended that an American would want to "pretend to be a Canadian", in order to be treated better.

If you are proud to be an American while living in America, then be proud outside of the USA.

Also, she might be "found-out" if she requires help at an Embassy. Her passport will be an American passport, which is a usual form of identification.


kmoller
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Posted: 1/10/2013 8:18:41 PM
I don't pretend that I'm American, nor would I recommend that your daughter try to pass herself off as a Canadian.

My only advice, as others have pointed out, is to make the effort to learn a few phrases in each language (please, thank you, good morning, etc.) and to use them. And certainly engage others in conversation about themselves and learn more about those from your host nation. As well, learn to appreciate the other cultures and not whine or complain about "that's not how we do it in America" type things. Dinner is often eaten later, people take their time shopping or enjoying coffee, etc. Learn to relax like the locals and be patient, life may be at a slower pace, enjoy it and your experiences.
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GemTwist
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Posted: 1/10/2013 8:37:14 PM
I've heard that advice over and over, but I've never followed it. I've backpacked extensively in Europe and never had problems. People on the whole have been extremely friendly and helpful, wherever I've gone. I've stayed in hostels, been helped when lost on the street, one time I got freaked out on the bus in Portugal, telling my husband in English that I thought we'd missed the stop for the train. A couple of guys who didn't speak any English reassured us, got off at the next stop (the train station) with us, and walked us up to the ticket counter, to help us find our way. It was so nice of them.

I have experienced a little rudeness in France for not speaking French, but nothing serious. I have seen the Spanish be a little rude to people who don't speak Spanish, too.

In my experience, a key phrase to learn in any language is "do you speak English?" If you can stumble through at least that phrase in their language, they will appreciate the effort and be polite and friendly.

I backpacked all over Italy without a problem. I do speak Spanish fluently, and traveling throughout Italy I'd revert to Spanish to make myself understood. The basics are close enough that with me speaking Spanish and them speaking Italian, we could understand each other. I don't know if that affected my reception, but again I had nothing but positive experiences when I traveled. I've even had Europeans tell me that they think Americans are very polite, rather than going along with the stereotype of the rude American.

As for changing your wardrobe completely, I don't think that's absolutely necessary. I had read about how every dresses nicer in Spain, but when I was studying abroad there, the Americans went around in their Abercrombie and Fitch shirts and baseball caps, and everyone seemed to accept us just fine. I'd get a little gentle teasing from my European friends about my baseball cap, but it was all in good fun.

Honestly, I'd tell her to just be herself, she'll make great friends and have the time of her life.

I-95
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Posted: 1/10/2013 9:34:39 PM
I spent 2 years backpacking in Europe and never once felt the need to be anything other than what I am....an American.

That said, I will reiterate what others have said....learn some of the language before she goes...it will come quickly once she gets there, but knowing some upfront is always helpful.

Chill out on the loudness. I used to cringe when I would hear Americans chatting to each other. I swear, I could be across the room in a restaurant, and by the time dinner was over, I could tell you where they were from, how many kids they had, how much they'd spent on the trip, who they hated at work...the whole room knew their business!

I have a friend in Paris who refuses to go out anywhere with me because she claims I 'dress like a peacock'...just FTR, I don't, but until I get to her apartment, and change into some 'proper' clothes (dark colors usually) she is reluctant to walk with me (snob!)

I hope your DD has a fabulous time and makes some lifelong friends.

AmeliaBloomer
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Posted: 1/10/2013 10:05:44 PM
OP here. Finally back. Long day.

I'm overwhelmed by the number of responses and the generosity many of you have shown with your thoughtful and detailed feedback. I'm not very well-traveled, so this helps. Thank you so much.

I'll pass your wisdom on to my daughter. She's so excited - and a tad nervous. I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm somewhat jealous. Most of all, though, it feels good to give my child an opportunity that I was not able to have.

We're planning to visit in a couple of months. We definitely want to experience Rome - let her show off what she's learned. Right now, I'm trying to figure out whether the second city should be Florence or Venice. (Not enough time to do both justice.) Decisions, decisions.

Grazie!

ExpatInIndia
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Posted: 1/10/2013 10:14:58 PM
There's a book series out called Culture Smart for many countries. In it the will describe what not to do. Also, it tell things like what to bring to someone's house if invited, etc.

Try to speak the language as much as possible. Even if its just hello and thank you with the rest in English.

I also agree with not being too loud when out.

I wouldn't put any type of flag or symbol on my stuff or wear any type of clothes with a symbol identifying a country of origin.

I-95
It's all just nonsense anyway!

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Posted: 1/10/2013 11:00:18 PM
Oooh, go to Venice for your 2nd city...you'll absolutely LOVE it. I was there a couple of months ago, and every time I go I fall in love all over again. It's amazing.

bobbie01
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Posted: 1/10/2013 11:37:44 PM

These are just funny observations, but one Italian told me that "only Americans order cappuccino after lunch...Italians only drink it in the morning". Another one told me that "true Italians eat at least 3 flavors of gelato at once" but tourists (he didn't specify Americans) are more likely to only have one flavor at a time. Once these things were said to me, in general I noticed them to be true, but I just love looking for those sorts of observations.


I just got back from Rome (and other parts of Italy) and I ordered cappuccino all day and night. The wait staff always said "Now?" when I ordered it and they would laugh. The other thing I noticed is that you can pretty much find someone who understands you in Rome but once you get out into the country side almost NOBODY speaks English so make sure she has her dictionary with her.


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StuckOnPeas

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Posted: 1/11/2013 12:40:24 AM
The temptation to seek out other Americans and clump together is strong, but she will get so much more out of the experience if she surrounds herself with locals. Family stays can be an invaluable language acquisition experience, but having an Italian roommate would also be very helpful in not only learning the language, but those little ins and outs of a culture. You could always suggest an Italian-speaking boyfriend

nighthawk
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Posted: 1/11/2013 12:55:31 AM
That Canadian flag thing is so lame. I am American and I lived in Germany for 3.5 years and I was proud to say I was American so that maybe people wouldn't have such a bad view of Americans.


sgpenpal
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Posted: 1/11/2013 1:06:39 AM
She should just be herself! Why not?

She will have lots of fun and if she tries to speak the new language it would be a bonus, most people would love that.

My husband’s family had multiple students from different countries, several from the US. It went great every time. Just one of the boys was surprised we actually had electricity and cars. But I think he was the exemption lol.

Most people do understand English here. My pronunciation is pretty bad so I may hesitate to speak but I understand quite fine.

She will have a great time I am sure!

gabbina
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Posted: 1/11/2013 6:34:45 AM
Hi! I'm italian living close to Venice. First, i got to say. Italians LOVE american people. we love american culture, food, movies. We ARE loud. So no worry about that. Everyone here speak english at least the basic. She'll be great. If you need anything, PM me! Oh. And teens here DO live in jeans. I'm 30 and Still do.


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gabbina
PeaNut

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Posted: 1/11/2013 6:40:17 AM
And about cappuccino. People here drink it ALL The time. I mostly get it after dinner... So it's just a Matter of taste, really...


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Beriuqam
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Posted: 1/11/2013 8:51:38 AM
I feel like I often see people oon the cell phone here, but it in the states I always hear them first.

A friend suggested learning the phrase "do you understand English?" instead of do you speak English. I know where i live people will very rarely say they speak it because they don't want to use it, but they will say they understand it.

The smiling thing seems to be a big giveaway. But, there are sill places you can go where everyone you pass will say good morning.

My biggest pet peeve seeing other americans is how often I overhear them bash the us government, other American travelers, put their cellphones on the table at restaurants, or say they pretend to be Canadian. What I mean to say is that I never notice Americans just going about their lives, but the ones I tend to notice are extremely loud about one of the above things. Maybe quieter Americans talk about the same thing, but they aren't talking so loud the whole place hears them. It's almost funny to me because I sometimes feel that maybe they are so proud of just how un-American they are, yet they seem (to me) to be perpetuating the stereotype.

Oh, and get her prepared on some of the every day differences. No ice, longer waiting times at restaurants because people tend to linger, very few places with a/c, different tipping structure...

Beriuqam
BucketHead

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Posted: 1/11/2013 8:56:03 AM
Oh and this is just general, not focused on Americans, but I suggest asking more about the person and showing an interest in the local area over talking about herself/being American unless someone asks her. Listen more than talk.

Another thing, my German friends always say and think its funny when they meet an American that says "oh, I'm part German" but In reality it's been two or so generations since their family had lived in Germany and there's not really anything "German" about them. I don't see the big deal, but I'm Not part German and I've heard it a ton.

gabbina
PeaNut

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Posted: 1/11/2013 10:41:58 AM
Yes, definitely we like to spend much more time than you do sitting at the restaurant... on sunday you may be sitting for a couple of hours straight And yes, no ice here. You need to ask for it And besides Mc Donalds and a few Burger Kings here and there, you won't find any fast food places, no Starbucks in Italy (don't need to... ), no kfc, no Subway... but lots of pubs and bars and pizzerie low cost. We LOVE to eat, so there won't be any problem for that


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