What Brits really think of American tourists

Gunta asked, “I often wonder what Brits or folks from other cultures think of us Americans at the tourist spots. It can’t be good.”

So I asked around. Most of the answers come from a village Facebook page. Yes, that’s an ancient custom in Cornish villages, having a Facebook page. We do things quaint around here. (If I were Cornish, I believe I’d say, “We do things proper.” But I’m not, so I won’t risk it. When you’re not 600% sure of what you’d be saying, implying, not saying, and vaguely hinting at, I’d advise playing it safe and sounding like yourself. In my case, that’s risk enough.)

Roman wall. Exeter, Devon, U.K.

Nearly relevant photo: Part of the Roman wall in Exeter. Hey, what tourist wouldn’t want to see that? This bit is right beside a parking ramp–or car park, which sounds like a place cars go to play in their time off. The bit of modern fencing looks kind of puny beside it.

A lot of the comments were positive, although I as I’m writing this I seem to notice a tinge of not-so-positive underlying them. I’m not sure if people were being polite (ah, yes, people around here are polite; except when they’re not, of course, but that happens waaay less often than in the U.S., and it has a lot more impact because it’s so unexpected) or if I’m just a sour old bat who’s importing her own view of the world into places it doesn’t belong. Take it all with the usual half cup of salt.

Several people mentioned Americans’ enthusiasm for how old Britain is. V. wrote that anything over 250 years old excites them. Which reminds me to mention that 250 years isn’t all that old around here. I mean, if we’re talking about stone circles, we’ll have to count in thousands of years, not hundreds. So 250 years? Nyeh.

S. wrote that she enjoys Americans’ love of castles, even when they don’t understand what they’re looking at.

What don’t they understand? Well, when N. “worked in Windsor years ago, I heard two American tourists looking up at the castle while a jet flew over out of nearby Heathrow. One said, ‘Gee, you’d think they’d have built it further from the airport.’ ”

If you can top that, you have to leave a comment.

M. wrote that “my dear sister-in-law is American, and when she was dating my brother she was still a tourist (she’s a hard-nut Londoner now, innit?) and we had some fun with her, like the time we (almost) convinced her that Stonehenge is moved around each solstice so it’s never in the same place twice.”

So, enthusiastic, appreciative, and, um, not necessarily well informed—either by their own (lack of) research or by their loving hosts.

And then there are the ones who are well informed but—well, H. wrote about a couple she met when she ran a B & B: “His knowledge of British history was incredible but he did admit it was easy to be an expert when surrounded by idiots. He requested clotted cream with his porridge!! She had a BRAG book containing photos of her grandchildren and proudly bored us for rather a long time.”

I should add that H. liked them. In fact, she called them fabulous.

What else?

Tourists bring their preconceptions with them, and look for ways to reinforce them. A. told a story about running past a group of American tourists (she was late, and stressed, and I’m guessing not in the best of moods) and hearing one call out, “I told you there would be rosy cheeks.” At the time she was annoyed. In retrospect, she thinks it was sweet.

She has a more tolerant nature than I do.

I hadn’t thought of rosy cheeks as something Americans expect of the British, but they do figure in a lot of English novels. So yes, I guess as least some people will come looking for them.

Another distinctive factor is that American tourists tip. And the British, in most situations, don’t. Still talking about her sister-in-law, M. wrote, “One thing I remember about going out with her in London as a tourist is that she never had an umbrella (she certainly does now), and that bar staff loved her, as she had no idea that you’re not supposed to tip them.

“Well, you aren’t, are you?”

Americans, you are not to take that as an instruction not to tip, because A.2 wrote, “And that’s why Americans will always get served before a tight, non-tipping Englishman!!”

Besides, it’s the right thing to do and you know it.

The most negative comments weren’t about Americans as Americans but about the sheer tourist-ness of tourists. T. wrote, “I think it’s just tourists not American tourists. There are a lot of people who simply forget they are travelling to someone’s home / work / life and have a responsibility to allow that to continue. Perhaps it’s just that in recent years there have been more of them and they are often …. easy to spot.”

Like all the other ellipses here, that “…” is his, not mine, so try to hear a pause there while he searches for a polite phrase.

Picking up on his comment, V. wrote, “Much like surfers, small groups of tourists always better.”

As if to prove that it’s tourists, not necessarily American tourists, G. wrote that “most English folk can’t differentiate between an American accent and a Canadian accent.”

I can testify to that. Periodically, I get asked if I’m Canadian. Since Canadian tourists are scarcer than the American variety, I’ve assumed they thought a Canadian would be offended at being taken for an American but that the reverse wouldn’t be true. And, in fact, I’ve never been offended by it. Baffled at first, but not offended. I admit, I’ve never checked my assumption about their assumption against anything as deflating as reality, so don’t take it too seriously. Especially since S. wrote to say that she gets asked the same thing “and I’m German!”

I can’t find any way to account for that.

J.’s American and does know her U.S. accent from her Canadian. She wrote, “I tend to hear [American tourists] before seeing them.” Ah, yes, the national volume control knob. Wild Thing—whose personal volume control knob is set pretty close to High—said simply that American tourists are loud. And our English friends D. and D., who visited us once in Minnesota, told us they’d always thought Wild Thing was loud until they changed planes in Chicago. So I think we’ve got a small consensus here.

Then there’s the question of looks: M.2 said American tourists “do often hit the stereotype, with the cameras, the bum bags, and the baseball caps, but I think that’s quite sweet.”

M.3 thinks they look “jolly, with their shorts and trainers [those are running shoes if you’re American] and baggy T-shirts, whether they’re male or female. They look really happy to be in England. They can’t wait to find out about it all.”

No discussion of Americans would be complete without World War II coming into it, and J. wrote that the “young Americans were very welcome in 1944, and Britain could have not have managed without the Marshall Plan in 1945.” To which V. answered, “Whilst their help in ’44 was invaluable, I didn’t think the UK got that much comparatively from the Marshall Plan … and what we did get took until this millennium to pay back … no economic miracle here (unlike Germany).”

Americans, is that a bit of history you ever heard about?

Finally, to put all this in perspective, V. told a story about her mother, who “stood at the top of the Empire State Building, looked down at the road system and said, ‘I think they could have done that a bit better.’ My sister’s response was to apologise to nearest American, saying, ’I’m so sorry, she still thinks we have an empire …’ “

I’d encourage you all to chip in with a comment, but I figure you know that already. Let’s hear what you can add.

68 thoughts on “What Brits really think of American tourists

  1. I visited London a few years ago and I traveled by train to Ipswich to visit a friend. I tried my best to figure out the train system. My friend told me the closest station where I could get a direct train, but when I got to the station, I was totally confused. By the time I got to the ticket counter, I felt like a tourist. Fortunately, the woman was patient and helpful. She explained everything, including how to get to the track for my train. I’m not sure what she was thinking, but she made my journey a lot easier.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. G. wrote on Facebook, “I can differentiate between an American/Canadian accent. But I also find the main difference between an American tourist and a Canadian one is “the national volume control knob”. As you are soft spoken in comparison to other Americans, that may be the reason your original nationality is guessed incorrectly by others.”

    So now I’m waiting to see if Wild Thing gets mistaken for a Canadian.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post! During one of our vacations in Greece a highly educated Greek professor asked my cousin if he could join us for the day, he wanted to observe our tourist-like behavior. As we sat outside the Plaka enjoying our lunch he began to ask us question after question. He was very curious about what our every day life was like at home. He wanted to know how Americans perceived Greek people. Then my husband asked him why so many Europeans disliked Americans. After a moment of thought he replied “That he felt most European people liked Americans as individuals. It’s your politics that we hate!” Then he looked a little regretful about having been so direct in his answer. So my husband smiled, and said “That’s okay most Americans would agree with you.” He then asked my husband what he disliked about Greece?” After careful thought my husband replied “Leaving.” ;) G-uno

    Liked by 1 person

    • Probably not. They would’ve heard enough southern accents on TV and in movies to recognize them. Unfortunately, since 90% of American actors can’t do a southern accent to save their lives, they’re not likely to have heard the real thing, but–well, I’m getting myself too confused to draw a conclusion. Wild Thing once tried to coach a local kid who wanted to learn an American accent (she had her eye set on acting, I think), but couldn’t get her past an ersatz southern accent. It was like fingernails on a blackboard, and I’m not even a southerner.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I traveled to Scotland a few years ago, during the G. W. Bush reign, and spent a few days in London. I found everyone to be quite friendly and quite eager to talk. Mostly they wanted to know how Bush got elected. I was just as disappointed as they were so we bonded over that topic. Granted, I wasn’t there during the peak tourists season and spent a lot of time off the beaten path, so to speak, hiking around lochs and the Orkney Islands. Two things stand out from my experience. 1. Do not expect a good cup of coffee in a country known for their tea. 2. Scottish drunken oil rig workers will tell you exactly how they feel about Americans and The War, especially if they mistake you for a young American male.
    Today, I live in a small town in Canada where people are still very loyal to the Queen and enjoy their afternoon tea with scones at the local Tea Room. We have a few stores here that are devoted to all things British and I do not make my American citizenship well known as people tend to poo-poo Americans here, but in a good-natured, very Canadian way.
    Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Get anybody drunk enough and they’re likely to tell you what they think. Whether or not you want to hear it.

      My sense is that the further a tourist gets from the tourist hotspots, the friendlier they find people.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I have had all sorts of wrong guesses about my nationality, from Irish (most frequent guess) to Canadian (and yes, they confirmed they were afraid of offending Canadians!), South African, you name it, by way of Scottish (cue inappropriate hilarious laughter since I was making a business call at work). The Irish makes sense to me as it’s not far off my native accent, and I sometimes mistake Irish people for Americans. I figure it’s the influence of immigrants at the time of the potato famine. (Why not?) But I have lived in a number of countries, and I know my accent has softened, with the volume control usually turned WAY down (thank you, France).

    Liked by 1 person

  6. So..why didn’t they build those castles further from the airport..it had to be noisy with those stone walls ??? I almost choked on my morning coffee on that one. And the empire thing..I’ve worked with a few Brits over the years; lots of them still referred to us as the colonists. It usually made us smile, but I don’t think that was the intention. Van

    Liked by 1 person

    • About the airports, it was a serious lack of forethought. About the empire, I’ve been called a colonial, but never a colonist. It’s done in good humor, and I’ve been called worse, so I don’t take offence.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I have definitely had experience of insulting a Canadian by asking if he was American. He was so snippy about it but there is no way I can pick up the difference. I also met quite a lot of Germans in Berlin who had studied in USA and their accents were so American I could imagine asking them whereabouts in America they were from.
    I never get offended if people mistake my accent. Unless they think I’m from Yorkshire, but that’s different.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Tourists are loved and hated by locals everywhere. I grew up in Laguna Beach, California. The best time of the year was from October to April, when the tourists were few and far between. (Visiting surfers year-round are NOT tourists.) They clogged our streets making it hard to make it home in under an hour (for a seven minute drive.) The worst of it, though, is that they were filthy. The beaches were covered by trash that they must have assumed the ocean somehow cleaned up — or who? Some even took dumps in the rocky areas! (like you want to swim with that???) Most teens took their trash home with them or hit the cans because none of us liked stepping on trash barefoot, if nothing else. Tourists killed wildlife just for the hell of it — I just read about some stupid tourist killing a local octopus who was friendly and locally famous (Octopus can make friends with locals) with glee. He wasn’t eating him — just being an incredible cruel ass and fortunately there is a private FB page for locals who can vent about what they wanted to do with his entrails without being arrested. If the worst things is that they clog the streets or ask dumb questions, that is no big deal. So locally, if they were clean and wanting to learn about the beaches and ecosystems, we were pretty happy — and of course, our parents fed us by caring for tourists!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. “I’m so sorry, she still thinks we have an empire”

    LOL!! I love this.

    “V. wrote that anything over 250 years old excites them. Which reminds me to mention that 250 years isn’t all that old around here.”

    Well, that’s me all right, except I’ve never been on that side of the pond. I grew up in the midwest, mainly traveled out west, and lived in Alaska for awhile. So, all west of the Mississippi River. Our version of civilization came here relatively recently as far as history goes, so to my knowledge I haven’t seen any building built before the late 1800’s, with most buildings probably dating no earlier than the 1940’s or so. One summer for work I went to upstate New York and had some spare time to walk around and get to know the area a bit; I was fascinated by a lot of the old buildings dating back to the mid- or early-1800’s. I think it would be very exciting to be able to go to Europe and see all the REALLY old things – I can imagine it would feel a bit like being up close and personal with history!

    Liked by 1 person

      • The mystery of his comment intrigued me, so I had to go try to solve it.
        Here’s what I think he’s referring to, from the last paragraph, the bolding is mine.
        “Finally, to put all this in perspective, V. told a story about her mother, who “stood at the top of the Empire State Building, looked down at the road system and said, ‘I think they could have done that a bit better.’ My sister’s response was to apologise to nearest American, saying, ’I’m so sorry, she still thinks we have an empire …’ “

        And I checked out his blog because of, I dunno, chutzpah?

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I tend to agree with the commentator who thinks the issue is with tourists generally rather than American tourists specifically. It is all about whether you are a sensitive tourist, considerate of the local residents, respectful of the culture and engaged in the surroundings or whether you are a brash tourist who sees everything as if it is some sort of twee Disney world, shout loudly instead of attempting the local language and demand things like food from their own culture rather than trying new things. I certainly know that I cringed in Crete when I was around a herd of British tourists who were behaving abysmally hoping that nobody would assume I was the same brand of tourist as them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Understood. In Mexico, when my Spanish got the point where people said, “Where are you from?” instead of, “You’re American,” I was ecstatic–in large part because I wouldn’t be associated with exactly the tourists you describe.

      Liked by 2 people

      • When I was on the Amalfi Coast – and mostly reliant on my knowledge of Latin to scaffold my pathetic attempts at Italian – and elderly man was convinced I was from Rome. So it follows that halting Italian with sprinklings of Latin delivered in a Scottish accent must be what Roman Italian sounds like. But at least I tried!

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Haha, I’m laughing really hard at the tourists from Windsor castle! There has been a few American tourists around the part where I live (the south west of Norway) wondering why they had been here almost a day and there is still no sign of any northen lights, polar bears or snow in the middle of summer.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Waiting to cross at a zebra crossing, an American woman heard the light start beeping and turned to us and asked “Why does the light beep?”

    “That’s for blind people” one of my party replied.

    “They let blind people drive here?” exclaimed the tourist.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. LMAO at the Windsor Castle comment. I love traveling but I also love to try not to stand out (emphasis on “try”). I was in Bavaria in December looking at Neuschwanstein Castle when I overheard some lady asking if they rented out rooms there for the night. I about choked on my bottle of water.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Well, this is fascinating. I have done a lot of traveling and lived abroad several times. To me what distinguishes Americans is their being loud and oblivious, everywhere they go and expecting the world to speak English (which it does). The anecdote about castles and the airport is a bit hard to believe, even though we have some really stupid people. I think the British (and my entire family is from the UK) are very outspoken and judgmental, but in a subdued, no-nonsense, terse way. It took me a bit of time to get used to “the rules”, which dominate England, but I would take London and its order and beauty over most places on earth. Interesting and I am so glad you wrote about this topic!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wondered about the airport/castle comment myself–were they joking? is anyone really that oblivious? We’ll never know. I sometimes think no tourists should be allowed out of their home countries in large groups–it makes them oblivious and demanding–but good luck to me enforcing that.

      Like you, I love it here, although I’ll never understand the rules (and if I did I doubt I’d follow them). I didn’t follow the ones at home either, so why start now?

      Liked by 1 person

      • It depends on how they travel. I always rented a car or took the local trains. I never went to the big hotels, preferring agriturismo and the like. One needs to be an anthropologist when one travels, otherwise, there is little point in leaving home. Living there is the best way. You have a huge advantage. I lived in London for a few months and it made a world of difference to my understanding them and my entire family!

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Pingback: Accents: Brits sorting Americans from Australians | Notes from the U.K.

  16. In the Upper Peninsula, the Michiganders sound like the Canadians (I think there are some similar people in Wisconsin and Minnesota). I’m not sure about the volume. I’ll have to listen closer the next time I’m up there. The people speaking French are the only ones I am sure are Canadian.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t remember (excuse me, I have to throw a cat off my keyboard) anyone from northern Minnesota sounding Canadian. A few still sounded vaguely Scandinavian, though. And then (throughout the state) there were the people who sounded like they’d wandered off the set of a watered-down version of the Cohen brothers’ film Fargo.

      Liked by 1 person

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