Ignorance is not always bliss, and you know what they say about what happens when you assume. So to my fellow Americans, here are some things to know before you go:
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1. Toilets are not all created equal.
This is a toilet. Put your feet on the grids provided and you’ve got yourself what we travelers refer to as a “squatty potty.” Coming soon to a country near you.
How to prepare for the squatty potty? Well, if you aren’t used to squatting for public toilets, some wall-sits before your trip should do (be extra careful when wearing a big backpack). Oh, and bring your own toilet paper, many restrooms do not keep this stocked.
In some countries, you cannot flush your toilet paper. The septic systems just aren’t set up for it. Ask a local if you aren’t sure. There will be trash cans provided in the stalls, don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.
2. Yes, they have TV in _____________.
These aren’t the dark ages. You can even expect to find WiFi in most cafés, restaurants, and hotels these days.
3. No, they don’t care about American football.
Football in the rest of the world is soccer. Unless you are in a place with a significant number of expats or American tourists, you can expect to be laughed at if you ask for it on TV. And if there is an important local sporting event on, like a real football game, forget about it.
4. Dryers aren’t common in most residences.
They take up space and electricity, two things that don’t come in abundance in many places. You can either learn to hang-dry your clothes, or you can probably find somewhere to have your laundry serviced, which should include electric drying.
5. Cars are small (and so are a lot of streets).
Practicality is not a sin, and men aren’t afraid to be seen in “bubble” cars. Besides, these little cars are much easier to navigate through cities and narrow streets, in fact, traffic often depends on having a small car. Just don’t expect to rent a Ford Excursion in Italy. A Fiat van, maybe…
Related Post: Renting a Car in Europe: 3 Things You Need to Know
6. Universal words: taxi, toilet, bus.
Not everything translates, but these will usually work no matter the local alphabet. Toilets are also often marked as WC (water closet).
Related Post: Why (and How) You Should Learn a Foreign Language
7. Much of the world runs on the 24-hour clock.
Turns out 6:20 is a completely different time than 18:20 in London, as my poor brother found out when he missed a flight to Italy by about 12 hours once. You would do well to get used to the 24-hour clock for transportation if you’re not already familiar with it.
8. Be prepared to see more stray dogs than you may be comfortable with.
This dog, although he may look like it, was not part of the tragedy at Pompeii, he is actually just asleep among the ruins. He is a stray, just like many other dogs you will see on your travels. They wander freely, scrapping for food and begging from anyone they can.
A warning can only do so much, but perhaps it will help prepare you a little. If you love dogs more than you should (like me), avert your eyes if you see roadkill. You never know what it will be like in some countries. If you feel strongly enough to want to do something about it, find a local shelter that provides neuter and spay services to strays, and make a charitable donation.
9. Speaking of dogs, watch out for dog poop.
Not just from the strays, but pets as well. In many places, it is “normal” to see people walking their dogs on the sidewalks, letting them do their business, and carrying on without cleaning up. Just watch your step. Sidewalk-walking should be an Olympic sport in some countries anyway.
10. Drinks do not automatically come with ice.
In fact, before you ask for ice in your drink, make sure the water they use to make the ice is safe to drink. You may think twice regardless, better safe than sorry, right?
11. Speaking of drinks, don’t expect to find Sprite Zero, Diet Caffeine Free Coke, etc.
If you want to call Americans “spoiled” with these options, go ahead, just don’t expect to be catered to if you demand a triple shot, extra hot, two shots of vanilla, soy milk latte. Some “Americanness” is better left at home.
12. Ladies, be prepared to get plenty of attention.
You are beautiful, and those guys want to be the first to tell you. Kisses, hisses, honks, whispers and plenty of other possibly unwanted attention is part of being a foreigner, especially as a female. This is the number one reason I try my best to blend in wherever I go. Keep in mind this doesn’t stop (or even start necessarily) at the way you dress, but also how much you drink, how loud you talk, and how much you “scream” the label “tourist.” Keep your guard up and roll with it.
Related Post: What to Wear Traveling the World: Dress Codes
The locals will undoubtedly associate you with whatever US president is in the office at the time and anything famous from your state or nearest city (coming from Montana, unfortunately for me, this is Hannah Montana). My advice for you is to do your best to leave your own impression on the locals, giving them something else that is positive and unique with which to associate “America.”
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