It’s summertime, which is when most people take vacations. It makes sense. The weather is nice, the kids are out of school, and you can get a tan without spraying on a bunch of chemicals that will give you cancer. One of the most popular parts of the world for American tourists to go is south of the border to Latin America. Many cruise ships stop in Mexico, Puerto Rico, The Dominican Republic, Belize, Costa Rica, etc. The problem is, Americans have gained quite a bad reputation while traveling abroad. Now don’t get us wrong, tourists from Europe and Asia aren’t much better. But Americans tourists can be a special type of A-hole. The men and women who work in resorts or historical sites in Latin America secretly sigh and brace themselves when they see a gaggle of pasty white Americans in shorts and Hawaiian shirts step off a tour bus. Here is a brief list of 5 things not to do when visiting our ancestral homelands. If you own a fanny pack, you should pay special attention.
So, you’ve decided to go to Mexico. Where will you go? It is such a varied country with a rich…oh…you’re going to Cancun. Cancun is Mexico for people who don’t like Mexico. Yes, there is a Chili’s and a Gap, but you have those at the mall by your house. Isn’t the whole point of going on vacation to another country to actually experience that country? You can go to the Yucatan and stay in some less exploited areas like Playa Del Carmen for example. It’s fairly touristy, but nowhere near as bad as Cancun. While you are there, take a trip to see one of the amazing Mayan ruins in the area. Which brings us to…
There maybe nothing in Omaha older than 150 years, but in Latin America we have things that go back thousands of years. The ruins of the great civilizations of Latin America are one of humanity’s greatest treasures. So, don’t ruin the ruins further. Every year, hundreds of tourists take pieces of Machu Picchu or Chichen Itza home with them. Don’t be that guy. Go to the gift shop and buy a Mayan handicraft or even a “I Climbed Up The Pyramid Of The Sun And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt” shirt. Many of the historical sites in Latin America are in danger because of the amount of disrespectful tourists. It’s not just tourists though. A commercial for an American beer company that was shooting in Machu Picchu damaged a priceless obsidian altar with a camera jib arm. That jib operator deserved to be thrown off the mountain.
Americans are notorious for visiting countries and treating the people that live there like crap. It’s bad enough when they do it to the people who work in tourist areas, but they also do it to everyone else. Just because you are on vacation doesn’t mean everyone is on vacation. People live their lives and go to work in the place you are visiting. Just because you are lost and can’t find the mercado, doesn’t give you the right to bark orders at people on the street to take you there. And no, speaking louder doesn’t make anyone suddenly understand English.
Look, no one expects you to blend in. An American tourist always looks out of place, which is OK, because you are out of place. Buying a native Quechua garment or dressing like Frida Kahlo isn’t helping you pass. In fact, it makes you stand out even more. “Who is this stupid fat American dressed like a mariachi?” Most native people will just think you are being condescending and making fun of them. “Look, how quaint. I’ll buy this hat so I can brag to my friends back home how much I experienced the local culture.” Nope. It’s just a hat.
We’re Americans too, and you are embarrassing us. When you are abroad, you represent the United States. Most people don’t get to meet the ambassador, but they do come into contact with tourists. Though most Americans are decent people, many in Latin America and elsewhere think we are all jerks. This author has been told while traveling abroad, “No, you have to be Canadian or something, you are too polite to be American.” This is sad. Every time you get drunk on a yard of margaritas and vomit on a Mexican child making handicrafts, the terrorists win.