There’s a lot to dislike about American tourists. We’re loud and rude to waiters and do embarrassing things like try to imitate local accents. But at least American tourists are only in town for a couple of days. There’s a special place in cultural hell for someone who chose to immigrate to another country and still brought all their the worst red, white, and blue traits with them. These are the awful expat behaviors that make everyone you come across roll their eyes – the habits that make you an obnoxious American expat.
I recently ran into an American at the vet, who of course, couldn’t resist but make conversation. And I had to sit there as she went on a tirade about how animals should never have been domesticated while her own furry dog sat in a backpack on her shoulders. That is peak American oblivion. Of course, lacking self-awareness about something so comical is only mildly irritating. But when Americans lack self-awareness about their privilege, it’s downright insulting. Like when they complain about how bureaucratic the visa process is abroad even though it’s 1000 times easier for an American to get a visa to live or visit anywhere than it is for someone from Honduras or Syria or Mexico.
Being rude and demanding to service workers
Fueled by poor parenting and shitty marketing, The American sense of entitlement is unparalleled. Everyone raised in the US thinks that everything should constantly be done their way… or else. Some American expats simply can’t fathom that a restaurant might not have their favorite condiment or that they’d be unwilling to substitute 3 out of 4 key ingredients in a dish. This is annoying at best and disrespectful at worst because it communicates to the chef that you think you are better at cooking something than they are. In tourists, this is annoying, but in expats, it’s appalling. How do you live somewhere for months or years and not once come to understand that this isn’t how the service industry is outside the US?
The constant victimhood
Obnoxious American expats love to complain about how poorly they’re treated for being a foreigner. I know it’s comforting to think that locals treat you like shit because they’re racist or rude, but most of the time it’s because you’re an asshole. Such an asshole that all you do is generalize the behavior of one or two moody strangers into a whole delusional fantasy that the country hates you and they’re making everything harder for you on purpose. Because Americans love to feel wronged; it’s like complaining about being busy. The one-upping misery Olympics is one of our most beloved American pastimes. But that attitude doesn’t sit right when you’re surrounded by people who probably wish they had your means, your privilege, and your passport.
The constant sense of superiority
Americans are indoctrinated from a young age to make their work and achievements the entire basis of their self-worth. I’m not saying it’s not a tough notion to unlearn, but it doesn’t make it any less obnoxious for bystanders to tolerate, especially bystanders who were not raised the same way. Talking about your job title, your degree, your accomplishments, how well-traveled you are – these things are great topics of conversation in New York where no one is actually listening, just waiting for their turn to rattle off their own professional and personal accomplishments. But abroad, this isn’t exactly riveting to most people. It comes off as bragging and tacky, but worst of all, it pretty transparently shows you to be the kind of person whose self-esteem will just crumble if you don’t find validation in every person you meet.
Doing nothing but complain about your new home
Being an immigrant is not easy, and there are certainly a lot of things that take getting used to. But then, most people don’t immigrate because they want to make out with French guys or live for cheap in a villa in Bali. For a lot of American expats, the choice to immigrate is just that… a choice. So when all someone can talk about is how much better everything was in the US or how shitty the locals are or how stupid some of the local customs are, it really begs the question, why don’t you go the fuck back to the US then?
No country is perfect, and you shouldn’t glorify a place while ignoring its flaws either (Cuban exiles in the US, I’m looking at you). But a little humility goes a long way. Simply framing something as different rather than terrible goes a long way to avoid putting people off. So maybe don’t make “I hate it here” your headline everywhere you go, especially if you like to wear how long you’ve been living abroad as a badge of honor. It’s a weird flex.
Only hanging out with other Americans
One of the biggest red flags that someone is an obnoxious American expat is if they surround themselves exclusively by the local American expat community. This shows that you’re not even the least bit interested in learning anything about any other culture, including the one where you’re residing. These are the people who are most likely to exhibit all the behaviors on this list because they were never set straight after behaving this way in front of a bunch of non-Americans.
Talking too much about politics
There’s really a lot to be said for avoiding certain topics in polite company. In addition to being a topic that is contentious, awkward, and ideally private, talking to people abroad about politics is also irrelevant. Since the bulk of American political knowledge and interest is US-based (blame our education system), American expats who wax philosophic about Republicans and Democrats are also assuming that anyone gives a shit. That’s an easy way to communicate to people that you think your country is more important than everybody else’s. This is especially obnoxious when you can’t even name the president of the country where you live.
Being the loudest person in any room
I suppose if you’re an expat in Portugal or Colombia or China, your voice may not rise above others in restaurants and subways. But in many countries in Europe and Asia, it’s common to speak in low or hushed voices in public out of consideration for people around you who are not necessarily interested in being part of your conversation. You know who probably doesn’t want to overhear that you think interacting with Czechs every day is super unpleasant? A Czech person sitting quietly with their sick pet at a veterinary office in Prague. Context is important, so read the room. In any case, if these are the topics of conversation you think are worth broadcasting loudly to a room full of strangers, I guarantee that everyone’s most unpleasant interactions are with you.
Lacking cultural awareness
Much like remaining oblivious to the fact that everyone around you is talking quietly while you yell into the phone, lacking cultural awareness is an unwillingness or inability to learn how things are done where you live. This includes social etiquette, professional norms, and other behavioral customs in different settings. However you may have done things your whole life truly becomes irrelevant when you move to an entirely different place. It’s common to be clueless at first, but simply asking can go a long way, instead of just trying to force your own incompatible cultural habits on people. Remaining culturally clueless even after months or years of living somewhere makes you an obnoxious American expat.
Being a know-it-all
Though people of all nationalities (read: men) can be guilty of this, American expats stick out for thinking they know everything mostly because of how loud and wrong they are. The American educational system is one of the worst of the developed world, and most of what we learn is extremely skewed toward our own culture and history. So as an expat anywhere else in the world, it’s extremely likely that you are the most ignorant person in the room. Learning to listen might actually teach you something. In the meantime, try to keep your opinions about people’s own heritage and history to yourself, because your knowledge on the subject is probably limited.
Making the fact that you live in another country your whole personality
Anyone who moves to another country for the bragging rights is the prototypical obnoxious American expat. Sure, it’s nice to share your life with loved ones, but it’s also important to be relatable and have common ground with people. It’s really hard to enjoy a friendship with anybody who can’t stop bragging about living in London. The worst type of expat will start to see their relationships with people back home start to become distant and strained, and they’ll tell themselves that it’s because everyone is jealous. Hate to tell you this, but it’s because you’re boring.
So if you’re moving or living abroad, don’t do these things! You’ll be a lot more likable to people you meet without having to try so hard to impress.