Ten things Ugly Americans need to know before visiting a foreign land

If you have not traveled to places around the planet other than the United States, odds are you do not have the basic skills for survival. OK, maybe you have the basic skills for survival like how to skin a bear or make drinking water out of rocks but other normal functions you perform at home are not so easy elsewhere. I am reminded of this lately as I sail on new Carnival Magic through the Mediterranean. On the ship all is well, like if we were cruising through the Caribbean for the zillionth time. But before sailing in Venice, Italy and today in Dubrovnik, Croatia our first two ports of call so far, there have been some challenges.

Here are some first-hand tips that might be helpful:

1. Bring all converters– Regardless of the length of your hotel stay, bring a complete set of plug converters that will take any size European plug. Alternatively, plan on not using anything that requires an electrical outlet.
2. Know the local language– Have at least a basic working knowledge of the language in the land you will be visiting. Better yet, be totally fluent in the language of the land. On this trip I spent 2 hours walking around Venice, Italy looking for a store that sold plug converters with a hand-written note from the hotel desk clerk that said “Do you have 220/110 plug converters for this stupid American who left his at home?”

3. Again, the Internet is not going to be like at home- No matter how many times I travel outside of the United States I am always caught off-guard, thinking the Internet will be as fast as at home. I know better but I forget. On the average, think dial-up on a bad day.
4. Get good a charades- If you do not speak the language of where you are going, odds are you will be acting out things you normally take for granted and think are easy. You will probably be saying them out loud too as though simpler phrasing and audio will help like “Somewhere to pee?” or “Power converter?”
5. Know the money before you have to use it. In Croatia its about five “Kuna”, the local currency, to the dollar. So the 10-Kuna beer we had there was really about two dollars US. Bonus tip: Don’t make clever American jokes about what the name of foreign currency sounds similar to in our culture.
6. Buy a t-shirt that says “Ugly American” on it-might as well just get that out of the way right up front. All Americans are assumed to be Ugly Americans by default in at least Venice and Dubrovnik (so far) but the locals at those places REALLY get a kick out of hearing us say it. Might as well make their day.
7. Don’t take too many photos- I know it is tempting to take a hundred photos of any one given attraction in a foreign land. It’s exciting to see things in person with your own eyes that you have only seen in print or photos. But you run the risk of getting a case of Oh Great, More Old Stuff that could cause you to miss capturing some of the best a given land has to offer. Try mixing it up by taking photos of living stuff too.
8. Stay on local time- It might be nice to know what time it is at home but calling your friend in the US at 3AM because you forgot about the 6 hour time difference between where they are and where you are can be rude.
9. Watch the hand signals- That friendly thumbs up indicating all is well and you are happy means “Your mother is a whore” in Croatia*. If someone’s mother is indeed in the prostitution game it might get you a past-guest discount but otherwise those are fighting words.
10. Upgrade phone service- You may say you just won’t make any phone calls from a foreign land, will keep your phone on airplane-mode or leave it behind but that is not very realistic. Not that you will be calling the new friends you just met in the foreign land later in the day but texting your ex when you visit a place they love dearly without them is total payback for whatever it was that broke you up.

*not really but Croatia is where we are today so I will pick on them. Tomorrow, when we are at sea I will pick on Poseidon.