12 commandments for foreigners visiting the U.S.A.

Written by kvfawcett on October 18, 2010 – 11:30 pm -

OK — Welcome to America. We’re glad you’re here but please remember we’re not one and the same. Our country is vast and what happens in one place probably won’t be repeated in another part of the country. Americans are diverse and come in every size, shape and color. Please don’t make snap judgments that we’re one and the same.

Here are a dozen suggestions to help foreign travelers enjoy their time in our good old U.S.A.

Learn a bit of the language:

Please try to learn some English — even the most rudimentary. If you need to use the restroom, please don’t make us guess because if you don’t know how to ask. It’s easy to avoid ensuing embarrassment.

Many Americans are as interested in knowing about your culture as you are about ours. Let’s try to meet on a middle ground even if it means using a translator.

Understand transportation options

Do your homework. In some cities, public transportation is an option and the best one. But if you’re going to a country destination or for that matter, Los Angeles, you are going to need a car. Remember drive on the right hand side of the road and if you’re on a highway, stay to the right unless you want to pass slower cars by using the left lane. Speed limits are usually enforced if you go more than five to ten miles over the posted rate.

Another hint — if there’s a red light and there isn’t a sign saying “no turn on red,” look carefully to be sure there aren’t any cars that might cause a collision and turn. If you don’t, people driving behind you will probably be blowing their horns.

If you’re taking a taxi, don’t anticipate finding taxi stands as you would in many European counties. Step out into street and wave your arms. If you’re in NYC during rush hour, don’t expect the first taxi to stop and you may have to do battle with another passenger who’s trying to usurp yours.

Take advantage of hotels:

If you’re staying in a hotel, take full advantage of the concierge. There’s probably one or more who speaks your language and they’re all too happy to help. But — and this is a BIG must — Be prepared to tip to show your appreciation.

Don’t forget to tip:

One of the biggest complaints from people in the service industry is that they get stiffed. Contrasted with many parts of Europe, tips are not included in the bill. The rule of thumb in restaurants is that an appropriate tip is 15-20 percent. Some people double the city tax and call it a day.

Tip taxi drivers, personnel who deliver pizza and definitely hotel personnel.

Learn restaurants rules:

Don’t expect to begin dinner at 10 p.m. Americans eat early, as in service begins at 6 p.m. If you’re trying to save money, there are many restaurants that offer discounted “early-bird-specials. Ditto for “senior” menus as well as children’s ones.

If you’re going to a restaurant that takes reservations, make one. Don’t walk in and assume you’ll find a table waiting for you if the restaurant is one that’s in demand.

This isn’t the case for fast-food restaurants, most of the ones in shopping centers (you may have to put your name on a list and wait to be called) and diners.

Most restaurants serve bread, butter and water. If they are not placed on your table, you have every right to request them and there’s no cover charge. Soft drinks are served with ice, so if you don’t want it, let the waiter know when you order.

Portions tend to be huge. Some restaurants charge a “sharing fee.” Bring your appetites and it’s OK to ask for “doggie bags” to take the excess food with you to eat later. No, you don’t have to have a pooch.

If you have food allergies, make sure you show the waiter (waitress) a paper in English that lists each and every one of them. Be certain the manager and the chef sees it.

Know where your money is:

Don’t carry too much cash. Make certain you have an ATM debit card that’s on an international network. Think about safety. There are people up to no good in every country and it’s up to the individual to use big city smarts.

Watch out for bad neighborhoods:

In every big city, they exist and the later it gets, the more likely it is that something may happen. Don’t lean on a lamppost in a crummy neighborhood – someone may get the wrong idea. Don’t flash a wad of cash. You get the idea.

Don’t be shy about asking for help:

Don’t be shy about asking questions and soliciting advise. On the other hand, don’t get into a stranger’s car. You may be taken for a (non) joy ride.

Smoke with awareness of the rules:

Americans are less tolerant about smoking than people in some other countries. Be forewarned.

Be considerate when using cell phones:

Please turn them off in theaters, museums, etc. If you’re using them, please keep your voices down. It’s only good manners.


Americans tend to be on time and appreciate if you are as well. Try to observe the 15-minute-rule and call if you’re running later.

Shower every day:

Many foreigners tend not to bathe as frequently as Americans. Please take a bath or shower each day whether or not you feel the need.

Now it’s your turn:

Hope these are helpful hints. Now it’s your turn to post yours. Cultural differences are precisely that. Let’s pave the way for people to feel comfortable in one and other’s countries.

Lead video created by Disney for the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of State. It is being shown on many flights arriving in the USA from foreign destination.

Posted in Consumer Traveler |