The Atlantic had an article titled Welcome to America, Please Be On Time: What Guide Books Tell Foreign Visitors to the U.S. It was a little disorienting to read about your own country from the perspective of a foreigner. When you live in a place where you grow up, it doesn’t occur to you to pick up the tourist literature. For context, Lonely Planet is an Australian company (although now owned by the BBC), while Rough Guides are based in England.
What guidebooks say can be less than flattering. An excerpt:
Lonely Planet urges caution when discussing immigration. “This is the issue that makes Americans edgy, especially when it gets politicized,” they write, subtly suggesting that some Americans might approach the issue differently than others. “Age has a lot to do with Americans’ multicultural tolerance.”
Ouch. On the other hand, what’s enlightening about seeing things from an outsider’s perspective is that it points out differences you otherwise would have overlooked. If you’re an American, you’d assume you wouldn’t sit at a stranger’s table and just strike up a conversation. Yet this is normal in more crowded, communal countries where people share everything.
A particularly American norm that drives visitors crazy is tipping. My friends from other countries have reacted with confusion, anger and frustration over how to handle this. One Kiwi friend said flat-out, “I hate tipping. It reduces all contact with service people to a financial transaction. Why can’t America just pay them a living wage like civilized societies?”
I’d like to hear from our readers. What countries are you from? What have you read about your country in guidebooks? What was true and what was false? Please share your thoughts in the comments.