14 Foolproof Ways to Spot an American Abroad

This list comes from a wealth of personal experience – being both the super obvious American abroad, and by fine-tuning my “American radar” to be able to locate a fellow ‘murican wherever I go.

The breakdown…

Appearance: What do they look like?

1.  Wearing University or Team Gear

Americans love to support their teams, and that means owning an absurd amount of school/team gear. Hats, sweatshirts, socks, you name it, we’re wearing it. *note – this only applies to authentic college and team brand clothing. There are plenty of Hollister, Abercrombie, and Quicksilver imitations floating around out there. Consider yourself warned.

2.  Cookie Cutter Teeth

Way to go fellow Americans! I’m a big fan of this one. It seems that we are characterized world-wide (not only with the Brits!) as having super straight, super white teeth. Thanks mom and dad for all the torturous trips to the dentist and orthodontist! Now I have a big American seal stamped right on my face. And in this case, I’m okay with it.

3.  Wearing Work-out Clothes/Outdoorsy Brands

Even though Nike and Northface are sold all over the world, it seems Americans abroad really stick out when wearing their work-out clothes and outdoorsy brands out on the town. Maybe because in most places these types of clothing are reserved for actual working out and outdoors activities, not city sight-seeing or going out to eat. I’m all for these casual, comfy clothing options, but be prepared to stand out as an American if you’re wearing them for your day-to-day activities.

4.  Buff Dudes

See some guy walking down the street who looks like a body builder in training but with less tan and oil? Probably just your standard American dude. This wasn’t something I noticed until I was in Europe and someone pointed it out. It seems like bulking up with protein and getting ripped is more common among your standard young American guy than it is in other parts of the world.

Behavior: How do they act?

5.  Expecting Everyone to Speak English

Alright Americans, this is a huge giveaway. It might come as a shock to you, but not everyone speaks or understands English. Crazy right? I cannot count the number of times I’ve spotted a fellow American abroad trying to communicate with a non-English speaker by over-annunciating, practically yelling, or speaking in slow motion. They’re not hard of hearing, the just don’t speak your language. It may be best to just stick to pointing and charades, although I don’t know which method is more embarrassing.

6.  Drinking Games, Shots, and General Binge Drinking

It’s no surprise that Americans like to drink, and with the drinking age being 21 in the States, it’s pretty easy to recognize those taking full advantage of foreign alcohol policies abroad. The people looking for any excuse to binge drink and trying to turn everything into a drinking game are probably going to be your standard young American adults. See someone asking for salt and lime at the bar? You know that’s an American prepping for tequila shots.

7.  Talking to Everyone and Asking Questions

I think this one is great. Americans in general are super friendly and love to talk, and Americans abroad even more so. If you see someone asking tons of questions to the waiter, tour guide, or just a random person on the street, they are probably going to be American. Even if they have no idea how to speak the local language to communicate, by golly they’re going to try. Phrase books, translation apps, or good ol’ fashioned pantomiming are tools Americans love to use.

8.  Uncomfortable/Awkward with Nudity

Beaches, art museums, movies, basically anywhere the human body can be found, you will also find a few people who are a little less…covered up, you could say. It seems to be only the Americans who are making a big deal of this. Blushing at the beaches or pointing and giggling at the art museum? American.

9.  Tipping – Feeling Obligated to Tip Your Less-Than-Attentive Waiter

Did your service suck but you still felt obligated to leave at least a 15% tip? That’s the American inside you. It’s super easy to spot the Americans at a restaurant in another country. They are the ones complaining about the slow service, never assertively calling the waiter over, and yet still leaving a fat tip at the end of the meal. It’s nice and all, but do as the locals do. If tipping isn’t common and you didn’t have amazing service, skip it!

Food: What/how do they eat?

(yes, an entire category dedicated to food was necessary in this breakdown)

10.  Eating on the Go, To-Go Cups, and Doggy Bags

Apparently it’s not considered normal behavior outside the United States to walk around town chowin’ down on a sandwich or the likes. If you see someone strolling down the street eating anything other than honest-to-goodness street food, they’re more than likely an American abroad. Along those same lines, if you overhear someone asking for a coffee in a to-go cup from a café, that’s a dead giveaway. And one more piece of advice – if you order all that food at a restaurant you better be prepared to finish it. Doggy bags are rare outside the States, so if you hear someone asking to take their leftovers home…American.

11.  Asking for Ice Water and Expecting it to Be Free

Not all restaurants are created equal. Another thing we Americans take for granted at restaurants is free water. In a glass. With ice. Apparently this is just too much to ask for in many countries. If you see someone looking very puzzled when they receive bottled water, or even crazier, carbonated bottled water, just wait until they get the bill and see how much they paid for that water.

12.  Starbucks

(I’m writing this article in Starbucks right now)

If you’re ever feeling homesick, just hit up the local Starbucks. They’re everywhere, and almost always guaranteed to be filled with Americans. What can I say? We love our Starbs. With free wifi and predictable coffee being scarce in some parts of the world, it’s always comforting to come across one. Bonus points to those Americans walking around with their portable American membership card – a Starbucks drink to go.

13.  Hot Sauce

I have to say I’m more than guilty of this one. I carried around a small bottle of Frank’s Hot Sauce in my purse for a period of time in Spain. No shame, Americans like their food spicy! If you see someone scouring the grocery store for any form of spice, you guessed it, probably American.

14.  Peanut Butter

Guilty again. Peanut butter is just so freakin’ delicious I have no idea why the rest of the world hasn’t hopped on the bandwagon. Americans don’t realize how good we have it with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Reese’s peanut butter cups, peanut butter ice cream, the list goes on and on. When you see someone desperately looking on the shelf next to the Nutella at the grocery store, give that poor American a silent look of compassion and move along.


So there you have it, 14 ways to spot an American abroad. Or, depending on how you look at it, 14 things to avoid doing so you are not automatically labeled as the American abroad. Either way, an interesting list to keep in mind the next time you are people watching…or just trying to blend in.

What do you think? Did I miss any obvious identifiers? How do you pick out an American abroad?

Posted in ExpatTagged , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.