How to Spot an American Abroad

Calling yourself an “American” in Mexico and South America will cause some eyerolling. You see, people in Mexico and South America find it annoying that people from the United States claim ownership of the term “American.”

What makes someone who lives in Colorado more of an American than someone living in Mexico? Nothing really — they both live in North America.

This wasn’t really a problem for me. I never called myself an American while in Mexico because everyone understood when I said I was from “Nueva York.”

I was always on the lookout for UnitedStatisans (nope, that doesn’t really work). Not because I was looking forward to seeing my countrymen and women while I was in Mexico, but because I was dreading it.

Whether in Europe, Asia or any America, the Americans of the United States are embarrassing. Always.

They are loud.

They dress terribly.

They speak English without apology.

For quite a while, I felt like the only American in Mexico City. I didn’t see any black people. And the only white people I saw were white Jesus’ on all the shrines and the pope on the ads welcoming Papa Frank to town.


When I first arrived, Mexico City was papered with Papa Francisco everywhere.

Luckily I was in town for weeks before I ever saw someone from the United States. But when I did, I knew it before they even spoke.

Here’s how.

Those clothes though

I complain about this even when I’m in the states (except for New York, of course). How adults can have zero interest in their appearance never ceases to amaze me. Although more men are guilty of this crime, I still see a fair number of women running around with Kate’s spiky bob from Jon and Kate Plus Eight, circa 2009. That woman has 8 kids and still has time for a modern haircut! What’s your excuse?

In Mexico, grown men wore shorts. Not grown Mexican men, mind you. As I’ve mentioned previously, Mexico City is in the mountains so it is not hot. So you running around in shorts at 65 degrees is just plain weird and only done by tacky American tourists.

Now make those shorts badly fitted, khaki colored and worn with white socks, and now you’ve got an American.

Everyone wants to be American

A couple in a restaurant next to me was chatting with the waiter and learned that his dream was to open a coffee shop. The woman asked the waiter if he realized how many people have had that idea. Undeterred, he continued to share his plan.

Finally, the woman said, well at hope it works out and one day you can visit Chicago. He said, while looking thoughtfully confused, “No. I want to visit Paris.”

The idea that everyone is trying to find their way into America seemed to be a part of the script  for every American tourist — especially when I was oceanside in Acapulco.

You should understand if I speak English

If the person doesn’t appear to speak English, well just speaking English loudly and deliberately should do the trick.

Even just an attempt to speak Spanish would be appreciated. Luckily, Mexicans are generally cordial and patient. I’ve been in other places, namely Paris and Milan and people will pretend to not understand a word you’re saying if you don’t at least try to respectfully address them using their language.

It’s really an ugly American trait to force English down everyone’s throats.

Let me do you a favor by telling you how to do your job

In a museum gift shop, a bit of a line had formed. It wasn’t a surprise because service doesn’t happen quickly in Mexico. Salespeople, cashiers, etc., see each transaction as a chance to interact with a customer and they are in no hurry to end that — no matter how long the line is snaking around the registers.

This day, the credit card machine wasn’t working properly. The trouble was limited to American Express transactions. So while one cashier continued to ring up customers who were paying with cash or a different credit card, the other cashier contacted American Express.

Well the fix simply didn’t happen fast enough for the American customer and he began to unload, barking orders – in English – about what she needed to do in order to run the transaction.

I witnessed similar exchanges in restaurants and a shop at the mall. Even when not asked for assistance, these tourists were at the ready to tell those serving them exactly how it should be done.


I mentioned earlier that it took several weeks before I even saw an American. That was because I was blending into my environment and not spending much time in typically tourist destinations.

My third week, I suffered from a traveller’s stomach and was relegated to my studio with Ramen chicken noodle and toasted Bimbo bread from the local 7-11. Finally, after the 4th night of a weak stomach, I tired of the Ramen and sought an American hotel restaurant hoping for some chicken broth and plain rice.

I found it – and all the Americans.


Due to their singular patrons, I renamed the place Gringolandia. And since my weak stomach held on for quite a while, I became one of them as well.

If you visit Mexico City and actually want to see an American, skip the museums. Just head to the local Chili’s, Starbuck’s and 7-11, of which there is no shortage.


2 thoughts on “How to Spot an American Abroad

  1. This writer is one of those American bigots who think they’re cool if they denigrate other Americans just to show how cool they are.


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