5 ways to avoid being the ugly american

5 ways to avoid being the ugly american

Do you want to get the best out of your next trip to an to exotic Hispanic country? I can imagine and knowing what mistakes to avoid can make your trip even better. Although there are 21 countries that have Spanish as their official language, they’re all quite different. For example, cuisines vary from tacos in Mexico, Paella in Spain, and Churrascaria in Argentina. However, some uninformed tourists assume all Hispanic countries eat the same meal… tacos and burritos. The best ways to avoid being the ugly american in Hispanic countries are trying to practice Spanish, not being too punctual, enjoying the nightlife, trying new foods and not being a target for petty crime

Practicing Spanish

Native English speakers are fortunate because their first language is known as the universal language for business. Think about it.. anywhere you go, someone is bound to know at least some English. However, it makes sense to learn even a few words of your destination country’s language. There are so many benefits to language learning and even learning the basics like please and thank you are helpful. These small phrases show the natives that you honor their culture and will help you avoid being an “Ugly American.”

avoid being the ugly american

By practicing your Spanish, you can learn more about that country’s culture and unique quirks. For instance, Spanish greatly varies by country with a lisp in Spain and a sh- sound in Argentina. Learning basic Spanish and these unique identifiers isn’t that tough and can be done in a few days.  These phrases will motivate people to open up to you, allowing you to make new friends and even score some discounts. It’s no secret that touristy areas are generally overpriced, with English only menu restaurants having the largest markups. If you can speak intermediate Spanish/target language, you could befriend locals to find the best attractions for a quality price.


Many western countries have a fast paced culture with people working longer hours and some not even taking a lunch break. In fact, the average meal in the US lasts for only 37 minutes. So tourists from these countries should realize that Hispanic countries have a very loose perception of time. For example, Spaniards and Argentinians take a 2-3 hour break in the middle of the day called a siesta. During this time, shops are closed so workers can eat with their family, sleep and even enjoy a fun activity before returning to work. Also, don’t expect meetings to run on time, as people arriving as late as an hour is quite common. While this can be frustrating, it can be easier to plan for this phenomena but having a flexible attitude and anticipating at least a 30 minute time buffer.

avoid being the ugly american

While many westerners can become frustrated with this time system, many financial hubs and tourist areas (think Mexico City and Madrid) are more fast paced and don’t have siesta. However, time moves the slowest in smaller towns. Also, moving slower can help you enjoy the moment and feel more refreshed. Per PositivityBlog, slowing down can help you prioritize tasks and ask yourself “what’s the best use of my time” instead of rushing to the next thing.


Nightlife and a slow schedule are intertwined in Hispanic countries. For instance, having later, longer meals allows people to eat late dinners before going out even later. Most states have a last call for alcohol at 2:00 AM (or in practice, 1:30 AM). However, many clubs in Spain and Argentina are open till dawn! It’s not necessary to stay up till dawn, but foreigners should try to stay out a little later if possible. By not having rigid closing hours, party goers have less pressure to arrive at a certain time and flexibility when leaving. Partaking in this nightlife culture appropriately (not drinking excessively) is another way to avoid being the ugly american.

avoid being the ugly american
Kapital Club in Madrid

Some cool clubs include Kapital in Madrid and Jet Lounge in Buenos Aires. These clubs feature impressive DJs, a variety of drinks, and even many stories. Unlike clubs in the US, clubs in these countries are much larger and more open, making it easier to mingle.

New Cuisine

Like nightlife and punctuality, cuisine is interrelated to these categories. For instance, Spaniards have tapas or small appetizers between siesta and eating dinner. They go out to bars and eat tapas, a process called tapear. Other countries like Mexico have a tapa esqe process, which entails eating small street tacos before a larger meal. Also, it’s common to eat street tacos between clubs and many people have late lunches after a night of partying. Thursday’s are the new Friday in Mexico city, as many students and professionals take a half day on Friday (or not show up at all).

avoid being the ugly american

Unfortunately, many tourists eat in tourist areas and even eat at common chains like McDonald’s. There’s nothing wrong eating at McDonald’s, but these tourists are missing out on experiencing true culture. When I tried Spanish food in Spain, I enjoyed jamón ibérico, pulpo and patatas bravas so much, I looked for Spanish restaurants in San Diego. If I stuck to chain restaurant, I would have never discovered unique areas abroad and in my home town.


Many Hispanic countries vary in wealth, with many having high income inequality issues. This lack of a middle class creates desperate situations as can be seen with Honduras and Venezuela. Both of these countries are very dangerous and crime is rampant. Other countries like Chile and Spain, have better economies and less crime aside from pick pockets. Some mistakes gringos make in these countries is not doing proper research, speaking English loudly in public areas, and not having multiple pockets. It makes sense to research where you are going and avoid areas on the travel warning site. Carrying photocopies of important documents and concealing possessions will help you avoid being a victim of petty theft.

avoid being the ugly american

Traveling to new countries can be quite exciting and learning what mistakes to avoid makes it better. There are 21 countries that have Spanish as their official language and it’s important to recognize the difference between these areas. Some ways to avoid being the ugly american include learning some Spanish, not being too punctual, enjoying world class nightlife, eating authentic, unique foods and being wary of crime.

What other ways to avoid being the ugly american are important? Please share below!


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