Americans identify themselves as the worst tourists, with about 39 percent admitting they stole something from hotels and 66 percent reporting they check their email and cell phone while on vacation, according to a recent LivingSocial survey.
The survey, which looked behind the “ugly American” myth, debunked the rumor that only 15 percent of Americans have passports, said Dave Madden, LivingSocial Escapes, North America general manager, in a press release.
About 78 percent of Americans have visited at least one foreign country, according to the survey.
“Americans turn out to be pretty active globetrotters, with the average person having visited at least four countries,” Madden said in the release. “Unfortunately, Americans have pretty low opinions of themselves as travelers, so it’s time to turn on that Yankee charm and improve our global image.”
The survey also found Americans have about 16 vacation days, fewer than other countries such as the United Kingdom and Canada, which have more than 20 vacation days. Out of these vacation days, Americans spend about four days outside of the country.
Shimshon Erenfeld, owner of BLER Travel in Brookline, Mass. said the LivingSocial Survey was misleading.
“I know that it is a debatable fact how many have a passport when I researched it; I have seen numbers from 20 percent to 50 percent, and it varies by state or even neighborhood,” Erenfeld said in an email. “It grew lately due [to] requirement to have one for Canada travel.”
LivingSocial conducted its survey online with 4,000 Americans in the top 20 media markets and 1,600 others from Australia, Canada, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Erenfeld said he has heard few complaints about Americans being bad tourists as far as causing damage and stealing is concerned. The bigger problem, he said, is that Americans do not travel enough compared to the country’s size, as well as its social and financial being.
In Erenfeld’s 20 years of working in the travel industry, he said he has noticed the American citizens who do the most traveling and use his company’s services are first-generation immigrants.
Erenfeld also said in foreign countries, young people after high school usually take about a year and a half to explore Africa, South America, Australia and other regions. In the U.S., not as many young people do this and opt for a semester abroad in college, he said.
Some American students studying abroad at the Instituto Internacional in Madrid said Americans get a bad rap because they are just being “American.”
“I don’t think Americans know how to act in their own country, so why would they go to another country where they would know how to act?” said Michelle Almeida, a junior at Williams College. “There is something about being American that makes you sort of automatically [proud.] I think that when Americans go abroad they feel arrogant for being American.”
James Kelly, a junior at Boston U. who is also studying abroad in Madrid, said Americans should try to learn more languages to make traveling more enjoyable.
“If you really don’t have any idea of where you want to travel some good starting points would be Spanish, Arabic or Chinese,” Kelly said.
Twenty percent of the 281 million participants in a 2007 American Community Survey reported speaking a language other than English at home, and many of them reported speaking English “very well.”
But a European Commission survey shows 56 percent of Europeans from 14 different countries reported speaking more than one language.
Elena A’lvarez Diaz, a receptionist at the No Name City Hostel in Madrid, said American tourists do make an effort to speak Spanish to her.
“I am really surprised that most of them try to speak Spanish, most of them are able to speak Spanish,” Diaz said. “It is really nice when they arrive in your country and they try to speak your language. So to me, I don’t have any problem with them. They are really nice.”
The No Name City Hostel hosts between 10 and 20 American tourists per week, depending on whether or not there is a major holiday, Diaz said. The majority of Americans who do come to the hostel are students studying abroad and come to Madrid on vacation for about a week, she said.
“To me it is nice just to say a few words in Spanish,” Diaz said. “I think in every country it happens the same. You become closer to the people and the foreign country when you try to speak the language.”