Learn from the Chinese: Dos and Don’ts for American tourists abroad?

Excerpt from Chinese Tourism Administration travel etiquette guide

Excerpt from Chinese National Tourism Administration’s new travel etiquette guide

Complaining about Mainland Chinese tourists (大陆游客) in Hong Kong remains as fashionable as ever. I personally remain unconvinced that they are any more irritating than other tourists. They are simply new to the tourism circuit and as newbies, tend to travel in big packs. When you have a big pack, statistically there will always be a handful of jerks.

The Chinese National Tourism Administration, however, wants to actively reduce the number of tourists jerks that it sends abroad. It recently issued a 64 page guide (available here, in Chinese) to help tourists understand the dos and don’ts of tourism. The South Morning China Post (linked here) provides the following translated summary of a few key tips:

Do Not:

  • [T]ouch antiques or draw graffiti on heritage structures
  • Expose the chest or back, or look dirty in public areas
  • Eat a whole piece of bread in one mouthful or slurp noodles noisily inside an aircraft

An American guide? My own people, the Americans, were the original ugly tourists. Americans, however, have a Constitutional Right to be headstrong, oblivious and independent (see coded message contained within the Ninth Amendment). I can’t imagine that any US governmental body would dream of issuing an etiquette handbook for American tourists abroad.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t make one up.

What could such a guide look like? Here are a few possible excerpts:

Do Not:

  • Assume that a person riding a bicycle (who is not also wearing spandex) is only doing so because he lost his driving licenses due to a DUI/DWI violation.
  • Boast about “American Exceptionalism.” It would be inopportune to mention this smug concept at a time when a small group of extremists have shut down the US government in order to block a marginal improvement to a terribly dysfunctional health care system. As an alternative conversation topic, discuss the American TV renaissance and the series finale of “Breaking Bad.”
  • Unfavorably compare your host country’s traditional breakfast against Denny’s “Moons over My Hammy,” fried egg and bacon special.
  • Openly mock the metric system. Turns out we’re the only industrialized country that has not adopted it for official use.


  • Wink when you refer to your home country as “The United States of Awesome.”
  • Play this drinking game if you are from Seattle: tell strangers where you are from and take a swig from your open bottle of wine for every mention of “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Frasier,” “Gray’s Anatomy” or “北京遇上西雅图.”
  • Wear a circa 2008 “HOPE” t-shirt to remind foreigners how much they love Obama and that he is still your president.
  • Hum, “Eye of the Tiger” constantly. NASA studies have proven that citizens of all nations enjoy having “Bum. Bah da bum. Ba da bummmmmmmm …” perpetually stuck in their heads.

24 responses to “Learn from the Chinese: Dos and Don’ts for American tourists abroad?

  1. We don’t have a ninth amendment – coded or otherwise – and I doubt issuing a similar directive to Australians would impinge on our constitutional right to use water (which, as demonstrated by modern sprinkler laws, we’re not that impassioned about anyway), so perhaps we should….?

      • I’m not sure that’s the case for ALL European countries – food culture varies widely 😉
        However, this is the case in Germany. Sweet “flour dishes” constitute a part of traditional lunch/dinner fare, and in the olden days, these would be served once or twice a week. It was a resources issue back then – people could simply not afford to eat meat every day, but still needed to lay on something filling and tasty. I guess once these customs are established, they stick, so it’s still acceptable (but much less common) to serve pancakes for lunch and dinner. When I was a kid, there would be pancakes for dinner, maybe once a month or so, just because we liked them 🙂

      • Ah, interesting background. There was a very alluring “Pancake Ship” restaurant in Groningen, Netherlands that we always meant to visit. We lived there for 5 months and it took us most of that time to deduce that pancakes are simply not a breakfast thing and that is why it was never open when we walked past in the morning.

  2. “Assume that a person riding a bicycle (who is not also wearing spandex) is only doing so because he lost his driving licenses due to a DUI/DWI violation.”

    Hahaha. Coming from a small American town, this is immediately what I think!

  3. Great post. Now I have Eye of the Tiger stuck in my head….rising up, ..back on my feet,…did my time took my chances…

  4. Chuckle… Love the very effective SEA drinking game to get yourself tipsy! (Not to mention Starbucks or Amazon or MSFT…) If I had a swing for every time someone jokingly asks if I know “Bill” or “Howard” or “Jeff”…

    • For some reason I find that everyone remembers the movies/TV shows, but that everyone is surprised when I mention that Amazon, Starbucks, and MS are from SEA. But those additions could certainly enhance the drinking game!

  5. I’ve a Canadian friend who lived in Korea for a few years and had a Canadian flag pin on his back pack. He’d also give them to random people he met. Most people took it as a very nice gesture. I’m thinking the American equivalent might be visiting a foreign country while wearing a favorite team jersey with matching cap (or a Tshirt that says I HEART AMERICA, THE LAND OF INDOOR PLUMBING, FORD BRONCOS, THE DOUBLE WHOPPER & JESUS).

  6. You totally nailed it, Jennifer! The only time we considered seeking refuge and declaring ourselves to be Canadian was in 1998 at a Malaysian train station at 3 in the morning. A band of 50 local teenagers on a class trip and their teachers descended upon us and asked if they could practice their English. “Sure” we said. They proceeded to grill us about the Clinton-Lewinsky affair for hours. We were desperate for a maple leaf and never so glad to see our train pull up. 🙂 ~Terri

    • My that sounds horrible! Not only did you want to embrace the Canadian flag, I’m sure you wanted to embrace French Canada so you could feign to not understand English very well!

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