Don't say this in the US! 9 Ways to Annoy Americans

Offshore - 31 Jul 2023 - Andrew

The following is a breif list of common things I experience as an American traveling abroad that I know can be irritating for many Americans. Hopefully this list will be helpful for you if you have plans to visit the US, or meet Americans wherever you might find them in the world.

1: Insinuating that Americans don’t know geography

Yes, we’ve all seen the late night talk shows (or videos on YouTube) where someone with a map asks strangers on the street basic geography questions. These videos wouldn’t be as entertaining or viral if the stranger got every question right. Usually these videos are meant to be comedic, so there’s possibly a cherry-picking situation going on here. (Video creators picking the funniest clips from a large collection of video)

I’m not actually sure where the US ranks in terms of geography education, but I can at least say that I had to learn both internal US geography, and world geography at my public school. That’s a lot of geography to remember, so it’s understandable that someone put on the spot might not remember everything. And of course, people who tend to travel domestically will know US geography better, while people who travel internationally will know world geography better.

2. Criticizing Americans for sharing their heritage

Many Europeans in particular have probably experienced an American sharing his or her heritage. And some might laugh and criticize him for trying to “join the tribe” in a sense. But this often comes down to a miscommunication. In Europe, when one says “I’m German” or “I’m Italian”, one is referring to his or her nationality, or where one grew up. But in the US, this phrase is often used to refer to one’s heritage, or geneology. So obviously, when an American tells a European “I’m German” because he had a German great-grandfather, it can often result in awkward situations.

The important thing to understand is, when an American shares his heritage, he isn’t trying to invite himself as a local into your country. The intention is simply to share some information about oneself and make a connection, the same way you might tell a doctor that your cousin is studying in medical school. When Europeans react with a judgemental attitude to this kind of American “small-talk”, many Americans will see it as snobby and distasteful.

3. Saying you’re afraid to visit the US due to gun violence

This is something I’ve heard several times, and it never ceases to surprise me. I realize that rates of gun violence are higher in the US than many other countries, but that doesn’t mean that tourists are walking out of the airport and immediately getting gunned down by rednecks in pick-up trucks. It seems to me that news programs are producing a warped view of what life in the US is like, and this has had the unfortunate effect of scaring people out of ever traveling to the US.

But regardless of whether or not you agree, this is a conversation that has nowhere to go but straight towards politics. If you’re not looking to get into an argument about politics, which of course is an argument that nobody wins, then it’s best to avoid this topic of conversation.

4. Criticizing the US healthcare system

Americans are well-aware of the issues in their healthcare system. Many Americans might even know someone or have personal experience themselves with these issues, and it really isn’t a nice thing to be reminded of.

5. Telling someone they look (or don’t look) “American”

The US is a country full of people who all look different. There is no standard American “look”. So when commenting on an American’s appearance this way, he’s going to fall back on stereotypes. And in case you were unaware, the stereotypical “American” appearance is not a positive one. If you want an idea of what I mean, just use any search engine and search for images using the query: “Stereotypical American”.

In fact, Americans even have their own stereotypes of the appearances of many different nationalities. So telling an American he looks like someone from another country is a gamble. It could be percieved as a big compliment or a major insult.

6. Correcting someone who used the term “America” to refer to the US

If you haven’t noticed yet, I have been using “The US” so far in this article to refer to the US, but I’ve been using the term “American” to refer to someone who is from the US. This is because I’ve been corrected before on occasion for referring to the US as “America”. And yes, “America” is a much larger region of the world, two continents in fact. But in the US, the majority of people still say “America” when referring uniquely to the country, not the continent. So it isn’t ignorance, nor a lack of education. It’s simply habitual.

There are some people I know of who go as far as to refer to Americans from the US as “US Americans”. But (to me, at least) this term sounds pretty strange, and overly specific. If you’re wondering how Americans refer to the continents of “America”, they will typically call them “The Americas”. Yes, it is kind of confusing.

7. Bragging about the length of your vacation, or other career benefits

It’s well-known that Americans tend to spend less time on vacation than those from many other countries in the world. But at the same time, many people make plans to move to the US because they prefer the higher wages over having more benefits. Unfortunately, most people simply don’t have the opportunity to make that choice, and they’re stuck with what opportunities are available locally. So it should be obvious that bragging about these benefits is a reliable way to make Americans feel bad. Discussing these different career experiences is perfectly fine, just as long as it isn’t for the sake of showing off or trying to feel superior.

8. Saying the US has no history or culture

This one is so obvious it really shouldn’t need to be in this list, but in reality this is something I’ve heard some say on more than one occasion. The truth is, these were probably more of accidental slip-ups than actual commentary on the US. But still, saying anything like this should be avoided at all costs. If you mean to say the US is a young country, just say the US has a “short” history.

Americans tend to be very proud and patriotic, so statements like these are a reliable way to make enemies.

9. Blaming the actions of the US military or government on US citizens

The sad reality is that the US government (including of course the military) has committed a large variety of questionable acts around the world, a number of them were outright atrocities. It’s very unfortunate that many countries around the world still remain heavily affected by these events, and I’ve noticed the citizens of these countries can often be justifiably angry about this. But the reality is that your average citizen of the US has very little control over what the government does. Sure they can vote, they can solicit, and they can even try to enter into a political career. But even then, the amount of control any one person has on something as huge as the US government is still miniscule. This really applies to any national government, and I’d be willing to bet that even your own government has some skeletons in the closet.


Generally, Americans are very easy to get along with. Don’t let this list scare you, even if you break a few of these guidelines, you will be forgiven. But if you want your interactions to really go smoothly, it’s definitely a good idea to keep this list in mind. I hope it’s helpful!