Americans tend to have a reputation of being loud and confident — if not obnoxious — especially when they travel.
A friend of mine told me recently that when she was in a Berlin restaurant earlier this summer, she happened to be sitting next to a group of Americans. According to her, they “spoke so loudly that I had a hard time hearing what the people at my table were saying. And they kept clapping their hands and shouting."
Granted, the place was a Bierstube, an establishment that focuses on, you guessed it, beer. So it’s likely that a lot of the customers were louder than they would have been, say, in an eloquent French restaurant. However, I also know that my friend is a quiet Scandinavian, who thinks people are shouting when they just raise their voices in excitement.
The story came to my mind when I was traveling in Europe with my family a few weeks ago. But the reason was not because we encountered obnoxious Americans shouting to each other. It was because we bumped into impolite Europeans. When our northern European airline announced that people with health problems or small children should board the plane first, travelers with no small kids or visible health issues stomped to the gate. And did not budge. I was so afraid that they would step on my son that I carried him onto the plane.
On the plane, we were disappointed to find our seats without extra legroom, like the airline had promised (so Stefan could sleep on the floor). When one of the stewardesses asked two middle-aged women who were sitting on those types of seats nearby if they were willing to switch seats with us, they simply told her no.
That was obviously their prerogative, but I had hoped they would have understood that flying with an 18-month-old toddler is much more pleasant for the whole plane if he has a chance to sleep.
Based on these — and many other experiences — I don’t believe there’s a nation that’s inherently any more polite than the next one. So maybe we should all stop relying on stereotypes.