Maybe Americans are too comfortable, too xenophobic, too selfish, or overly myopic, especially when visiting countries outside of the United States, The Ugly American is, unfortunately, a term that many natives of foreign lands we visit would ascribe to us, taken from the film of the same title.
It is uncomfortable to swallow such sights of Americans acting so brazenly in foreign lands. In particular, Americans tend to expect everyone to speak English, even when abroad.
Here are ways to be a hero instead of a zero when traveling, working, or visiting outside of the United States. The first tip is to have at least a sense of the basics of the language the people speak. Even if you stumble attempting to string together a phrase, the people will have a more favorable view of you and be more apt to assist you if you need it.
If they do happen to speak English, they might meet you halfway, so they do not have to hear you butcher their language. In fact, they may be more willing to teach you their language as long as you remain humble.
Always be very mindful of how you are acting. While you do not want to be a doormat, avoid being overly isolated, rude, arrogant, all-knowing, or anything of that effect. Whatever would be considered bad form at home is bad form overseas, most likely.
Part of the name of the game is to get a handle on the rules and follow them. Maybe you will be encouraged to dress like the locals by one community, and shunned for doing so in other communities. Learn about how they dress, why they dress that way, and what it represents.
This will all go very far in allowing you to get accustomed to the native landscape without making a fool of yourself for not knowing what to do and when. The other area that contains a good degree of anthropology and cultural negotiation is the food situation.
You did not always know what a hamburger was. Even as a child, it was new to you. The same sense of adventure needs to travel with you. Many foods will seem odd, weird, or just foreign. Give them a try, and be polite about it. If it smells and is unsightly, just give it a nibble.
If you cannot stomach it just politely refuse, or follow the local custom. Maybe the locals insist that you put some on your plate to honor the host or the chef. Follow your best judgment and the local customs to determine how to handle the food politely.
The idea is to learn how to balance trying something new, being polite, and maintaining some boundaries. If you do not like eating tripe, then you need to learn how to refuse it politely according to the local acceptable behavioral norms. It is very much like being a social scientist, ambassador, and socially smart and polite person, at all costs and all the time.
It takes time, to adjust your life to accommodate their pace of living. You may find that they are slower or faster, even. They may be used to cramming onto buses with farm animals and plants. They may have a different sense of manners. However they act, follow suit. Let the people be your teacher, and be sure to study up on their customs and manners before heading overseas at all too.
Even if you are the same race as the country you are in, you will still stick out as different. You will be wearing different clothes, have different mannerisms, speak a different language, and just carry yourself differently. People may stop and look and want to touch you. They are curious about you, and most are benevolent.
In response, be honored that they want to know more about you. Be open and be friendly and responsive and polite to the local community. The idea is to think of yourself as something of an ambassador, doing your part to increase peace in the world simply by being polite.
Always remind yourself that you may be the only American they have ever met. They may not have known anyone else. It is something of a responsibility, and it is advisable to take it seriously. Too often, one bad American makes a terrible impression for the rest of the nation and gives the world a bad taste about the U.S.
Take the plunge and do not be afraid to head out for foreign lands. You will be a richer person for having set sail into the unknown, glad that you took the chance and learned new recipes, new languages, ate new foods, met new people, and saw how other fellow humans live their lives half a planet away. Make sure you understand the foreign exchange rates well before you depart for foreign lands.
That is why you put forth any effort into the trouble of traveling, and living and working overseas. Learning a little bit of the language is a leaping off point to help you enter a whole brand new world that opens your eyes to new experiences. See what you might learn and how your life experiences might be enriched by taking such a leap.