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Sunday, December 05, 2010

Have Americans tourists got quieter and have we got noisier?

The noisy American tourist used to be a staple of British comedy in the 50s and 60s. Garlanded with cameras worn over noisy Hawaiian shirts, he was generally called Hank or Elmer and smoked a cigar. But the thing that got the British goat, and supplied the tension that led to the comedy, was that he talked so loud you couldn't avoid hearing him. The thing everyone agreed on was that Americans were all mouth. This was taken to be the expression of their new-found economic virility.

Last night I took a number of trains into the West End, which is doubly busy in the pre-Christmas period. On one train were four American university students, presumably over here as part of their course. They talked quietly and their demeanor was, if anything, faintly apologetic. It struck me that I hadn't heard a noisy American in London in ages. You can attribute that to the reduced amount of tourism from that part of the world and the fact that the last ten years have made Americans acutely aware that their nationality can make them a target, but it's certainly happened.

On the other hand, while the visiting Americans have got quieter and more polite an increasing number of Brits seem incapable of recognising that not everyone who's sharing the public space with them wants to hear everything they have to say and consequently talk louder and, though they probably don't realise it, more aggressively than ever. And in most cases they have pitifully little to shout about.


  1. The amount of loud, relentlessly upspeaky Brits on my commutes these days has risen sharply, it seems. Noise cancelling earphones come in very handy.

  2. Walking through town this week I was affected by a similar issue.. "OhmiGAHHD I almost SLIPPED!". Nothing happened girls, nothing to see, calm down.

  3. Not only are American tourists quieter, but they all have Canadian flags on their luggage. Funny, that.

    That said, if a tour party from mainland China appears in your check-in queue, change your flight.

  4. Americans don't stand out any more. They're no longer noticeably richer than other westerners, and they've been cowed by a decade of intimidating travel-related security checks - speak up and you may get a bit more than a pat down.

  5. Seems remarkably inefficient to have had to take a number of trips into the West End one evening - could you not have stayed there?

  6. In the long check-out queue at the crowded supermarket opposite Sheffield's Peace Gardens, during the worst of last weeks storms, an American man, talking loudly into his mobile phone, informed someone - presumably back home across the Atlantic - that he was witnessing the worst snow he'd ever seen and was stuck in a place called Sheffee-ald until he could get out.

  7. The louder the person the less they tend to have to be loud about.

    All part of the X-factorisation of our culture where everything is a drama.


  8. Just walked up to Brighton station, 6.30 in the morning. Two young lads behind me shouting at each other over the noise of, well actually nothing. The conversation needless to say was empty of any valuable content. Maybe their ears were damaged by too much loud music?

  9. David Sedaris wrote a magnificent piece about sharing a carriage on the Metro in Paris with a pair of American tourists. The husband assumed Sedaris was French and spoke loudly and at great length about how bad he smelled and how likely he was to steal his wife's purse.

    Working in Westminster, I see a lot of tourists in London and the American stereotypes you describe are definitely in decline. Post 9/11 they seem to be keeping a lower profile.