The United States is the second greatest tourist draw in the world, with 60-million-plus visitors in 2010 alone (France, number one, attracted almost 80 million). Flipping through a few of the many English-language tourist guides provides a fascinating, if non-scientific and narrow, window into how people from the outside world perceive America, Americans, and the surprises and pitfalls of spending time here.
Of the many pieces of advice proffered, four of the most common are: eat with your fingers (sometimes), arrive on time (always), don’t drink and drive (they take it seriously here!), and be careful about talking politics (unless you’ve got some time to spare). But they say more than that.
One of the first things you notice in picking up Lonely Planet USA or Rough Guides: The USA or reading WikiTravel’s United States of America page, as I did (traditional guides such as Fodor’s or Frommer’s are more circumspect and not nearly as interesting), is the surprising frankness in discussing the warts of American history and society. The destruction of native communities and slavery both get long sections, the latter usually including some comments on still-present racial sensitivities.