With recent cases in the news about shoplifting abroad, I thought I would talk about behavior when travelling, especially a warning if you have kids.
As a loss prevention and law enforcement professional with 40+ years of experience, combined with extensive overseas travel and living in another country, I have some pretty strong opinions about theft and being in another country. Actually, I am not going to discuss shoplifting in another country. The fact is you should not steal, in America or anywhere else.
Those of you that have traveled or lived elsewhere already understand that the laws of other countries are different than ours. In most cases they are stricter with penalties that can seem draconian or even better than those in the US. For example, there are countries that we Americans travel to routinely that will cut off the hand of a thief, even today. Okay, it sounds good but I am really not a fan of body mutilation as a form of punishment.
The problem I see routinely is the “Ugly American” syndrome. This is the American who, while in another country, thinks and projects to those around them that they are better, special, privileged….. I have news for you, you aren’t. Many people in other countries are smart, thoughtful, courteous and kind. There are also criminals, degenerates and some pretty horrible people running around that would kill you for your watch, just like what we find in America. When you violate their laws and customs, knowingly or not, YOU are the problem not them. And that USA passport you hold in your hand means little to nothing, even more so if you have an attitude.
My wife and I met when I was stationed in Germany while in the Army as a Military Policeman in the 1970’s. She was born and raised there. She became a US citizen many years ago, after we had married. We travel there frequently to be with her/our family. Naturally, many of our friends like to join us on our trips. On one such trip some friends went with us, taking their two teenage children along. The trip was fine, although we had a difficult time getting across to them (particularly to their son) that they needed to be a bit more mindful of the customs of the German people.
We were leaving the country on the same day from different terminals in the Frankfurt International Airport. Their son refused to obey his parents (teenagers!) and wandered away while in the terminal. German Border Police approached him and asked for his identification. He did not have any as Mom and Dad kept the passports with them. He then mouthed off and copped an attitude. He found himself on the floor and then in custody. Taken to a holding room until they could sort it out. He found himself in a frightening situation of his and his parents own making.
Mom and Dad did not make it any better with their attitude. He was eventually released in time to be put on their flight. Back in the US, Mom expressed to us that they had no right to do that. Well, yes they did, even in normal circumstances, EVERYONE in Germany when outside their home must be able to provide official identification at ALL times (“papers please”). On that particular day they were on high alert, with hundreds of heavily armed, uniform Border Policemen, dogs and the like, patrolling the airport in response to a terrorist threat. Maybe that should have been a clue? Their son matched the general description of the troublemakers. In Germany, parents (including visitors) are actually responsible for their children’s actions. They could have been arrested for not controlling their son.
Acting the ugly American got them nowhere except in deeper trouble and difficulties. They were eventually allowed to go on their way. Other countries Law Enforcement does not care that you are an American, even less so, if you act the part of the ugly American. And no, the US Embassy will not swoop in to save you short of notifying your next of kin, because they will think you to be an idiot also.
Now imagine the visitor to their country that violates their laws by say, stealing. It is offensive to them. Your US Passport is not a get out of jail card.
So while on vacation in another country have fun, see the sights, enjoy the food, scenery, the wonderful people and experiences you will have. Leave your work, worries, problems and sticky fingers at home. Unless you would like an extended stay in a room without a view.