Hindsights: Why Do Tourists Abroad Eat at Subway?


At the port in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico there are wonderful Mexican restaurants and authentic tasty taco trucks. But where might you find the Americans eating? Mostly at the Starbucks, the Subway, and the Johnny Rockets.

This seems puzzling: Why do Americans go abroad and eat at the most generic American restaurants?

One possibility is that these choices are convenient and safe: the American chains have good locations, are familiar, and have fast service. This may have something to do with it, but there’s another explanation to this puzzle—what’s known as the “American Abroad” syndrome. The crux of the syndrome is that Americans abroad end up feeling really American, so they act American.

Psychologists William McGuire and Rohit Despande find that when people are around a different race, group, or nationality, they think about those differences. Accordingly, how they think of themselves momentarily changes. For instance, many Americans may not constantly think of themselves as an American when living in the suburbs. However, when stepping off a cruise boat into a foreign land, their American identity may immediately become obvious.

Once people start thinking of themselves as American (or any group identity), they are more likely to act inline with that identity.

~Troy Campbell~

5 thoughts on “Hindsights: Why Do Tourists Abroad Eat at Subway?

  1. this is very true – it is the same with british people. it annoys me greatly, as if i am in another country, i want to experience their culture. But you find in high areas of tourism, like Cyprus, traditional Cypriot restaurants become ‘english pubs’. Sad really..

  2. I agree with the author that it still seems puzzling. I imagine that it may feel soothing to engage in familiar activities since being abroad can make people feel out of their comfort zones. However, this has not been my experience at all when traveling outside the U.S. I am not “well traveled” by any means but was lucky enough to make a few trips abroad when I was a teenager. Of course I usually stayed with people I knew, so that may have helped. After two weeks in Spain (having taken only high school Spanish), I found myself dreaming and even writing letters home in Spanish “by accident”. In Switzerland, knowing no German, I occasionally spoke complete sentences in perfect Swiss German without even realizing I was doing it. And don’t get me started on the food! Experiencing the cuisine (and home cooking) that other cultures have to offer may just be the best thing about traveling.

  3. Pingback: How I Discovered My American Identity | UP LIFT NEWS

  4. Occam’s razor. The reason is much more simple: information costs. How do you know, when you are abroad and you don’t know the quality of the restaurant (even the food safety, cleanliness…)? You simply go to the McDonalds. That’s why Paris is such a good market for McDonalds.

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