The pool at Travaasa Austin. Where peace should reign (and usually does). September 2012.

The pool at Travaasa Austin. Where peace should reign (and usually does). September 2012.

When I lived in London, I traveled fairly widely and frequently throughout Europe. As many others who've lived abroad will tell you, Americans are easily distinguished from other tourists. Many will blame the baseball caps. Or the shorts. Or the white socks.

Yep, yep, and yep. All these are clues.

However, I doubt anyone would notice these details if it weren't for Americans' sheer, stunning, obnoxious loudness.

I endured Americans booming while seated in adjacent seats on subway cars. While sharing a modestly sized table at a restaurant. Strolling down the street. Standing in a historical landmark--even a cathedral, say.


As an American, this pained me—far more than shorts, ball caps, and white socks.

After I moved back to the States, I acclimated somewhat to American volumes of voice.


In my open-format office, many coworkers inflict the same volume torture. They boom in conversation, even when it's just with one other person—and despite other people working nearby. They shout from a distance, rather than walking over.


During my recent trip to Travaasa Austin—a relaxing and rejuvenating retreat—a group of couples boomed and cackled at the pool on my first day and at breakfast the next. During my penultimate lunch on the peaceful outdoor dining area—where other solo travelers and a few couples dined over books and talked quietly—a woman held court so loudly that I can recount details of her daughters' successes and tribulations. She seemed oblivious to others nearby sipping tea, reading books, and giving her irritated glances.

Fortunately, I felt complete peace the rest of the trip.

When you're the only one booming, why don't you notice? During my European sojourn, I noticed that Americans seem completely unaware that no one else talks at such volume and that they bother everyone around them. I saw this at Travaasa. I see this in my office.

Or if people do notice, they don't care.

Why do Americans act this way? Doing so plays into the "ugly American" stereotype. Even within the United States.

Should we fault our culture’s penchant for huge swaths of personal space, which necessitate standing farther apart than many other nationalities do and require louder voices to communicate? Is it that many Americans live in less dense areas than people in other countries, so loudness isn't typically problematic? Is it that we feel we have a right to be as loud as we want to be—and screw anyone who dislikes it?

Whatever the reason, the sheer volume of many American voices is ridiculous—and rude. It's another form of noise pollution. It is not okay.

I've written about the value of silence. Likewise, moderating your voice shows consideration and kindness. Good things.