Hindsights: Why Do Tourists Abroad Eat at Subway?

June 3, 2014 BY danariely


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~