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Cultural guidebooks aim to cure the 'Ugly American'

They seem to be everywhere these days: The "Ugly American," a person who raises his voice to break the language barrier, demands prompt and obedient service, and is probably wearing a US flag somewhere on his jacket. Often, this embarrassing spectacle is merely a matter of misunderstanding—or as I prefer to call it, a clash of cultures.

Many of these faux pas can be easily avoided with a little pre-travel research, and the Culture Smart! series of guidebooks is a perfect place to start. These books intend to rid the world of confused tourists by providing essential information to make any trip abroad feel like a walk in your own backyard.

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These "quick guides to customs and etiquette" offer hints and advice on everything from tipping and table manners to shopping, food, and making friends. Don't let their compact size fool you; they are packed with vital information on how to behave in someone else's country.

For instance, it's considered rude to flash the American OK symbol in France, as it means "worthless." Also, while you may think you're being polite by smiling at strangers, in Russia they'd think you're dimwitted. With 49 available titles, these guides are invaluable for the $10 list price, as they will give you the tools to bring the old adage to life and do as the Romans do.

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