The Not So Ugly American

I’m in charge of this bedraggled crew. Love them!

When you travel abroad, you become alarmingly aware of other citizens from the United States. It’s not that you’re looking for a taste of home or someone who shares your popular culture, it’s that US citizens tend to be loud. I’ve seen a lot of examples of the so called, “Ugly American” while traveling. You know, the stereotype– a person born in the US who while traveling tends to act as if they are entitled to certain amenities, considerations, and handholding. As described in the Ugly American by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer, “They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They’re loud and ostentatious.” Most of that doesn’t bother me, because guess what, it’s not just Americans doing this. I’ve been to a lot of places, seen a lot of different types of people, and really I’ve seen the same attitude in people of every nationality. Assholes aren’t exclusive to the US.  I’ve listened to complaints with English accents, Australian accents, the Dutch scare the hell out of me, and don’t get me started on the Russians. The biggest difference, that I can see, in the Ugly American vs. Ugly Russian or Ugly Slav, is that we are so freakin’ loud. FUCK YEAH!

It’s like we have bullhorns imbedded within the folds of our huge necks and are using them to pierce the bubble of everyone else’s griping, so we take front and center stage. I’m not sure why this is. I’ve actually been in places where US citizens are being kind, even generous about another country’s culture, and yet their loud booming voices make it seem as if they are complaining or casting dispersions. For example, a young man talking about English graffiti—that’s graffiti in England. He said, “They don’t have graffiti in England, they have philosophical vandalism.” That’s not really rude, but he said it at earsplitting levels. Trust me, I was fifty feet away from this guy in a crowded airport. And he didn’t just say it once, he said it over and over, expanding on the statement, comparing English vs. American graffiti until even the person with the least ability to memorize things, namely me, had this turn of phrase seared into their brain. By the time he was done, even I thought he was a dick. And I had started out on his side.
You see my point? The idea of the Ugly American as the worst kind of tourist is a misconception. We aren’t more rude or spoiled or contrary. We aren’t more obnoxious or stupid or perverse than people from other countries, and don’t bring the Japanese into this—they might look like they’re behaving, but who really knows what the Japanese are so quietly saying? They could be complaining up a storm, but you’d never know it, because you don’t speak the language, but even if you did, they talk rather low. NOT US!
We will tell you what we think at 80 decibels, describing our standards and heartfelt opinions in volumes that no human ear can ignore or mistake. Hell, even if you don’t speak our language, you are going to get the gist of what an American is saying. Or we’ll keep raising our voices until you nod vigorously in the hopes of getting us to stop. So next time you’re visiting a foreign country and you have a custom officers asking you a thousand stupid questions, after making you stand in a line in which some little kid puked his guts out, and you have to pee, and you don’t understand him even though he is technically speaking English, go right ahead and vent. Just remember to turn it down a little. We’re not the worst the world has to offer in complainers, we just need to learn subtlety. fuck yeah. 

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