Friday, July 7

Ugly Americans a Myth?

We have all heard the term "Ugly American" and for the most part most everyone accepts the ugly American as a fact, including me. Only recently have I questioned the very existence of ugly Americans as anything more than a very rare creature.

Of course there are Ugly Americans, after all we have them right here at home. (Picture the a-hole in the SUV cutting people off on the highway at reckless speeds.) Then there are those like Cindy Sheehan, PETA and the like who make an ugly scene wherever they are. Then again every country has their own examples of people like them. I have been to over 30 countries and have spent an extended amount of time in a number of them for work and vacation. From my experience I want to say that 90%+ of the "Ugly American" in foreign countries is pure myth.

One thing I had noticed while living overseas was how often American were amazed with how similar life in foreign countries is to home. This contrasts with how British citizens are often disappointed at how things are not as they are in the UK. But for the most part, those American were so interested in how things work in the country they were in that it is pretty hard to be ugly when you are listening to others explain.

Surely there are "Ugly Americans" in many countries. In Estonia, the 'Ugly Americans' are the Finns. In Finland, the 'Ugly Americans' are the Finns too. In Germany, the 'Ugly Americans' are the English football fans. I have no clue who the 'Ugly Americans' are in the UK. I suspect that they could possibly well be Americans as that is a common destination for Americans. Then again, how bad can 'Ugly Americans' be when compared to a couple hundred fellow citizens who also happen to be radical Muslims trying to kill you? (Might they be 'ugly Brits' or even 'Ugly muslims?')

There is no shortage of Ugly Foreigners. These are the people who hear Americans speaking English and are attracted to them like a moth to a flame. They listen for a while, some of them even stare. At some point, they cannot control themselves any longer and just have to butt into the conversation to unload all of their anti-Americanism on some poor unsuspecting American.

My friend who happens to be a newly sworn-in American Citizen, commented on how odd it is that people somehow think that it is ok to basically ambush Americans, attacking them about whatever is on their mind without being invited into the conversation nor even bothering to spend a minute to investigate whether the person they are harassing is one of many Americans who would probably agree with their position, if in a normal conversation. However, the American's opinion does not matter (if you are pro or anti Bush/war, etc.) we are all the same in the eyes of these people.

The first time I was confronted for being an American was in 1992 in Antwerp, Belgium, well before any Europeans were aware that President Bush had a son. I was talking with a lovely school teacher in a bar when a young Dutch woman my age interrupted the conversation, asked if I was an American, and upon my confirmation told me that she hated Americans. I told her to "Get in line." and returned to my conversation. She had surely done this as an opening act to unload on what she probably saw as an easy target. The fact that her opinion of Americans meant nothing to me probably pisses her off to this day.

This behavior makes me wonder, if Americans are such violent, gun-crazy, death penalty fanatics, do all these Europeans have some sort of death wish? Really, I could have just whacked any of these people with a fist or even a bar glass. And yes, this phenomenon is limited to Europeans. It is the only place I have ever encountered this blatant hostility and rudeness.

The behavior of some of these Europeans is sad. For starters most Americans that end up in their countries are there because they want to be. It is a once in a lifetime vacation, or big business trip. In most cases the Americans are interested in the local culture, how society works, and even their language, at least as far as the words for 'beer' and 'thank you.'

That last time I was ambushed was just last week in Amsterdam. It was in a bar and he moved seats clear across the bar to get within striking distance. He took the chicken's way of entering the conversation by talking to my wife as I went to check the beer list. I returned and the subject quickly turned to Iraq and then to Israel, as it too often does. However, instead of asking the typical "why does America protect Israel?" question he instead stated that "Europe is prepared to sacrifice Israel for World Peace" and that "Muslims respect Europe for what they did to the jews."

Now his first comment is actually the answer to the Israel question:
America Protects Israel because Europe is not prepared to.
As for respect, I value self-respect above all else. With self-respect comes the respect of those whose opinion you value. Of course you have to earn respect. According to this guy, Europe earned the respect of Muslims by killing millions of Jews. And they are supposed to be the sophisticated ones....

Other "Ugly American" readings:
Ugly American - Wikipedia
World Citizens Guide
Behavior guide takes aim at ‘the ugly American’ - MSNBC
Worse than "Ugly American - Math Geek Rocks!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You think Europeans give Yanks a hard time buddy? You oughta come to New Zealand!