The “Ugly” American?!? I Must Be Different…

R eading this list of the worst things an “ugly” American would say while traveling only causes me to shake my head in disbelief — and I have added my own comments to each one:

  • Do you speak English? More often than not, I ask how to say certain words and phrases in the official language of the country where I am visiting. People appreciate when you take an interest and effort to learn their language — even if it is only a few words — and you get the added bonus of impressing your family and friends with your new-found language skills when you return home.
  • Using double negatives I don’t not use no double negatives whenever I speak — no matter what language.
  • How big is the village you come from? I have never said that — not even when I visited villages in Côte d’Ivoire where I was amongst the first Americans to have ever visited those villages.
  • This place is nicer/ cleaner/ more sophisticated/ more modern that I expected What a stupid thing to say — unless you are using a spotless outhouse in the middle of a garbage dump covered with mud next to a sewage treatment plant.
  • Where can I check my gun? Why would someone use a marker to check their gun? Perhaps polka dots would be better; or here is an idea: leave the color and pattern of the gun just the way it is. Even better: leave the gun at home! By the way: I do not own a gun.
  • I love your accent. I never was into monosodium glutamate — but I digress. I suppose saying “I love your accent” is better than saying “What the **** kind of accent are you using? What are you — a moron? You sound stupid!”
  • I once knew a guy from (fill in the country/ city/ village name). Do you know him? Believe it or not, people in other countries have actually asked me that — or at least they would say “You are originally from New York? I met someone from Montana…” Guess what? That never bothered me one bit. In fact, it is a good conversation starter.
  • Do you take American dollars? As I originally wrote in this article, I like collecting different currencies as souvenirs — although in my case, the acceptance of American dollars could save on currency exchange rates if the product or service is not already overpriced. By the way, the better question would be “Do you accept American dollars?”, as the original question would imply that the person you are asking would gladly simply take American dollars from you if you offered them.
  • Calling everyone man/ bro/ chief Oh, man — I have never ever called anyone “chief”, bro.
  • Can I have some ketchup? Other than the occasional hamburger — and maybe on French fries if they are bland and mealy — I never use ketchup. Give me mustard, hot sauce, steak sauce, Worcestershire sauce, wasabi, Sriracha sauce or even salad dressing over ketchup any day. Besides, I have seen ketchup used in other countries; and they are usually not up to the standards of a certain popular brand found here in the United States — for example, in Australia, I saw a ketchup that appeared to be little more than a runny tomato sauce. Blech.

 

I also read this article pertaining to the seven signs that I am an “ugly” American. Here we go again:

  • Attire White sneakers, a fanny pack, a baseball hat … and a Canadian-flag patch sewn onto your backpack? Not I. I like my polo shirt or T-shirt, jeans and running shoes, thank you very much; and I never wear a hat — no matter how bad my hair may be that day…
  • English Only Yo no comprendo. Mulţumesc. Allez…
  • Complaining About Portions I remember dining in a restaurant in Antwerp on an incredible pasta dish with a colleague from Poland and a colleague from another country — please forgive me, but I forget which country at the moment. After an initial discomfort from trying to be polite and not saying anything, we all ordered a second dish because we were all still hungry and none of us believed that the first portion was satisfying enough. Whew! The restaurant was happy because of extra income; and we were happy because we were satisfied — and there were no complaints. I do admit, however, that the waiter was astonished and wondering where in the world we were putting all of the food we all ordered…
  • Demanding to Know the Price in Dollars All I have to say is: seriously?!?
  • Excessive Patriotism I am proud to be an American — sorry if I sound like Lee Greenwood — but I cannot stand to see excessive patriotism in the United States, let alone abroad. However, I will impart one faux pas on my part when I was a college student who found himself in Montreux, Switzerland: I was reading a menu at a crowded outdoor café on the shore of Lac de Genève when I read “burger à cheval” — or horse burger — on the menu. I ordered the pizza burger instead, not thinking that it was a horse burger with pizza sauce on it. When the waitress asked me how was the hamburger, I replied in French that this was not like the hamburgers in the United States. She rolled her eyes and walked away. I learned some valuable lessons that day; one of them being that I did not like horse burgers — even if they were covered with pizza sauce.
  • Trying to Recreate America Abroad If I wanted to recreate America abroad, then why would I travel in the first place? As I originally wrote in this article pertaining to stereotypes, I show respect and consideration towards the people and their language and culture of each country I visit — even if they seem unusual to me. Is that not one of the purposes of traveling in the first place — to experience how different people around the world eat, talk, go about their business and live their lives?.
  • Overpacking With extremely few exceptions, I never take more than one bag with me whenever I travel; and I carry that bag aboard the airplane with me at all times. Period. End of story.

 

I can speak some French. The problem is that I do not speak it often enough to speak it fluently. However, that does not stop me from attempting to do so — whether I am at a restaurant in Québec; the home of a friend in the Strasbourg area; a market in Abidjan or a café in Montreux. Yes, I strain to use the local accent and the grammar properly — and sometimes I feel as though the people to whom I am speaking are being exceptionally patient with me as I struggle — but they appreciate my efforts; and I am thankful for that every time.

I am hard-pressed to think of experiences and circumstances where I was discriminated by people of a country where I visited simply before I was American. On the contrary: I was usually treated quite well by helpful people — whether I was in Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Uruguay, Japan, Croatia, Panama, Bulgaria, Côte d’Ivoire, Lebanon, Romania or Malta.

While there may indeed be some people who fit the descriptions perfectly, I believe that these articles only perpetuate a grossly over-exaggerated stereotype about Americans — or perhaps I am simply different from other “ugly” Americans…

10 thoughts on “The “Ugly” American?!? I Must Be Different…”

  1. Stephan says:

    You may not be one, but there are plenty of “ugly” Americans travelling. Like the young 20 something daughters of the diners at the table next to us in an elegant Venice restaurant, who loudly proclaimed to everyone in earshot about how their periods were a damper on their holidays. Thanks! Didn’t need to know that!

    Of course, there are plenty of European “uglies” as well, like the sophisticated French woman who kept flicking her cigarette ashes behind her, directly on the shoes of the gentleman seated at the next table!
    Tres chic!

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Remind me not to travel with you, Stephan.

      I am just kidding, of course; but wow — you have had your share of bad luck! I hope it improves!

  2. Keith says:

    One interesting thing about the use of English…it is often used for conversation by two non-native English speakers when neither speaks the other’s language.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      My experiences suggest that you are correct, Keith. I find that interesting myself — although it is no mystery as to why…

  3. Roy says:

    Hey, Cohen, you sure are one stuck up SOB I wouldn’t ride a city bus with you. Iam proud to be an American, you on the other hand are a confirmed follower of President Obama and the Iam sorry Iam an American Club. Grow some balls!!!! Oh I hope I didn’t offend you!

    1. Haimish says:

      And just proved Mr. Cohen’s thesis. Why am I not surprised? SMDHID!!!

  4. haleysue says:

    How charming. At least he doesn’t have to knock the ladies off with a stick with that rude behavior.

  5. Dale, Montana says:

    In regards to the ugly American syndrome. You never comment on how much better you have it in America, when visiting other countries. That is just downright impolite.

    1. Dale, Montana says:

      One other comment that is very important to me, Americans should
      learn other languages when traveling abroad. We are really an ugly American when we don’t know some of the language.

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