The Ugly American

I had a feeling that I’d meet you somewhere during my travels, but a big part of me was hoping you were just a myth. Ok, a myth is a pretty absurd and naïve thought. I was hoping you were just an exaggeration made by many a traveler who had met you. But alas, you are not an exaggeration; you are real.

You, Ugly American, are precisely why I had been warned by many people to claim identity with my home state of Hawaii and not my nation. When everyone else proudly says, “I’m German” or “I’m from the UK” during the frequent bus-wide introductions, I say instead, “I’m from Hawaii.” It is because of you, Ugly American, that with this claim I mislead people into thinking that Hawaii is its own country (because it seems to confirm what they already believe) and not part of one.

Ugly American, why do you do what you do? Why do you constantly make comparisons between America and here (wherever “here” happens to be in the world)? Why do you point out the differences using a tone of voice that suggests America’s blatant superiority over the illogical, inefficient or incomprehensible way they do whatever it is here.

Why is it that within a large crowd, you must still be the center of attention? Why must you tell stories (travel and otherwise) that top everyone else’s and hint at the greatness that is you? Why must you start every sentence with, “In the States…” or “In the U.S….”? Do you not realize that there is an entire world outside of the good ol’ US of A where people live and work, love and laugh, with their own traditions and motivations and cultures?

Isn’t that why you are traveling, Ugly American? To learn about all the differences (and similarities) between humans in this world? Or maybe, as a fellow American susceptible to the same American flaws, I have just made an assumption that is untrue (which for us Americans would not be the first time)? Maybe you have other reasons for traveling across the globe by train, plane, tuk tuk and other modes of transport? Maybe you just like sitting for inordinate amounts of time? Maybe it is your national mission to spread the word of America, as some do the word of God, to the lost and less fortunate?

But whatever your reasons for being here, you are here and not in America. You are here, where the social customs might be a little different; the food might be a little different; or everything might be a lot different. You are here. So why is your mind still in America, set to American standards and American thinking? Why are you judging everything from an American point of view? Why are you judging at all?

Oh, Ugly American, if it is so awful to be here, then why don’t you just go home where everything is American, just as it should be?



Filed under Culture, New Zealand, Personal, Travel

6 responses to “The Ugly American

  1. Sadly, there is also ugly Canadians. Ignorance is ignorance.

  2. KT

    For all the traveling you’ve done, is this the first time you’ve encountered this U.A.? You’ve explained the prob as politely as it can be… Still having fun??? Today in your hometown, high 81, low 67 and sunny! =;-)

  3. Kirs

    I love America. Political, econoimic and socail freedom is still the envy of the world. Otherwise, why are people try to come here?

    With that said, “when in Rome, do as the Romans.” You are obligated as a guest to respect their house, furnishings and rules. If not, you should go home and keep your comments to youself. It is only polite.

    Courtesy is universal. Great insight!

  4. @alifeunlikemine – So far, I haven’t met those Canadians. Those I’ve met have all been . . . well, stereotypically Canadian. They have all been nice and friendly and seem to get along with everyone.
    @KT – One just stands out as being the U.A. rep on this leg of the trip and I couldn’t stop myself from writing about it. To be honest, I haven’t really met too many Americans, which probably explains the general lack of cultural awareness they have when I do encounter one.
    @Kirs – Agreed, if you don’t like it then go home. No one is forcing them to stay here.

  5. hemajang

    skycastles…very good commentary on ugly Americans. I would be embarrassed from the arrogance and lack of respect for the local culture. Yeah, I would also claim to be from Hawaii first rather than America. IMO, people from Hawaii tend towards humility whereas mainlanders tend towards aggression.

  6. weeboopiper

    Great post. Ran across some of them in the UK. Made me cringe! It’s nice to be able to say that one is from Hawaii. Even though the internet has made the world a much more connected place, the word “Hawaii” still has a bit of magic attached to it.

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