Kathleen Norton

Meet the Ugly American

Posted on: August 1, 2011

The Ugly American

Americans, on the whole, are nice people. But there is something we need to work on.

Some of us think the way that we do things in our country is the only way to do things and that people in other countries have it all wrong because they are not us.

And, because we are Americans, the “ugly” ones among us are not shy about expressing superiority.

Know what I mean?

I reached this conclusion while standing on line at an airport with lots of Americans and lots of people from the country we were leaving.

It happened to be Ireland, where the national pastime is treating visitors well.

As we waited, an American complained that the line was moving slowly because, as she explained loudly to everyone around us, we were not in America.

Ironically, at the same time she also boasted of her Irish heritage, a tidbit the Irish people on line did not seem particularly happy to hear.

I swear the word “eejit’’ was whispered up and down the line and at least one person “accidentally’’ kicked her suitcase, causing the American to add “clumsiness’’ onto the pile of bad traits she was assigning to this lovely country.

Despite her lineage, she said she was glad that she was a citizen of America, where, she declared, things happen when they’re supposed to.

“Oh, it figures. They’re on their ‘Irish’ time over here. We’ll never get on that plane!’’ she whined.

Really? I wanted to say. An entire country that never gets anything done on time? Sounded like she had never stood on anything but quick lines in America.

I also wanted to remind her that Ireland is an English-speaking country and everyone around us knew what she was saying.

Yet I was afraid to do so and risk the chance that others would think we were together. But that didn’t stop her from speaking to me.

This happens to me all the time. My kids used to cringe when we were in public because total strangers seemed to seek me out for conversation.

Maybe I look very friendly. Maybe I look like I very much need a friend. Who knows? But it happened again at the airport.

Her: “Have you ever seen anything like this?’’

Me: (No answer)

Her: “That guy over there is getting paid to do nothing. We should report him to the authorities. That’ll teach ‘em.’’

Me: (No answer)

Her: “When these people get to America they’ll find out how things should be done.’’

Me: (No answer)

Her: “I’ll be so glad to get back home. What state are you from?’’

Me: (No answer but thinking silently: “Please go away and leave me alone!’’)

Finally, we got to the head of the line where the agents were hospitable to everyone (naturally) and checked us though to the plane that would take us to America.

They appeared to treat everyone in the same pleasant manner, though the Ugly American on our line did seem to get very quick processing.

Maybe the agents were just doing their jobs.

Or maybe, I thought, they were doing their country a favor.

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1 Response to "Meet the Ugly American"

People traveling in foreign countries are feeling vulnerable, so they tend to behave badly. I doubt that it’s a unique problem of USA citizens abroad, although we tend to have far less understanding of foreign-ness than Europeans. We can travel a thousand miles and not experience any language, legal or financial difficulties. Many Europeans can’t go fifty miles without experiencing some or all of the above.
As countries like Belgium contemplate splitting (I understand it’s a done deal at this point), we sail on, resolved to do it all together.
I was shopping (just looking) in a store in Munich when a lady came in and began tossing material around as she looked at it. She was dismissive of the quality of the products (in a souvenir shop, what did she expect?). She made several comments, asking the clerk several questions.
After she left, I approached the clerk and said, in German, that I hoped she did not think all of us were like that rude lady. She just smiled and said it really was not a problem.

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