The Ugly American

articles Living, Working, Retiring

Camille Collins

“…So I called the damned cable company and set ’em straight. I mean, how are my kids supposed to survive without cartoons? And how the hell am I supposed to get by without being able to watch wrestling?! You know what the problem with this country is? They don’t have their priorities straight!” – Commentary made by an Ugly American while walking along a village street in Mexico.

I never really stopped to consider what it meant to be an American, a bona fide United States Citizen, until I began to travel. Then I began to get the dirty looks and hear the uncomplimentary remarks – some of which I understood. I began to realize that of all the countries in the world, my native one had a really bad reputation, one that spilled over onto me. When outside the United States I would speak Spanish and avoid places where Americans gathered in huge flocks, like McDonald’s. By the time the natives found out the truth about me they had gotten to know me and not my passport.

My new foreign friends would ask me why Americans traveled when they hated to be away from home so much. And why we (Americans) think we’re so much better than everyone else. After all, we are one of the youngest countries in the world.

I didn’t have answers but I explained to my new friends that these same people they found to be so rude and unbearable in their country were probably very nice people back home. I told them that I had often found that to be the case myself. I pointed out that not all Americans behaved so poorly, that most went by unnoticed. I suggested that maybe these other Americans, the Ugly ones, were overtaken with some sort of evil spirit when they traveled, one that convinced them that no matter what their guest country had to offer, when compared with home, it came in a very distant second. I could only hope that the Americans these people spoke of, the Ugly Americans, did indeed choose to stay home, thus making the world a safer place for the rest of us.

It hasn’t happened, though. And you can hear ’em long before you ever see ’em.

Today I heard the above comment coming from a fellow American. Sporting a black T-shirt, a tattoo and a loud, insolent mouth that made him stick out like a sore thumb, I watched in amazement as he ambled by complaining about everything BUT the weather.

I came within inches of saying “go home you Neanderthal!” But having done that before and not received positive results, I eschewed the idea.

Please don’t get the wrong idea. I’ve been known to get a little loud (tequila can do that) and I have a tattoo (but I’m not telling what it is or where you might find it). I also own more than one black T-shirt.

It’s something more than these things which create an Ugly American like the one I saw today. It’s an attitude. A state of mind and being that oozes from each and every pore of your body. Although it seems to be a kind of genetic gift a certain (limited) percentage of the U.S. population is born with, it CAN be imitated with some degree of success.

If you’d like to try being an Ugly American, here’s how:

  • Be born in the United States of America.
    The main prerequisite for becoming an ugly American is to be born in America (pronounced a-MER-kuh). Otherwise you’re just a rude Canadian, Frenchman, German, Czech, etc. And, like we were taught in Sunday School, “don’t hide your light under a bush”. Let everyone around you know where you were born (this is also to help avoid any of the aforementioned confusion)
  • Leave your brains at the border.
    Not driving or walking across the border? That’s OK – just ask your airline stewardess to inform you when you have crossed over that magical little line, then proceed to allow your brain to go completely numb.
  • Remember to forget common sense too.
    Start by waving large sums of money around in any public place – restaurants, hotel lobbies, crowded streets, the more people around the better. Then tell everyone where you are staying and try adding some catchy phrase like “there’s more where that came from” or “I’m a millionaire”. If you find yourself low on cash, flashing lots of jewelry usually proves to be a good alternative.
  • Wish for things out loud.
    “I wish they had cable TV!” or “real popcorn” or ” a good cold Budweiser” or “real food” or whatever else comes to mind that subsequently makes you long for the “good ol’ US of A”. Your wishes may never come true, but you will succeed in (a) identifying yourself immediately as an Ugly American and (b) warning away those who are trying their best to avoid you.
  • Insult the locals and their country.
    When surrounded by natives, assume they do not understand English and spout off one or more of the following:

    • This country would be great if it weren’t for the Mexicans.
    • Why are the women all so ugly?
    • I can’t believe how corrupt your government is.
    • It sure is dirty here.
    • Why don’t you people do things like we do back home in America?
    • You should hire some Americans to teach you how to _________(whatever)
    • Mexican television sucks.
    • Doesn’t anybody speak English?
    • What do you mean there’s no McDonald’s? What do you people eat for God’s sake!
    • That’s not a Taco!
    • I asked for cash, not pesos!

    For best results, note the emphasis and use a loud tone of voice when saying these things.

  • Do not attempt to speak Spanish.
    Not only will you risk meeting some of the natives, you might find yourself limited to “please” and “thank-you” and then where would you be? You probably don’t even use those in English.
  • Never display common courtesy.
    After all, you’ve made it this far in your travels without it.And last but not least
  • Don’t come to Mexico.
    Follow in the steps of your ancestors and be a pioneer! There are plenty of places in the world where Americans are virtually unknown, places where you could really make your mark. So, why waste your time doing it here?

Best of luck to you, and please let me know how this all works out!

Published or Updated on: April 1, 1998 by Camille Collins © 1998
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