i was having a discussion with my friend, lydia, earlier about travel. she was picking my brain in anticipation of her first international trip and she posed this question to me:
will they hate me because i am a damn yankee?
this is not an easy question to answer, but what i came up with (and told her) was essentially… yes and no. in addition to our often horrific politics, as travelers, we americans do a lot on an individual basis to give ourselves a bad name across the world. i’ve even written about it in the past. it is a subject that every first-time american traveler should consider before embarking on a trip abroad, and one that far too few actually do.
let’s take this photo above. isn’t she a beauty? the caption provided with this photo on flickr reads “You can spot them a mile away”. ain’t that the truth? bad fanny pack? check. camera around the neck? check. disgusting white sneakers? check. matching outfit in horrid colors? double check. scrunched-up-i’m-lost-and-don’t-want-to-be-here pout? check check.
in addition to all of these fashion crimes that we perpetrate on the world (of course, we aren’t the only ones. have you ever seen the way average french people dress? and don’t even get me started on the chinese…), and in addition to our horrific politics that get everybody mad at us, i think the reason that a lot of americans get a bad reception abroad is because they have bad behavior. [tweetmeme]
lydia’s question prompted me to think about this a little deeper. i have often tried to disassociate myself with americans and/or downplay the fact that i’m american during my travels, but i’ve often gotten surprisingly welcome responses from people when they found out i was american. why? because i am a grateful, respectful traveler.
the sad fact is that many americans aren’t. lydia described to me her neighbors, who she said complained about being called ‘ugly americans’ and getting a rude reception abroad. well, duh, i say. if you are rude and complaining all the time, who on earth would speak highly of you?
so, lydia, to answer your question: no, i don’t think you will get a bad reception when you go abroad. that is, if you are a nice, respectful, quiet traveler that is genuinely interested in the country and culture that you’re headed to. there is one basic rule for overcoming the ugly american sterotype: DON’T BE THAT GUY. isn’t that easy?
that said, i have to make a caveat. there are some people out there, it doesn’t matter what nationality they are, who are just plain jerks. we’ve got ’em here in america. ireland has them, china most certainly has them, the french have loads of them and well, just about every place on earth has them. they are ignorant and they stereotype and they will. blame. you. for everything. your country. has done. period.
case in point: about two years ago, i got involved in a rather unfortunate conversation with a group of irish people over what, prior, had been a lovely afternoon of ciders at a sidewalk table at grogan’s on south william street in dublin. a foursome seated at the table next door struck up a conversation with myself and my irish friend and very quickly, that conversation devolved into “you stupid americans. why can’t you get anything right? why don’t you fix your fucking government? you’re so stupid.” of the four, one man at the table had actually lived in the united states and came to my defense, as i hopelessly tried to explain that we are a divided nation who can’t seem to agree on anything, and that i AGREED with their position.
the conversation ended with me walking off in a huff fighting off tears, while ann marie assured me of what wankers they were. and it’s true, they were wankers.
there are all types of people in the world and you’re bound to run into a few that you dislike, and that’s okay. but if you’ve ever traveled abroad and wondered why you ran into such a lousy reception everywhere you went, it’s probably because you were being a lousy guest.
or because you were wearing a fucking fanny pack!