Archive: Ugly American Sightings
Of course, back door travelers are beautiful Americans overseas. But sooner or later you bump into an American who makes you want to wear a Canadian flag. Tell us your most horrifying Ugly American story.
We made reservations for the train from Florence to Rome, but two other Americans were already in our seats. My husband and another gentleman went to get a conductor to settle the issue.
The conductor arrived just as the train was leaving. We all provided our reservation cards and the conductor informed the other Americans that they should have gotten off at Florence. One of them responded that they had not yet arrived in Florence, but the conductor pointed out that we had indeed just left Florence. The gentleman spluttered, "What do you mean Firenze is Florence?" The conductor pointed to their tickets which showed Firenze as their stop.
The gentlemen then demanded that they stop the train and let them off, but this was a non-stop ES train to Rome. They even argued with the conductor that they should not have to pay a fine as Florence was not clearly stated as the stop. This train was full and they were forced to stand the entire way to Rome, roughly 2 hours.
The former occupants of our seats glared
at us throughout the trip and complained loudly, "The younger generation
has no respect for their elders" and hinted that we should offer our
seats. (We are in our 30's. They were in their 40's.) But both my husband
any I were sick with the flu and hoped to sleep on the train, and the
Italian couple across from us rolled their eyes and whispered "Stupid
Americans. Stay in seats". So we stayed.
SF, CA USA 10/18/00
This should be Ugly travelers sightings, In my 3 weeks 4 countries
I saw all nationalities acting bad/rude/crabby whatever word you'd like
to use. Pushy people walking around an obvious line of people waiting
to go to front to say "Oh I have a question" Hello line of people with
questions wait your turn. People being loud complaining why don't they
speak our language - Hello again your in their country not vise versa.
I don't speak any languages well and managed with a smile and an attempt
at the language, and if anyone was rude it was not to my face which is
all that really matters (at least to me)! And I'm sorry to say the tour
groups that I encountered were large and loud. When the sign in the Church
says "Silence please" that's what it means. I won't let people like this
keep me from traveling but I will walk the other direction a little faster
to get away when I see them coming.
Just got back from Italy. UP's are everywhere (Ugly People). At Vivoli's
in Florence at a particularly crowded moment, a group of about 6 or 7
elderly Italian women (locals ?) came in shoving and elbowing their way
everywhere - to the counter to pay, and then to the gelato bar to get
their selections. After my shock at their rudeness wore off, I asked myself
if this was a learned behavior resulting from the many tourists who probably
frequent this place (many of course are the Rick Steve faithful...), or
just some rude old women. Maybe a little bit of both... On another day,
in true UA fashion, I listened as an older American guy kept asking the
waiter why he couldn't get any "american" coffee. After a while of this
guys' rantings, the waiter grabbed the coffee off of the table and left
this guy sitting there dumbfounded. :~)
Denver, CO USA 10/05/00
Bless you M.D.! A long overdue sentiment. My husband and I spend
a lot of time in the Rochester/ Buffalo area on weekends shopping, and
often visit our son at school in San Francisco, and I find--like you said--that
all types inhabit all countries. The vast majority of Americans are charming,
Toronto, Canada 10/04/00
As a Canadian, I am so sick of our holier-than-thou attitude towards
Americans. I find that this attitude is usually displayed by those Canadians
who have rarely if ever been to the US. I have spent a lot of time in
the States, and firmly believe that there are all types in every country.
As for the 'Ugly American' stereotype in Europe, for every UA, there's
usually an Ugly Canadian not far behind. Let's try to accept the differences
and recognize the similarities more often...
Vancouver, BC CAN 10/03/00
Shonah - Regarding Mr. Ugly American in Florence. I sat
next to this guy in the south of France last year. You know what the problem
is? Rick Steves and ETBD. Hear me out. I read Rick's books and watch his
show. So do you and millions of others. Most like his philosophy on travel
and share his idea that good travel is not about how much you spend, but
about how you enjoy your visit. The problem is there is a small portion
of his readers who have heard that Rick's books will save you some money
and put you right where the perfect sights are in Europe. We have all
seen them. The person reading 'Mona Winks' line for line walking through
the museums ignoring the art, the couple with Rick's book under their
arm bellowing about "how hard it is to get an ice cold Coke in France"
and the guy waving a Rick book under a desk clerk's nose demanding his
10% off as "promised" by Rick. Good ideas and great finds like Ricks'
are not secret for long nor are Rick's books allowd only for those with
the decency and respect for other people, cultures and languages. That
character we have dealt with most likely has a copy of Rick's book in
his daybag or in his hotel room. Unfortunately, that is the price of success.
This was a travel feature (group tour, University of AR - Tuscany)
in the Fall 2000 "Arkansas" magazine. I'm not an Arkansas native although
I live here, and I could just IMAGINE this... From the article "A Tuscan
Adventure:" "The Alumni College in Tuscany was shared with alumni from
Louisiana State U. After completing a particulularly boisterous excursion,
one of their number shouted, 'All you Arkansas hooligans to the back of
the bus: you're having entirely too much fun.' There was nothing left
to do buy 'Call Those Hogs!' ["Calling the hogs" is a particularly loud,
obnoxious Razorbacks football fan's cheer ... Soooo-eeee Pigs!] Call the
Hogs we did -- at every opportunity. [Name] enjoyed being the head cheerleader.
By the time we departed, the hotel staff, our College hosts, and even
the bus driver were indoctrinated."
Hope, AR USA 09/29/00
My main objection to American tourists' anti-smoking mindset is that
it often generates the same loud and obnoxious "Ugly American" complaint
mechanisms. Last year in Europe when I encountered loud Americans complaining
about smoke, I found it about as annoying as loud Americans complaining
about no ice in their drinks.
In Musee D'orsay, with signs all over with circles and lines through
Flash Cameras, a woman was taking pictures with a flash. I shot her an
ugly look and her response, with an American twang, was, "It doesn't turn
off" - I shot back with "guess postcards will have to do."
I spent a summer in Strasbourg, France,
with four other Americans. We all attended a language school during the
day to build our business language skills. Students at the school came
from all over the world: Italy, Germany, Japan, Croatia, Spain, etc. Two
of American girls in our group were incredibly diet-conscious, Type A
personalities. They would forgo hanging out with all of the other students
in their never-ending quest to find "healthy" food in France. They would
complain incessently about their lodging situations, prices, and the lack
of a decent gym in town. One of the two of them wouldn't even try to speak
French outside of the classroom. As a result, most of the other students
classified them as UA's. Pretty pathetic.
Santa Monica, CA USA 09/12/00
I am an Englishman who travels a great deal. The 'Ugly American' scenario is horribly unfair but there are two areas that can improve one's image:
1. Don't assume that you will be able to use dollars everywhere in Europe. An irritating, frequent situation occurs when you are in a queue to pay for goods at an airport shop and the guy in front hands a $100 bill to the assistant, who accepts it and gives change in local currency. So far so good, but what really anoys is when the American insists that they receive change in USA currency. Hey, come on, guys, if you haven't got local money, use plastic--Mastercard and Visa are universally accepted in airports.
2. If you rent a car in Britain, Ireland or Malta, where they drive on the lefthand side and use stick shifts, get one of the staff to give you a quick guide to the layout of the controls. It saves a lot of potentially dangerous situations.
Having said all of that, the real problem you guys face is that you are coming from the MOST developed nation on earth, thus when you travel abroad you will inevitably have to face a reduction in facilities (plumbing, transport, commerce and education to name but a few). You will also be noted by your accents and will be targeted as easy marks for a ripoff - hardly an 'Ugly American' scenario, more an 'Ugly European' one (e.g., British taxis, British pubs, Greek hotels).
One final thing: it is natural (and utterly correct) for Americans to expect equal rights for all, irrespective of gender. However, in Portugal and Turkey and many other countries in Europe you can kiss that concept goodbye as soon as you land--it's wrong, but please be aware that in some countries women are seen as inferiour to men.
Nottingham, England 09/06/00
Brava, Nina! I, too, have been bugged by the "Ugly American" label,
since ugliness spans the globe. It's all about politeness, respect, and
self-awareness. It shouldn't be about hiding the fact that you're American.
If you're not self-absorbed and have a modicum of couth, travel can be
Rochester, NY USA 09/05/00
Before I started to travel, I bought into the "ugly American" thing. I read how not to look or act like an American, in the hopes that I could assimilate into whatever country I was in.
Now that I have traveled extensively, I have seen numerous "uglies"--French, German, Japanese, American, etc. I am no longer ashamed that I look like an American, but yes, I am still embarrased by loud speaking and acting Americans. Yes, I look the other way and make a point of speaking softly. BUT I am what I am...I have been lucky enough to make many foreign aquaintances on my trips. People gravitate towards me because of the fact that I am an American and because I am polite. They are anxious to ask questions about our life here and to relate stories of their travels here, or perhaps to thank us for helping their families during WWII.
I am very vocal towards what I perceive as governmental injustices
here, but when I travel, I am not embarrassed to be seen as an American,
albeit a polite, well-mannered one.
San Francisco, CA USA 09/03/00
"First time in Europe" has an excellent analysis of the ugly tourist
I'm just back from 2 months in Europe and I didn't notice Americans
being particularly awful. Traveling is stressful and I saw people reacting
badly under stress, and people with amazing class who were able to bear
the stress gracefully. The main friction between Americans and Europeans
seems to be the inevitable conflict of mixing a monolingual culture with
a multilingual culture. For a European it would indeed be arrogant to
assume your language was the dominant one. For most Americans a foreign
language is a novelty and it is easy to lapse into English when you are
tired or pressured. Several times I talked to Europeans who were irritated
by an American's cultural clumsiness and they were all reacting as if
the American was a European from a different country--they assumed arrogance
was the problem. It was difficult to explain how you could grow up in
the U.S. without ever speaking to anyone in another language. They found
it hard to believe.
I'm afraid I was guilty of being an Ugly American at least once while
living in Europe. Several people from our base had gone on an incredible
"Rhine Aflame" cruise on the 4th of July. There were the most beautiful
fireworks shooting from every castle. What a wonderful experience! Anyway,
after ? number of Weizen Beers, I am afraid I stood up (with coaching
from my friends) and belted out the National Anthem in honor of our Independance
Day. Luckily, our newfound German friends all applauded and laughed. It
was fun at the time, but I have to grimace when I recall it now.
When we were at Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guards, there were some college kids talking loudly of drinking beer day and night, and how they couldn't stand the heat, and on and on about wishing they were somewhere else. I'm around the same age they were and it was very disturbing to learn firsthand why people think of Americans overseas the way they do.
I also saw an American family in a small shop in Venice ask the elderly
shopkeeper how much everything was "in American" and do they take credit
cards because that was the only thing they had--not attempting to speak
Italian at all. I'd read in Rrick Steves it is rude for Americans to
use the word "ciao" because it is used between close and personal friends,
but the American woman was even saying to her baby, "Come on, say 'ciao,'
say 'ciao,'" and she and her husband kept saying it, I guess being the
only word they knew in italian.
nashville, tn USA 08/18/00
I live in central London and we have many tourists, especially in
the summer. I can honestly say that I have found Americans to be uniformly
polite and pleasant people while visiting. They are very welcome!
London, Mdx UK 08/17/00
Because we've been devotees of Rick's philosophy of wrapping yourselves in the local ambience and of being polite, appreciative guests, all of our "Euroventures" have been happy, rewarding experiences. Yes...even in Paris. We took the time to learn basic, polite French and to research things a bit. This rewarded us greatly and helped a tiny bit to show that all Americans don't have to be "ugly."
So, in London, what a shock it was when a group of Americans in front
of us in a queue were trying to pay for their lunch and kidding (loudly)
about the British coins, pounds and pence and so on, and yelling that
they "still don't understand all their complicated money" but added
that "inventing dollars and cents" was the best thing "we" ever did
for "them." It'd be different if it was funny, but everyone around just
John L. Smith
Valrico, FL USA 08/07/00
Does anyone have any ideas on how to tactfully tell the wannabe art
critics of the world to stop? It doesn't matter what country or what museum
you're in. There are people who stand completely in front of the art and
refuse to move, so you can't possibly get a good view. Then there are
the people who LOUDLY criticize the artist or tell the rest of the museum
what the artist was trying to portray--often incorrectly. I know I could
ignore them, but...
Down in front!
My wife and I visited London and stayed in very small B & B on Hugh St. near Victoria Station. We often went down to the corner pub to relax and get some great pub grub. One night three couples came in and sat at the table near us. We were sharing with each other about the sights that we have seen and giving each other bits of advice. This was all fine until they found out that we were from Nebraska. Well, I'm a Nebraska football fan as much as the next guy. But at least I don't go around singing the Nebraska fight song in a pub in a foreign country. But that's what happened when I went to the bar to get my wife and myself another drink. While at the bar they started singing and the pub patrons all stared. Needless to say when I got back with our drinks, my wife was ready to leave.
My wife and I try not to be obvious that we are tourists. It is more
fun just to sit back and watch and enjoy a different culture.
Weeping Water, NE USA 08/06/00
On a train ride from Austria to Munich, two 19-year-old Californians were engaging a German woman and her teenage daughter in a conversation about American pop culture. The boys were very proud of the fact that they think American Pie and such movies were great. They were also equally proud of how they had been on the train from Barcelona to Munich for the last 20-odd hours, with practically no money for food, but they always had money for beer. We were sitting across from a German physicist who obviously understood every word, and was trying to work on the train, and we were so embarrassed by their behaviour that we tried not look the physicist in the eyes every time he was interrupted by the noise.
I am Canadian, and before our trip, we sewed Canadian flags onto our
bags, but we took them off after the first week in Paris, because the
way some Canadians behave in public was also quite embarrassing. So
ugliness is by no means just an American phenomenon. In fact, we have
met many just as ugly Germans, Italians, etc. It's only because whenever
one hears a loud English speaker, one automatically assumes it's an
Toronto, ON Canada 07/26/00
The ugliest Americans I ever saw: On the
train from Genoa to Nice, a guy in FIRST class cut his fingernails. Then
cut his toenails. His girlfriend/wife sat and said nothing. Please, how
utterly disgusting. I pretended to be Italian.
I'd like to nominate America's Dulles International Airport as one
giant "Ugly American." I've used this airport for a half a dozen international
flights and I am always offended that there are NO signs in other languages
to steer foreign tourists to the proper places - not even "WELCOME." In
the smallest Italian town, train station, etc., I found multiple languages
on phones, signs, shops, restaurants, government and private enterprise
alike, AND Italians willing to commuicate for the small price of courtesy.
If our government and the major ports of entry into the USA are unconcerned
about the communications needs of visitors, how can we expect our citizens
to also be better ambassadors?
Silver Spring, MD USA 07/21/00
We had the same experience at the Sistine Chapel that Julia did (below),
with people talking, taking pictures, etc. I won't pretend that it wasn't
irritating, but, at the same time, I didn't allow it to ruin my time there.
At some point you just have to block out the distractions as best you
can and focus on what you came so far to see.
CA USA 07/21/00
In Rome, of course one of our first stops was the Vatican Museum
to see the Sistine Chapel and DaVinci's restored frescoes. Well, I would
like to have said they were beautiful, but I hardly noticed because I
was so mad. There were many, many signs, in many, many languages saying
SILENCE, and NO PHOTOS. But people were talking, very loudly. Finally,
an employee came on over a microphone and said "SSHH, Silenzio." That
worked for about 30 seconds. Eventually, people just ignored the pleas
for respectful silence, and jabbered away. I went around and shushed people,
and even put my face right up to theirs and put my finger to my lips,
but after awhile I had to leave; I was just SO ANGRY. I don't understand
people who are so disrespectful! It made me want to cry after a while...
Oakland, CA USA 07/13/00
I almost pulled a UA myself a few years ago, but I caught myself in the process.
My parents and I were in Paris (I being the only one who spoke French), stuck in a midnight rainstorm looking for a metro station. I spotted a man taking shelter from the rain and was sent over to get directions. "Excuse me, do you know where the metro is?" No response. "Is there a metro near here?" The man just shrugged his shoulders. "Ou est le metro?" At that the man responded, "Oh, it's over that way two blocks."
A bit bemused, we found our way to the metro station with no problem
Seattle, WA USA 07/12/00
Ugliness is not limited to Americans,
I'm afraid. While I was doing some spring hiking above Zermatt, I met
an interesting Swiss woman. We had a good conversation while we hiked
back down and decided to have lunch at a Zermatt restaurant. While the
waiter was obviously not a native speaker, he spoke good German by my
admittedly foreign ears. I was mortified when my companion became quite
irritated and started speaking English to the waiter very loudly. After
this surprising display, I noticed on several occasions other Swiss being
quite rude to non-Swiss wait staff, much as Parisian waiters were reputed
to treat non-French tourists years ago. I admonish people of all nationalities
to be more tolerant of foriegners, be they immigrants or tourists.
Belmont, MA USA 07/09/00
I agree with earlier postings about the horrid American college kids
in Cinque Terre. We visited in the last week of June, and my husband and
I were appalled at the loutish behavior of most of the college-age kids
visiting this region. In general, most of them seemed to think that they
were vacationing in Fort Lauderdale or Ocean City, MD. They made absolutely
no effort to speak Italian (one woman walked into a restaurant and when
her waiter greeted her, her only reply to him was a loud, "Do you speak
English?"), and they drank far too much. The residents told us on several
occasions that they are sick of Americans, and I don't blame them one
bit after observing these backpackers.
San Francisco, USA 07/07/00
Ugly Americans? I went to the Disneylandish World Expo in Hannover and found the young teenagers were more aggressive than those in the US. On our two shuttle buses, they pushed three old couples out of the way on the shuttle bus, even knocking an elderly lady over. I was able to grab the doors on the third bus and hold off the crowd enough to allow the three couples to enter and be seated.
I got on the bus which was then swarmed by kids. They almost crushed each other. I was quiet but got a nice German thank-you from one of the ladies (as well as someone to visit in Augsburg). Then it happened: THE TEENS WERE AMERICANS and talking in English about how rude I was. I asked them where they were from when we left the bus. It turned out they were from Salem, Oregon. They were over on a cultural exchange tour. I'd thought they were German and they thought me to be German as well.
It made a lasting impression on me. I was already developing a first impression and prejudice about German teens...How wrong we can be. I learned the importance of being polite, courteous and NOT introducing yourself as an American.
It has been a long time since I have been so humbled.
P.S. If you love cars, go to Volkswagen's Autostadt in Wolfsburg,
Germany (www.autostadt.de)--the best I have seen in the world. Don't
miss the museum. A wonderful car lover's paradise. Takes a full day.
Bend, OR USA 07/06/00
I love these postings! I know that Ugly Travelers aren't always Americans, but when they are it's so disheartening.
My husband and I just got back from six weeks in Spain, where we cycled the Camino de Santiago. My worst memory has to do with a group of American college students. One day as we were riding along, we came across a small purse and inside was an American passport belonging to a 20-year-old girl from Connecticut. At the first pilgrim's refuge we came to, we left it with the fellow in charge because we know what a trauma it can be to lose your passport.
A couple of days later, in a town called Sahagun, we were in the pilgrim's refuge when I saw the girl who had lost her passport. I greeted her and asked if she received her passport, as we were the ones who had found it. She just looked at me and grunted, "Yeah," and walked away.
A few hours later, my husband and I stopped in at a restaurant with some other pilgrims and there were only two tables set up: one for four and another for about 15 or 16. The small table was empty, but the long table had five or six people at it--the American college kids. Our group of five took the smaller table and since we were short a chair I asked the kids if we could borrow one of their chairs until all of their group arrived. They refused, saying that everyone was going to show up any minute. Okay. Fine. I can accept that. So I sat on my husband's knee for 40 minutes. In all that time, the American kids still had two chairs empty and did not offer to lend a chair even for three seconds.
It was really sad to see, especially from fellow pilgrims. With their
arrogant sense of entitlement and insular ways it's no wonder the stereotype
of ugly traveler abounds.
Toronto, Canada 07/06/00
This past May, two friends and I were having dinner at a fine restaurant in Monterosso, Italy. Behind us was a table of Americans, led by a loud, demanding older woman (who also happened to be staying at the same hotel as we were). She is from San Francisco and boasted of running a cooking school there. These other people with her were students on a cooking adventure.
Shortly after we were seated, we overheard her call the waiter over. She said, "When I make this sauce, these are my ingredients..." and told him how his cook should have made the sauce. The audacity! She even demanded to see the cook in the kitchen! When the waiter wouldn't comply, she accused him of having a New York attitude (having overheard him tell us that his good English was from having lived in New York for a couple of years), and demanded to see the owner. He did a swirl and a low bow and when he stood up, he announced that he was, indeed, the owner!
That almost tongue-tied this woman, but not quite. She continued complaining about the food and the service and soon had her companions complaining as well. By the way, our food was wonderful! But then, we were open to experiencing the regional cuisine, not imposing our methods on them.
At last, I could stand no more, and told this woman that she had given me the best laugh of the day with her ridiculous behavior, adding that I thought she should be ashamed to call herself an American, and I hoped that the rest of us would not be judged by her crowd's obnoxious behavior. Well, after I said that, a couple sitting a few seats away from us began to applaud; they were from New York and were offended by the rude American's comment on the "New York attitude!"
The owner was so grateful for our support that he brought out the lemoncella liqueur and passed it around our side of the veranda, free of charge.
And guess what? This "cooking school teacher" was carrying a Rick
Steves guidebook to Italy. Evidently she didn't read the part about
respecting the country you're visiting. She deserved the Ugly American
award for the entire month of May!
Elgin, IL USA 07/05/00
Just returned from three weeks in Europe. In Bath, England at Sally Lunn's (a tea house), a lady near us complained to the manager that her chicken salad was "not what she expected." She complained until she didn't have to pay. I was so embarassed! Of course it was not what she expected--I travel to enjoy the differences and diversities!
Then in Florence, Italy off the Ponte Vecchio behind the Uffizi Gallery
I saw two scooters crash amidst many pedestrians. We rushed up to help
- then were mortified to hear them speaking English! It was a man and
woman (a couple) who had crashed into each other--and they did not know
how to drive scooters! They were learning in Italy of all places! These
inconsiderate individuals could have really hurt someone. They were
in crowds of people! They were not hurt, but the scooters were damaged.
Don't be stupid by renting scooters in Europe, especially in Italy.
The traffic is much different.
We also began gawking at the atrociousness
of the way some Americans acted (we began passing ourselves off as Canadians
if anyone asked). But we were especially appalled at what we saw in Riomaggiore,
in the Cinque Terre: upon arriving at our beautiful apartment overlooking
the main street, Ugly Americans -- mostly late 20-ish football-player
looking guys who would hang out all day at the local Bar Centrale -- would
command the attention of everyone passing by as they hooted at the local
women, smashed beer glasses on the road, broke flower pots outside of
private homes and harangued the locals. As 21-year old Northern Californian
travellers ourselves, we felt embarrassed and tried to distance ourselves
from the Ugly American tourists as much as possible. In Italian, we would
try to apologize to the shopkeepers, the post-office clerks and anyone
else who were recently harrassed by the "Frat Boys" as we called them.
As Riomaggiore is one of the most magical and intimate towns in Italy,
it was very saddening to witness a visual and aural stampede of people
who did not respect the idea of a quiet fishing village nor the locals
who open their doors and their culture to others. It was a lesson in how
entitled us Americans believe we are when it comes to other customs and
cultures; instead of embracing the differences, some of us crap all over
Berkeley, CA USA 06/27/00
This isn't ugly but kind of cute and out of place. On a streetin
Madrid last March so a sixty or so couple looking a little lost and amazed
by their surroundings wearing a matching pair of the whitest boat shoes
that I had every seen. If this was every a beaon for every pickpocket
in the area, this was it.
Denver, CO USA 06/27/00
In terms of ugly American sightings, there are many to be found in
the Old town of Salzburg, as well as in the fortress above the town. One
woman in the fortress was complaining about the staircases, and yelling
very loudly that there should be some elevators. A fifteen year old girl
walked up to a clerk, handed her audio tour receiver to the clerk, and
said it was the most boring thing she had ever heard. There was a man
who climbed the columns in the concert room to pose for a picture. I loved
the place, but it was one of those moments I wished I was alone there
to enjoy the castle.
Ellensburg, WA USA 06/26/00
I saw a young, pierced American couple doing essentially the same thing--mugging for photos in an empty confessional, and then taking a photograph of a penirent confessing his sins. One of the young men who volunteers in the Archbasilica saw this, and called the gendarme on duty over. They escorted the young couple out (despite their protests that they were American, and that "you can't kick someone out of a Church") and cautioned them that if they returned again, they would be arrested.
Another time I saw a different American couple go up to the Swiss
Guard on duty near the Gate of the Bells (to the left of the Archbasilica).
He crossed the barrier, and despite the Guard yelling "Alto! Stop! Halten-sie!"
marched up to the guard and tried to pose with him for a picture! The
guard (wisely) seized the 'gentleman' by the arm and hustled him through
the archway, out of sight. He then assumed a new stance outside the
guard hut and in the archway, kind of a new defensive posture. Soon,
two more swiss guards in navy fatigues joined him. After about half-an-hour,
during which the man's wife (or whatever) sobbed, wailed, and threatened
to go to the US embassy, he finally emerged, escorted by four or five
of the Vatican gendarmes (police). They were taken to the Italian border
near the via del Consolazione. I followed, and heard them give him a
lecture about respecting barriers. The Swiss Guards aren't total hardheads,
I have seen them comfort and direct to the proper authorities lost children,
help a fallen elderly woman, and come back after they were"off duty"
to take a picture with a particularly polite and patient group of tourists.
St. Louis, MO USA 06/20/00
One way of avoiding being ugly- ask the natives in their language
whether they speak English before launching into a request. Imagine how
you would feel if you were frequently approached in your hometown by foreigners
who expect you to speak their language.
Menlo Park, CA USA 06/16/00
In Italy, I got to witness an "Ugly American" first hand. I was making
my way around St. Peter's Basilica and saw a middle aged woman posing
in one of the confessionals on her knees with a big cheesy smile and asking
her compainion if the "got" the "perfect shot" with their camera. I was
totally apalled at their lack of due respect while in a church as was
a group of european tourists nearby.
Columbia, SC USA 06/14/00
I remember reading that prior to the U.S. recession in the early
1990's, you could practically count on dismissive and snobbish attitudes
from the French. After the recession they realized just how much of their
livelihoods were tied to American tourism dollars, and the attitudes took
a 180 degree turn.
Salt Lake City, USA 06/13/00
I agree with many that the French get a bum rap. Before I went to
France, I learned as much French as my southern drawl could handle-really
basic stuff. I know I mangled the language. But everywhere the French
were charming. I remember my first day, stopping at a local cafe in Rethel.
I had mastered how to order but forgotten the money part. No problem.
The owner and locals were wonderful, there, and everywhere I went in France.
The people in Normandy love Americans, just give them a chance. Just learning
some basic phrases and courtesy gets one a long way. The only uglies I
saw were the British in Brugge, Belguim who refused to use even the basic
phrases although it was obvious they traveled to the area often. I was
embarrassed standing in the same line with them.
Springfield, Mo USA 06/13/00
As a native Spanish speaking Mexican-American I can vouch that although
Spanish and Italian are two completely different languages they are similar
enough to convey simple communication often times words are only a little
different. I once roomed with 3 Italian speakers and when they conversed
among themselves I could listen to their conversations and keep up with
what they were saying. I couldn't jump in and gab along, but I knew what
was roughly going on. I have had similar experiences with a couple other
latin-based languages as well.
CA USA 06/05/00
In Great Britain, the two fingers up, palm facing the gesturer is
the equivalent of the third-finger salute in the US, if memory serves--in
other words, it's quite rude!
You gotta cringe when you hear Americans (or anyone) using Spanish
in Italy because it's "close enough." I still laugh about this frustrated
young woman trying to buy a train ticket.
Voglio ain't yo quiero
On our last night in Holland we were having dinner in Haarlem at
Rick's recommended Nanking Restaurant. My husband and I were sitting at
a window table, and soon, I notice a group of locals in the doorway of
the bar across the street. They were laughing and looking right at us.
My first thought is that it's just a coincidence as we're not lugging
around cameras, wearing distinctive clothing, etc. One guy walks across
the street into the restaurant apparently just to come up to us and say
"rijsttavel, eh?" (rice table or the Rick recommended dishes we were eating)
before busting up laughing and joining his friends back on the street
for more laughing and staring. Next thing, he and even more of his friends
come into the restaurant for dinner. They say something to the owner about
Americans, and she rolls her eyes. Finally, the laughing stops. Otherwise,
all the natives we encountered on our trip were wonderful and very helpful!
The most flagrant example of "UA" took place in the "Sophisticated
Traveller" insert of the April 2000 New York Times. On the last page,
there was a photo spread of various foreign currencies, with the caption
"Funny Money." The gist of the spread was, with the introduction of the
Euro, there would be fewer examples of different currencies around the
world. The Times wanted to show examples of existant foreign currencies,
and chose examples from mostly developing countries. I understand the
rationale behind the Times pictoral sprea. However, the choice of the
expression "Funny Money" was terribly insensitive. As a resident of Canada,
I have experienced Americans refer to our currency as funny money, monopoly
money, coupons, not real money, etc. I have also heard this in Europe.
Frequently, the American will ask, "How much is this in American money?"
To the non-American ear, this is all quite demeaning. That the New York
Times would use such an expression is to say the least, unfortunate.
Nepean, ON Canada 05/31/00
I think that the ugly title can be attached to anyone any where.
If you are rude at home then you will be rude over seas. On my last trip
to Europe I ran into ugly Japanese that pust their way in front of the
crowd, ugly Canadians who wear patches so no one will think they are Americans.
But the rudest encounter we had on our travels came from a taxi driver
in Florence. It was pouring rain and we were trying to catch a train to
Venice. Now being young and backpackers we knew we didn't look like much,
but why would that stop a taxi from picking us up, after all a fare is
a fare. I would soon find out this is not true. We hailed the taxi and
he began to stop for us but when he got close enough to see we were only
wet students he shook his head and sped away splashing us with puddle
water from the road. We would have been very greatful to be picked up
out of the rain. I guess what I am trying to say is that all people can
be rude so just be mindful of others and use the good manners your mother
taught you and you will be fine.
seattle, wa USA 05/30/00
I think it's OK to ask "Do you speak English" as long as you ask
it in the language of the country that you're in (e.g. in Portugal, ask
in Portugese). They don't necessarily expect you to be able to converse
fluently in their language, just be courteous and learn some key phrases
and courtesy words. Although the Americans I ran into were indeed loud,
it was a select few fellow Canadians that embarrassed me. In one instance,
at dinner in western Algarve, the Canadian man declared loudly "Don't
go to the forts, they SUCK!" He repeated that they SUCKED a few more times,
in case the entire restaurant hadn't heard the first time. The other time,
a couple that I met just kept saying how everyhing in Porugal was not
that great, different from Canada (duh!), etc. They were nice people but,
why are they in another country if they don't like 'different'?
"Don't touch the fruit." That's what the sign read in 3 different
languages outside a fruit stand in Venice. But the Ugly American Tour
Group wearing matching bright yellow hats insisted on molesting all the
fruit they could get their hands on. When the store keeper started screaming
some choice Italian curses at them they were offended. I'm sure they went
home and spread rumors about how nasty the Italians are.
Oakhurst, NJ USA 05/26/00
I've been lucky enough to visit Europe several times, but my visits
have been limited to English and French-speaking countries. I'm very comfortable
with both languages and try to be as open as possible to the culture and
customs of wherever I'm traveling. On my next trip, however, I plan to
visit Italy, Spain and Germany. I always cringe when I see Americans in
Paris saying, "Do you speak English?!" to retailers and servers, etc.
Madison, WI USA 05/24/00
A word to all, please read all of Rick's books regarding customs, dress and mannerisms of the country you are visiting before leaving. My stories:
1 - In Arles, the woman who talked with the megaphone voice in the
Hotel Calendal. Among her choice lines, screaming "Oh Mad-mo-zelle!"
to the servers in the dining room and proclaiming to everyone that her
family's bill was over 50'000 FF. "Bernie go to an ATM, I only have
21,000 FF!" (After she left, the staff laughed but shook their heads
at this party who had "more money than sense". They were clearly insulted
2 - The man on Rue Cler who thanked the French merchant by pronouncing m'erci as "mercy". It only takes five minutes to learn to say a few key words correctly and only one instance to butcher them without trying.
Fort Worth , TX USA 05/19/00
While I enjoyed, in a perverse way, the
discussion of an American couple regarding the non-existence of bagels
in Paris (this after his comment about that "long skinny bread" being
"like the national bread or something"), they did get points for being
polite & trying, even if they did mispronounce all things French.
San Jose, CA USA 05/11/00
I witnessed an American family at a car
rental agency in Hamburg. There was an awesome selection of BMW's, Opels
and Volkswagens to pick from but the family insisted on an SUV. When the
agent explained they do not rent trucks in Germany, the American family
was baffled and said they'd try another agency. The clerks behind the
counter and I had a good laugh after I explained that some Americans must
think their big gas-guzzling trucks are better than a BMW for taking on
the Autobahn. I hope they stayed out of the fast lane.
Toronto, Canada 04/25/00
Last summer my family and I went on a cruise. When we were having
dinner our server asked if anyone would like something from the bar. My
brother ordered a drink, but his wife yelled at him and they started fighting
about it. The whole time the poor lady just stood there smiling politely.
Also on our first night on the ship they got into a horrible fight. Our
room was right next door so we could hear the whole thing. My mother had
to finally go to their room and tell them to stop before we got thrown
off the ship. It's bad enough to see UAs, but worse still when they're
related to you!
Lynchburg, VA USA 04/21/00
I had a UA sighting in London just a couple weeks ago at the Victoria
& Albert Museum. I wouldn't describe it as "horrifying," but it made me
uncomfortable. In the jewelry exhibit, an American woman insisted on commenting
on every display at the top of her lungs: "Now look at that necklace.
Looks like they didn't know what color to use so they used them all. Looks
like Mardi Gras," and, "Look at that coral. Whaddaya mean you don't like
orange? You MUST love orange. I just don't understand you," etc. etc.
But what really made me cringe was her parting comment: "I just don't
see anything inspiring here. I thought I was going to get some ideas for
my bead projects at home, but it's just not gonna happen at this place!"
I guess it takes more than one of the finest collections of jewelry in
the world to inspire "bead projects." She made my stomach hurt.
Chicago, USA 04/18/00
Actually, my experience is with the beautiful French (BF, I guess).
I was in a patisserie in Lyon, trying to order some pain au chocolat in
my broken french. When I used the informal "tu" form instead of the more
appropriate "vous," I caught myself and apologized. The clerk countered
by saying with a warm smile, "ce n'est pas grave," more or less "it's
not important." She immediately put me at ease and made me more comfortable
about using my pathetic French. A few days later in Paris, I was enjoying
a meal with my wife when the mussels were brought out. Faced with a wide
array of utensils, I was confused about which to use. The waiter must
have sensed this and very discreetly came up behind me and pointed out
the appropriate fork to use. Those French get a bum rap, and helped me
avoid becoming a UA!
Havre de Grace, MD USA 04/12/00
When I was in the Cinque Terre I ran into a number of young Americans
who decided to wear a Canadian flag on their packs, "just in case." Just
in case of what? They were still loud and set themselves off as Americans;
they talked with everyone about why they were wearing the Maple Leaf instead
of the USA flag. They didn't fool anyone, and made a mockery of themselves.
I asked one of them if he ran into serious trouble, which government he
was going to call upon for assistance. He said, very loudly, "USA, man!"
I smirked at him, and he later took off the maple leaf. He probably put
it back on when he got on the train the next day. You know, "just in case."
Portland, OR USA 04/06/00
For Jim who thought the American military were a UA problem I must
say he is way off base (pardon the pun). The US military presence overseas
which includes their families totals in excess of 300,000 people or a
city the size of Raleigh NC/Tacoma WA. Proportionally the number and type
of these crimes is far less in military communities than for a similar
sized population of civilians (and the family members are civilians).
As for the horrible incident with the US teenagers in Darmstadt, how often
do we Americans tolerate this type of foolishness here in the States?
Throwing rocks off bridges (and other senseless acts of violence) occur
with great frequency causing numerous injuries and deaths. In our violence-numbed
society it is not even bad enough to make the evening news until it occurs
at a military base overseas. Our military people overseas are a reflection
of the society they come from. So long as our society tolerates gun violence,
gangs, harmful pranks, and general lawlessness, we will continue to witness
these tragedies whether they are here at home or at an overseas military
Flagstaff, AZ USA 03/16/00
My own husband did an "ugly American" thing once. He speaks fluent French but as he rarely uses it, is uncomfortable pronouncing it as he is a total perfectionist and fears he may have a bad accent.
We were in a food bar in Strasbourg and he spoke to the clerk only
in English. Later while we were waiting, some French customer happened
to speak to my husband and he replied in French and they spoke a bit.
Well, the clerk overheard this and she looked livid! When she called
our order she very sharply said, "You speak French well..why did you
make me speak English?" and he said, "Well, it's easier for me." He
has never gotten it when I have told him I was on her side and thought
he was rude. After all, he was in France and speaks French well...why
force clerks to stumble with rough English?
After 9 visits to Europe, taking over 800 American tourists, I can honestly say that France seems to be the friendliest, with Belgium a close second. This is a general opinion but I feel that it is needed because France seems to take an unfair beating by far too many Americans. France has been our friend and ally since the American Revolution. Learn some basic French before you go and you will see how much you enjoy France (and always greet in French, THEN ask if English is spoken).
All of us Americans need to stop talking so LOUDLY in Europe and Canada.
Let's start demonstrating that quiet class they do. It seems that there
are more and more big-mouth Americans in Europe, and the quiet, classy
Americans are often mistaken for Europeans.
Green Bay, Wi USA 03/09/00
The ultimate Ugly American stories are the reports of crimes committed
by US military, or their kids, overseas. Do they seem to be increasing,
or are they now reported more often rather than being covered up? 2 military
kids arrested in Germany after tossing boulders on to the Autobahn, killing
at least 2 people; a US serviceman arrested in Kosovo for raping and killing
a teenage girl; 3 servicemen convicted on Okinawa for raping a 12 year-old
girl; bad behavior in general by US military and their children in the
areas surrounding US bases. Our military seem to be better trained than
ever when it comes to using high-tech weapons; are they getting cultural
training to match? I'm aware that the majority of our military overseas
don't do these things, but (just as with tourists) a few incidents do
a lot of damage. (Of course, the real debate is whether we should even
be there--but this isn't the Foreign Policy discussion board!)
CO USA 03/08/00
I am an American who likes to travel inconspicuously, and show respect for other cultures. I learn as much of a language as possible when I visit a country, so I can speak to people on their terms, not mine. Usually, this works well. However, when I was in Italy, it kind of backfired.
I went into a small alimentari, stepped up to the counter, and since I wanted two bananas, I said "due banane, per favore." The shopkeeper had no idea what I was talking about. "Due...due banane? Ba...na...ne???" I said, trying various pronunciations of the words. "Due banane?" The shopkeeper still looked puzzled and obviously had no idea what I was talking about. Finally, I gave up, pointed at the bananas, and held up my thumb and index finger to indicate two.
"Ah! Due banane!" he said, pronouncing it exactly like I had.
To this day I still have not figured out whether he was funning me
or whether there was some ultrasubtle difference in pronunciation.
Morton T. Heidbecker
MO USA 03/07/00
We were having coffee and a snack in a small out-of-the-way cafe.
I am fluent in Italian, and was trying to teach Brian some conversational
phrases. Not too many people were in the cafe at the time and the owner
(I presume) came over to us, obviously amused by his horrible pronunciation.
He and I were talking when an Amercan couple came in and asked the owner
for directions (in English). The owner, who barely had knowledge of English,
shrugged his shoulders and shook his head and looked towards me. I was
about to say somethng to the couple when the American man said in frustration
(I guess he didn't have luck finding directions earlier), "What the F--k!
Don't any of these f--king idiots speak a word of f--cking English? Jesus
Christ! What is the matter with these people?!" Shocked at the horrible
display of cultural ignorance and rudeness, I looked at the man and said,
"Guardare che cosa voi dicono, non conoscete mai chi puņ capirlo!" The
man looked at me with a questioning look. I looked him straight in eye
and translated, "Watch what you say, you never know who can understand
you." He then looked at me and then his wife, grabbed her hand and stormed
out. The owner smiled at me, kissed me on the cheek and later refused
our money when we went to pay.
NYC, NY USA 02/24/00
After living in Europe since 1993 I have
encountered a few UA's. I have also seen UB's and UG's. I think the funniest
were the two flashy wealthy couples who entered a small Italian deli in
a residential area in Pisa. We were passing through, driving from Nice
to Venice, taking our time, etc. These four entered the small shop and
begin to demand "real coffee," not that "eexspresso stuff." The shopkeeper,
who had been helping us buy some really nice wines (cheap too) was struggling
as his entire vocabulary of English phrases was "please" and "thank you."
These were phrases that neither of the two couples seemed to know in any
language. The shopkeeper showed them a 250-gram "brick" of regular ground
filter coffee. Our UA's sneered at the shopkeeper, let out one more "no
eexpresso" bellow and turned on their heels. We waited until they left
and then faced the somewhat perplexed shopkeeper. He had shown them the
filter coffee, but they were too stupid to look. We shrugged and my wife
said to the shopkeeper in Italian, that not all Americans are deaf, blind
and stupid. We bought a really great bottle of Montepulciano that the
shopkeeper recommended and departed with a smile, wave and "arrivederce",
(no "ciao," since he wasn't friend or family). All of us should eat the
food, drink the drink, keep our eyes and ears open and our mouths shut.
Puerto de Santa Maria, CA Spain 02/22/00
In Rome last October, I stopped at a pizzeria neighboring the Pantheon.
While I was in line, a loud American woman came in and ordered a Coke..."and
make sure it's cold!" The signorina behind the counter handed her a large
Coke. The woman looked in the cup and exclaimed "There's no ice!" The
signorina explained, "We do not have ice, madam." "How much is this?"
demanded the woman. The signorina gave her the price in lire. The woman
replied, "How much is that in AMERICAN money?" The signorina (of course)
said she didn't know. I jumped in and said about two dollars. The American
woman shrieked, "TWO DOLLARS and there's NO ICE?" She slammed the Coke
on the counter and said, "I'm not taking that. Take it back. You'd better
learn how to treat your visitors. This is outrageous." Then she stormed
out. I said to the clerk in my elementary Italian, "Tutti gli americani
non sono come la donna" (Not all Americans are like that woman). The signorina
smiled and asked me if I was American. I said I was. She smiled again...and
handed me the Coke, refusing to take my money for it. The Ugly American
missed out on a darn cold Coke.
Atlanta, GA USA 02/19/00
My husband and I traveled to Paris a few years ago and we just came into the city on their Labor Day. We had all our luggage and wanted to see if we could store it in a locker at the airport until we found a hotel room in the city. We asked the American woman working at the American Airlines info desk where we might find a locker. She snapped at us, saying that the Paris airport didn't have lockers for security reasons. So my husband asked if she knew of anywhere we might be able to get a room. Again in a harsh tone, "This is Labor Day and all the hotels are probably booked for the holiday. You'll be lucky to find a place." Well, my husband and I had used the Thomas Cook agency before to make reservations in England so he thought if we could find a Thomas Cook office maybe they could help us find a room. Anything would've been more helpful than this woman. So he asked if she knew where a Thomas Cook office was and she replied, "This isn't the States, you know!" We told her we had never seen a Thomas Cook in the States, that we actually had used one in London and thanks for nothing!
Anyway, we did finally find a room thanks to a very kind Parisian
skycap and we were able to drop off our luggage and see the city baggage-free.
And do you know when we got to the Eiffel Tower, directly underneath
it was a Thomas Cook Agency! We thought it funny that all our lives
we have heard that the French were rude but the only rude person we
met in France was an American! Viva La France!
trophy club,, tx USA 02/19/00
Last semester I was studying abroad in
Barcelona at UPF. One weekend I decided to visit my friend who was also
studying abroad in Strasbourg. At the train station I come across an American
couple asking a passerby, "Where is the ticket office?" The passerby shrugs
his shoulders. So the man asks him again, only slower and louder, "WHERE
IS THE TICKET OFFICE?"
Boston, MA USA 02/14/00
I hate to say it but the number of UA sightings in Europe is on the rise. With the booming US economy and great exchange rates, a larger portion of the population is getting across the pond. Today's UAs seem more self-absorbed and unwilling to care about how the locals see them. That same person who blasts his car stereo, cuts you off in traffic, parks across two parking spaces, cuts in line at the store and then leaves the grocery cart in the middle of the lot is on a plane bound for London as we speak. Often they just don't know what they are doing and listen if you gently tell them what the local norms really are.
Having lived for almost 3 years near the Grand Canyon and 5 years
in Europe I can tell you Americans aren't the only ones with bad manners.
I think it all stems from ignorance and not from any form of malice.
When you get a chance to kindly explain to an ugly tourist the effect
of their actions, they more often than not are open-minded and may even
modify their behavior. As long as it is not presented in a scolding
or self-righteous manner, it can be an effective tool to help reduce
Flagstaff, AZ USA 02/06/00
Last summer while in Monterosso, Italy, I wandered into a small bar
that was just opening. Using the Rick Steves phrase book, I ordered an
espresso. The clerk told me she spoke English and asked if I'd help her
with the pronunciation of some words. I did and she helped me with my
bumbling Italian. As I sat down to enjoy my espresso, two American students
came in and asked, "Got any herbal tea?" The clerk acted like she didn't
understand and they finally just pointed to what they wanted and were
served. Had they made any attempt at all to speak the language, their
experiemce would have been totally different. Just learn "please" and
"thank you" in the local language and doors will open for you.
Lafayette, CO USA 02/04/00
I was living with my family in Rome for three years (working for
the UN.) We are on one of our many motor trips, this time to Cararra,
of marble fame. We stopped at one of the ubiquitious touristy roadside
stores. In the shop was another family with two kids, the wife busily
pecking away on a handheld calculator. Soon, in a raspy voice that carried
the entire shop we heard, "Is that forty-five dollars in 'Merican money?"
We looked at each other and slinked out of the shop.
Vancouver, WA USA 01/31/00
I have traveled to Europe twice, spending a total of six months in sixteen countries. I have certainly encountered a number of rude or ignorant Americans. But perhaps the most offensive ones are not the oafs who bumble their way through the Continent without any knowledge of history or culture--usually, these people don't mean any harm--but those who would viciously repudiate everything that is American simply because it is American.
And, not surprisingly, some Europeans and other foreign travelers are also "ugly" and far from perfect. Just a few examples: I have encountered German-speaking travelers who angrily demanded that Hungarians and Czechs speak fluent German; merchants who seem to have made the overcharging or shortchanging foreigners into official policy; Australians who simply can't function without their Vegamite for breakfast; bus tours of Italians and Frenchmen loudly rampaging through the streets of London or Paris as if they were visiting Disneyland...need I go on? Likewise, the recent Austrian and Swiss elections demonstrate how xenophobia and bigotry are far from dead on the European continent.
As American tourists, it can become all too easy to assume that Europeans are one big cute happy family, forgetting that cultural differences within Europe are frequently the subject of mockery and derision by Europeans themselves. Yet I'm glad that there is no "Ugly European," "Ugly Australian," or "Ugly Canadian" topic here. After all, what exactly would be the point of that?
I would prefer that we spent our time educating our fellow travelers
rather than castigating them for their lack of grace. I have met many
terrific people in my travels, Americans, Europeans and otherwise, and
I've found that even many of the "ugly" ones are appreciative if you
help show them the ropes. I would hope that we would travel to become
a little more enlightened, not a lot more pompous. Thanks.
Los Angeles, CA USA 01/31/00
Re: reclining seats on planes...I agree with
the person below who said that it is rude to complain about people putting
their seat back (except during meal time when trays are down). Yes,
we're all cramped in like sardines, yes, it may be 2 in the afternoon
but remember, you don't get the same bang for your buck anymore. If
you want something better you'll have to pay for 1st class. Also, why
start your trip off by getting your blood pressure up over a seat or
ending your vacation on a sour note because you don't have enough room?
I always remember what a friend used to tell me before going on holiday:
London, UK 01/25/00
Re: Frequent Flyer's comment about reclining seats... I forgot to
mention that the Dallas to London flight was at night. It's true that
flights are over-crowded, but I would never dream of being rude to someone
in front of me for reclining regardless of time of day or length of flight.
While sightseeing in the Old Town of Tallin, Estonia last summer (a beautiful
place being massively refurbished and fixed up after years of neglect
and decay), I found the Old Town deluged by 800 Holland America cruise
passengers. Overheard while gazing at a neighborhood in the early stages
of gentrification: "Why this looks like Bosnia, that I saw on the TV." I don't think present-day Tallin compares to a war-ravaged country!
Boston, MA USA 01/24/00
Regarding the last comment: to me, unless it is night, the rudest
thing a person can do is to recline their seat. With the airplanes so
crowded and the seats so close, it is miserable to sit with a seat back
at your chin.
hartford, ct USA 01/24/00
Enroute from Dallas to London, a retired couple seated behind us
were angry because we reclined our seats. In retaliation, the woman would
rattle her newspaper in my friend's ear & the man would pull a strand
of my hair. We didn't say anything because the flight was full & nowhere
In England, the walk/don't walk signs emit sounds, alerting people
when it is and is not safe to walk. During a Guide Friday bus tour in
Bath, an American woman asked the guide about the sounds. He replied that
it was for the safety of the blind. Her reply: "My God, y'all let the
blind drive over here!"
Sylvania, OH USA 01/14/00
I have to point out that we can all be ugly Americans even when our intentions are the best. I am specifically referring to those who feel it is their personal duty to impose the queue or line system on those who haven't been enlightened.
Personally, I love the neat organization of getting in line, I think it is wonderful that there are traffic rules on London escalators, and I wish Americans would learn them! However, just because I think this is the most efficient way to move people doesn't mean I have the right to go to a another country and decide that this is the only polite behavior.
So when you see someone from another country being "rude" (especially
in terms of lines) you may want to think about whether they are simply
behaving in a culturally acceptable way for them. To me, the essence
of UA is deciding that we know the "better" way of doing things. We
all need to educate ourselves on what is socially acceptable, even if
it means bunching up at a ticket booth and fighting for your turn, instead
of lining up single file. And I certainly don't suggest going to France
and teaching the French school children the right way to line up (see
Orlando, USA 01/12/00
In October we shared a very pampered week-long barge cruise with
10 other passengers. The cruise included delicious meals, interesting
sightseeing excursions, Chablis vineyard visits, and a balloon flight.
One evening of the cruise we were treated to a wonderful dinner at a 5-star
restaurant. The service there was also impeccable. The restaurant staff
met our every need. Unfortunately, one of the wait staff had a slight
case of body odor. It was noticeable, but certainly did not deter from
the dining experience. At least, we didn't think it did. At the end of
our cruise, we were asked by the captain of the barge what memories of
the trip we would take home with us. As we went around the table discussing
our adventures, the lovely scenery, the food, walks through small villages,
the fall leaves, the friends we'd made while on board, one of our fellow
passengers ruined it all. He became the UA in what was a very special
moment. According to him, his only memory would be "the waiter with body
odor!" What an impression he must have made on them. We can only hope
that our gracious hosts realize that we are not all small-minded UAs.
Sandi & Gary
Littleton, CO USA 01/06/00
this is really more stupid than "ugly:" while visiting stonehenge
with my folks, I overheard an american couple talking (loudly) about how
they believed that stonehenge was brought down and placed there by a glacier.
silloth, cu uk 01/05/00
During the time I lived in Italy, my favorite UA sighting was at
the Forum in Rome. My friends and I overheard a female (presumably American)
tourist proclaim in a loud Southern accent: "I don't understand what all
this fuss is about, it's just a bunch of RAWCKS!"
Pittsburgh, PA USA 01/04/00
I've made 4 trips to Europe and for the most part have been treated
quite well. One thing that might trigger a UA episode, however, is the
fact that many European shopkeepers do not like to make change. On each
trip (to 8 countries total), I've had my money returned and been asked
for a smaller bill. As you travelers know, sometimes it's all you can
do to figure out the exchange, let alone make smaller change! Also, if
you've just left the ATM or the exchange office/bank, you probably don't
have smaller bills. Sorry, but this frustrates those of us from the States.
We just need to recall that everyone doesn't put a premium on what we
consider "service" - this is not a slam, it's a statement of fact. So,
if you change money at the bank, ask for smaller bills. Or use larger
bills to pay your hotel bill. If you are using ATM's, of course, you are
at their mercy. I think that this might be part of why we have that "rich
American" misperception...hope this helps!
Columbus, OH USA 01/04/00
I was going to share the story of the Houston guy demanding a Bud Lite, but I see that Kelley (11/18) beat me to it! Instead, I'll share these gems:
Overheard while viewing the the Crown Jewels display, Tower of London:
Young American female: So, like, what's about them that, like, makes them so special?
Overheard by an acquaintance while he was at the Roman Baths in Bath,
Middle-aged American female: Oh mah god, can you buh-leeeve they swam in that unfiltered water?
Chicago, USA 12/27/99
The thing I can't stand is when Americans travel to Europe, or anywhere
else for that matter, and expect everyone there to speak English to accom,odate
THEM! Many UA's get angry when a European native can't speak English.
I've seen it a million times in restaurants, pubs, museums and other attractions.
We need to remember that they are our hosts, not our servants, and shouldn't
be treated as inferior or thought of as rude for not speaking English!
I heartily agree with the posting below that claiming to be a Canadian
or some other nationality does no good whatsoever. Yes, there are UA's
(and U-fill-in-the-nationality-here's) galore. In fact, on our last trip,
my own mother was our resident UA. All it did was encourage my wife, kids
and me to be even better goodwill ambassadors for our countryfolk: accepting
(no, EMBRACING) cultural differences, seeing the country through open
eyes, finding the local rhythms, learning at least some of the local language,
and using all 5 senses without prejudice. It's up to Americans who do
appreciate Europe for what it is (and not as a road-show EPCOT) to be
an example. The trip with my mother was an ordeal, but we went to great
pains to neutralize my mother's ignorance and attitude (and correct when
feasible). As an unfortunate result, we will never travel with her again.
However, I hope we left lasting reminders in several minds that there
are Americans who appreciate the experiences--both exotic and mundane--that
make up Europe.
Petaluma, CA USA 12/20/99
Last spring my daughter and I went to Portugal and tried to tour
a Palace in Sintra. There was a group of older Americans in front of us
who were (to put it mildly) loud, talking about business, sports and how
backwards Portugal was. They also were rude at the admission and gift
shop desk about the money. Then last summer we toured Europe using the
trains. We really didn't have that much to do with Americans but the few
times, a lot of them were unpleasant. Like the two Michigan college students
who helped themselves to my daughter's and my reserved seats, made snide
remarks about her reading material, and just ignored our fellow passengers,
a Mexican woman and her son, and complained endlessly about the conditions
on the train (which we knew were typical). There are wonderful young people
who travel, but there is also growing opinion that Europe is becoming
the Ft. Lauderdale of the future.
Shakopee, MN USA 12/15/99
I live in London and work across the street from Harrods (God help me) so I deal with tourists on a daily basis. I can't believe how selfish tourists from the continent can be! School groups think nothing of taking up the entire sidewalk while their teachers decide where to go next and seem to think they're the only ones around. My last class trip was almost five years ago and we were told to act like adults because we were representing our school. Times have changed, I guess. Many people rush for seats on the Tube, leaving elderly and pregnant travellers standing in the aisles, and I actually had to tell an Italian woman sitting down to give the 80-y.o. lady standing her seat! The nerve.
Of course, as always, there are nice people of every nationality,
we just never notice them because they're standing on the train, being
polite to shop assistants, and quietly making their way through museums.
Ah, if only we could all remember those manners our parents once taught
London, UK 12/13/99
Say what you want about Americans behaving badly while traveling in Europe (which I have seen many times), but after living in Germany for 2-1/2 years, I have my own war chest of stories of ugly Europeans. In my opinion, the Germans are the worst, traveling in large groups, demanding menus in the German language, and not understanding that their beloved black bread is not served for breakfast all over Europe. Not to mention the fact that they are not (as a whole) respectful of elderly people for seats on public transportation, which you would never see in Southern Europe. Residents of other European countries loathe to see them coming en mass during vacation time.
I find the Dutch and Belgians the most friendly. But as you travel
and are embarrased about the behavior of other Americans, just remember
that some of the Europeans might be just as "ugly," if not worse. You
just miss the opportunity to know because of the language differences.
I am not, however, advocating being a total jerk when you travel here,
of course. It does make me cringe, though, when I hear Americans talk
about the "American Dollar!"
Cuxhaven, Germany 12/11/99
The most common error to my mind is American people who speak too
gosh darn loud. There is no need to shout. Whether talking with your English-speaking
companion(s) or to waiters or shopkeeps, please, keep your voice down.
wa USA 12/02/99
Since I am multilingual (French, Russian, German and English [mother tongue]),
I just pretend that I do not understand English if I should mave the misfortune
of meeting UAs making fools of themselves. Trust me, it can be real enlightening
hearing these rubes talk when you tell them that 'Mnye ne poniametb amerikamskii
I just got back from 2 weeks in Europe on business. Two constant
themes in hotels were Americans asking whether they could pay their bills
in US dollars, or "How much is this in American dollars?" At all times,
the hotel clerk was courteous, but I heard one clerk in Amsterdam complain,
when the Americans left, that "when I'm in America, I don't ask how much
the hotel costs in Guilders." Another all-too-common example of the UA
is the American referring to the local currency as "funny money." This
I have often heard in restaurants, and unfortunately well within earshot
of the hosts.
Ottawa, ON Canada 11/20/99
I saw several similar incidents in Ireland. Visiting American rugby
players were in rather upscale bars, and kept demanding obscure American "shots" like the purple hooter, as well as liquors like tequila and Jagermeister,
which aren't commonly found in such places in Ireland. The bartender kept
saying, "How about a whiskey?" "Maybe you'd like a Guiness?" and generally
acting very courteous. They kept complaining how no decent college bar
[oxymoron] in the States would be without their novelty liquors. Finally
the bartender--who had many other polite patrons to whom to attend--said,
"Then perhaps I can offer you the door?", and in one swift motion came
out from behind the bar, took the most obstreporous of the bunch by the
collar, and unceremoniously dumped him out. When he returned, lightly
wiping his hands with his Harp bartowel, he asked the lad's friends, "And
what can I get you gentlemen?" "Guinness, please" was the almost universal
reply of the former rowdies.
St. Louis, MO USA 11/18/99
All through college I wanted to study abroad, but was never able to financially. At 25, I decided to take a 2-month leave of absence from my job and drop a hard-earned $6000 on a couple graduate courses in an American university program at Oxford. While there were many students my age and much older, there were also many 18- and 19-year-olds who were clearly there because Mom and Dad were popping the bill and it seemed like a nice way to pass the summer (and drink legally). I am certainly not bitter that these "kids" could afford what I couldn't, and I certainly support such a culturally enriching experience for those who would truly approach it that way, but I found that on the whole, cultural enrichment was not a high priority, and instead these two months created example after example of UAs.
My favorite occured at a pub in Oxford where an 18-year-old guy from
Houston was mad as all get-out that he couldn't get a BUD LIGHT like
AT HOME. So he "settled" for a Guinness (which is a luxury in the States).
It was obvious after a bit of harrassment that the bartender (an Oxford
student) had had enough. Finally this UA asked how late the pub was
open. He couldn't believe it was only open until 11 when "all the bars
in Texas stay open until at least 2." The bartender was fed up. He put
down the glass he was filling, leaned over the bar, and yelled to the
UA, "Well, you're not in Texas, are you? You're in England! So shut
the f*** up and drink your beer!" It was so classic--I laughed all the
way home! Kudos to that bartender at the Kings Arms!
Chicago, IL USA 11/18/99
Two of my favorite UA stories occured in Berlin, Germany, where I had been living for about 4 months. While at Zoo Station one morning, I saw two lost, confused, obviously American women about 21 years old. I asked if they needed help finding anything, and they responded, "No way. We are getting the hell OUT of this country. It sucks. No one speaks English!" They turned and left for the platform. As far as I was concerned, Germans didn't need their types in the country!
But I also ran across my fair share of beautiful Americans. We are
not all Ugly or ignorant, and please do not assume we all are! Please
do be patient with those of us trying to figure out how much something
is in US dollars (or whatever currency we work in). When you are on
a tight budget, you need to keep track of how much you are spending.
If I had just asked for the exchange rate between dollars and pounds
sterling, I would not have paid $60 for a train ticket when the bus
would have been MUCH cheaper, or $10 for a pack of cigarettes, when
I could simply live without. Budgeting is difficult, and when you are
moving from country to country, I tend to get confused.
Chicago, IL USA 11/08/99
We were staying at a hotel in Paris' Marais district, run by a bunch of younger, vaguely condescending French guys--you know, your typical Parisian experience. We loved it! Anyway, one morning while having breakfast, we overhead a conversation between a UA guest and the guy running the hotel. Apparently she was looking for a particular brand of shoe, and the guy was kind enough to go through the phone book and find the names of a couple of stores that carried them. The following is a verbatim quote: "NO, NO, this won't work. I was looking for the OUTLET STORE. You don't know what an outlet store is? IN AMERICA, they have these stores where you can get the same things for less money. You don't have any outlet stores here?" (Helpful hint: Beginning any sentence with the phrase "In America..." will make friends and influence people the world around.) I sincerely hope this lady spends her next vacation in Reading, Pa.
I could also share the story about the bus full of Mary Kay prizewinners
who managed to offend about half of St. Peter's in Rome, or the guy
who nearly got us shot during a visa check at the Hungarian border.
But I'll save those for the novel.
Craigsville, VA USA 11/08/99
I didn't even get back to Europe before encountering UAs. After an
exhausting short trip from the UK to the US, I was surrounded by noisy
families on the flight from Dallas back to Manchester last Friday night.
The father across the aisle from me insisted on tickling his 10-year-old
son--who guffawed loudly--all through the flight. Mom and Sis were one
row in front of them, so of course conversations had to be shouted back
and forth between the two rows. There seem to be a lot more kids on the
Friday night flights. My two sons (7 and 13, by now seasoned travelers),
just sat quietly--again GameBoy to the rescue--or slept. If you are flying
over the ocean, please remember that even if you don't want to sleep,
there are probably people very near you who do.
Derby, UK 11/06/99
See the note from "Carol, Malibu, CA" under Minority Travel Forum
on the Graffiti Wall.
Malibu, CA USA 11/04/99
Learn the local currency. It really is easy if you do some simple
research. At Neuschwanstein we were boarding a bus. Keep in mind that
the operator is a guy who converted a 4x4 into a bus and makes his living
hauling fat butts like mine to the top of the hill. Along came two American
couples desiring to ride the same bus. Not only were they obnoxious and
loud, they also decided to pay their fare with US currency. The poor guy
did his best and, with a bit of assistance, came to an agreement that
I am happy to say was in his favor. The two couples boarded the bus and
grumbled all the way up. One particularly loud "lady" mentioned something
about how the Italians had no problem accepting or converting US currency.
I just grinned and thought to myself, "I'll bet they didn't." Please make
the effort to learn, it's simply another way to be a gracious visitor.
Poulsbo, WA USA 11/02/99
Huge Ugly American sighting in Rome: I was in a ceramics shop and
a group of "southern belles" harassed the shopkeeper 'til I thought he
would have apoplexy. They didn't understand the currency exchange and
accused the poor man of cheating them. One woman actually snatched her
credit card out of the man's hand because his phone line was tied up and
he couldn't put her transaction through at that very second. I felt compelled
to apologize to him for my compatriots' behavior.
St. Louis, MO USA 10/29/99
I hate it when Americans in Europe want to talk to every other American
they came across about idiotic things "back in the States." I didn't go
to Europe to listen to someone gab on and on about the Pittsburgh Steelers
or the problem Buffy is having with her cheerleading chores in Iowa. Anytime
I am speaking English in public with my wife and an American marches up
and says, "How nice it is to hear English again..where are you from? I'm
from Ohio..." I want to run, screaming.
Late at night on the train, I suddenly hear, "We're from Mitchell,
South Dakota, home of the world's only corn palace..." Unfortunately that
was only the beginning. We, along with he rest of the car, got to hear
all about the Anderons, their cats, Ethel's sore knee, how these kilometers
just don't make sense, etc. etc. etc....
Eau Claire, WI USA 10/22/99
I always take photos of the Canadian War Memorial in Green Park, near Buckingham Palace, this time of year when the leaves are changing as my grandfather back in Canada loves to see them. Well, I wasn't there two seconds before a father started to climb up the memorial (it's a slanted fountain with maple leaves etched in the stone) to show that he could walk over the water. Soon the kids were up taking photos of him and everyone was laughing. I stifled my nasty comments as I didn't want to cause a scene.
I only heard one parent in 20 minutes tell her kids not to climb on
the memorial and she actually explained what it was for. I thanked her
and her elderly mother who had the perfect explanation for the behaviour
of the others...lack of respect. It's very true. A lot of parents aren't
taking the time to teach their children manners and proper behaviour
in public places like churches & memorials. So, I've decided not to
get angry with these idiots anymore, but explain the importance of the
memorial and why they shouldn't be climbing on it. It's a shame that
signs on the sides of the fountain explaining this don't do the trick.
London, UK 10/20/99
One of the worst experiences I had in a two-month tour of Europe this
summer involved an elderly American couple on a tour of Neuchwanstein,
the enormous "fairy-tale" castle near Munich. As our tour group entered
one of the smaller rooms in the castle, I (a black American) and a very
nice Chinese guy from Singapore that I had met on the train there passed
by two older white Americans. The woman turned to stare as we walked in,
and loudly declared to her husband (and the entire tour group) that we
"couldn't possibly be on the English tour." And this was from a resident
of the most ethnically diverse English-speaking nation in the world!
Cambridge, MA USA 10/20/99
During my semester in Rome I was eating lunch in a restaurant near
the Vatican Museum, which was always overflowing w/ tourists, when an
American couple walked in and sat at the other end of the restaurant.
This was not far enough away; from the moment she received the menu, the
wife kept saying to the waiter in louder and louder tones, "What's this,
what's this?" All this when the menu was written in four languages; Italian,
French, German and ENGLISH!
Philadelphia, PA USA 09/28/99
I agree with the person a few entries back who said it might be nice
to have a "Helpful Strangers" section. Several years ago when I was 20,
my friend and I were on a street corner in Rome, where she was on a pay
phone with her mother back in the States. An older Italian man walked
up and made gestures that he wanted to use the phone. I said in my most
polite, limited Italian that we would only be a few more minutes. However,
he got more and more belligerent, yelling and screaming. He grabbed the
receiver right out of my friend's hand, bonked her on the head with it,
and hung up.
Meanwhile, her mother's listening to this at home, hears the line go dead, and gets frantic. The man proceeded to make his own call. We were so shaken up by this that we both began crying and started back to our hotel. Two boys, who couldn't have been more than 12 years old, stopped us. We don't know if they saw what happened, and they spoke no English, but they pulled out hankerchiefs to dry our tears, tried to give us money to take a cab home, and ended up walking us back to our hotel and giving us hugs. Now when my friend and I talk about this incident, we laugh and feel great that those two young men were so sensitive and considerate. For every Ugly American or other traveller, there have to be two people, travelers or natives, who go out of their way to make someone's day a little better. That is what I think traveling is all about.
Minneapolis, MMMMn USA 09/20/99
Hey, here's a great idea: this summer let's pack up the kids and
take them to a fun-filled day at Auschwitz-Birkenau! Yes, unfortunately,
it happened. While staying in Krakow I took a day-trip to the Nazis' largest
and most infamous death camp. It was an overwhelmingly somber, sobering,
and thought-provoking experience. However, an American couple ignored
the signs outside suggesting that the material may be too intense for
children under 12 and brought their four-year-old daughter and their eight-year-old
son along on the English language tour. At first I was a bit irritated
by the kids--fidgeting, talking, and not paying attention to the guide--but
then I realized that my real frustration was with the parents who didn't
have enough sense to realize that their kids weren't old enough to appreciate
the importance and the tragedy of the place and the respect it deserved.
As the tour went on, it became clear that the real problem was that the parents didn't "get it" either--explaining brutal executions to their kids in sing-song voices as though they were exhibits at Disney World, loudly discussing their travel plans and accomodations while we were in the most powerful parts of the camp, and most unbelievably, having one of the kids pose for a picture with a sculpture of an emaciated woman commemorationg the starvation of the victims. Everyone on the tour breathed a sigh of relief when they decided to leave the tour early. Of all of the incidents of Ugly Americans (and other nationalities) on my trip, this was certainly the most flagrant offense, and it took place in the most inappropriate setting that I can imagine.
Delaware, OH USA 09/20/99
I work part-time in one of the many internet cafes in Florence, and
it's given me the patience of a saint (or so some of the customers have
told me). Almost no one tries to speak Italian or even ask if I speak
English. Furthermore, many Americans complain about the prices - it costs
about $5.50 for one hour of internet. They often ask if that is my best
price. Also many come in and ask a barrage of questions that have nothing
to do with the service the store provides; I often give out advice, however
this is why many shopkeepers may seem rude--you cannot imagine what it
is like to have dozens of people ask you questions that you cannot possibly
answer and then get mad at you because you cannot answer them to their
Off-line in Florence
I was living in Madrid and had run out of money completely. My father
in the USA wired me some to a bank I had used before in Madrid. My Spanish
was not the greatest but I could get by alone with it. Somehow the wire
did not get through and the teller told me I couldn't get the money. I
was a 17-year-old girl alone and hearing this, I started to cry. Immediately
the American woman standing behind me in line started *screaming* at me
in English about how awful I was acting and telling me I should leave.
Luckily a Spanish student I knew loaned me money until another wire got
through but I will *never* forget this Ugly American. Ever since, whenever
I have encountered a confused or needy young traveler I have always helped
Boy, we have a lot of Ugly American sightings in Rome. I have one
too: I was absolutely mortified when a woman (from my hometown in Chicago,
actually) was yelling at a waiter in a restaurant in Rome. The waiter
spoke a scant amount of English; she spoke no Italian. She was, literally,
yelling at him, "Can't you put some cheese on this pizza?!" And then with
her pasta order, "Don't you have alfredo sauce, AL-FRAY-DOH sauce, you
know, like in the United States?!" The waiter just kept saying, "Ah, no
comprende." That just made her louder. We wanted to absolutely lay down
and die, we were so embarassed.
Miami, USA 08/22/99
It's so interesting to read your comments! I always thought that my German
fellows are the most awkward tourists all over the world! Their behavior
(especially in groups) is often very embarrassing for me. Therefore I
try to hide the fact that I'm also a German tourist. During my trips across
the U.S. I found the Americans very friendly and most helpful. The only "ugly" American I ever saw was in a **** hotel in Hong Kong. He came to
lunch in the hotel restaurant, wearing only a too-short undershirt and
shorts. (Sorry for my "survival" English.)
Berlin, Germany 08/17/99
The most anticipated part of my trip to Germany was a visit to Dachau.
I wanted to try to get some grasp of the hell my grandmother went through
during the years she was imprisoned in a concentration camp. I wandered
through the museum quietly, trying to put myself in the place of those
people in the grainy black-and-white photos, struggling to read the documentation
in its coarse original German, trying to comprehend the magnitude of what
I was seeing. Then I joined the line for the English-language tour, and
found myself behind an American who was complaining constantly about the
fact that her sandaled feet were getting dirty, and that she was so thirsty
because she didn't like the German mineral water. I remarked loudly to
my fellow Canadians that the concentration camp prisoners were only allowed
the equivalent of one glass of water per day, and we wandered off to join
the German-language tour.
Instead of having an "Ugly American" page, how about just an "Ugly
Traveler" page? Because I sure met a lot of people on my trip who were
inconsiderate and disrespectful and they weren't all American. In the
Czech Republic, I saw quite a few obnoxious and arrogant Germans and Italians
prancing around like they owned the place. Then again, some Czech merchants
tried to cheat me. So the point of all this is, there are ugly people
everywhere in the world. Let's stop bashing only Americans. Also, how
about a page to praise all the good people we meet on our trips? Lots
of strangers helped me out, and their kindness touched me deeply, and
I'll always be grateful to them! Thanks to all the nameless faces who
made my trip so memorable!
Irving, Tx USA 08/12/99
I'm sure that all of us reading this board have been a UA at one time or another. Perhaps you may have perpetrated a subtle UA-ism that actually made you learn something.
My wife and I were dining at a small restaurant in Melk, Austria last fall and I confess, I may have been a UA, but am now smarter as a result of it. We shared a table with some local Austrians and a German couple on holiday, and had a terrific time, sampling each other's entrees and wine. As I finished my first beer, one of the Austrians decided to pass around a special dish he ordered, which despite the reputation of many German and Austrian dishes, turned out to be quite spicy and salty. After one bite, I desperately needed a serious guzzle from my now-empty beer glass. I politely asked our server for another beer and waited patiently for what I thought would be only a few moments. After about five minutes, I began to sweat profusely as the spiciness of the dish was starting to go to work on me. When our server came back, I asked her (politely, again) if my beer was on its way, and she retorted in German, "any beer worth drinking takes seven minutes to pour from a tap." Feeling humbled (yet still very thirsty), I laughed it off with my wife and tablemates, but felt a tinge of UA-ism in what I perceived to be my "demand" for quicker service. The beer arrived and I lived. Then, I enjoyed the rest of the evening with our dinner friends, who seemed to feel that what I did was not really a big deal, and that they'd have done the same (or at least asked for a glass of water while the beer was pouring).
That experience enabled me to learn something about preparing good beer, and how one shouldn't be so overly conscious about being a UA. I agree with the photographer from San Diego and feel that most of the people that read these boards get so hung up with the UA issue, that they forget to enjoy themselves. Focus on it too much, and you come across as a smug, arrogant, elitist traveler who is just as bad as a UA. Use common sense and good taste, and order that beer early on!
Lastly, to those Americans who so desperately try to distance themselves
from the UA by wearing Maple Leafs on their backpacks while traveling
in Europe, which country's symbol or flag do you wear when you visit
Canada? Perhaps we should create a new category of traveler: the Ugly
Canadian, Really American Poseur, or UCRAP, for short? (No offense to
Canadians and Canada, here.)
Chicago, il USA 08/10/99
My wife and I were at Versailles and the woman in front of us seemed
genuinely surprised that she was not able to write a check for her tickets.
Though she didn't really make a fuss about it, we were quite surprised
that she would even think to bring her checkbook to France in the first
Clearwater, FL USA 08/09/99
I am so sick of the "Ugly American" issue! I travel extensively in Europe
as a photographer and I can guarantee you that if one hears "excuse me,"
"sorry," or "please" ANYWHERE it is from an American. NO one is more pushy,
rude, and crass as tourists than the Japanese and Germans as a whole.
It's not out of any personal prejudice that I write this, it's from experience
and polling locals (especially in the service/tourist industry) about
whom they would rather have in their country. I am proud to be an American
traveling and have been welcomed as such everywhere I've traveled. Even
when Americans do make mistakes, they are the ones most apt to make up
for it and learn from them. I've been told Americans are the friendliest,
smile, tip and treat people better and are most willing to "get into" the culture of places and talk to the people more than any other nationality.
So there! Be proud of being an American.
San Diego, Ca USA 08/02/99
In response to Emily's comment, what makes an ugly American is someone
who is close-minded and generalizes. In assuming that all college students
traveling in Europe lack "proper breeding," you are displaying the exact
qualities that make an ugly American. Do not base your judgments of an
entire group on the actions of a few.
VT USA 07/29/99
We recently stayed in a hotel that Rick recommended in his Paris
guide. On our third night there, we were treated to a sudden barrage of
screaming and obscenities from the open window above us. It was obvious
the screamer was both American and drunk. Since our room (and hers) faced
the street, we were able to see a crowd gather, and many heads turn at
the cafe down the block. Needless to say, we were mortified by this behavior
of a fellow American--so much so that we found ourselves apologizing for
her behavior to the desk clerk the next morning. All of the French citizens
we had contact with were very courteous. It's a pity that a fellow citizen
(and a few others we encountered) were not. If you can't travel without
behaving properly, then do us all a favor and stay home!
Washington, DC USA 07/29/99
I have watched every episode of "Travels in Europe" and am a devoted
Rick Steves fan. While waiting for a train in Firenze recently, who did
I see but Rick Steves himself! Needless to say, I called out his name
(twice - and loudly!) with hope that he would stop to talk to me. I got
lucky--he did! It was truly a thrill for me to meet Rick personally. I'm
writing this letter to apologize to Rick for probably scaring him half
to death with my UA shouting. Rick, please forgive me, but you are a celebrity,
after all...and we mere mortals hold you in high esteem!
Sheryl A. Garman
Conshohocken (near Philadelphia), PA USA 07/29/99
While staying in Marion Dodd's B & B in Bath a few years back, we
overheard 2 American couples very proudly and very loudly reviewing their
travel itinerary for the benefit of everyone else in the room. They were,
however, stumped on the terminology of one of the books, which was describing
the quintessential English village. So, after much consultation amongst
their table, they determined that as "quint" means five, and "essential"
means necessary, that the village must be "five times more important than
We encountered our UA in the Neuschwanstein gift shop. She demanded
that since she paid for her purchase in AMERICAN money, they should give
her AMERICAN money in change. She shouted, "I know you have some back
there (behind the counter), so why can't you just give me the RIGHT change!"
I whispered to my husband, "Let's get out of here before someone realizes
that we too are Americans!"
Kankakee, Il USA 07/24/99
My most recent UA sighting was in May in Orvieto, Italy at one of
the ETBD-recommended hotels. An American man walked in waving ETBD Italy
book, chanting, "Rick Steves, Rick Steves, Rick Steves". Another American
man in the lobby joined in the chant. Turns out, they wanted the 10% discount
you can get at the hotel if you have ETBD guidebook. The owner just smiled
and checked them in. What can she say? You are so obnoxious you don't
get a discount? We ended speaking with both couples and they seemed to
think they were quite the "with-it, cool, ETBD travelers". But you never
know how others will judge you.
Minneapolis, USA 07/19/99
In my opinion, self-flagellation can be overdone: ugliness afflicts people of many lands. Over the past 20 years, my partner and I have taken 18 trips to Western Europe. We've heard Germans who were noisy (outside Germany), seen Australians who were badly dressed, been pushed by Japanese -- and we've not always been perfect ourselves. Please don't worry that Western Europeans hate, resent, envy and/or fear Americans. (And remember -- an Italian may identify the language you're speaking as English, but he probably can't tell whether you're from the Birmingham in Alabama or in England, or whether you're an Australian or a Canadian or a German whose English is unusually fluent.)
But a shoeshine and a smile won't guarantee you a warm reception everywhere;
Parisians, for example, may regard you as a well-groomed fool. Are they
right or are they wrong? Neither -- they're French, and presumably you
go to France to walk among them. Try to figure out what's polite and
appropriate by reading widely before your trip and by observation on
the ground. Wait for your change and don't worry so much about being
cheated. And when you feel the temptation to indulge in ugliness, fight
it -- not for the sake of our national honor, but because you'll regret
it later (being the decent human being you are).
Washington, DC USA 07/16/99
I agree with the assessment: an A**hole is an A**hole. I lived in Spain for three years and on several occasions had the unfortunate opportunity to see my fellow Americans act like a jackasses.
Treat people with respect. Learn a little of the language (you would
be surpised how effective this is...showing an effort to speak the local
tongue is appreciated). You're a visitor in THEIR country. Conduct yourself
accordingly. Use the word PLEASE and THANK YOU. The Golden Rule is universal.
Treat others like you want to be treated.
Houston, TX USA 07/12/99
To LA, CA: I too was struggling with this question. I decided to post a topic on another bulletin board asking people why this is. By the responses I got back I realized:
1.) Americans are socialized to be outgoing and somewhat agressive. People in the US who are quiet and reserved are looked at as if something was wrong with them.
2.) Americans do not have the opportunity to travel as Europeans do. Therefore, we are not exposed to as many different cultures, so naturally we do not know how to handle it when we are out of our element (i.e. out of the US).
3.) Americans are accused of being ethnocentric. In my opinion by
calling some American travelers UA's, Europeans are being just as ethnocentric
as they claim Americans to be. We ALL need to gain a better understanding
of each other's cultures before we make snap judgements about each other.
Other cultures need to understand that Americans are different than
Europeans. We are socialized differently, we are raised differently.
These differences do not make us uneducated or stupid--they make us
unique. It's like comparing apples and oranges.
Orlando, FL USA 07/12/99
An a**hole is an a**hole anywhere and a stupid person is a stupid
person anywhere. I am willing to bet that any of these rude travelers
would be the same in the US. What we all need to remember is just to use
basic good manners with everyone we meet. We also need to remember that
one of the reasons we love to travel is to experience the differences
chicago, il USA 07/11/99
To LA: I'm an American living in the UK and I've yet to encounter anybody here who simply 'hates Americans.' Biases seem to express themselves in impersonal situations, but when you're 1-on-1 the biases evaporate. I've been to numerous meetings, seminars, etc., where the speaker had no idea that there was an American in the audience. Always I sit through the inevitable round of 'American jokes' -- most of which deal with the US litigation system and are hilarious (as is the system itself). They always appreciate that I wait until after the jokes are over to identify myself...
On a one-to-one basis, I have not found anybody in any Western European
culture who dislikes me because I'm American. I work on a management
team that is spread all over the continent and they were very tolerant
of my US cultural biases when I first arrived here; they've since trained
me. Now I am somewhat of a cultural bridge between our offices in Europe
and those in the States. We have to realise that the people who are
ugly Americans in Europe are Ugly Americans back in America, too! It's
naive to think that people have a massive personality change when they
cross the Atlantic. I've crawled under the table just as many of you
have when I see a UA, but there is no trick to being polite in a foreign
country, you just have to want to do it. In every culture I've seen
it's expected that one respect each person's dignity. When someone chooses
not to do that, we call them a UA.
Derby, UK 07/09/99
I was on a business trip to Morocco and surprised the local travel agent by asking how to say 'thank you' and 'please' in Arabic. He asked 'Why?' I said, "Because I will be asking people for things, and need to be polite." He told me very few people make this effort - no matter where they are from. I have found that learning these two phrases gets you a long way no matter where you go.
Being an 'ugly' tourist, regardless of nationality, is based on a
simple mistake: too many people expect a different language, food, art
and music without realizing that they often come with a different culture.
Annandale, VA USA 07/09/99
While having dinner last week at one of ETBD's recommended restaurants
in Paris, another American couple came in and told the owner they were
there because of Rick's book. The woman then told the owner/waiter what
she wanted, how she wanted it prepared, and what ingredients she wanted
added--even down to specific instructions about her beverage. The sad
thing about it, she didn't even have the slightest idea she was the perfect
example of the Ugly American.
Tulsa, OK USA 07/04/99
I spent a semester in London. After a while, you can easily take on characteristics of a Londoner--very quiet and serious, and you learn how to squeeze into small spaces. One day on my way to school a lady on my train began waving her hand in front of her face and acting as if she was hyperventilating. "It's just so tight in here, there is just not enough room." First, it was midday in London and the trains are no more than 30% full as it's not commute hour. She was completely overreacting and many people, including me, couldn't help but laugh a little.
Other times--more than once--I'd begin a quiet conversation (as talking
loudly is inappropriate and very American) and with a sigh of relief
they'd say, "Oh, thank God you're an American." Sadly, our American
culture is ethnocentric and anything outside of our country is considered
awfully foreign, including a place like Britain, that is essentially
the Sodom or Gomorroh of America. It's all the same, except they have
culture and we are searching for one.
Katie R. Carter
Concord, CA USA 07/04/99
The students we saw all over Italy were young Italians, ranging in age from elementary to high-school level. (You can't miss them in their neon multi-colored Invicta backpacks and perfect hairstyles...) They were often loud and occasionally rowdy in groups. One young kid made lewd Monica-Clinton jokes at us when he learned that we were American. Aside from that awkward moment, they were respectful and kinda innocent and unjaded.
A friend told us: "We teach our children in Italy that they are not so big and important on their own. They come from a culture with so much history and richness. So many generations before them have accomplished so much. The students travel to respect their past, and in turn they grow to respect their own selves even more. Maybe they play around a bit, but they all can grow up and know that they are connected to a bigger picture."
I saw them differently from then on. I enjoyed watching them play,
flirt, interact, and learn. The stories from America about the school
shootings filtered through the Italian news, as did the blow-by-blow
coverage of the NATO bombings, and the intolerance of our fellows across
the Adriatic sea. Getting our young people out to see the world seems
like an easy way to make the future a better place.
Los angeles, Ca USA 07/01/99
A clarification to an earlier question:
1. We saw lots of field-tripping students from various countries. For the most part, their behavior was identical regardless of nationality.
2. It was disheartening to see students lounging around bored as can be, carrying Hard Rock Cafe bags, wherever they were - the Louvre, Roman ruins in Vaison-la-Romaine, etc.
I was not referring in any way to the backpacking college-age students
that also visit Europe. Wherever we saw them, they were sensitively
enjoying Europe in their own way. I enjoy thinking of the pair with
packs by their side that I saw playing cards in a beautiful park in
Avignon. I don't even know where they were from as they were talking
quietly, but I could see that they knew to be in a great place and savor
Portland, OR USA 06/29/99
I've been to the Creperie Saint Germain in Paris a few times. I go
there for the great crepes, cider and the hoppin' atmosphere with upbeat
music playing and energetic waitresses scurrying about. It's a great scene.
The last time I was there for dinner, however, I heard shouting coming
from a table of Americans, directed at the waitress: "I told you to have
the music turned down. You said you would try, but so far nothing has
been done. I'm not leaving you a tip because you didn't turn down the
music." The UA evidently subtracted 15% from his bill, left cash on the
table and directed his lady friend out of the restaurant. The tearful
waitress informed the manager who tried to chase the guy down, to no avail.
It's difficult not to be embarrassed for behavior like that. I did apologize
to the waitress for him though.
San Diego, CA USA 06/27/99
While in Venice, I overheard an ugly American lecturing our Italian hostess
about her disappointment in the food in Italy: "Have you ever tasted REAL
Italian food? You know, the food you have here isn't even REAL Italian
food! Do you KNOW where we can get some real Italian food?" Our Italian
hostess did not speak English. She just smiled. The obnoxious American
woman finally walked out in disgust.
Los angeles, Ca USA 06/23/99
My most amazing UA sighting was at the front door of Saint Chappelle in Paris. While waiting with my toddler for my husband to return from inside the chapel, I saw a man shouting at the French-speaking ticket-taker, "We're lost! Can you help us? We're looking for the Saint Chappelle." Evidently he hadn't read in his guidebook that the incredible windows are on the 2nd floor. I quietly told him, "This is it. You're here," but he continued shouting until I pointed the way to the stairs.
As for the students of all nationalities roaming Europe, it seems
that travel was wasted on the young. My poor kids will have to travel
with me, or not at all.
Portland, OR USA 06/23/99
We've all had experiences involving the American at the next table
exclaiming "Doesn't anyone have the common courtesy to speak English around
here?" But my most horrifying experience involved a girl who leaned forward
and actually scratched at the paint on Monet's Waterlilies to see how
thick it was!
Just a counterpoint to the ugly coed stories: At 16, I was on a "teenage tour" through France. In one cathedral, two of the mothers were speaking loudly while we waited for our guide. A German guide, speaking to his group, shushed them loudly, and one said to the other "Well, how rude! He isn't even speaking English." Needless to say, we easily-mortified teenagers pretended we didn't know them.
This isn't purely an American thing, by the way. My father tells the
story of the German on a Mediterannean cruise, who kept hollering "Ein
Cola" to the confused waitress - "but you already have several here!"
After this went on for a while, Dad went over and in his bad German
asked the man, "Ein MEHR cola?" Sure enough, he wanted one more.
San Leandro, CA USA 06/23/99
It seemed like my husband and I just could not escape the scruffy,
smelly, gen-x college grad types with the foulest and loudest mouths you
have ever heard. Why don't you all go back to school and retake the manners
and customs course! Please, do not ruin my vacation because of your lack
of proper breeding.
monterey, ca USA 06/22/99
On a tram in Vienna a UA girl of around 20 walked up to a couple and asked them a question, in English. They smiled, and apologized, and said they did not speak English. She huffed away and hurried over to her friends, perplexed, and announced, quite loudly, "They wouldn't answer me, they're speaking in some foreign language." Argh. The runner-up is the little UA coed in Paris who screamed "she just told me 'non parlez anglais.' How rude!"
Do they teach UAism in college these days? I normally don't like to
generalize, but all the college-age girls travelling in their little
groups were immature, rude, unintelligent and unpleasant and travelling
for the wrong reasons. If they just stayed in their dorms it would make
life a lot more pleasant for sensitive, intelligent travellers and for
An elder traveller
Last fall while staying in the rue Cler area of Paris in a Rick-recommended hotel I experienced not one but two incidents.
The first involved two couples who must have been hard of hearing, or assumed that everyone in the hotel needed to hear every comment they made. Not only were they talking loudly in the public spaces, but managed to spread their wisdom through the closed door of their rooms. One rainy morning they loudly announced at breakfast that there was nothing to do in Paris when it was raining so they'd stay in the hotel that day. The rest of us smiled and cheerfully left for a great day in Paris.
The second incident was again at breakfast and pointed out why one
should not only take Rick's books to Europe but also read them! It is
also important, if one doesn't know the local customs, to watch and
learn. A tourist came into the breakfast area and sat down. It was busy
so naturally it took awhile for one of the two servers to arrive at
the table. Upon arrival, the tourist asked, "How can I get my eggs cooked?"
The server didn't understand so I explained that eggs were not an option.
She responded, "What, no eggs? What kind of place is this?" and got
up and left. The server simply shook her head and said, "What is wrong
with our food?" "Nothing," I responded.
Modesto, CA USA 06/16/99
It seems the debate has become pretty heated. How about everybody
take a deep breath, exhale. Good, that feels better right? This self-denigration
is more than a little ironic. More than likely, the chronic offenders
cited herein won't be reading your comments. Hence, no purpose is served.
By and large graciousness and rudeness transcend national boundaries.
A suggestion I would like to make is to rename the category "Ugly Traveler
Sightings", thus enabling courteous American travelers to critique our
fellow Spanish travelers. Ole Pablo!
Spokane, WA USA 06/14/99
As a Spaniard living in Japan I fear the nice weather which brings tourists with it. The LOUD voices of venerable American ladies would scare anyone. Japanese are so polite on some occasions and so rude on others; this can be explained (not accepted) by their cultural background. I'm sure this is the case with Americans too, but I'm clueless.
As a European (yes, we spanish are european too, as I've tried to explain many times) from Barcelona, we generalize a lot about all foreigners. We call them 'guiris', which could be described as 'sneakers or sandals, cheap t-shirt, shorts, funny hats, camera, RED from the sun. Yes, it is negative but implies the funny side too.
Europeans are not so keen on each other either.
I'd like to introduce a new type of UA (or ugly english speaker in general): The pseudo-intellectual. He or she has been working as an English teacher for some time in a european/asian country. This entitles him or her to deeply criticize the country/culture/women's rights/smoking habits/food. They do that while getting drunker and drunker or having a funny smoke, demonstrating how cool or brave he is. Avoid them completely--probably you'll end up buying them a beer and escaping with a loo emergency excuse.
Not only americans, as I said: you should have seen my spanish father shouting in french (for her easy understanding) to a lovely british waiter, asking for water. "They don't understand me, so I'll shout": this happens unfortunately so many times...
Be polite, don't shout, eat your food and happy travelling!
My most recent Ugly American sightings occurred in my favorite little B&B in London this past March:
1. The American woman and two teenaged daughters were headed out the door for their first day of sightseeing. The mother turns to go back upstairs and the daughters ask why. She replies that it's raining and she can't possibly go anywhere in a city where it rained so much!
2. At breakfast, I overheard an American man complain that everyone who lived in London was a foreigner and spoke with an English accent.
3. Same American, different morning. This time saying in a very loud voice that you'd think the cook would serve the toast hot instead of in those stupid wire toast racks!
And then there are the French students who swarm all over London.
No, I don't think they're just being teenagers. Every group I ever encountered
was made up of downright rude and obnoxious individuals who thought
nothing of shoving people out of their way in lines or to see exhibits
Spokane, WA USA 06/09/99
I just returned from two weeks in Great Britain and am proud to say
I saw no Ugly Americans. Did see one group on a train that were a little
loud, but not ugly. I did fInd the French schoolkids to be a bit rude
and pushy while watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace,
but they were teenagers - that's pretty universal.
Los Angeles, CA USA 06/08/99
Proud's comments echo many of my sentiments about being an American. Rather than plaster myself with Canadian flags, I choose to reveal my Americanism through my manners and appreciation for cultures other than my own. Even if you don't speak the language of the country you're in, how hard is it to memorize "Good Morning/Day/Night," "Please," "Thank you," "No thank you," and the most important: "Excuse me" and "I'm sorry." Using many of the posts made on Rick's G. Wall as a barometer, I think more and more of us Americans are earning a better perception by the Europeans through our civilized, yet passionate travel. I've done a number of things in my travels that could have wound up in someone's UgAm story...but it's how I backstroked my way out of it or rectified the situation that kept me in good graces.
One night in Madrid, a group of friends went out for tapas and kind of took over the bar, where only a couple of Spaniards were sitting. A couple of Sangrias later, I accidently grabbed the plate of tapas that belonged to the locals and passed it around to my friends. Seeing the looks I got and realizing what I had just done, I "lo siento'd" myself silly and bought the gentlemen a round of drinks and picked up their dinner tab. Oopsie. So instead of getting smacked with an "Ugly" label, I think I just rated a "crazy" one.
Hey ETBD'ers...be proud and wear your American good nature all over
Europe and maybe we can shame the idiots into invisibleness through
a fun-loving, educated and respectful way of travel. I refuse to walk
on eggshells in fear that I might get labeled an Ug Am. I am an Am and
proud I am. Amen.
Kaneohe, HI USA 06/04/99
I have lived in Europe for the past two and a half years. As so many others have said, I have witnessed many ugly tourists: a young Italian touching a painting in the D'Orsay museum...a Japanese tourist taking a flash photograph a foot away from the "no photography" symbol in Venice...a Chinese woman pulling me out of the way for a photo she wanted to take in Shauffhausen, Switz....an Italian women pushing me in the back while in line to see the Last Supper in Milan (soon they were in front of me!)...rude Dutch people on a train making unprovoked comments about my "bags of money...!" And yes, I have seen rude behavior from Americans as well, but I have not witnessed more "ugly" behavior from Americans than from other nationalities.
Why is it that Americans seem to draw the most criticism as tourists?
Because we are the most identifiable? People spend too much time stereotyping
people from all countries. When I heard about Canadians making a point
of wearing Canadian flags on their backpacks so that they wouldn't be
mistaken for an American, I was incredulous. But then as I thought about
it, if the tables were turned, I realized that I wouldn't want to be
mistaken for a Canadian either. Most people are proud of their heritage.
I am glad that I am American and as long as I conduct myself with consideration
and politeness overseas, I will never be embarrassed or deny that I
am a citizen of the USA.
Proud to be an American
Chicago, IL USA 05/30/99
If Americans are "ugly" while traveling it must be a result of our
"me before all others" mentality. I lived in Europe for a decade and encountered
this on a fairly regular basis. But my feeling was always that when Americans
act obnoxious in Europe it is often because they feel inferior to the
situation. They are often ignorant geographically, linguistically and
nearly always culturally. Our country doesn't do a good enough job educating
our young as to how to function with the rest of the world's peoples.
mililani, HI USA 05/28/99
My wife and I have recently moved from the Mid-West to the UK. Her brother and sister-in-law came over with the Rick Steves guidebook in hand. We ended up at Westminster Abbey on a Saturday morning and signed up for one of the guided tours. Looking around, I noticed that of the 30 other people almost all were American. It was like a reunion! The tour started with a brief overview of the history of the abbey. During the overview, an Ugly American raised her hand and asked, "Is it true that you people bury people in this place?" The cleric patiently answered that yes this was a very important site for burials. Then she asked, "Where do you put the bodies...In the walls?" It was at that time I wanted to become a citizen of any country but America! But, she was not done yet! We were sitting in the beautiful quire and she spoke up, "How do you people clean this place... I can barely clean my house!"
Anyone want to join me in becoming a citizen of Mexico?
Brian and Cheri Brittain
London, UK 05/18/99
My first trip to Europe was in 1976. I was delighted to be there; I was impressed by everything I saw. I marveled at how neat and tidy it was. As my husband and I journeyed across southern Germany, suddenly we came across piles of litter and debris. I was shocked. Where was the German orderliness and cleanliness? I was confused, and then mortified to learn we had just passed an American military base!
This incident taught me a never-to-be-forgotten lesson. The first bad thing I saw in Europe was American-made. I became determined that no one could every point at me as an example of the Ugly American. On that trip and my many subsequent ones, I have tried to be understanding, appreciative, and most of all receptive.
Over the years I know I have been the 'ugly tourist' on occasion - when I was tired, frustrated or maybe just a little homesick. I have also witnessed the 'ugly locals' on occasion - perhaps when they were tired, frustrated or overdue for a holiday. But, I have never labeled the ugly (or the beautiful) with a nation or a people. I was not a fault for those Americans littering the German countryside 23 years ago nor are the locals at fault because they do not fit my ideal at every given moment.
My advice is to travel to grow and to learn. Travel to enjoy and to
share. Give of yourself and you will receive back in kind.
TX USA 05/11/99
My first experience abroad came in 1985 while in the US Marine Corps. I was stationed for 7 months in Iwakuni, Japan, and a vast majority of the Marines never left the base or the "100-yard dash" outside the main gate. The worst ugly Americanism I recall was the popular t-shirt with a nuclear mushroom cloud on it with the words, "Made in America, Tested in Japan."
I did everything I could to get as far away from the base as possible, and enjoyed myself and learned more than I thought I would.
My wife and I recently completed out first trip to Italy; while visiting
"David" in Florence (amid numerous flash photos) I said to one particularly
enthusiastic photographer, "No flash photos," and he asked, "Someone
told y'all that?"
Everett, WA USA 05/11/99
My UA story is from a college trip to London over the Christmas holidays
in 1974. Harrod's had recently been bombed, so security was tight everywhere.
One of my companions--it was his first time off the farm--thought it was
hysterically funny to say as we walked through museums: "Please leave
the area, there has been a bomb threat." Needless to say, when he got
really sick later in the trip, the rest of us were not sorry that he would
not be with us in the rest of the museums!
MN USA 05/09/99
I've an American living and working in Belgium, and yes, I've seen
plenty of UA's throughout Europe. But one of my most dreadful encounters
was when I was having dinner at an Italian restaurant I frequent. The
owner was taking care of an American couple when he saw me sit down. Since
he knows that I'm American, he thought it would be nice for the couple
to say hello to me, so he told them who I was. They told him that there
was no way they were going to talk to me. That if they wanted to talk
to Americans they would have stayed home. This was all said rather loudly
and the owner was completely horrified since he knew I heard every word
loud and clear. That's the last time I apologized for someone's poor behavior.
I sighted my UA at home. A pleasant man struck up a conversation
with me about his trip to St. Petersburg, Russia. His main comment was
to express his astonishment that in a "modern, 700-room hotel in the middle
of the city" he found newspaper in the bathroom instead of Charmin. I
thought it sad that having had the opportunity to travel to such a place
as St. Petersburg, his greatest memory was not the richness of the culture
or the beauty of the architecture or the depth of the history, but what
kind of paper was next to the WC. I tried to gently explain that in many
places in the world the idea of producing - let alone paying for - a special,
fancy, soft kind of paper for the express purpose of wiping one's rear
is just ludicrous.
Indianapolis, USA 05/06/99
I have traveled extensively in western Europe and England. In my travels
I have only witnessed one UA at a train station in Windsor. However, I
have witnessed rude, pushy and intolerant Europeans all over the world.
I believe that UA's don't hold a candle to UB's (Ugly Brits) or UG's (ugly
Germans). The world has taken a few turns since the "Ugly American" was
written. I think it is time we bury that term and if you want you can
just say UT "Ugly Traveler" or UV (Ugly Visitor)!!
Carlsbad, CA USA 05/02/99
Humorous stories about UA's? Aw, c'mon. UA's aren't cute little bunnies
or adorable kids who say the darndest things. Quite the contrary, UA's
are pathetic, clueless and usually presumptuous SOB's who give all of
us a bad name abroad. They should not be encouraged. Yes, often they are
harmless creatures whose only crime is to be embarrassing. But they can
also be dangerous and insufferably stupid. While I was living in England,
a high school friend came to visit. It was his first time out of the US.
On our first pub visit to a charming and quiet nook in Bedfordshire, he
yelled out across the room to the barman, "Hey, you got any pretzels?".
That kind of behavior may play very well in Oklahoma (where he was from),
but frankly it embarrassed the hell out of me. It was the same guy who,
upon my asking if he wanted to see anything in particular in London, stated
that he really wanted to check out the Radio Shack store on Edgeware Road.
I mean, what do you DO with people like that? Needless to say, we have
kind of lost touch over the years . . .
Washington, DC USA 04/29/99
Jennifer, I usually have the same reaction when I see some American
with a midwestern or northen accent sitting next to me. ;-)
Orange(#1 baby) Sun
I have to admit to being a silent UA. I had been traveling for awhile
and had become distainful of all other Americans, ignoring them for other
nationalities. Boarding my plane to come home, I overheard an older American
couple talking with a deep southern accent. I automatically assumed that
they were the typical tourists, minus the huge tour bus encasing them.
I didn't say anything or act on this, I'm not a jerk. We got on the plane,
and they ended up sitting next to me. I silently sighed. It turned out
that they had been living in Holland for 13 years in a ministry. We talked
the entire flight, and they offered me a place to stay if I ever went
to Delft. It was one of the nicest flights I have had in ages, and I regretted
my UA attitude. I will be better about it from now on. :)
I have to agree with Sandi that this forum is a good one for occasionally confronting an honest-to-goodness Ugly American and trying to find out what makes him or her tick. If we are only posting messages to rail against people with which we have no contact, then how is progress to be made? How can we influence those misguided individuals that, in our view, desperately require some correction?
Let's get back to talking about UA's, but understand and appreciate
that UA behavior has its roots in the way we live here in the States,
with its rampant and ubiquitous commercialism, irritating moralizing,
penchant for butt sitting and other unattractive characteristics. I
feel that such seeds of behavior are appropriate discussion topics if
we ever are to get beyond descriptives to prescriptives.
Washington, DC USA 04/28/99
I will continue to travel Rick-style, all across Europe, knowing
there are "uglies" in all countries, but that most people are much kinder
and considerate. As a poster below said, I have never met a nasty, rude
Parisian. I think this is largely because I am polite, and try to learn
at least a few phrases, and also say "please," "thank you," etc. The few
UAs I have met in Europe were the ones who seemed upset that everything
wasn't just as it is at home. Personally, I thought difference was the
whole reason for going to Europe.
Rick invites everyone to submit their "most horrifying Ugly American
story" and plenty of people have done exactly that. This entire heading
was created to badmouth and snipe at other people behind their backs.
When people do so head to head, as on the message board here, suddenly
it's unacceptable. Why do you suppose that is? It's so much easier just
to post a nagging complaint about other people when they don't know about
it, isn't it?
Long Beach, CA USA 04/27/99
Thank you Alisa for getting this forum back to its roots-Ugly Americanism.
Like you, I have rarely encountered rude Europeans (hey, everyone is entitled
to a bad day!). In fact, one trip to Paris with my young-at-heart parents
found us one metro stop beyond our hotel. Stopping to consider the practicality
of walking back with our rucksacks, or simply grabbing the metro again,
a man approached us, asking if we were lost. When we declined a cab, he
offered to pay for the fare, thinking we declined from lack of funds.
Not only was he not rude or supercilious, but incredibly kind and generous.
Palo Alto, Ca USA 04/27/99
I have travelled to Spain, France and the UK extensively and I can say with no reservations that there are ugly americans, ugly French, ugly Italians, ugly English ad infinitum. Therefore "ugliness" is not a cultural albatross but a personal one. Individuals are the ones who are offensive, not cultures.
The secret to avoid being an ugly traveller? ENJOY yourself and the holiday you've worked months or years to be able to afford. If you want to be rude and insult someone, stay home. It's much much cheaper that way.
I have never experienced the infamous Parisian rudeness, nor have I experienced the even more famous New York rudeness. I only encountered helpful, friendly people who tried their best to meet me halfway with my phrasebook or limited language skills. Just smiling and saying "please" can turn a bad situation into a really positive one. I make an effort to assimilate, not to announce my differences. I think I've seen more of the "real country" than many travelers because I leave home at home.
The resultant situation is that not only do I have wonderful travel memories, but those memories live on in the friends and aquaintances I have met abroad...friendships I made by simply enjoying myself and the company I travelled over a major ocean to be with.
Smile, learn the local words for "please" and "thank you" and RESPECT
your European neighbors. You spent $1000+ to be there, but this will
buy you more than the money ever could.
Chicago, IL USA 04/26/99
I'm sure most people would agree that an easy way to avoid UA embarassment
is to learn basic phrases and pleasantries, keep your voice down (except
after a couple in a noisy pub), and SMILE. Very easy and rewarding.
Washington, DC USA 04/26/99
Please, folks, no social agendas. Get out there and travel! If we
met each other on the streets, we'd probably all be friends...Be good
to each other!
Your Pal, Rick
I just got back from 3 weeks in Italy spent with my wife, 14 year old son, and my wife's best friend. Despite all the tutoring we did, she hated every difference in culture and asked why don't they do it like us. Oh my word, what a way to dampen a trip. We are still friends, but we will never go that route again.
My main UA sighting was outside the Vatican at a little cafe. This
dumb redneck and his wife were sitting 3 tables away when our waiter
brought him his bill: "A 100,000 'F'ing lire for this! You think I'm
gonna pay a 100,000 lire for this s---? I'm gonna kick your 'F'ing a--."
This guy made a huge scene, and started scaring passersby, yelling that
he would spend all day boycotting the place. What an absolute idiot.
Maybe there should be classes or some kind of certification to screen
the really clueless out of international travel!
Tiverton, RI USA 04/25/99
My most common encounter with Ugly Americans is usually people who
are innapropriately dressed for the religion, ethics, or local mores.
I can't say how many times I've seen halter-tops and microminis on women
in 3rd world countries where even the prostitutes don't dress like that.
In most countries, T-shirts and shorts are only worn by small children
and mentally defective people. To them, you look like you are travelling
in your underwear. After I while, I have to agree--you can spot the tourist
in the crowd by the enormous amount of exposed flesh. When they say cover
up for the temples and churches, they really mean it.
Reno, NV USA 04/25/99
While traveling on a Swiss train, a young Swiss mother was in my
compartment with her son, probably 7 or 8 years of age. This boy was hanging
out of one of the windows of this fairly high speed train, much to the
disliking of his mother. She snapped at him in Swiss German several times
to sit back down. The Swiss boy ignored his Mom's orders. The Young Mom
got up, snatched the boy and promptly put the child over her knee and
went at it! She wore that little butt out in front of the entire train.
There were two college-age American women sitting close by who went ballistic
when this happened. They thought this Swiss mother was wrong for spanking
the boy and they griped about it in front of the rest of us the entire
trip, thus causing some problems themselves. I finally had enough of this
and said so to the young women...shut up and mind your own business!
RockyTop, Tn USA 04/22/99
Yes, I too have seen rude American fartknockers making bad scenes
while traveling through Europe, but I have also seen the reverse of this
as well: rude anti-American fartknockers that have commented, without
any provocation, "STUPID AMERICANS!" A German woman threw change at me
once while cursing at me. This rude thing can swing both ways you know!
And in fact, some of these rude peoples' comments about Europeans are
similar to what people from non-Southern parts of the US say about Southerners
and the South when they travel to the land of Dixie. Best thing is just
to be respectful of people and their customs, regardless of where you
RockyTop, Tn USA 04/21/99
The Ugly (whatever) phenomenon is practiced by any culture that feels
superior to the other. The Americans do it in Europe, the Europeans do
it in Africa and Asia, the Saudi Arabs do it in India. I am an Indian
and I see far too many ugly Saudi Arabs in India. Other nationalities
are far more guilty of this Ugly behavior than Americans. Let's put it
all in perspective before we speak.
Hong Kong, Hong Kong 04/20/99
I agree with Jim and CMW. Most travelers--be they American or some
other nationality--are courteous, knowledgeable, and open minded. Instead
of cringing in embarassment, or hiding our nationality, I believe we should
educate others about the beauty and sense of wonder we can experience
by touching a different culture. br> Michael
Provo, UT USA 04/14/99
It seems to have more to do with maturity level and life experience than nationality, don't you think? I have been to Europe twice, both times to perform with groups at music festivals, and I traveled with some very rude and generally clueless Canadian students on one of these tours. I've been shoved around in gift shops by Japanese tour groups in Hawaii and had to listen to Americans in Mexico complaining loudly about everything from the language to the food to the weather. I've also met Europeans in the United States who were shocked (and a little disappointed) that everything wasn't exactly like "Married with Children" and that we're not all a bunch of morons.
I do think it's important to remember, though, that travel can be exhausting and stressful as well as exhilarating, and the "ugly" fill-in-the-blank person might just be having a really bad afternoon. The best way to handle it is the way some of the other people writing in have suggested: if you're going to say something be kind about it. Don't have your own superiority complex!
And for the record--I have an American education, I'm very well versed
in Canadian geography, and I'm just as familiar with European history
as I am with American history. I'm happy to say that I'm not an exception,
based on the Americans I know at home and the people I've met on travels
to Europe, Canada and Mexico. For every "ugly" I've encountered, I've
met two or three interesting, considerate people who just love to travel
and learn about new places. Just wanted to throw something a little
more positive into the mix!
Sacramento, CA USA 04/12/99
I spent a few weeks in Greece after high school graduation, with
my brother who was living near Athens at the time. We were enjoying some
fabulous Greek pizza in a small cafe when we overheard two whiny children
at a table nearby start complaining loudly about the food. "I thought
you said we were getting PIZZA." "This isn't like Pizza Hut, this is gross!"
Unfortunately, the mom said, "I know, kids... we'll go try to find some
REAL food instead," and began arguing with the waiter in overly loud English,
saying they shouldn't have to pay since they didn't get what they ordered!
Pleasant Hill, CA USA 04/08/99
The trouble is, you don't have to look for the ugly Americans. They
are quite common. Maybe "ugly" is not the right word sometimes, though.
"Clueless" often is closer to the mark. And as for "Act like you live
here," that would be impossible for most Americans as we usually come
from a completely alien environment by European standards. What do the
midwestern suburbs, for example, have in common with Bruges, Munich or
Worcester? Having your lousy McLatte in a shopping mall or at an ersatz
"sidewalk cafe" next to a parking lot does not a European make. In fact,
it distorts the whole idea of the good things in life that are so common
in Europe. But I agree with Keith - it is best to mind one's own business
and let UA's make complete asses of themselves.
Washington, DC USA 04/06/99
They are certainly out there. However, I have a feeling that for
every UA that makes us cringe, there were other Non-UA's that felt the
same way. My wife and I went to Germany last year (and yes, we wore our
jeans and sneakers for walking around, but dressed for dinner). In a small
restaurant we sat next to a very surly American couple. They obviously
had money and they obviously assumed that money gave them class. But they
were loud, drunk and arrogant. My wife and I were embarrased. Our waitress
was also theirs and when we began to apologize so did several other tables
around us. My point is that for the 2 UA's there were 12 Americans who,
at least that night, weren't as ugly.
NJ USA 04/06/99
I just read Anne's comments (below) and had to zap back with my complete
agreement. Last December, I returned to the States after having been in
charge of a civilian personnel office at a small US Army base in the The
Netherlands. Almost without exception, the Americans who were stationed
there, both military and civilian, were the biggest bunch of ignorant
and pigheaded jackasses I had ever seen. For example, I went to a solier's
home (US Army-subsidized in an American mini-ghetto) to buy a table she
had advertised for sale. I did not have dollars on me so I offered Dutch
guilders instead. But she told me she had NO USE for guilders since she
bought everything on base. I was dumbstruck. OK, I thought, you may not
have had any choice in being sent to Schinnen (which was in a very pleasant
and picturesque part of NL), but don't you have even the smallest desire
to explore your surroundings? Hell, you might learn something. Maybe she
was an extreme example, but in general, I found the Americans to have
very little interest in the host country and even less interest in the
Dutch people. It was a sobering and saddening experience for me. It is
no wonder that we often are perceived as spoiled, bored, superficial and
stupid children. Yes, other nationalities can sometimes display these
characteristics, but Americans seem to be hard-wired with these negative
Washington, DC USA 04/05/99
As other people have mentioned, I'm always amazed at the phrase "real money" as if only American currency qualifies. And people who think the United States is the acknowledged *Best* country in the world: don't they think other people love their own country and think it's wonderful too? And people who get upset when natives of the country being visited have the AUDACITY *not* to speak English! I've found that, except in Paris, if you make an attempt to speak in the language of the country (even just "how much is this?", numbers, please and thank you and hello and goodbye) you will be met with a smile, courtesy and respect--because that's what *you've* just shown them.
I took a walking tour of Rothenburg, Germany with a group of military
personnel/dependents from an American base in Germany. I struck up a
conversation with a young serviceman who had been stationed there for
18 months. He was astonished when I went into a bakery with him and
asked "how much" and understood the numerical response and could pay
in deutchmarks. He'd never bothered to learn anything about his "host
country!" He'd never dared go off the base in a year and a half! I was
traveling alone and he wondered how I could possibly do that, alone
and a female: "but what would you do if someone stole your money?".
In exasperation I told him, "I'd go to the police, just like I would
Phoenix, AZ USA 04/05/99
I think we need to be careful not to be too hard on ourselves. Americans
by and large are not rude people! I have spent the last four summers traveling
in Europe and am about to embark on my fifth. In reality, I have seen
very few "ugly Americans." The vast majority have been courteous, friendly
and helpful (as much as could be expected). I have seen as many "ugly
(insert any nationality here)" as I have seen Americans. I enjoy reading
your BB, and have gotten many useful tips from it. Your guide books are
my favorite! Thanks!
WI USA 04/04/99
"Ugly Americans" is what Americans will be seen as in some places
around the world right now. I would encourage all my fellow travelers
not to let political tensions around the world discourage your traveling
soul. But be wise and study the history and the current events of any
place you visit. Be wise, and that is the best travel "tool" you can use!
Rick, thanks for 12 years of tips for my 6 european adventures.
Hayward, CA. USA 03/30/99
I was in Madrid Spain last year eating at a Restaurant, there was an American
couple just finishing lunch. After a few minutes they asked for the check
and they paid with a credit card. When the waiter came back with the voucher
they got upset and demanded to get the voucher in U.S. dollars. The waiter
tried to explain that you always get charged in that country's money to
no avail. I couldnt stand it and I got up and asked them what they would
do if a Chinese person would try to pay with a credit card in the U.S.A.
and demanded to get the bill in Chinese money. They felt so stupid that
they signed the bill and left right away.
San Diego, Ca USA 03/24/99
While in the Cinque Terre region, I stopped to call home and happened upon two couples coming to terms with Italian culture. The two women were particularily facinating as they complained in utter dismay at how rude it was for the "'Eye-talians' to close the stores in the middle of the afternoon.... Don't they know that we come all the way from America to spend our money and they do not even have the decency to stay open." ... "No we are forced to sit on this deck (a charming piazza overlooking the fishing village) and wait for another whole hour."
In the incredibly hot sun, on an otherwise peaceful siesta, their non-stop complaining finally brought my blood to a boil:
I proceeded to inform them that Italian culture has been in existence
far longer than American culture and that there is a reason why the
saying "When in Rome..." exists.
Toronto, , ON Canada 03/24/99
I've seen some Ugly Americans in my travels. But I have also seen some Ugly (insert nationality here)'s as well. But as this is an Ugly American Forum here goes.
It was during my first trip to Europe with my wife and children. We had decided to stop for the night in Oberamergau and were in the Passion Play gift shop.
We had the misfortune to arrive at the same time as a busload of American ladies in their 60's. They refused to attempt to speak German (luckily the sales assistants spoke reasonably good English), refused to accept a cost for the goods they were purchasing in Deutschmarks and haranged the assistant about the VAT refund as to whether it would be in "Real Money - American Money". They upset the assistant so much that she started crying.
I did interject, as I had been mistaken for an American more times than I could remember, and attempted to rectify the problem. In my faltering German, I apologised to the sales assistant, then converted the Deutschmark amount to US$ for the "Ladies", told them that here in Germany "Real Money" was Deutschmarks and that they should have changed money over when they arrived in the country. The weren't embarassed by the comments at all. They simply paid the assistant in US$ (the store took both currencies) and huffed out of the store.
I apologised to the assistant once again, made my purchase, and was
told that it was a pity all Americans were not like me. She was shocked
when I informed her I was Australian, and that there were ugly Australians
as well as Ugly Americans.
First, I would like to respond to those who have written about the
American "uniform" of sneakers and baseball caps. I also travelled throughout
Europe and lived and worked in London for a bit. Not being an ugly American
does not require that you trade in your comfortable shoes or regular clothing
(providing it is appropriate for the situation). I would never assume
that a foreigner travelling in our country should wear American styles.
My experience with people in Europe was that they were fortunately not
as judgemental as some of those who wrote in here. As long as we attempted
the language and were polite and interested, they responded kindly.
NC USA 03/21/99
I've run into only spotty patches of ugly americans--mainly just Americans speaking loudly in English, or being intoxicated in the usual places. On my latest flight to Europe, I did run into an "Ugly Italian:"
Flight Attendant: Beef or Chicken?
Italian Guy: Vegetarian.
FA: I'm sorry, we're all out of vegetarian entrees.
IG: I MUST have vegetarian. Get me one now. FA: I'm very sorry. Perhaps when First Class is finished I can sneak up to the galley and throw something together?
IG: I want a vegetarian lunch NOW.
FA: I'm frightfully sorry, but that just isn't possible. Maybe I can get you another beverage while we wait and see what we can do further?
IG: If I don't eat within half an hour, you'll have to land the plane. Do you want to have to land the plane?
FA: Sir, I can't assist you any further. If you could just wait a few minutes... IG: Food now.
Ten minutes later the stewardess arrives; she has scrounged through the first-class galley, and assembled a small feast of five different types of vegetables, sliced roast new potatoes, pasta, and two types of bread. I stare blankly at my chicken.
FA: Here you are. I hope it's satisfactory.
IG: It's about time. *grunt*.
You certainly don't have to be American to be "ugly".
St. Louis, MO USA 03/17/99
My wife and I were waiting in Orly for our flight home. Since we
were early for the flight - the waiting room for it was closed until the
security team arrived. A woman in a pink nylon jogging suit showed up
with her two elderly parents to join the flight. Finally an airport staff
person arrived and the "Pink" lady started raising a fuss. "Why do we
have to wait outside when the waiting room is empty. I demand you find
a place for my parents to sit." The staff person informed her that people
had to go thru one last security check before they were allowed to enter
that room - and the people who do that - had not arrived yet. After this
UA raged for 10 minutes - she exclaimed that she was going to report this
staffer to the FAA. The entire crowd started laughing.
Oklahoma City, OK USA 03/15/99
Two young American women were standing outside our compartment on
a train in Spain and loudly proclaiming that they didn't speak Spanish
and making comments like 'What is quiet in Spanish?' 'Silencio?...in our
country you just say SHUT UP'. My friends and I were tempted to politely
tell them to do exactly that and at the same time we fervently wished
that we appeared Canadian to the rest of the local passengers.
MI USA 03/15/99
This needs to be filed under cute older Americans, definitely not
ugly ..they're the in-laws after all. So there was I in my homeland in
a pub on top of the North Yorkshire Moors with prospective wife and in-laws.
We were waiting for our "pub lunch" when around the corner came the guy
with the food. "Pie?" he enquired in our general direction. Still not
having captured the finer points of the Yorkshire accent, my in-laws simultaneously
greeted him with a chorus of typically robust Amercian "Hi's." Poor guy
didn't know what had hit him. He just wanted to get rid of his steak-and-kidney's.
Fox River Grove, , IL USA 03/14/99
In Dresden, Germany (on a year-long exchange) and a friend (German)
finally persuaded me to go to McDonald's with her. I started chatting
with the two American women in front of us in line. Boy do I wish I hadn't.
They asked me all kinds of questions about Dresden and my exchange, which
I didn't mind, but then they asked me about my friend. "Oh, she's German?
You have German friends? That's so cute!" I wanted to die.
Washington, DC USA 03/13/99
I would never think of wearing a Canadian flag. Didn't even back in the sixties when it really was the thing to do. But I hope all the ugly Canadians are wearing them. We Americans make enough trouble for ouselves.
May I recommend traveling with children to take the edge off everyone's poor expectations. I had no idea the perks that came with having a cute 9-year-old girl on a six-week tour of France, Italy and England. Everyone went out of their way to make our trip special. She even came in handy in the Louvre. We were trying to make our way into the Mona Lisa room, but were being pressed on all sides by a huge group of Italian young people. Our daughter started crying from fright and the crowd parted like the Red Sea. Those Italians expressed remorse and worked hard at making our daughter happy again. We laugh about it now.
Yes, I've seen and heard Ugly Americans and ugly everything else. I figure those of us who care have to work extra hard at making a good name for us Americans.
From reading the comments on this graffiti wall I would have to believe
that Canadians don't like Americans very much. However my experience
while traveling in Canada has been quite the opposite.
Grants Pass, Oregon, OR USA 03/13/99
While in the Sherlock Holmes Pub Restaurant in London, heard a fellow
American approach the hostess desk and demand to be seated right away,
as her plane had been late, and she had tickets for a show. The fact that
the restaurant was packed with reservations-only patrons didn't faze her.
It is the demanding nature of the UA which is so hard to stomach.
Minneapolis, MN USA 03/10/99
At the Vienna Opera House Gift Shop after a tour of the opera house:
A UA with a loud voice asks the sales clerk, "I'm looking for a CD of
opera music, but I've never really liked opera. Do you have anything you
The worst forms of "Ugly Americanism" that I encountered in Europe were the VAST numbers of Americans who engaged in the following conversation with me:
UA: Where are you from?
UA: Oh wow, Canada! You're a Canuck! I've been to Vancouver!
ME: Well, I'm not from the west coast, I'm from Ontario.
UA: Where's Ontario?
ME: It's a province. I live in Ottawa.
UA: Oh, I've never heard of Ottawa. It must be small. We only went to Vancouver because it's the capital.
ME: NO, actually, Ottawa is Canada's capital.
UA: No it's not! If it's not Vancouver then it's Montreal. But I know it's not that other place.
At this point I usually gave up. ButI had this conversation AT LEAST 30 times in a three week trip!
Ugly Americanism seems to stem from a poor education system, where
students learn only abou their own history, their own culture, and the
fact that the end of the Cold War seems to "prove" that America is civilization
par excellence! A little knowledge abuot your own neighbours might be
in order before you go anywhere. It's those Americans who put the Canadian
flag on their bag who are the worst. Instead of lying, why not work
to change it?
The Nation's Capital - Ottawa, ONT CANADA 03/09/99
French queues (or lack of them) are part of the french culture. While
in line for the restaurant at the Musee D'Orsay, it was obvious a woman
was skirting past each person one at a time to get to the front. We were
determined not to let her get in before us and I was afraid we might be
the ugly American, but we learned later from a local resident that "that's
just the way the french are." Once again, we need to just accept their
culture and not stew over it! just do as the locals do!
Tallahassee, FL USA 03/06/99
The top 10 ways to eliminate your chances of being an Ugly American:
10. Travel to Europe in winter.
9. Don't complain about travel to Europe in winter!
8. Eat at restaurants with menus written ONLY in the local language.
7. Map out alternate routes if there are American fast food joints within sight.
6. Beware! Airports are notorious for herds of UA's, cranky and tired of traveling.
5. Learn some history about the region and customs...e.g. Why DO they eat parts of animals we throw away?
4. Learn some history about your country and customs...why do we throw away parts of animals others eat?
3. Sit in the smoking car of the train, close the windows, inhale, and get to know the people around you!
2. Attempt the para-culinary customs of those around you (breaking vs. cutting bread, wine vs. coke, utensil usage and placement), and entertain the thought that they might be more sensible than your own customs!
1. Make it your personal mission to educate and enlighten UA's at home about your travels.
Lake Oswego, OR USA 03/04/99
While standing in the plaza in front of Notre Dame early one morning
in Paris I overhead an older American man loudly asking a police officer, "Where is this Noter Da-me place?"
Erin -- that's a good point. I am going to do that next time! I think
you're right. A cynic could say that silence implies assent.
Derby, UK 03/03/99
Why is it that we allow UAs to act like this? Maybe I was raised
differently, but my parents would not stand there silently while another
human being was berated. On countless occasions, I've witnessed my mother
calm a child who was running unsupervised through a store or come to the
defense of someone who's being verbally abused. I don't mean you should
be confrontational; a simple "ma'am, he doesn't speak English" would suffice.
And if the UA doesn't listen, fine, just walk away. But at least you tried
and you won't be embarrassed to be an American!
NJ USA 03/02/99
Part of avoiding the UA syndrome is to enjoy the local cultures with
all their quirks -- heaven knows we Americans have enough quirks of our
own. If I go to the Musee d'Orsay and the bookshop is closed because of
a strike, I savour that - it's part of the travel experience. If the only
ATM at a French ski resort is out of money for three days, well, it can't
be helped. C'est la vie! And anyway, the quality of food in French ski
resorts more than makes up for the snarled lift lines.
We were at a five-star resort in Tenerife, and a UA woman was not even dressed nice enough to go into Wal-Mart. In the Spanish culture, which can be somewhat formal, her careless appearance was culturally insensitive to the extreme. I made a point of saying "Bonjour" to the server to avoid any guilt by association.
Remember that not everyone speaks English as we do, speak clearly,
with simple words and no slang. And we should as much as possible adapt
ourselves to our hosts' culture.
I was in the Reichsmuseum in Amsterdam at the same time as a large
tour. These Americans talked so loudly that several other groups on guided
tours in the museum could not hear the guides. They were told to shut
up in several differnt languages. After that they complained loudly again
that people were so rude in Holland. A they were leaving I heard one man
wearing a 10-gallon hat say, "let's go to McDonalds to get some good food."
Boston, MA USA 02/26/99
I have often been surprised at how nice Americans are generally in
Europe, when you meet them one on one. However, I have heard many Americans
saying "we have better stuff at home" at such unbelievable places as the
beaches of Greece, the Acropolis in Athens, restaurants in Paris, and
the Swiss alps. What I don't understand about people (of any nationality)
is if they say such things, why don't they just stay home?
no name needed
I have to vote both ways on this subject, and for both nice and ugly Americans AND Europeans. Living and working in Munich years ago, it was easy for me to blend in with the locals after a few months. It also became easier for me to spot Americans from a good distance away, usually not just because of clothing, but because they were either speaking loudly or asking the proverbial "How much is this in American dollars?" However, I quickly took to spending lunch hours on weekends around the main square, and becoming a tour guide to people every once in a while when I get a little lonely for American companionship. Suggestion to all you ex-pats living overseas....if you want a quick way to make friends and even find a date for the weekend, learn something unique about your new home and become an unofficial tour guide!
As for the other side of the coin, the concept of a line (or queue)
in mainland Europe seems to be a fairly foreign idea. EuroDisney is
the prime example of this attitude, with young French kids annoying
the heck out of everyone by rushing past everyone to get on the rides.
We actually had to link arms across the wide lineup areas to prevent
them passing us several times, gaining their angry stares each time.
When several of us turned and glared back, they seemed to get the message.
McKinney, TX USA 02/19/99
Regarding rude Japanese photo tourists, I am reminded about how I
dealt with such an incident at the Aswan Dam. I wanted to photograph a
chart that illustrated the design and operation of the dam. I waited very
patiently until all the people from our group moved away from the sign
to continue their tour. The Japanese tour group behind me saw me waiting,
but started to block me as I was preparing to shoot. They were shocked
when I turned to the tour guide and said "Dozo matte kudasai" (Please
wait.) The flustered tour guide immediately bowed and apologized. I took
my photograph, said "Arigato gozai masu" (Thank you) as I nodded politely,
turned and left.
My mother and I were standing in a crowd of people waiting to see
the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. The sign post were quite
clear -- please do not obstruct the view of others by standing on the
iron fencing. One teenager climbed on the fence ignoring the complaints
and pleas from people behind her. A couple standing behind us grumbled "She MUST be an American. Only THEY can be so rude." My tiny mother turned
around and replied "I'm an American, too, and I don't like it either."
Then she reached out and grabbed the teen's jacket by the collar, jerked
her down off the railing, and snarled (in a way only mothers can do) "Get
down NOW." The surly teen took one look at Mom, blanched, then turned
red and slinked away.
I was at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo a few years ago and when "God
Save the Queen" was played, the American tour group in front of us loudly
sang "My Country Tis of Thee." One of the women asked her grandson if
"they still taught that song in school" and when he indicated that they
did not, she said "Well, they ought to." My wife and I thought this was
Smithfield, NC USA 02/09/99
Many writers complain that they stumble upon Americans in Europe who aren't
conversing about art or history. But consider that there are many Americans
that live in Europe and might like to talk about everyday matters on what
is just, to them, another day.
Wetzlar, Germany, USA 02/05/99
I actually have no clue what nationality the "ugly traveller" was,
but my favourite example of one occurred in a gift shop at Windsor Castle,
the day after the old 50p pieces ceased to be legal tender. I was looking
at postcards with three friends (all Americans) when somebody started
shouting at the clerk. We all looked back in time to see a man get in
a shouting matching with the clerk, insisting that he should be able to
pay for something with the illegal coins. She suggested he go to a bank
and exchange them (a fairly reasonable suggestion in my mind), and he
completely flipped out, finally marching out of the shop without paying
for the postcard, then stopped, turned around and yelled, "Can't you see
I'm a TOURIST? Who do you think pays your bills?" They had to get a guard
to come deal with him. Fortunately, no one could figure out where he was
from . . .
Seattle, WA USA 02/05/99
I am Dutch. First of all, there are ugly people from all countries, but
I believe we tend to pay more attention to our own folks. I often find
ugly Dutch on my trips... Just a question to you Americans: I often overhear
conversations between Americans in the train (I live close to Amsterdam).
Why do so many people travel all the way to Europe to discuss Margie's
divorce, Peter's new girlfriend or their own terrible new neighbours??
Amsterdam, NL 02/03/99
As some mentioned below, there are many "ugly travelers" today, not
just Americans. The reason I see for this is that there are many more
people able to travel the way Americans have for many years, and every
culture/country has its share of morons at home and abroad. Comparing
differences in cultures, without doing so in an offensive manner, is part
of the fun in travel. But I know the difference between quaint tradition
and bullheaded backwardness. I try to access my creature comforts when
possible, even though I have been told they they are UNHEALTHY (no kidding,
that's what they tell me): hot showers, ice cubes, beef, air conditioning
and Diet Coke. On the plus side, nobody abroad ever tells me my cigarette
smoking is bad for me (but I know it is).
FL USA 01/29/99
R: under 21 travelers. I went to Italy for the first time when i
was 20, and encountered my fair share of drunken young Americans. However,
I found that the people that really 'got' Europe had traveled there when
they were young. the ones who waited to go until they were older were
closeminded and too concerned about having everything the same as it was
back home. One suggestion for curing UA: making kids learn another language
when they're young so they learn about other cultures and also appreciate
the difficulty of learning another language.
los angeles, CA USA 01/29/99
I just wanted to respond to Dan Woodlief's comments. I think he is
absolutely right! After spending time living in both Spain and Ireland
(for school) I have seen a lot of Ugly Americans. And these people are
just as Dan described: people who think the US is the greatest country
in the world, those who don't try to fit into the culture - or at least
learn from and about it while they are visiting. My worst memory of an
Ugly American is from London. I was in Westminster Abbey gift shop and
I heard I loud, booming voice declare (to the cashier) "Well...how much
is that in American dollars?" Ahhhhhhh!
Many descriptions here do indeed fit what I would call an "Ugly American,"
but others just seem to point to rudeness or lack of preparation, not
necessarily attitude based on being an American. My own definition of
an Ugly American is pretty specific: someone who does not appreciate cultural
differences, but instead judges other cultures based on what it is like
in the U.S.; almost always thinks the U.S. way is better without thinking
about why it may or may not be; and expects others to accommodate them
by preferential treatment or by speaking English to them. Two of my most
detested "Ugly American" statements are: "Why don't they speak English"
and "The French seem to forget we saved them during the war."
durham, nc USA 01/26/99
Nothing in my opinion equals the statement I overheard on the Champs
Elysees in 1966, from two aging American ladies with blue hair...."I never,
Mabel--ya come all the way to France and all ya hear is French!"
mililani , hi USA 01/24/99
While attending a classical-concerto in Vienna, the elegant pre-curtain
hush was broken by the exclaimation: "HEY MA!! LOOKAT THIS PLACE! WWHEW
WEEEE!!!!! LOOKIE THAT CHANDELIER. DAMN THIS PLACE IS PERTY!" A cowboy-hatted
American family stumbled to their seats in the first row...
Los Angeles, Ca USA 01/21/99
I found my "favorite" ugly american at the Uffizi in Florence...
where there are signs everywhere forbidding flash photography. Me and
about 5000 other visitors were trying to enjoy DaVinci's Annunciation,
when we were interrupted by a group of 6 big haired American women. One
whined loudly about how impossible it is to take a picture of the art
because "all of these people just won't get out of my way!" So before
we knew what was going on, her little gang of five started pushing people
out from in front of the painting, locked arms, and created a human barricade
behind their leader, who then proceeded to take a flash photograph. It
Berkeley, CA USA 01/20/99
It's definitely the attitude that makes someone an Ugly Am. Here
in Regensburg, Germany, I was amused and charmed by the man who, mistaking
me for a native, asked in german where the train station was. His accent
was terrible, but his respect was apparent!
normally Boston , USA 01/20/99
Anyone who has ever visited Vatican City realizes that there are
some strict dress codes (No shorts, no sleeve-less shirts, etc). Two men
from America were arguing with the guards at the front gates. There were
both wearing shorts, therefore they were not allowed in. Out of frustration,
one of the men revealed that he was a minister and that he had been looking
forward to this trip for a long time. The guards still would not let them
in. The man responded with this: "I don't see what the big deal is. If
God can accept me wearing shorts, what can't you? I'm sure God is wearing
shorts right now. Just wait until Judgement Day. You'll pay for this." Of course, the guards still never let him in. I still can't believe that
a minister was arguing about getting into a church.
Goshen, OH USA 01/13/99
I was at Neuschwanstein and decided to take the carriage to the top.
We shared the ride with a 60ish couple. Waiting for the ride to begin,
the man says "How much of this Mickey Mouse money do you want to get going?"
and "C'mon Adolph, let's get the show on the road". I was just a college
kid at the time, but to this day I kick myself for not speaking up.
Rochester, Mn USA 01/11/99
My worst (best?) ug-am story involved an overweight woman complaining
to the staff at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam that the stairs were
too steep and that they should provide an elevator in the house so that
elderly and physically challanged people could enjoy the house as well!
Morrisville, NC USA 01/07/99
Having read (tired of spam)s comments, I felt compelled to comment.
We currently live in Europe and realize the frustration of finding an
English-speaking tour. Having been in similar situations, I can attest
that those "eavesdroppers" were most likely thrilled to find a tour they
could understand, rather than trying to save a buck. Most likely, the
"eavesdroppers" were only doing the best they could in a foreign country
to appreciate all the history/culture around them.
Dusseldorf, --- Germany 01/06/99
The fear of being the ugly American seems to make some travelers bashful to the point of being stepped on. I remember standing the U.S.-standard five feet behind the person at the ticket window in a train station on the French-Spanish border (I was second in line.) A stream of older French and Spanish travelers walked right up to me, stared at me for a moment like I was some sort of odd bug, and started bunching up around the window like I wasn't even there. The (incredibly kind) French woman behind me said, in heavily accented but perfect English: "I think they think that you are not in line."
It seems to me that most people in Europe respond to polite, respectful Americans (who make at least a stumbling effort at using phrasebook sounds of the local language) with way more kindness than simple tolerance. I had one amazing experience after another with people who I didn't share a language with. I doubt that there are many Europeans who hate Americans in person, even if they hate Americans as a notion. If American, be American. Just be cool about it.
An ugly American story! I'm in Barcelona, riding in an aerial car between the marina and Montjuic. The towers of which are scabbed with rust. And the car moves VERY slowly, swaying back and forth, completely jammed full of people. The American couple standing next to me are prattling on at great length, in LOUD English, about what low standards "these people" have. There's a crew laying cement at the Montjuic terminus, and the husband says: "Good! They _need_ to do some work on this thing!"
I guarantee that, out of a dozen Spaniards, at least a couple of them
will understand English. Note to the Ugly American: Your language and
nationality DO NOT make you invisible or inaudible.
Santa Monica, Ca. USA 01/06/99
In the early 1990s my family and I lived in The Netherlands while
I worked as a postdoctoral research fellow. A common joke among Europeans
seems to be that they can spot the American tourists every time. It's
the white tennies on our feet. Europeans pride themselves on their sensible
brown or black leather shoes.
Pearland, TX USA 01/06/99
Okay, equal time for other ugly nationality stories. I lived in England for five years and traveled extensively on the continent. I learned the phrase "You'd think they won the bloody war" in every language when referring to Germans, who, while on holiday, seem to become extremely aggressive and loud. In London, where everyone lines up for their bus, you could count on Germans pushing to the head of the line.
Next, the Brits. As much as I love them, many of them, once they leave
the island, seemed to need to get as drunk as possible as quickly as
possible and stay that way during the whole of their vacation. Also,
although loving to holiday in Spain especially, they would drink British
beer, at more than double the cost of Spanish beer, which is quite good,
and have to have their fry-ups and chicken and chips, ignoring local
food. So it's not just us ugly Americans, which should be reassuring
Albuquerque, NM USA 01/03/99
I was a Navy Lieutenant on active duty in the Mediterranean. I gave a lot of liberty briefings during that time - the Navy tries very hard to educate sailors on the culture and traditions of any country that we visit. Prior to any port visit sailors are educated about the port, and usually given a stern warning about getting involved in any trouble. One thing to keep in mind is that these kids off Navy ships aren't taking the summer off to bounce lazily around Europe. They are a long way from home, often for the first time, and when they go ashore they usually just have several hours before they have to go back aboard the ship. They are aware that they represent their country while overseas, and they realize that they are following in a long tradition of U.S. presence in Europe. And they know it is their responsibility to make sure that Navy ships continue to be welcomed.
I would urge any American who is overseas, and spots some sailors
or Marines, to go up to them and say hello. The servicemember might
have been gone from the U.S. for several months, and would certainly
welcome talking to a fellow (civilian) American. And I'm sure most would
welcome any advice about what to see or do.
Boston, MA USA 12/28/98
I know people tend to cringe when they see a tour bus pull up with a load of potential Ug-Ams at various tourist spots, but some of those tours happen to be a group of nice people joined together for instruction and a good time, ala Rick Steves' tours. Again, the theme on this board seems to be 'don't judge based on stereotypes'.
That said, I wish to nominate my favorite candidate for Ug-Am of the month: the tour group free-loader! When our tour group was being led by an English-speaking guide in various museums, monuments, etc., I can't tell you how many times some jack-ass Americans would perk up around us when they heard English spoken and enjoyed such wonderful insight to the sights they were seeing. Now don't get me wrong...these weren't people who were subtly eavesdroping. I couldn't believe how many had the audacity to stand in the front, next to the guide so that their view was the best, as well as their position to hear.
All vitriol aside...thanks to the MANY U.S. travelers out there who
exude patience, thoughtfulness, kindness and humor when it's most needed--I've
met many of you over in Europe and you've helped make many of my travels
a wonderful experience.
Conifer, CO USA 12/18/98
During our month in Europe, my husband and two teenage sons had only
one memorable UA sighting. (Maybe because we stuck to smaller towns and
mingled with Rick's followers!) While browsing in a Munich store, I suddenly
heard two penetrating American voices complaining about not being able
to find what they wanted. The two women went on for some time in their
loud obnoxious voices before standing in the middle of the aisle calling "EEENGLISH?? EEENGLISH?" Please, it doesn't take much time or brain power
to learn a few basic phrases like "Sprechen Sie Englisch, bitte?" and
B.C. Canada 12/13/98
I spent three nights in a hostel in Prague. One morning I noticed that
the same gal from the night before was still at the front desk in the
morning. I asked her if she'd had to work all night and she said "yes,
but it was a good night because last night mostly Americans were here,
not horrible Germans with their beer." So you see, some countries like
us a lot! Saw a lot of wretched Americans ordering American-style coffee,
in English, of course: "non-fat, double, dense foam, and no sprinkles!" This in the middle of beautiful Munich. Art, culture, beauty, history...no,
the main concern of the day was to get a mondo bucket of sprinkle-free
coffee! Funny, but embarrassing to witness too.
Edmonds, WA USA 12/10/98
I don't know about ugly Americans, but my wife and I did run into
an ignorant American couple in a restaurant in Florence. All they talked
about was shopping, not one word about the history and the art of Florence.
When we tried to talk to them they basically ignored us and were relieved
when 2 other women from Californa were seated at a nearby table. They
also seemed unaware that there were no Italians eating in this restaurant
and that the cook was Japanese.
Waterford, MI USA 12/10/98
I still get rankled remembering U.S. tourists BUYING bags of corn
to feed the pigeons on St. Mark's Square in Venice. The last thing I'd
want is to encourage that bunch of flying rats (I meant the pigeons).
Baltimore, MD USA 12/08/98
Having worked in a tourist office and travel agency in Europe, I have to say the nicest and most informed Americans were those clutching a Rick Steves book!
In Europe it's usually expected that you say hello when you enter a store.
I can't tell you how many people just assumed I spoke English and launched
into their questions without a hello or "Sprechen Sie Deutsch?" Lucky
for them I'm an American!
NY USA 12/05/98
Just back from Italy, I have to say that most of the Americans, young
and not so young, were great representatives of the USA. However, here
is a true incident that occurred in the fabulous and "Rick-recommended"
Vernazza. Two couples were trying to use the pay phones in the piazza
and stopped me to ask if I knew how to make it work. Their first comment
was, "The dang Germans can build rockets but the stupid Italians can't
make a phone that works!" I was stunned and replied that I didn't think
it was the Italians but folks like us that didn't bother to find out how
to operate them... this while I broke off the corner of the card as instructed
at the machines where you buy them. Later in the day, we passed the same
group and heard the same man shouting, "Man, could this place use a coat
Keep up the good work educating travelers, Rick. We all need good traveling companions.
Denver, CO USA 12/04/98
I agree with most people who have posted here. I have seen ugly Americans and many ugly people of other nationalities. When I went on study abroad to Scotland, the most common question I was asked before I left the States was "Do they speak English?" I spent two months in Europe travelling solo this summer, and travelled with 2 Aussies for a week in France who would walk up to the counter/ticket person/whatever and just start speaking English. Not a "Bonjour," not a "Parlez-vous Anglais?"
I think the most important thing is, as others have said, REMEMBER you're
the foreigner, REMEMBER those who came before you probably made a bad
name for your nationality, and REMEMBER that most people will have a negative
impression of you to start. Learn to say "hello" and "do you speak (whatever
language)?" in the native language. How would you feel if you were standing
on the street and some guy walked up to you and started blathering in
Icelandic? I found that attempting to speak the language gets you SO far.
I've never had a bad experience with the notoriously "rude" French, as
I speak pretty good French. And in Italy, where I *don't* speak the language,
I got big smiles and waiters who went out of their way because I was able
to order in Italian. And I learned THAT from a phrase book.
Boston, MA USA 12/04/98
I don't want to apologize for American behavior or ignorance by any
means, but I can offer some reasons why I think it is the way it is.
1. We are the richest nation in the world in most regards. Therefore, way too many have a superiority complex.
2. Even though we are a nation of immigrants,we have not needed to learn a foreign language growing up to communicate with people we encounter on a daily basis - English has become the language of business, education, and diplomacy, and too often we expect others to speak it.
3. The rudeness of Americans may be explained by statistics. Perhaps a large percentage of Americans behave well overseas, but there are just so many Americans with the money to travel that we are bound to encounter a large number who behave badly.
4. We grow up in an isolated society. Our neighbors to the north and south seem so far away for most people. For a Frenchman, a German or Italian seems just around the bend. This influences our educational system so that languages, geography, etc. are not emphasized enough. It is amazing how many students can't even tell you where North America is on a map. Size of the country has a real role in this - Russia and China have also been somewhat culturally isolated during periods in their own histories. Any other theories on this?
To the 14-year-old in Wisconsin: it is nice to see that someone of your age can write better than most adults and that you have an appreciation for the world in which we live. Don't feel ashamed to be thought of as American. We need more like you to help us change opinions about our country and society.
durham, nc USA 12/03/98
Generally, ugly Americans are the people who are irritated because
things are different from where they live. It amazes me that they spend
so much money to go to a place which is special because of its differences,
and then complain about the very things that make a country unique.
I work for a music school that has a growing Irish music program.
On our recent trip to Ireland, we shot a lot of video tape of Irish musicians
to share with the students back home. At the Cliffs of Moher, we came
across a young man playing his accordian along the pathway. As my husband
taped his performance, we overhead an American lady saying "Isn't it terrible
the way that people take pictures of those poor beggars!" We chatted with
the accordianist afterwards, who turned out to be from Boston and was
"just hanging around Ireland for a while to learn more about Irish music"
and made some extra cash by "busking" at the Cliffs. What you see isn't
always what you expect!
The most disgusting thing about the Ugly Americans is that they deeply
sully the image of our entire nation, including Back Door travelers like
ourselves. I am 14 and have been to Europe several times, and am planning
on a youth exchange next summer. At my high school, the ignorance of some
of my classmates disturbs me, but what disturbs me even more is that a
few of these people will no doubt go to Europe one day, representing our
country's youths with their usual idiotic behaviour, while the rest of
Plover, WI USA 12/02/98
I do think people are people all over and there are jerks all over the world. I cringe when I witness American tourists behaving rudely, and I cringe when I witness the French, or Japanese, or German tourists behaving rudely. It made me angry when I saw a group of obnoxious junior high school age students from France literally shove a group of elementary school age students from London away from a museum display so the French students could get a better look. And it bothered me when I heard an American woman whining and complaining because she didn't like her seat choices at the theater. And it bothered me to see a couple from Spain cut a line, though the rest of us had been waiting patiently.
The bottom line is to treat others the way you would like to be treated,
whether you are the tourist or you are hosting the tourist. Being from
Boston, I've run into my share of tourists wandering down the sidewalk
when I'm racing to get to work -- I always try to remember that a few
times a year the tables are turned and I'm the one who might be in someone's
way while sightseeing, or looking for a good samaritan to help me find
my way to the train station or theater.
Boston, MA USA 12/02/98
I know there are individual examples of enlightenment among our people,
and that there are numerous examples of undesirable behavior committed
by the English, Japanese or whoever. But, the bottom line is this: American
society is so different from say, Dutch or French, that it is not surprising
that we come off, typically, as awkward, child-like neurotics who, clad
in the ubiquitous rubber clodhoppers and baseball caps that have become
our uniforms, roam the world being alternatively shocked and bored. We
display the most frightful ignorance of anything beyond our borders. It
hurts me to say all this because I am American myself, but have had, by
the grace of God, the opportunity to live overseas for about 10 years
of my life. Please tell me: why are we so awful?
Washington, DC USA 12/02/98
It scares me that someone might not believe that I'm truly Canadian
because of the number of Americans wearing our flag!
Before I moved to the UK I made sure that I had enough Maple Leaf pins, stickers and patches for each visable coat or backpack. My family has done the same thing the last three times we've travelled to Europe and I've found it to be a big help.
But as far as rude behaviour from any traveller of any age goes, this 21 year old traveller finds some phrases coming to mind:
1. Mind your manners.
2. They're other people's children.
3. Treat people the way you would want to be treated.
Also, as my mother says, remember that the way people act reflects the way they've been brought up and what they were taught about respecting other people, saying please and thank you, touching valuable and other people's things, etc. Just think, those holy terrors running around the stores this Xmas pulling down displays while their parents stand back and comment on how cute their kiddie is, are the same people who will be travelling on their own in 20 years. Yikes!!!
Moncton, N.B. & London, England 12/01/98
Our experience came while standing in the ticket line to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
An American man with a child was in front of us. We overheard him
asking for FREE admission to the top. She politely said no, in English,
and the Ugly American began to plead. She quoted the guy the price and
then he yelled (so that everyone could hear), "What is wrong with this
stupid place, not letting me go for free. Do you know who I am? I'm
an American! If it weren't for me, you wouldn't be here today. We saved
your country. We should at least get something for free!" and he walked
away saying "stupid country."
Birmingham, AL USA 11/30/98
I don't know why you all are so hung up with Americans and in trying
not to look like one. How you are treated depends on your attitiude. I
even occasionally wear white sneakers!
Houston, TX USA 11/29/98
Don't worry about cameras and Hawaiian shirts advertising you as
a tourist. The natives recognise tourists instantly, no matter what you
do. I would recommend, though, avoiding the classic "American tourist" look: blue jeans, white socks, white sneakers. Even though any Parisian
will know in an instant that I am American, when they see me wearing brown
socks and shoes with jeans, they know that I know. Sounds ridiculous,
but my Parisian friends have confirmed this.
Derby, UK 11/29/98
Living in Europe we take several holidays a year on the continent.
We see no age trend at all in 'ugliness'. Any age group is likely to wonder
why an Italian waiter doesn't understand the word 'butter' or why water
doesn't just appear on the table. And for all of you who would condemn
teens travelling, speaking from experience, wait until you take your own
teenage children to Europe! Example, standing on a street corner in a
seedy part of Naples, my son shouts, "Dad, how much money did you get
out of the cash machine?" Finally, it should have occurred to us all that
we can even learn about our own culture when we travel to other cultures!
Derby, UK 11/29/98
My "Ugly American" incident occurred on a bus trip out of London to see Stonehenge, Salisbury, and Bath. A mother and two daughters from Texas were sharing our table at the pub where we ate lunch. They wanted ice water. The coffee and tea provided wasn't going to cut it. After sitting and fuming and sputtering, one finally marched in the bar and asked, only to come stomping back with the news that you had to BUY a bottle of water. I assumed they may have just arrived and didn't realize water on the table is not routinely done in England. But, no, they had been to Paris and had already spent several days in England. If you can afford such a trip, surely you can afford to buy a darn bottle of Perrier water!
Three cheers to all who know how to "not sweat the small stuff" and
major razzzzberries to those who insist on having things "their way"
and making all our lives momentarily miserable!
West Winfield, NY USA 11/29/98
I have to disagree with the comments that ALL tour groups are rude.
We are not all loud and obnoxious, and not all singles and couples are "the perfect travellers". The group I travelled with were on the whole
a very well behaved group, even though there were over 40 of us. br>
Reston, va USA 11/28/98
Has anyone else noticed that the world has turned into a gigantic
children's museum? The biggest "ugly american" trend I've seen is people
thinking everything should be touchable and entertaining. I saw a (definitely
over 21) American stick his fingers in the eyeholes of a bust of a Pope
in the Vatican. The rationale seems to be that if there isn't a moat,
chain link fence, plexiglass, or other barrier that prevents it, it is
okay to touch.
CA USA 11/28/98
In Vienna I was standing in line at American Express waiting to cash
travelers' checks. Only one guy was working, and the poor guy was completely
overwhelmed. He spoke basic English, and this group of three American
women were trying to cash travelers' checks. After he gave the first woman
her money she started complaining loudly that she didn't want Austrian
money, she wanted American dollars. He tried to explain that giving her
American dollars, which she would later convert to Austrian money would
cause her to lose money on the extra exchange rate. She ignored this,
knowing she had to be right and kept demanding American dollars. Very
embarrassing for me and fellow Americans.
Brookville, IN USA 11/23/98
In Innsbruck, Austria, some gift shops that will accept three different
currencies for their items. I was strolling through one of these stores
when I heard this American woman obnoxiously demanding what each item
cost in each different currency. The idiot didn't realize that it cost
the same no matter what. The salesgirl did not speak english well enough
to explain this, so she affected a look of irritated suffering. I was
waiting outside, in order to berate her, but my friend whisked me away
before I could make an ass of myself, like the woman did.
Crownsville, md USA 11/19/98
As an Antipodean I tend to find the sight of Ugly Americans Abroad
a valid and hilarious part of my overseas experience (oh my God, darling,
look, they really do wear Hawaiian shirts and three cameras), but I do
find that these UAA's voices incredibly penetrating. Are these people
really unaware of this loudness, or do they just assume that naturally
everyone wants to hear?
My wife and I were on a train from London to Windsor one morning. It was almost empty, except for an American woman and a few students in school uniforms. We had settled in for a nice ride when suddenly, the American woman announced "anyone who would like to talk to an American teacher can come back here now and sit with me." We looked at each other and wondered why any of those kids would care that she was an American teacher, a British teacher or a Martian teacher. They have to listen to teachers all day!
In a demonstration of politeness, several did walk back to her seat...and
she launched into a long lecture about how and why we do things in American
schools. Gee, I wonder why many people abroad regard us as arrogant,
self-absorbed and self-important?
Alexandria, KY USA 11/15/98
My husband and I were having dinner at a restaurant in Paris. The table next to us was occupied by two couples. One woman was extremely loud, discussing her divorce, lousy ex-husband and "breast enhancement job" while waving a cigarette, shouting for the "garcon" (who was actually a woman), and unbuttoning more buttons on her blouse to show off the "work".
And, for an "ugly Japanese" story...we finally got to the point where
we started to dread seeing Japanese tour groups. In the Louvre I was
literally shoved out from in front of the Mona Lisa by a woman who said
"picture, please" and expected to be able to stand in front of the painting
Des Moines, IA USA 11/14/98
Obsessive Videotapers TAKE NOTE! I was at Versailles, in a gift shop, inspecting the prints for sale. A Japanese man, who was videotaping everything for sale, bumped into me. I assumed he didn't see me because he was so busy videotaping. Wrong! Within a few seconds he rammed me again, this time with greater force. It became clear he expected me to move out of the way so he could continue his videotaping with no interruptions.
I turned to him and said, "STOP THAT NOW." I have no clue if he understood
English, but he understood the look on my face. This sort of Videotaping
Offense happens all the time. Not the rude bumping/ramming, but people
who are slowly taping EVERYTHING and get upset when you actually want
to SEE the exhibit. Many of these tapers expect everyone to wait, move
out of the way, etc. for their convenience. I'll stop to let someone
take a quick photo so as not to ruin their shot, but I'll be damned
if I'll wait for someone to tape 10 minutes of the Mona Lisa when I
(and hundreds of others) want our chance too. The culprit in my story
was Japanese, but Americans are notorious for this behavior too.
In our travels through Europe we saw "ugly" travellers of all nationalities, not just Americans. As a matter of fact, we saw far more "ugly" German tourists who refused to stand in a line and would literally push you out of the way. We did encounter the loud American couple in a coffe shop in Siena complaining that their Coke was warm, and many Americans who didn't even attempt a "please" or "thank you" in the appropriate language.
It seems many American travellers think everyone should and does know
English. I can't even count the number of people we heard blurting out
colloquial american english without so much as a "Buongiorno".
Chicago, Il USA 11/10/98
I was waiting for a flight to Paris, and I asked the man next to
me what he was going to do in Europe. He turned to me and grunted, "Who
the hell cares about Europe?! I'm goin' over to get drunk and get laid."
Madison, WI USA 11/09/98
This is an "ugly Japanese" story (I am an American of Japanese descent). In Helsinki, a trio of Japanese ladies came into the main post office where I was waiting to purchase some stamps, and, instead of taking a number and waiting their turn, they walked immediately up to a window (with a customer standing in front of the window!), and started making their request--in Japanese! The clerk tried to get them to go away, to no avail. I informed them of the "queue system." They said, "ohhhhh!" got a ticket, and went immediately back to another window! Of course, they were told to go away again, and I explained to them that they had to wait for the number on their ticket.
They were so surprised to find a Japanese speaker in Helsinki, and
were so grateful that I had helped them, that they proceeded to take
turns sitting next to me, taking pictures! All the people in the post
office were staring. I was so embarrassed, I wanted to disappear...
san francisco, ca USA 11/08/98
I was living in England and was in London for a day. While waiting
to cross the street at Piccadilly Circus, there were two loud American
men in front of me. They kept saying (loudly), "These f***ing English,
they don't know how to drive. They're on the wrong side of the f***ing
road." Needless to say, I was ashamed to be American at that moment and
just kept my head down, crossing the street quickly.
A funny, rather than actually ugly, situation ocurred when my sister
was in Scotland. She didn't realize the name Scotch Tape is an American
brand name and means nothing to the Scottish. They kept trying to sell
her "cello" tape and she kept insisting on Scotch tape. She finally gave
up and accepted the cello tape. Of course, it was the same as "Scotch
In the Louvre, the employee was explaining to an American that he'd
have to leave his backpack there. His wife said in a very loud, shrill
voice, "I don't know why we have to do this, I don't want to see your
stupid pictures anyway," and stomped off in a huff. We tried to fake Scandanavian
accents when it was our turn to leave our backpacks. We saw them later,
and she was directing him on where to stand and how to hold the camera
to take pictures of the Mona Lisa (which is forbidden).
Ann Arbor, MI USA 11/04/98
While at a cozy little restaurant in the Swiss Alps an American acquaintance made a derogatory comment about the odd food and habits of the foreigners (the Swiss). My wife interrupted to remind her that we are the foreigners, not the Swiss waitress!
If you don't understand the culture just sit back and observe. Enjoy
the Europeans rather than insult them.
GA USA 11/04/98
My husband and I were recently in Spain and stayed in Madrid at both the beginning and end of our trip. Our first day we were walking through the Puerta del Sol at night when all the locals gather in the street for their nightly stroll. We were delighted to see all these people from all walks of life just enjoying themselves and each other. We commented to one other that if this many Americans were gathered together in one place the atmosphere would be much less joyful and much more rowdy and obnoxious.
Sure enough, on our last night, we were people-watching in Plaza Mayor
when this group of American guys started singing and screaming at the
top of their lungs, pseudo-break-dancing in the middle of the plaza,
and generally driving eveyone crazy. They even walked up to an elderly
Spanish couple and started singing in their faces until they hurried
for the nearest exit. The only people who were even giving them the
time of day were the local teenagers and even they seemed to just be
enjoying watching these grown men make idiots of themselves. It was
Chicago, IL USA 11/01/98
Agree with Don below--ugly comes in all nationalities. In many trips
to Europe I've met some (thankfully rare) Canadians, Brits, Ozzies, Kiwis,
Germans, Italians, and other nationalities whose behavior made me glad
to be born in the US of A. In general the best tourists are solo or couples,
regardless of nationality, and the worst those in groups, organized or
not. The former have to deal with the local culture continuously while
the latter move about like the boy in the bubble, encapsulated in a pseudo-homeland.
I would guess that the situation triggers or at least reinforces xenophobia--another
argument in favor of the Back Door travel philosophy!
Baltimore, MD USA 10/23/98
We had a girl on one of our trips who got gloomier every day. After
visiting Salzburg, Vienna, Nice and Venice she was finally confronted
about her attitude. She replied she was unhappy because "I didn't think
everything would be so old!" We threatened to put her on the next plane
home, but she came around (at least she stopped offending others). Needless
to say, all of our teenage travelers since have been well screened!
Paul R. Lindemuth
Benton Harbor, MI USA 10/23/98
How 'bout ugly British sightings? In Cascais, Portugal, we overheard
a group of British tourists bad-mouthing the Spanish and Portuguese languages
and cultures within hearing range of the Portuguese employees. I guess
large tour groups tend to be the same wherever you go.
Sacramento, CA USA 10/23/98
I was traveling in Turkey this past summer and spent several days in Antalya. A US aircraft carrier was in the harbor, so many American soldiers were in town. Stopped at a restaurant for a drink and several sailors sat at the table next. At first, it was nice to hear them conversing in my own language (I had been traveling for a while), but before long they became very insulting to the waiter and very loud about it.
They were upset because the waiter was not bringing their bill. I
could not stand it for long and interrupted them. I think they were
surprised to hear someone speaking their language and since I am in
my 50's, they probably were reminded of their mother! I explained to
them that in Turkey you need to request the bill because it is considered
rude of the waiter to bring it before requested - they do not wish to
rush you. Actually, the young men took it quite well. I am surprised
that the Navy does not require attendance at a lecture on local culture
before allowing men to take shore leave. I think that would go a long
way toward good will.
WI USA 10/21/98