The Ugly American

I am not directly talking about the book that started the term, I am talking about the ugly ones themselves. Not all Americans are ugly. But they certainly aren’t all pretty and handsome either.

Physical attractiveness aside, the term “ugly American” refers to someone from the USA who goes to another country and takes no care or concern for the culture in which they are visiting. The Wikipedia article on the subject says:

More often, stories of the “ugly American” abound largely out of tourists who make little to no effort to understand the nations they are visiting, or even the idea that the world doesn’t revolve around the United States. Said examples can include an American woman in Paris yelling at a department store clerk for refusing to accept American currency and the “ridiculous idea” that the clerk will only accept French Francs as payment.

I could give example after example of the stereotypical ugly American in just my experiences over the last couple of years. I could fill a page full of blog postings with just examples from the last 24 hours!

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is people’s absolute inability to see that they are being the ugly American. They take no interest in the people around them. They do not have any clue that the reason they stand out like a sore thumb is not because their skin color is different or that they talk differently, but because they do not even attempt to look or act like the locals.

At the restaurant tonight there was a CD player that had several disks sitting beside it. The worker had put on a CD and walked away. One young man said he would go over and change the disk and if the lady asked why he did it he would just respond with, “I’m sorry. I’m an American.” His point would be that she would have to forgive him because he not only is not a local, but that he is an American and he felt entitled to do whatever he wanted.

A young, American, lady asked me tonight if wearing “flip-flops” to church on Sunday would be appropriate, or if she had to wear heels. I am not the leader of the group and therefore did not know what the policy set forth had been (I hope there has been one by either the church group leader or the missionary who is hosting the group). Therefore, I did not want to give a definitive answer. I told her that there would be many (most) of the ladies wearing flip-flops on Sunday, but that it would be appropriate (and proper) to wear nicer shoes if they were available. She responded with, “then if they are going to wear flip-flops, I will too.” While this sounds like deference to the locals, she (though I tried to explain to her) did not understand that the reason the locals wear what they wear is because that is all they can afford. But no one would see it as inappropriate for someone to wear nicer shoes.

Here is where the disconnect comes. This young lady is concerned about fitting in on Sunday for church by dressing down as much as possible, but has no care for dressing more appropriately at other times. While asking these questions to me, she was wearing a pair of very small shorts and tight spaghetti strap top. In the city where I live, you will almost never see a Mexican lady quite scantily clad. This is going to sound harsh, but it is a true statement and strives to prove my point. Even the prostitutes here wear more clothes than that.

“I give no notice, or care, to trying to dress appropriately at any other time, but yet I don’t want to wear nice shoes on Sunday for church if the others will be wearing flip-flops.” Do you see a problem with that thinking?

Outside of the “ugly Americanism” is one other issue I would just like to touch on. Whatever happened to Christian young people looking different from the world?

I was standing in the walkway out front of a store waiting for the group to emerge. In the mean time another group walked up. Obviously Americans; you can pick them out easily when you know in which ways Americans stereotypically are ugly. I thought that they certainly were not a church group. They must just be a group of high school graduate friends vacationing in Mexico. I based this solely on what they were wearing and how they acted.

Then out steps the group that I am with. I saw little to no difference in the way they were dressed or acted. Now I am not convinced that the other group of older teens were not here on a missions trip as well.

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