You've probably heard of the Ugly American. It's a phrase commonly used to describe loud, rude, arrogant Americans abroad. These are the types of people who get upset when the corner ice cream stand doesn't accept dollars and yell at people to speak English already, even though they are in a country where English is not the national language.

I have run into many of these. One of my "favorite" encounters was the following, which I shared previously:

 I forgot to report on a very important event from our vacation. When my husband went to check out of the hotel in Budapest, there was a very obnoxious American (or at least American accented) family checking out. The mom was throwing a fit about every little thing and basically being the perfect example of the "ugly American." When they finally left the front desk clerk apologized to my husband for having to hear that and removed all of our breakfast costs from the bill to compensate for having to hear the crazy American woman.

When we boarded our train back to Austria, this same family was there. My husband wouldn't let me go up and thank the lady for the discount on our hotel bill.

One of my fellow expat friends (who I knew in college) shared an encounter she had with some Ugly Americans on a train in Italy on an expat Facebook page. People started to jump in with their stories of horrible people--many of whom were not Americans. 

Basically, it turns out, every country has horrible people who are loud, rude, and arrogant, and these people are horrible when they travel and, presumably, horrible at home. It's not limited to a single country.

So, why don't we hear about the "Ugly Dutch" or the "Ugly Chinese" tourists? Well, I suspect as China continues to become wealthier and more Chinese travel, we'll hear more about such people. (I encountered an incredibly rude Chinese man in Vietnam who was doing his best to reduce the hotel clerk to tears. They were both speaking English, so I understood exactly what was going on.) There just aren't that many Dutch though, to warrant a stereotype around their travelers.

I ran into some Ugly Swiss on my trip this past week. The kids have spring break, so we headed down to Venice. (It's an hour flight.) Venice is like European Disney because there are so few actual Venetians and so many tourists. Everywhere you turn there are tourists. Many are American because there are simply a lot of us.

We were on a Vaporetto, which is a boat that functions like a bus, taking you from stop to stop. There was a Swiss family with three obnoxious children, who were running around and bumping into people. Now, while I don't speak Swiss German (I speak High German), I can certainly understand a good deal of it, especially when it's directed towards children. So, I knew flat out that the Dad (Mom was sitting away from the others) wasn't instructing his kids to knock it off. He was speaking to them, but not telling them to behave better.

I ignored it. Then one of the kids slammed into me. The dad said to the kids, in Swiss German, "leave the lady alone." I responded, "macht nichts." It just means, colloquially, no big deal. The dad, at this point, turned white, grabbed his kids and headed to the other side of the boat.

It seems that as long as he could be anonymous in a sea of what he presumed to be non-Swiss people, he was okay with his kids being nightmares, but as soon as he understood that I could speak his language and understood what was going on, he was embarrassed.

Sometimes I think we're all too much like this. We are rude to people we don't know precisely because we don't know them, and we think it doesn't really matter. We reserve our manners for people we know and think it's okay to be rude to people we don't. There are evolutionary reasons for this--strangers often meant danger. But, those reasons are long gone (at least on boats in Venice). But this guy saw me as an "other" until I made it clear that I  was part of his group.

I see a lot of "othering" within cultures as well. People who treat people with differing political views as evil rather than consider that they have had different experiences and ideas are a huge problem that we face. Social media enforces this.

For a while, I followed everyone who followed me on Twitter, which means I follow over 12,000 people. But my Twitter feed rarely shows me anything except the few people whose posts I've liked or retweeted. I tend to like and retweet things I agree with. So, even though my actual list of people I follow is incredibly diverse, my Twitter feed was incredibly one-sided. If I wasn't aware of this, I might think that the whole world agreed with me! (Never fear, I know that's not true!) So, I've started liking things I didn't actually agree with but merely wanted to see to get different viewpoints into my feed.

A very critical part of my job is to see all sides of an issue, and I can't do that if all I read are things that repeat my point of view. It's a huge issue.If you're mean to people who are different than you are, you're being an Ugly Person, regardless of nationality. 

Agree or disagree, stranger or neighbor, we'll be better off if we quash the "ugly" side of ourselves and be kind to everyone. 

Published on: Apr 7, 2018