Readers React to "Are You the Ugly American?"
We've gotten an outpouring of praise and criticism in response to our article Are You the Ugly American? on 10 common mistakes Americans make when traveling abroad. Here's a sampling:
I am writing in response to Erin Richards' article on Budget Travel Online, "Are You the Ugly American?" In the article she states that in Germany, it can take up to three hours or more to get your meal while dining out. Either Ms. Richards is exaggerating (A LOT) or she has never eaten out in Germany. We are a military family and were fortunate enough to be stationed in Germany for three years. While there we ate out at least once a week. We also traveled around the entire country extensively. We never, EVER waited three hours for a meal. Not even two hours. The wait may have been a little longer in some places, but no more than trying to eat at Olive Garden on a busy night here in the States. I do agree that Americans do need to be more culturally sensitive when they travel abroad, and not expect other countries and cultures to become like us. However, I could not finish the article because after the "three hour wait" statement, I found the author's credibility to be questionable. --Diane Bralley, San Antonio, Tex.
As a teacher who has lived for 16 years in Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands and traveled extensively worldwide, I couldn't agree more with your list of potential pitfalls. Dress, impatience, lack of language, and arrogance are the four I most often see that have the greatest negative impact. I have a niece who worked in Galway as a waitress in a pub, and she said the worst patrons were the Americans because they wanted everything to be just like in America: ice in their drinks and free refills, hot dogs, hamburgers, Budweiser, ice cream, pizza, etc. I wonder what our response would be to the German who wanted a breakfast of cold meats, a variety of breads, cheeses, yogurts, fruits, and hard boiled eggs. I might add that we are also VERY LOUD when conversing. It certainly isn't difficult for the locals to pick us out; 10 Americans sound like 25 Germans or Dutch. Since my stay in the States these past 10 months while assisting my ill mother, I am amazed at the increase in pace and lack of patience whether waiting in line or driving in rush hour traffic. I also can't understand why anyone would want the check before they have even gotten their food. I can't wait to return to the Netherlands and enjoy a three hour meal. I always say, the hardest thing to get at dinner is the check. --Larry Kirchner
It is an obvious reference to the book, The Ugly American, by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick. This book was made required reading by my admiral when I was stationed overseas with the U.S. Navy in Singapore for three years. (I also lived in London for three years.) I'm just wondering, has Erin Richards ever read the book? She implies it's a bad thing to be an "ugly American," but in the book, the "ugly American" is actually the hero of the story! Although a short, round, bald fellow with glasses and homely features, he is a clever mechanical/engineering type who learns the local language and customs and works with the local people to solve irrigation problems. He and his wife live humbly in a home like the locals have in their fictitious foreign nation. Very soon he and his wife are trusted and loved by the local people. It is true there are many Americans who seem to lose their manners when they go abroad (if they ever had any), and Americans can be quite arrogant and ethnocentric. In that sense, we MAY be ugly, but in the book, even someone with an ugly appearance could be a positive representative of America. --Jeff Saville, Temecula, Calif.
I think it is time for an article for tourists about how to act in my country, the United States. People seem to think it is alright to visit here and act obnoxious. People love to denigrate Americans even while being given our hospitality. I am as proud of my country as they claim to be of theirs. --Jan Taylor, Greenville, Miss.
I have no problem with informational articles on customs and etiquette when traveling outside the U.S. However, why must you employ the liberal, politically correct, hate America (and Americans) phrase used in your headline? I am irritated by your presumption that any error made in a foreign country immediately qualifies Americans for such a timeworn, cheap shot label. Your elitism shines through in a liberal magazine owned by an over-the-top liberal. Perhaps you, Erin, are the ugly American, living in America. --Stan Stoneking, Citrus Heights, Calif.