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Saturday, June 15, 2013

The “Cool” Versus the “Ugly” American


 In all of my travels, especially to a third-word country, I try to the best of my knowledge to behave as the “cool” American, interacting and learning from everyday people, and incorporating myself into the country's culture. I even did this when I was a young US Navy sailor overseas. For example, while waiting for my flight to Mexico City, I approached a group of Mexican men with a question. Not only did I approach them in Spanish, but I used basic Latin-American etiquette I learned while in Perú by preceding my question with buenas noches (good evening). After about five minutes of chatting, they asked where I was from. I was flattered when they didn't believe that I am American. I had to show them my passport and bust some English to prove it. It's not that I am not proud to be an American; I am proud to be a cool American versus the ugly American.

A woman in Cuba told me in a letter that I'm one of the few Americans who try to stay in touch with people after visiting. If I visit a country and people take the time out to make my stay pleasant, why not stay in touch? Why “do” so many Americans return home and forget the friends they made? As I'm writing this blog post, the birthday of a woman who showed me around Quito, Ecuador is approaching, and as I so every year, I'm calling her to wish her a happy birthday. Friends that I meet during my travels are friends for life.

One day, in my home away from home, Chincha, Perú, I just happened to stop in one of my favorite restaurants for a meal. When the waiter learned that I'm an American he asked me point blank, in an inquisitive tone, if we Americans think we are superior. Obviously, he met as well as heard about The Ugly American who visits and behaves arrogantly when interacting with locals. I explained to him that in the USA there are people who feel superior to other Americans, and that feeling of superiority is nothing more than inferior feelings in reverse. Unfortunately there are people who need others with whom to feel superior in order to validate their self worth, and this is not just an American issue. It happens all over the world.