Anyone who has traveled more than five feet past the border of the United States has seen them. Usually they are loud, obnoxious, lack a factual basis for most of what they say, and come wrapped in the American flag. In 1958, authors Eugene Burdick and William Lederer wrote a book starring Homer Atkins, a fictional character who nearly 60 years ago still defines them.
“Them” in this case is the Ugly American. Webster-Merrimam.com and their dictionary define an Ugly American as “an American in a foreign country whose behavior is offensive to the people of that country.” You can’t avoid them almost anywhere you travel. In Bangkok, you might find Ugly American’s boasting loudly in a bar about how “in America (usually pronounced ‘Murika') we do it this way.” In Paris you find them walking the streets in search of the fictional “arrogant Frenchman” when in fact the only arrogant people in France are Americans traveling there hoping to find an arrogant French person. Ugly Americans can be found in restaurants in Ecuador bellowing at Ecuadorian waiters saying in English “Why can’t you understand what I’m saying, boy?” Then to add to their Ugly American credentials they increase the volume of their voice assuming that if they talk or yell even louder somehow the recipient of their venom will miraculously learn how to speak and understand English that very second.
Instances of Ugly Americans seem to have increased exponentially since the attacks on New York and Washington DC on September 11, 2001. They strut around wearing the American flag as a shirt or as a patch on the ass of their pants and have been known on occasion to burst into a chorus of “USA!, USA!, USA!” when two or more of them congregate in the same foreign location. Ugly Americans seem to be equal opportunity bigots and loudmouths although there are far more of them in locations where the local skin color is brown or black rather than in lily white places like Iceland or Switzerland.
Cruise ships seem not to be immune to an infestation of Ugly Americanism. One of the most egregious examples I’ve witnessed was a Georgia redneck standing in line for breakfast our second morning at sea as we cruised south along the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula toward Costa Maya.
I knew he was an Ugly American by the things he said and I knew he was from Georgia because of the Georgia Bulldogs t-shirt that he wore. I also knew he was a South Georgia redneck because of his heavy South Georgia accent. For the uninitiated, a Georgia redneck will tell someone to “come over here, boy” whereas a South Georgia redneck will say in a nasal twang, “come over he-ah, boy.” The Georgia Boy standing in the breakfast line this morning could drawl “he-ah, boy” with the finest rednecks anywhere south of Macon.
After placing his order for an omelet, Georgia Boy leaned forward and looked at the cook’s name tag. It said “Mohammed.” Georgia Boy then asked Mohammed where he was from.
“I come from Indonesia,” Mohammed said with great pride. Anyone who has traveled to Indonesia knows that it is a beautiful country filled with very kind and sensitive people. However Georgia Boy didn’t receive and read the memo on Indonesia and Indonesians. Instead he said, “Indonesia! That’s a Muslim country isn’t it?”
Yes, Georgia Boy, it is. In fact Indonesia is the largest Muslim nation on the planet.
The cook responded saying in very understandable English that Indonesia was a Muslim nation and that he was Muslim.
Georgia Boy, probably wondering how he could survive another day at sea without his daily indoctrination from the Fox News Channel, could not resist displaying his level of arrogance said “You’re not going to put anything in my omelet that will kill me, are you boy?” He then added, “ha ha ha” for effect.
The cook, knowing that he would likely lose his job if he said what he really wanted to say kept his mouth shut. I did not.
“There is a very good reason most of the world hates Americans, and you just demonstrated it you ignorant son-of-a-bitch,” I said.
“What do you mean, boy?” Georgia Boy barked.
“You just insulted this man, the nation he comes from, and his religion because you’re too fucking ignorant to accept that not everyone is just like you.”
Visibly annoyed now, Georgia Boy fired back saying, “So what’s it to you. Are you a fucking Muslim?”
“Yes I am,” I said, “and I have been since birth.”
Further reinforcing his level of ignorance, Georgia Boy then said, “But you can’t be Muslim, you’re white!”
I just smiled and said “Allah akbar” (“God is the greatest” in Arabic) and walked away with my breakfast tray. Luckily Georgia Boy didn’t notice the two strips of bacon on my plate or my cover would have been blown.