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Tourist telltale sign # 452: being a totally disconnected spectator. Photo: Jon Feinstein

Obnoxious tourists aren’t all from America, although we seem to have more than our fair share. Here’s maybe the most straight up guide ever written on how to spot ugly tourist behavior and avoid it . . .for everyone’s sake.

TUESDAY I WAS STUCK on a bus for four hours. I say ‘stuck’ because there was an American guy behind me yammering away at a very gracious Argentinean woman. I was embarrassed to be from the United States.

Offense #1

“My friends back home would not have been able to stand that. All that Spanish for two hours. No way. They woulda said, ‘I’m outta here,’ and took off after twenty minutes. No way. No. None of those guys back home coulda put up with that. . not that I’m complaining or anything.”

If you don’t know what’s wrong with what the prick said, maybe you should leave international travel for those who do.

First of all – not complaining? Oh yes he was, and in the most insipid way possible, by claiming not to be. The woman he was speaking to was kindly speaking his language on a national holiday that I’m sure she would have enjoyed spending in another way. His statement did more than point out his lack of interest in her language. It revealed his contempt for it.

At the same time he was congratulating himself for “putting up with” two hours of Spanish, he was revealing himself to be someone so dull he couldn’t be bothered to find anything interesting about other people who did not speak English based on their gestures, personalities or expressions.

He revealed himself to be someone who feels he should be catered to, translated for, and that any experience that isn’t set up explicitly for him to enjoy is a situation to be endured rather than appreciated.

He expected to be praised for this. He repeated this snippet of masturbatory self congratulation at least three times and he never got an agreement out of the woman. She was graciously trying to let it pass without comment. But that wasn’t good enough. He just had to be patted on the back, and much like spanking it to soft core porn, the experience of trying to satisfy himself was leaving something to be desired.

Offense # 2

A guy from California related the following story to me. By way of background, there is dog shit all over the sidewalks here in Buenos Aires. It’s not uncommon at all to see a genteel looking fellow walking his schnauzer, calmly watching the dog dump a load in the middle of the sidewalk and continue on his way.

People from here complain about it, sure. They also generally know how to avoid it. Back to the guy from California. Here’s what he had to say:

“The other day I saw a woman pick up her dog’s shit. I went up to her and I said, ‘Thank you! Thank you! It’s great that you picked that up! Good job!’”

Can you guess what’s wrong with this?

It’s so patronizing it almost makes me ill.

It implies he has some kind of stake in the city. The guy was here for three months and will probably never be back. It implies that he knows better than the majority of the people here how best to behave.

If I were that woman and some whacked out hippie came up to me with his Yanqui accent and said that, I’d probably be leaving my dog’s turds on the sidewalk from that day forward.

Offense # 3

My third tale comes from a blog of an acquaintance from Australia.

There is a lot of trash on the street in Buenos Aires. Some of this has to do with the fact that there are people who pick the trash (cartoneros) who pull recyclables out of the waste of the masses, leaving a swath of loose garbage in their wake. Also, people litter. That’s the city. It’s a dirty city and I like dirty cities, but not this son of a bitch.

His story went something like this:

He saw a woman throw a candy bar wrapper on the sidewalk. He picked it up and handed it back to her and told her that she’d dropped it, pointing out a nearby trash can.

This guy’s Spanish is rudimentary at best. The anti-litter-bug decided to make a correction. In so doing, he insulted a citizen, and made an ass of himself.

Here’s what his behavior said:

  • I come from a superior culture that knows better.
  • I’m going to instruct you in the ways of my superior culture.
  • I find the appearance of your city distasteful and rather than leave, I will take my mild aggression out on someone I can identify as a culprit, and that’s you.

He was so satisfied with himself that given time for reflection, he chose to display his rude and arrogant behavior in a public forum. In this way he flaunted his shitty attitude and feeling of superiority while insulting Buenos Aires as being filthy at the same time.

Lessons learned / How not to be an obnoxious tourist

Here’s the thing. If you’re going to travel, please, please, pretty please keep in mind you are a guest. Here are some lessons from the offenses above:

Lesson 1: Don’t fish for compliments for putting up with another culture.

You are a visitor. The people who have allowed you into their country aren’t props in some little game you have in your mind. You are lucky to be there. Appreciate it and let people know you do.

Lesson 2: Make an attempt to learn the language.
Lesson 3: Be humble. Your country sucks, too.

If someone came to your country as a foreigner and all they did was bitch and complain, taking short breaks to brag about what a trooper they were for sticking it out or putting up with the way things were, you might be nice to their face, but you’d be thinking, “Why don’t you just go home if you hate it so much, you putrid bastard?”

The best way to behave, at least until you’ve gotten your bearings, is as if you are in the house of your friend’s parents. Be on your best behavior. Clean up after yourself. Mind your manners. Ask before taking. Listen when spoken to. Apologize if you do not understand. Treat the people with respect.

Photos Kate Sedgwick (unless otherwise noted)

 

 

About The Author

Kate Sedgwick

Editor-at-large, Kate Sedgwick, works from Buenos Aires where she organizes her live storytelling project, Second Story Buenos Aires. Read more about her than you might want to know at her blog YesThereIsSuchAThingAsAStupidQuestion.com, and follow her infrequent tweets @KateSedgwick.

  • http://www.huevosalamexicana.com Sarah

    Hey Kate,

    I’m in agreement with most of this and think that many travelers (including myself at times) have a tendency to forget that, as you put it, home sucks too. I’ve lived abroad for the past five years and sometimes find myself thinking glorious things about the U.S that I know aren’t true–I quickly realize this the moment I go back.

    That said, I don’t think that travelers should always be obsequious to the culture they’re visiting. Obviously respect for people, different languages, and cultural differences is a must. However, there are times when I think travelers should speak up. Take China for example–I lived in Beijing for a year and I was told to never mention anything in the classes I taught at a university there about Tibet, the Western media, censorship, etc. I tried to talk to Chinese people about censorship and about a Chinese journalist who’d been jailed for years for blogging about the government, and they essentially told me, “you have no right to criticize China, you’re not Chinese and you’re a guest.” Now, frankly, I think that’s bullshit.

    I also think there’s a huge difference between getting pissed off because people speak in Chinese (which, really, you should never even bother traveling independently of a tour if that kind of thing bothers you) and getting pissed off because you see that not one of your students can get access to American newspaper articles about Tiananmen Square nor do they have any clue about what is happening outside of the info they’re fed. If foreigners shut up and simply accept the mantra that they’re guests with no right to criticize–gently, politely, and with respect–another culture, than it seems the point of cultural exchange is lost.

    So yeah. I agree there are plenty of times when travelers show some ridiculous and embarrassing sense of entitlement. But I also think there are things that, regardless of whatever culture wherever, should be criticized.

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/k-crimini Kate

    I’m not making the point here not to be critical of a culture no matter what. Nor am I saying that having a political conversation among grown-ups who express an interest is off limits.

    What I am saying is that the pass-time of complaining and bitching about minutia or reprimanding citizens for things that bother you is not constructive. Not only does it detract from your own experience of seeing a place for the way it is and experiencing that, but it makes you (not you, but the global you) look like an asshole. The global you – foreigner – reflects on all visitors. That’s the way it is.

    Also, good on you for having political discussions in China and lucky for you nothing happened to you. I hope your students continue to be as lucky as you were if they continue to defy the status quo.

  • Debi G

    Hi Kate,

    I’ve traveled around the world and love this article! I noticed in BA that the streets were littered with dog poo, but so are the streets of the UES in NYC on a rainy/less-than-nice day. I do think that American travelers have gotten better in the past 10+ years, but there will always be those that we shake our heads at and try to avoid being associated with. When I see/hear obnoxious Americans I usually move away and get annoyed with them, but then try to give them the benefit of the doubt since they are venturing abroad and trying something new (which is more than most Americans do).

    I look forward to reading more of your articles.
    Best,
    Debi

  • http://www.huevosalamexicana.com Sarah

    Hey Kate,

    Yeah, I highly doubt my students would ever be too critical and if they were there’s no way they’d get away with it. I didn’t go too far out on a limb in China, just far enough to create some serious defensiveness among most Chinese.

    To play devil’s advocate here…I don’t see anything wrong with politely, respectfully complaining–or lets say criticizing–a certain aspect of culture. For example, I wouldn’t find anything wrong with saying, “Yeah, I think it sucks that there’s dog crap everywhere in the street here, even though I love Buenos Aires.” You’re right, it’s reflects really badly on foreigners to go around with an obnoxious holier-than-thou self-righteous attitude…but hey, that’s obnoxious anywhere and reflects badly on people anywhere, at home or away. And I think this idea that foreigners shouldn’t criticize a place because “that’s how it is” is flawed. You seem to say here that foreigners should either accept and like a place as it is or leave.

    Again, just playing devil’s advocate…I think you make some great points here. I’m essentially defending my Right to Bitch (mostly about macho men in Mexico.)

  • http://www.matadorabroad.com Tim Patterson

    I absolutely love your writing, Kate.

  • http://beyondbounds.org Jason

    Great article and I agree that people shouldn’t constantly bitch and complain. I really do get tired of it. I live in China and there are far a lot of foreigners here who can’t stop complaining; however..

    Don’t you think Americans already take enough shit? Do you really have to point it out as an American problem? You DID point out that Australians / other places can be poorly mannered as well. Yes you did point out in the article that you know it’s not just Americans, but the title is what draws people in, and is bolded and large. Imagine if you said “How to not be an annoying Chinese waiting in line for the subway.” How would that go over?

    Also, Sarah:

    “I don’t see anything wrong with politely, respectfully complaining–or lets say criticizing–a certain aspect of culture.”

    Be careful not to label “dog shit on the streets” as a part of culture. It’s not culture, it’s just sanitation problems.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like the writing. Keep it up :)

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/k-crimini Kate

    @ Debi – Thank you. Yes, it’s best to grin and bear it. What can I say? I like getting angry and picking things apart. If it’s my tragic flaw, at least I enjoy it.

    @ Tim – Awww. Thanks, guy. Back at you.

    @ Sarah – I lived in a neighborhood where guys were always saying stuff in the street. It dawned on me that it was a way of saying hello and so I mostly just nodded or said “hi,” and that was good enough.

    I have been called enough horrible things in my life to take a compliment for what it is – sometimes you’re just not in the mood – I get it. But seeing relatively innocuous comments on the street as an affront to your womanhood only ruins your day. Don’t give those incidents the power.

    For some reason being mistaken for an actual whore always made me the angriest. In that same neighborhood any woman walking alone might have been one regardless of how she was dressed. Once I screamed at a man who had slowed down his car to see what was on offer, “Your wife loves you!” You wouldn’t believe how quickly he peeled out. Ha ha! The look on his face!

    This, of course, does not apply when someone puts their hands on me. Then all bets are off.

  • http://www.huevosalamexicana.com Sarah

    Hi Kate,

    I agree that getting angry often gives an incident more power than it probably deserves–but I firmly disagree that many of the things guys say, at least here in Mexico, are compliments. A lot of the time it is a pure show of macho power–I’ve had men say “fuck me” to me, or kiss and honk their horns repetitively for minutes while I walked past–it’s a form of domination.

    It’s also a big game for them and a form of putting me in my place. They laugh even harder if I tell them to stop. I’ve also had men say things like “suck my dick” or kiss super close to my face. You wouldn’t believe it. My female friends here can’t stand it, either, and I don’t think anyone–men or women–thinks its intended as a compliment.

    I never had any problems when I was in Argentina or Chile, though, and was actually super relieved during the weeks I spent in B.A because it was a major reprieve from machismo. So maybe it’s a different attitude there?

    @ Jason: You’re right, dog shit is an example of poor sanitation…but no one picking it up, and everybody bitching about it and stepping around it without the situation ever changing is an example of culture. At least in my opinion. ;)

  • http://www.keepingpaceinjapan.com Turner

    I have to side with Sarah on her point of respectful complaints; many Japanese don’t speak out against wrongdoing if the majority of the population doesn’t, and sometimes it takes an outsider’s opinion to put things in perspective. I’ve been known to say shoganai (it can’t be helped) in Japan and mai pen rai (it’s nothing) in Thailand, but I never really bought into the mentality.

    That having been said, you really tore into that guy – nice work.

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/k-crimini Kate

    @ Jason – I am from America, so I have a right to call it an American problem. And, no. Americans don’t get enough shit because no one breaks it down. They just say, “Uh, Americans,” and roll their eyes or else it’s said in a language that can’t be understood by those who may need to hear it the most.

    Also, what kind of a title would “How to avoid being an Ugly English Speaking Tourist” be? It doesn’t have the same ring.

    @ Sarah – Holy shit! That sounds just awful. I don’t even know how I would react to that besides to get the fuck out of there. I wish you had gone into more detail in your recent article because really, the devil is in the details and I imagined it to be much milder than what you described above.

    Kissing noises are pretty prevalent here as a mode of getting someone’s attention. I’m not trying to draw comparisons or minimize what you wrote – just to say that I find that sound difficult not to take a certain way since where I come from it’s very rude and has a specific meaning (as I imagine it does where you are now).

    @ Turner – I wish I had said any of it to his face.

    I complain at times among people who know me or bring things up themselves. I just find it very rude to reprimand a complete stranger. In every one of these instances, it was a skinny waif of a guy laying a trip on a woman, too. I’d really like to see some of these guys try it with someone they were at all intimidated by.

    Maybe a good rule of thumb for censoring your own rude behavior is to ask yourself, “If the person I am about to say this to were 250 lbs. of steroid muscle, would I still say it?” If the answer is no, err on the side of courtesy.

  • Bryant Knight

    Kate’s comments are off-mark.

    Kate seems to want travelers to adjust their behavior to match how she thinks all travelers should behave. To encourage such a change, she dashes her writing with biting insults.

    Travelers are not (and should not be) soul-less manifestations of Kate’s super-charged vision of the ideal traveler, and they could not care less about Kate’s condemnations. Travelers are human beings. As a result, they have foibles. Get over your pride and just deal with it.

    “It’s so patronizing it almost makes me ill.” — Oh the horror.

  • Scott

    I think most of the people that read the Matador blogs are conscientious travelers. You’re preaching to the choir by posting this article here. Get it out there somewhere where the obnoxious tourists will see it. And while you’re at it please translate it into French and German. I’ve seen too many instances where tourists from those two nations are assholes.

    “I come from a superior culture that knows better.
    I’m going to instruct you in the ways of my superior culture.”

    This quote struck me, because as an America I have dealt with this attitude from Europeans I’ve met within America and without. They spend an hour discussing the ills of American society, and how they are superior, and then try and cop out with the phrase “I have nothing against the American people. It’s the American government I can’t stand”. But, yet they said nothing of American government the whole time.

  • http://www.huevosalamexicana.com Sarah

    @ Kate – It’s not always awful, but it can be pretty bad sometimes. I’ve read in several places that Mexico is one of the most “macho” places in Latin America, and since Oaxaca had this huge social movement that destroyed the economy in 2006, it seems that the threatening machismo factor has gotten much more intense. This could also be a reflection of me returning from China, where the machismo factor (at least in the whistling/kissing sense) is about a negative ten. Here, there are the tamer sort of catcalls, but every once in awhile–maybe once or twice a week–there’s one that is threatening and insulting. Usually those are in English. So yeah, I bitch about it. But so do almost all of my female friends here and thank god, because if nobody said anything it would go on being the norm…which it does anyway, but hopefully with time…

    @ Bryant– I think your comment misses the point of Kate’s article. What “super-charged” vision are you referring to here? The goal of not insulting others? And since when is it “soul-less” to demonstrate humility and respect when traveling?

    I don’t think her writing is asking travelers to be perfect at all. She’s merely asking travelers to be respectful of the places they visit and aware of their own biases. Sure, travelers have “foibles” but I don’t think that excuses them for some serious rudeness in certain situations. And criticizing someone or their country rudely and patronizingly is not a “foible” but a deliberate behavior.

    Finally, I don’t think travelers “could care less” about what Kate says: see all the above comments.

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/k-crimini Kate

    @ B. Knight – Thanks for charging in on your white horse. Maybe you’re right. Wasn’t it James Brown – The Godfather of Soul who wrote the hit tune “I Will Critique Your Foreign Ways”? I think it was – and if so, then your theory that I would wish for American travelers to be soul-less drones with nothing to say carries a lot of weight! And please say my name again. It’s such a turn on.

    @ Scott – Maybe you’re right about the visitors to America. I haven’t heard the same comments and I, myself, am very critical of American culture. It’s like a plague! The music and movies are everywhere – sometimes that’s good and sometimes it’s bad. You should write something about visitors to America. I’d be interested to read it.

    @Sarah- It’s weird – I never considered those behaviors “macho” per se. I don’t know why I don’t think of macho as being anti-woman. Maybe I need to do some more reading. Someone I now from Canada said he didn’t like Buenos Aires becuase there was so much machismo – and I just don’t see it here so much.

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/david-miller David Miller

    @ Scott: “I think most of the people that read the Matador blogs are conscientious travelers. You’re preaching to the choir by posting this article here.”

    i hear you but this isn’t really the case. these articles get linked to all over the web so the message does get out.

    “Get it out there somewhere where the obnoxious tourists will see it. And while you’re at it please translate it into French and German. I’ve seen too many instances where tourists from those two nations are assholes.”

    hilarious man. . . word up.

  • http://abitpants-exfiles.blogspot.com/ Elizabeth

    True True! Loved the article and can totally relate! It’s all about experiencing other cultures, don’t go and belittle what is different! Love your writing!

  • Jane

    I spent almost 3 weeks in Brazil. I was appalled at some stuff that I saw. But, when I am in their country, I have no right to say anything.

    My bf and I stayed in a pousada near Praia da Macumba. Since my bf is Brazilian, he held more clout. For example, the toilet did not have a seat and was frequently not flushed. As we got to know the caretakers, they asked my bf for suggestions to improve the place. My bf directly told them to fix up some stuff and to please keep the bathroom clean if they want to have guests. They did consider his suggestions. He told them he was willing to help them out if needed.

    We went to a reggae show and to bf’s horror, he saw a guy leave the bathroom without flushing the toilet. He started to yell at the guy in Portuguese. Another person saw this, and politely pulled my bf aside. He said “I know its disgusting, but keep your mouth shut, otherwise someone will kick your a**.” After being told about that, I told my bf the person who pulled you aside was doing a huge favor.

    If a foreigner, like myself, did something similar to the mentioned scenarios, I would of had some problems. Was my bf acting like an ugly American? Maybe he was to some, but he saved face. I kept my mouth shut on those things, and kept a poker face.

  • Eva

    “But, when I am in their country, I have no right to say anything.”

    This is a tricky one. I don’t think it’s as simple as “you’re a foreigner here, keep your mouth shut” — sure, of course, don’t belittle the food or the music or whatever, but some things are fair game, in my book.

    When I lived in the UK, any time I raised an objection to a racial slur used in my presence (which happened surprisingly often) the answer I got was “Well, you’re a visitor in this country…”

    But does being foreign really mean I can’t vocalize my distaste with British people giving Nazi salutes to German exchange students? Or disagree with the person who told me that “calling someone a ‘nigger’ just isn’t a big deal here”? Or tell off the people making pseudo-Native American “war cries”?

    Part of the point of travel is dialogue and exchange. We can learn a lot from the people we visit, but they can sometimes learn from us, too. I’m not suggesting that we all run around evangelizing or correcting everything we see as a mistake — but silencing ourselves, instead of engaging in constructive dialogue, renders travel sort of meaningless, doesn’t it?

    • GAC

      EVA
      Sounds like you were hanging around with racists in the UK (where I’m from), as a nation I don’t think we’re worse than anywhere else though. We are the worst tourists in other ways being guilty of much of the above. Look at the replies from many americans and you’ll see that the article was probably worth writing cos 6 out of 10 obviously think they have the right to turn the rest of the world into the US.
      As for the dogsh*t they should probably clean it up though.

  • http://www.huevosalamexicana.com Sarah

    Eva-

    This was exactly my point, thank you. If travel were simply about passively observing and taking everything to be culturally relative (“hey, calling someone a nigger in England is OK!” or “hey, they don’t let blacks vote in South Africa, but that’s part of their culture”) than I think the meaning is pretty much lost. This is not to say, of course, that travelers should go around self-righteously lambasting other cultures. Of course not. But–I always use China as an example–if every foreigner that went to teach and live in China followed the line that the Chinese government is the supreme example of wisdom and greatness, would the censorship and the repression of Tibetan monks (both of which I think are deeply disturbing and wrong) ever change? Or how long would it take for change to happen?

  • J

    There’s a big difference between being patronizing and making real changes in a country not of your own. So unless you’re Mother Teresa doing any real good by first, ah, isn’t that important – showing humility and commitment to change – then there’s no reason why you as a tourist (yes tourist, that’s all you’ll ever be to locals if you’re there touch and go), should talk shit on their culture.

  • Eva

    J – I’m curious. Do you find it patronizing if someone objects to the use of a generally accepted racial slur? Or were you responding to some earlier part of the discussion? Because I really don’t think I should have to be Mother Teresa before I can say, “Hey, you know, it’s not really okay to call someone a nigger.”

  • J

    @Eva, i’m certain racism and racist slurs in the UK are not encouraged. In fact, it’s even frowned upon and condemned by most of the UK. Look, if the BNP took control of parliament all hell will break loose. You’re comparing apples with oranges – one’s a generally accepted culture (eg. certain ways of dressing), the other is culturally frowned upon (racism) but practiced by certain people.

  • Eva

    @J Fair enough. (Although, a majority of the students I knew engaged in this sort of racial baiting publicly and regularly, without anyone but me ever speaking up. I’m not going to argue that overall, the UK tolerates public racism — but it certainly seemed to be completely acceptable in the circles I moved in, sadly.) I’m guessing, then, that the “patronizing” comment wasn’t directed at me and my discomfort with racial slurs?

  • J

    @Eva No, it wasn’t. I wrote my comment after browsing through all comments. It was a generic response. As for the problem of public racism and xenophobia, Tim Patterson aptly sums up why we need to travel: http://matadorabroad.com/youth-travel-programs-are-vital-to-our-security/

  • Eva

    @J Agreed. That one’s a classic!

  • Ao Yang

    Nice article

    Another tip- avoid doing the hippie and insulting your own home to kiss ass to another place- just as tacky as a clueless tourist, maybe worse

    happy trails

    A.Y.

  • SeaDub

    I travel extensively for work and pleasure and am sick and tired of the “ugly American” stereotype. The “ugly tourist” isn’t an award Americans carry on their own. It exists in every nationality.

    And I would like to coin the phrase “ugly host”. When you have traveled to my country and are doing business with my culture, you should be aware of some of our differences and respect those as well. And therefore not try to shove grubs down my throat and “tsk tsk” when I refuse. Or be offended when I won’t eat shark fin soup or even soup with congeled blood in it. And at least try to be a little bit more conspicuous about your leers at my chest.

    The world holds Americans to a higher standard and loves to comment when one or some don’t live up to that standard. I don’t mind being held up to that standard, but you better damn well hold yourself up to it as well. And in most instances, that is not the case.

  • Jacob

    While I wouldn’t go up to someone and tell them to pick up their dog mess or trash I don’t see a real problem with someone doing it. What’s the problem in doing the “American” thing and helping other countries less fortunate then us (we’re always there to give out money when people need it and no one complains). When you say “your country sucks too” I think you are way off base there. Are there some downsides to America?…YEP… Is there more up then down?…YEP! Maybe if some of these other countries would adopt the way we do things they would a little nicer. I’m not talking about going full blown American just basic sanitation would be nice.

    Who knows maybe if a few people started to clean up after their dogs more would do it and you wouldn’t have to watch where you walk on the SIDEWALK!

    The more I think about it most of you list sucks. People are people there is no need to single out Americans. For it’s size America is the best run and nicest country in the world.

  • http://www.matadornights.com/ Kate

    Yeah, Jacob. it’s real nice the way we strip mine and destroy mountaintops and the way we pollute the rest of the world. It’s beautiful the way we destroy our rivers and send all our jobs to other countries where there are no restrictions on pollution so we can save a buck and put Americans out of work.

    It’s really nice the way we are 4% of the population of the world but generate more than 20% of its waste.

    You’re right. America is great – as long as you live there. Come to think of it, I hope you stay right there.

  • Jacob

    Like I said Kate it has its faults. Any country the size of America has it faults but it’s the cream of the crop. I really have to believe that all countries have pollution problems. I know that the laws are stricter in Europe but it’s a little easier to control when your country is smaller then some of our states. Part of that “20%” waste thing is that we are not a developing country and our people have money to buy things with.

    Do you really think that the world would be a better place without America? Get real… Everyone says crap about Americans until they need us. I guess if we stopped helping people in other countries we could make our own even better. Then people would talk about us for not helping.

    So if your asking me would I rather live in a country where people can’t even figure out how a trash can works or America I will take the USA.

  • Johnny

    Being 100% tolerant of all that you encounter does not make you worldly, it makes you vapid. Many people’s desire for travel stems from a lust for life. Lust is passion and passion must be expressed lest it be rendered into angst.

    While the topic of your article is prescient, your writing seems to be in line with the popular trend, among young expatriates , to reject your own culture out of little more than post-adolescent spite. The tolerance you preach is apparently not a tolerance you practice.

    I do agree that learning the local language and observing (and respecting) local culture is of the utmost importance while visiting a foreign country. Littering, however, is not a cultural right, it’s just ignorant and it’s a global problem.

  • Craig

    Johnny, you are right on. I was just in Buenos Aires. LOVE that city. But the dog poo is just horrible. I travel around the world and in BA, it is really bad. Such a shame as it is such an amazing city. Congrats for that buy praising someone for picking up the poo. My good friend is a cardiac doc in BA. He says everybody complains about the poo and the trash. He actually hates BA because of it.

    And as for trash, like Johnny says, it is not a cultural right. Just ignorance.

    Sounds like Kate has a bone to pick with the world. Maybe another one of those “obnoxious” Americans?

  • trair

    Hi Kate, Great article. I am from Canada and when I travel, people always assume I am an American. And so I am treated as such. People assume that I am rude and arrogant. But when they find out I am from Canada, they completely change their opinion. It is funny sometimes.
    My brother met an American guy in the Bangkok airport a few years ago and all he did was complain about Thailand. About how you could not find a decent American breakfast in all of Thailand. I thought, “really?” Why in Gods name WOULD you? Your in Thailand. Your not at home!
    Even up here in Canada we get Americans coming up all the time and trying to use American money, and getting upset if it’s not accepted. Well, again, you are not in America!! We have our own money!!! Would you accept ours if I went down there and tried to use it? NO!!
    I am not saying that all Americans are that way, but like you say, one person can ruin it for everyone. Believe me, not all Canadians are saints either. If you take the beer away from us and take the hockey stick out of our hands we can turn in to pretty mean assholes! ;)

    Thanks for the article!

    Trair

  • trair

    And as for “Jacob” hahahahaha Thank you for proving your own ignorance.
    If you actually went to some of the countries that the USA was “helping” you would learn so much more about the corruption that your government creates in less fortunate countries. look into the country of Georgia! You think that USA is the global savior? Did everyone ask for your help? How many of the poor eastern European countries are happy about the expired pharmaceuticals that the US donated as a humanitarian mission? Do you think the people who died or the people with damaged livers asked for that? Don’t be so ready to condemn other countries for having dirty streets and praise your own for being the “nicest” country in the world. That just sounds silly.
    I agree that being proactive is great. To try and make a change for the betterment of the people is noble. But do not put yourself up so high. If you were paid only $200 a month for working every day for 10 -12 hours, would you have the ambition to try to clean your country up too? And if you are paid even less to clean the streets, how much effort would you put in it? I think the change has to come from the government of these countries. they have to be the ones to give the people the incentive to make the change on the street. As a tourist you so not have the right (or the ability) to try to make that change for them. They do not need their countries faults rubbed in their faces. I see that you don’t like it when people do it here!
    Just throw YOUR garbage in the bin, don’t let YOUR dog shit on their streets, don’t add to the mess and you will have done your part. The rest of the change needs to be done other ways.

    Trair

  • http://www.huevosalamexicana.com Sarah

    @ Trair – I find it really interesting that people treat you rudely because they think you’re an American and then magically change perspectives when you say you’re Canadian. I’ve traveled around South America, parts of Africa, Europe, and China, Japan, and Malaysia, and I can say that never once have I had that reaction to being an American. I’ve definitely had people point out the problems with the USA or ask me why in the world Bush was elected and we have conversations about it, but I’ve never had people assume I was rude or arrogant because I was an American.

    None of the other Americans I know on the road have had that happen, either. And in fact, contrary to your stories, most Americans (not all, of course) I’ve met traveling have been really great, open-minded people, and I’ve heard that from other travelers as well–one of my close Australian friends said she just doesn’t understand how U.S politics are so bad when she meets so many great Americans.

    Does this mean the U.S is this great, benevolent country helping the world? Hell, no! I haven’t lived there in five years. I think the politics are atrocious and the U.S remains an imperial country looking out for it’s own destructive interests. But I think it’s a little too easy to fall into the trap of the ugly-American stories. I’ve seen rude tourists from all sorts of countries.

  • Jacob

    @ Trair

    I don’t know how many billions the USA donates every year but I am sure it is a substantial amount. Do you honestly think that the world would be a better place if the USA stopped handing out money? Umm… I don’t think so. You see when you are the top dog everyone has to try and point out your flaws. So when we try and help other countries we get criticized for not doing enough. Is there another country the size of the USA (and I am talking about population too) that is as nice as America?

    As far a cleaning- that doesn’t take money. Last time I no one pays you to throw away your trash. Being poor doesn’t excuse you from littering. If EVERYBODY through THEIR trash away THEY wouldn’t have a problem.

    I don’t have a problem when people criticize the USA. There are numerous problems here. The only time I have a problem is when people are stupid about it. I guess if you don’t mind walking in trash and dog crap you can do what ever you want. Not for me though. If I were to spend lots of money to travel to Buenos Aires I would not want my trip ruined by the filth of the city. Thats me though.

  • http://wheninrometours.blogspot.com Regina

    I just have to add this one, was it three coins in the fountain, or three coins down the crack?
    Pull your pants up, woman!

  • RySnow

    Johnny and Craig, I completely agree, I’m glad that you two articulated the words for me since I am a lazy pecker.

  • http://youtube.com angel

    okey nnaaaaaaaaa…………

  • ntab2

    I’m with Sarah on the comments about being Trair’s comments about being assumed to be rude and arrogant when perceived as American. Um, as an American who’s lived abroad for fifteen years, I don’t find myself on the defense from anyone who assumes such things about me, because it’s just not happening. Being taken for the American that I am usually results in conversations about ordinary normal things – sometimes trips they’ve had abroad or their American connections, but usually the weather, beer, politics, the ash cloud, whatever other human beings who meet randomly are talking about that day.

    I do find it gently comical when I see Canadians who are so concerned that they might be mistaken for American that they wear their maple leafs like shields. I always assume these people are on their first visit out of the country and are unduly afraid of the locals. Seriously, no one is going to hurt you if they mistake you for Americans.

    As for this article, I think it’s kinda patronising. Is it ok to lecture Americans on how to be good travellers but not to lecture Argentinians on how to be tidy? I’d give both a pass, frankly.

  • Ben

    Sarah, for someone who has lived in Beijing for a year, you sound really naive. Chinese people know the deal about their situation. They live a pretty free life as long as they don’t stick out like a nail. What do you want them to do? Your head is not the one on the chopping block, okay? My family left in the 1950′s, but I still have a lot of relatives there and believe me, they know the score.

  • Ken

    Hey Sarah,

    Get off your high horses already.

    Do the Chinese invade Iraq and drop bombs all over the place? And do the Chinese come to the U.S. to complain about the atrocities that is done in Iraq and Afghanistan?

    No one likes the oppressive state of things in China — even the Chinese themselves do not like it.

    But they do not need a person like you to preach it to them as if you were a saint.

  • travelgirl

    I think all of the foul language in this article is unnecessary and unprofessional. Using such profanity in this forum is inappropriate and is the behaviour of…an ugly american.

  • Tatas223

    Yep, cursing to be controversial = pure amature.

  • pensimmon

    Don’t assume people don’t understand what you’re saying!  Some French relatives ate out in Boston and had osso bucco. After cutting off all the meat and eating it, they sucked on the bones- the marrow which is delicious. A nearby table of people let rip about how revolting these French people were (in English).  The French relatives who are all fluent English speakers, finished their meal, and on the way out said “I hope you enjoyed your meals, we did”. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PQTZT27JCSU5KFWLO4X5O4Z4KQ Mariana

    I worked in a tourist information office in a popular European destination. Although many of the visitors were great, by the end of the tourist season I was ready to sign myself into a mental institution for a vacation. There were only a few Americans, so I can’t talk about them (although I can always spot American tourists who come for a visit – their clothes give them away every time).
    The worst “offenders” came from Italy, Austria and Germany. (Note: most of “our” the tourists come from these countries, and I’m not generalizing, just stating my experience with particular individuals.)
    What I heard the most is them being annoyed because I couldn’t speak THEIR language. I spoke fluent English. They knew not even one foreign language, but expected everyone else to know theirs.
    Another thing was complaining about prices – how accomodation is expensive, how restaurants are expensive, how drinks are expensive, how they have to pay for a huge, full-colour, thematic map of the area they’re visiting… helloooo? Do you have any idea how much money I have to spend for a cheap weekend in Germany or Italy? Check the prices back home first.

    For future travelers:
    (1) Language is the key. Learn basic phrases. I always appreciate a visitor trying to speak my language – it’s showing me they respect my language and my country.
    (2) Be a good guest. I’ve been taught that a guest is someone to be treated with respect; a guest who visits you at home is offered the best food and drinks you have, your attention and your help, if needed. Being a guest of a country is similar – be on your best behaviour.
    (3) Prepare yourself before the trip for the trip. Realize you’re going to experience a different culture, different traditions, different food, different people. Different is not bad. If you want everything to be just the way you’re used to, stay at home.
    (4) The locals know best the possible dangers of local weather and terrain. Listen and heed their warnings! Don’t play I’m-macho-can-do-anything-guy/gal; in the end, your stupidity puts local people at risk (when saving your a**), and costs them money.
    (5) If you don’t have enough money for the trip and spending (on drinks, activities, etc…) – then don’t go! Otherwise, you then become a complaining-about-everything tourist no one needs.

    The most importan of all: Yes, you’re paying for being here as a tourist. No, it doesn’t give you the right to do anything you want. If you’re going to make problems, we don’t need your money – there are others who will come instead.

  • $18501077

    You can learn the local language, but if they think you are a native English speaker, they will try to use you for free English lessons. Everywhere in the world. I don’t chase Mexicans down the street in the U.S. screaming in Spanish to force them to speak to me in Spanish or Chinese people down the street in the U.S. screaming in Mandarin to force them to give me free Chinese lessons, but I have certainly been chased down the street in both Asia and Latin America … even though I made the effort to learn the local language of the country I was living in. And talking down to me just because I’m a foreigner is just rude. I don’t talk down to the foreigners that come to visit or live in my country. It all boils down to mutual respect, something that appears to be missing pretty much in every country in the world. Lack of respect is not restricted to the tourists either.

Glad we got that out of the way. Things should be much less awkward now.
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