Many American travelers deal with the “Ugly American” stereotype when they go abroad. We’ve heard it from drunken locals sitting next to us at the bar, cab drivers who aren’t worried about tips, and fellow hostelers who are unaware an American is sitting nearby. We’re “loud,” “rude,” “culturally inept,” and we “treat foreign diplomacy like it’s a game of drunk Risk.”
Fine. Busted. Sorry for partying, world.
The stereotype, of course, is at least somewhat deserved. And it can be combated in one of two ways:
- Be a courteous guest in your host country, or
- Pretend you’re Canadian.
Option 2 represents my least favorite type of American traveler, even behind the boorish, drunken lout who’s demanding Miller Lite at an Argentine wine bar. You’ve met them: They’re the ones with Canadian flag patches sewn prominently onto their backpacks. While I’m sure there are a few Canadians who do this as an attempt to not be identified as a member of the country that bombed your country, I’m fairly certain the majority of patch-wearers are actually paranoid Americans. I swear, last March I saw more Maple Leafs in Trafalgar Square than I saw Union Jacks. There aren’t even that many Canadians, let alone that many on vacation in London.
Here are some of the reasons that, if you do this, you’re an asshole.
It’s a waste of time.
As far as I know, this absurd trend started happening en masse during the Bush years, and is a potent cocktail of fear and shame: Fear of possible terrorist attacks on Americans in the wake of the September 11, and shame in the wake of W’s invasion of Iraq (also mingled with fear of reprisals).
Look — travel is inherently more dangerous than staying at home and watching TV. It’s a good idea to prepare yourself for possible dangers you could face when you get there. If it makes you feel better, check the State Department travel warnings for Americans going abroad. That said, most of the countries they issue warnings for are exactly the ones you’d expect. And if you think your national identity potentially makes you a target, maybe it’s in your best interest to not be waving any flags. I don’t know for sure — and any terrorists in the Matador audience can let me know otherwise — but I’m fairly certain no one has ever halted a terrorist attack because their intended victim turned around and was wearing a Maple Leaf instead of the Stars and Stripes.
Even if this has happened at some point, what are you doing leaving the country if you think every public foreign space is a hive of terrorism? Stay at home, man. Put on a tinfoil hat and look for secret codes in the articles on InfoWars.
It’s dishonest and defeats the entire purpose of travel.
Travel is an opportunity to learn about your country and yourself, and you can’t do this if you’re lying about who you are. If you can’t take the occasional, heated political argument, or the occasional joke at the expense of the Land of the Free, you need to relax a little bit.
America does some shitty things. You know who else has done some shitty things? Every other country on the planet. Canada likes to decorate its frozen tundra with oil pipelines. Turkey conducted the 20th century’s first modern genocide and killed 1.5 million Armenians. Britain never made a sequel to Love Actually. No one’s hands are clean.
Also, your weak attempt at saving yourself from some mild discomfort has a shitty side effect for all the other Americans. What if you’re a really nice, excellent person? Don’t we want more foreigners to meet Americans like you? You could be destroying the “Ugly American” stereotype by just being a decent, good human being, but instead you’re contributing to the equally misleading stereotype of the “Friendly Canadian.”
Because you know what? Some Canadians suck. Let us take credit for our good people. They’ve already invented poutine — they have enough working in their favor.
Nobody actually cares.
Look, you probably can’t pull it off anyway. Your Canadian accent sounds like a goddamn Terrance and Phillip cartoon — you’re just repeating “eh” a lot and saying “oot and aboot.” You’re not even dressed like a Canadian. You’re dressed like an American, which is to say you’re dressed badly. You just asked your tour guide how many miles it is from Tower Bridge to the Houses of Parliament, and then you asked, “What the fuck is Boxing Day?”
When you ran into a fellow Canadian at the hostel, they asked you where in Canada you’re from, and you said, “Oh, uh…Vancouver.” And then they asked what neighborhood, and you just said “downtown,” referred to the city as “the Couv,” and then changed the subject.
No one believes you. And that’s okay, because no one actually cares. For every person who wants to give an American an earful about how horrible America is, there are a thousand others who couldn’t give a shit about who you are or where you’re from, as long as you stand off to the right when you’re on the escalator. For every person that wants to hurt or kill an American, there are hundreds of thousands of others who want to give you a hug and offer you a cup of tea or a beer.
Those are the people you’re traveling for. Take that stupid fucking patch off your bag.