WE’VE ALL HEARD HORROR STORIES ABOUT Americans being terrible while traveling. There’s the guy who throws a shit fit because he can’t order a Miller Lite in Germany, there’s the woman who complains that no one in China “speaks American,” there are the Americans who unforgivably etched their names into the Colosseum with a coin so they could take a selfie. The concept is so universal that it even has a name: “the Ugly American.”
But as a concept, it’s become a bit dated. In the world of travel, Americans are no longer clearly the worst offenders in crimes against etiquette, taste, and general human decency. Here’s some evidence.
1. Russian tourists vs. the Pyramids of Giza
Russian tourists seem to love doing questionable things at the Pyramids of Giza. In 2013, Vadim Makharov, a “skywalker” and photographer, actually climbed to the top of the ancient pyramids to take pictures with friends. He eventually apologized, but Egyptian officials were not happy with the act, which could have done damage to the last surviving wonder of the world.
Then, earlier this year, a different set of Russian tourists posted a pornographic video that was clearly shot at the Pyramids. Egyptian officials were furious: Egypt is a Muslim country, and is not really on board with the whole “fucking at our sacred places” thing.
2. The Chinese blacklist.
With the rise of China as a superpower, there has been a concurrent rise in Chinese tourists. Some of these tourists have behaved so badly (usually in their own country) that the Chinese government has created a kind of “travel blacklist,” which can affect the credit scores and ability to travel of poorly-behaved travelers. Among the members of this list are the guys who throw hot noodles in their flight attendant’s face when she wouldn’t give them the seats they wanted, the guy who climbed on a war memorial, and the guy who tried to open the airplane’s door during take-off.
And, two years ago, a Chinese visitor carved his name into the bas reliefs at the Temple of Luxor. Because apparently Egypt attracts disrespectful tourists. So China has more than it’s fair share of awful travelers, though it’s actually kind of nice to see the government cracking down on it.
3. The British invasion of Spain
Brits — especially drunk teenage Brits — are notoriously badly behaved when they visit Spain. Spain has noticed. They call it “drunken tourism” and the mayor of Magaluf, a town on the Spanish island of Majorca, has been trying to recruit British police officers to come to Spain and take care of the British tourists. Considering that the town has seen numerous public sex acts, sexual assault, and deaths as a result from tourists attempting to jump into the pool from their balcony (called “balconing”), this seems like a reasonable response.
4. The “getting nude at sacred places” trend is an international one
Tourists won’t stop getting naked at Cambodia’s sacred Angkor Wat temple. And while there have been Americans who have been caught mooning the camera at the temple, it has apparently also attracted nudists from China, France, Germany, as well. Earlier this year, 10 tourists — including two Dutch, two Canadian, and one Brit — stripped nude at Malaysia’s sacred Mt. Kinabalu, prompting outrage (and and arrest warrants) from Malaysian officials.
5. More Americans are traveling
A decade ago, it was a commonly cited statistic that less than one in five Americans owned passports. This is no longer the case. It is now closer to a third, which is impressive given the country’s size and distance from other countries. As Americans have begun to travel more, why hasn’t the reputation of the “Ugly American” expanded in tandem?
Because a more diverse cross section of Americans are traveling, and most of them are well behaved. As with all countries, there are always the terrible people — those Americans who vandalized the Colosseum did so just earlier this year — but the stories of Americans behaving terribly are starting to get lost in the mix of horror stories from other countries.
So does this mean “the Ugly American” no longer exists? Well, yes and no. Yes in the sense that some Americans still act like complete and utter jackasses when they travel, and no in the sense that every other nationality behaves horribly as well. So really, it’s less “ugly American” and more “ugly human.” Which I guess is a step forward?