While planning my upcoming trip to Morocco, I got stuck in a particularly alarming sentence published in the 2011 edition of Le Guide du Routard, Marrakech. While explaining how the “marchandage” (bargaining) works in the souks of Marrakesh, they wrote, “Annoncer votre prix en arabe vous donne tout de suite plus de crédit. Vous n’etes plus un ‘américain,’ mais devenez presque un connaisseur”. “Announcing your price in Arabic gives you credit right away. You’re no longer an American, but you become almost a connoisseur”.
Oh dear. It seems like the case of the Ugly American is still around.
Sure, my little students asked me some silly questions when I arrived here, of course. But I thought it was because they are little. I was shocked when I asked my co-workers, teaching in high schools, what the students had asked them. Some of the most haunting included, “Do you have a gun? Why aren’t you obese? Do you eat at McDonalds?”. Can you imagine being faced with any of these questions on your first day of work?
Europe is inundated with American culture in films, tv shows, music, and trends (if I confiscate one more silly band I’ll scream). With pop culture constantly reporting a distorted view of realistic life, of course people are going to believe it’s true. But the problem is rooted deeper than pop culture. After the election of Obama, I felt a slight change in Europe’s perception of Americans. But some days I question whether progress has been made. I have heard it all: that our own government was the culprit behind September 11th, that our foreign policy is focused on world domination, and that our culture is non-existent. What’s a girl to do? Whip up that 50-state American smile, keep calm, and set the story straight.
In no way can I say this is a daily occurrence. But the fact that such strong sentiments against my country exist is a definite wake-up call. If everyone can do their part in educating others – through leading by example – I do believe that things can change. Here’s how to negate the American stereotype.
1.) Learn at least ten phrases in the native language of the country you are visiting. Don’t know how to speak Spanish? There are 35.5 million people in the United States who do. Take someone to coffee and ask for a few basic tips. They don’t call us a melting pot for nothing!
2.) Do your research! Read! Learn about the history and culture of the places you are visiting. There’s nothing worse than being uninformed about current events while traveling abroad.
3.) Don’t travel with lofty expectations of “service”. When you go to another country, you have to commit to their rules. No one is going to rush to get you cream for your expresso. You’re not going to die if you eat something you’ve never tried before. Things will be different, and may be out of your comfort zone. Stop whining about it and go with the flow!
4.) Be aware of your voice level. In restaurants, in the metro, on your cell phone. I will never forget when I was introducing a French friend to a group of Americans, and she winced at the sheer volume of their voices. My heart broke!
Overall, try to travel with an open mind. You represent your country, and everything you do reflects back to a population of over 300 million people. Own it!
What have your experiences been? What do you do to negate the American stereotype?