“You Ugly American”: Is America a country that people love to hate?

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ugly american

Ugly American: Is America bashing a popular trend with travelers?

Last week, expat Laura of Gringation Cancun wrote an article titled, The Ugly Americans, airing out her annoyances with encountering America-bashing in her adopted residence of Mexico. I encounter the “Ugly American” stereotype too when I travel.

In the travel world, stereotypes exist. I get it.

The Spanish and French are an easy-going crew, the Japanese are shy but snap-happy photographers and Germans,  are supposedly the worst complainers of the tourist bunch. Sometimes these stereotypes can be playful jest or bitchy complaints among globe-trotters. Sometimes, it’s just plain offensive as a slap in the face.

Ironically, the insensitive America-bashing didn’t come from my encounters with Laotians. Shockingly, it came from the criticisms of many fellow travelers, who were airing their “observations” about the overly cautious American travel style, our pushy domineering government, our heinous acts of war crime upon Laos and apparently,…everyone else.

So what if Americans are overly cautious travelers?

What if we practice health safety by religiously going to the travel doctor and getting the “recommended” travel shots before leaving to travel?

Does taking precaution as to where to lay our head to avoid bed bugs, mean we “miss out on the joys and freedom of experiencing travel”?

And remind me again, what country has not been a criminal to some variable colonization for the sake of greed or self-interest?


I won’t apologize for being American.

I’m not fiercely patriotic, but our nation boasts democracy and free speech and choice, so that those governed under it have a right to the American Dream. A nation historically composed of immigrants, many labored towards that vision and it’s become the proud motto of our lifestyle.

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave.

Still, the ‘Ugly American’ concept is often scapegoat rival countries love most: loud, money-hungry, workaholics, conservative and uptight, health-concerned, self-interested, uncultured, brash, unintelligent, self-righteous,

Is America, a country that travelers love to hate?

What I found in the barbed-fenced minds of my fellow travel community was disappointing. British, Canadian, European or American… I thought on the road, we were all just “international”. But perhaps as competing western nations, someone must be underdog.

Then I crossed paths with Wardell, a freelance designer from Los Angeles. He was your non-stereotypical American traveler; he’d spent big chunks of his life taking nomadic treks abroad, volunteering for archeological digs and random ventures of the sort. He shared enlightened me to his simple theory.

You always hate, what you secretly love most and the world hates that they’re actually in love with us “, he put frankly.

If America is so ugly, can you remind me …

•  Why is the U.S. dollar is the most accepted currency worldwide (not the Euro, Yen or British pound)?

•  Why is the leading global language English, with the targeted pronunciation being American ?

(The first two are pretty mind-boggling–  Americans aren’t considered  big “international travelers”!)

•  Why is we are the “Big Brother” (the”policeman” country aiding others), when we’re the youngest nation of the superpower family?

•  Why is it  so many people from other countries want to move to live in America (legally or illegally)?

(and did you know– as an ambitious self-interested country, America ranked 6th on the 2010 World Giving Index? 60% of Americans donated to charity last year, despite the fact we were in an economic recession)!

How do you feel about travel stereotypes and what are some funny ones you’ve heard?

Photo credit: whoinvented.org

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20 Comments. Leave new

  • Great post. I will never apologize for being an American, but I have many stories of Americans behaving badly and I am not necessarily a huge fan of my country right at this very moment.

    There are some generalizations that can be applied — but they are just that!

    I find it funny when non-Americans say to me (after our initial meet and greet), “I’ve never met an American like you before!”

    • Avatar
      Christine Kaaloa
      September 28, 2013 1:07 am

      @Naomi: Wish we could just relinquish our ‘Big Brother’ role and let the other countries just go at themselves; it would save tax dollars greatly. Doesn’t help that so many people see us through our government politics and the sentiments of middle America vs as individuals but that just shows how strong prejudice can be. Good travel isn’t about ‘my country vs your country, but the fact we’re fellow travelers and that road unifies us.

      Hopefully, as individual travelers, more will create good impressions like you. Been seeing more good Am travelers out there; most have been anonymous & quiet, possibly due to knowledge of our stereotype.

  • LOVE this piece! It’s true that we Americans don’t have a great reputation on the road. I’ve found that the best way to counter bad opinions is to set a good example when I travel. It’s worked so far! I’ve had people tell me that they disliked Americans until they met me. I think that being aware of our “bad reputation” and actively trying to prove it wrong is important when we travel.

  • The thing is, it’s the idiots that stand out in the crowd, no matter where they are from. It is these people who both fit the stereotypes and make assumptions based on stereotypes. I find while travelling that I really notice the boorish attitude of Australians, and it saddens me that people will see them and have their stereotypes reinforced when the vast majority of Australians have been unassuming, great people. I think the same goes for all nationalities.

    Don’t let it get to you, just be who you are and you’ll debunk the stereotypes that way.

    • @Paul: Thanks! It’s true that some tourists will kill the herd with their attitudes that stand out like red flags. Guess we can only try to be the best we can be and hope that helps the stereotype.

  • Don’t take it all too heart. I think we are all international travelers and I have met mostly the nicest people from the states on my travels. There are grumpy bad mannered people from every country and the more one travels the more types you meet.

  • The reason why many outsiders love to hate America is all of the negative traits of Americans (loud, money-hungry, workaholics, conservative and uptight, self-interested, uncultured, brash, unintelligent, self-righteous) are actually factual. I’m not saying that all Americans have those traits; one of my English teachers in junior high was an American and he didn’t (doesn’t!) have any of those. But, many foreigners constantly see those traits on many American tourists. I don’t know if you’ve realized it, but many American TV shows and films frequently use those stereotypes when the American characters meet foreigners or traveling abroad.

    • @Daan: Thanks for the comment. One of the things I absolutely LOVE about travel is meeting people from different countries! I enjoy meeting other travelers; most of the time, you feel a sense of instant comraderie and community, where you share tips, advice, a drink… When I come across close-minded and crotchety, opinionated folk who bash ANY culture (really), it’s an instant turn-off. I want to ask these people– why are you traveling if you just want to stay in your sheltered opinion of people and the world? Traveling is a place to broaden your perspective and understanding of the world. Traveling is not passively watching life on TV but interacting with it and discovering its reality.

      It’s true that American TV shows promote negative stereotypes when portraying their own country’s people. Film characters are forever exaggerated for the sake of comedy and entertainment but aside from that, there’s a HUGE difference between a native/insider bashing their own culture vs a foreigner/outsider doing it.. America is a very multicultural country–we’ve got Asians, African-Americans, Native Americans, Mexican, Irish, Italians… Hasidic Jews! We got a colorful gamut, which is MORE than what’s portrayed in movies. As far as stereotypes in the US go, American culture is extremely sensitive. We’ve dubbed the whole “Being PC” (politically correct) ettiquette and standard of trying to respect each individual and culture and not assume or give into negative stereotypes.

  • Sad to read this. I was planning to travel to Europe , but have been researching how I might not be welcome because I’m American. After reading this, I am leaning more towards the reality that I’m not a welcome visitor in Europe. I don’t travel to spread my political views, I travel to embrace other cultures. The last thing I want to talk about on vacation is politics, and I hope I speak for most travelers. Regardless, I’ve met plenty of friendly people from Europe that have encourage me to visit, and I won’t let some lame/hateful stereotype ruin my experience traveling overseas.

    • @Adam: That’s the traveler’s spirit, Adam! DO NOT let any stereotype hold you back from following through on your dreams. Anywhere you go, there’s bound to be stereotypes, obviously even in America. We all live alongside them. Encountering Ugly American Stereotypes on your trip is certainly a bummer and drag, but it’s not a crippler. Besides, if ever in doubt, just say you’re Canadian! (Just JOKING) Be proud. We’ve got a lot of things going for us.

  • Avatar
    Laura in Cancun
    February 22, 2011 3:01 am

    Thanks so much for featuring my post, and for adding your own thoughts. I’m so glad not to be the only American expat/traveler going through this.

    Some of the stereotypes are wildly unfair and a result of the point you make about how other countries “love to hate” us. (I know many Mexicans who love to hate us, and I also know many who couldn’t care less.)

    However, a lot of them are stereotypes we bring upon ourselves through our movies, our music, and occasionally our behavior when traveling abroad. At least here in Cancun, you can imagine American youth are often on their WORST behavior, and locals come to the somewhat logical conclusion that that’s how we are.

    Great post 🙂

  • I am so glad just to be able to talk about this. I have been noticing it over the past year with some fellow travelers. But, to bring it up would seem to only re-enforce their stereotype! Many of the travelers I met, knew Americans and of America, so they knew all about me of course… I am not going to go on because you did a pretty good job. But I am just happy to know I am not alone in these feelings. Thanks gggrl!

  • Wow. Of all the true, negative things people could say about Americans, those are pretty tame, actually. I mean, how is getting your travel vaccinations considered to be a negative thing? Wha–? I don’t get it. I do think some people love to hate the US because of how much power we wield in the world. Some people resent and mistrust that power and our motives whenever we get involved in world affairs. (To be fair, I mistrust our motives, too.) And let’s face it, a lot of Americans have a “superiority complex” about the US that I’m sure rubs the rest of the world the wrong way. All we can do is represent the better side of our people when we travel, to undo the stereotypes by example.

    • @Gray: I suppose they are tame compared to what could be said. But why does anything have to be said at all, right? Travel vaccinations- LOL- this trip wasn’t the first time I’ve heard that one. Europeans seem to be laid back about that stuff. I’ve known some to turn their nose up at the thought. Was in Spain trying to get either shots or travel meds before I went to Morocco. Basically I got “you American” eyerolls from the pharmacies and a what dya think you’re gonna catch in Morocco?!

      But you’re right, we can only do our best to represent our country well when we travel. Though I wonder if that’s really enough. 😉

      @Sam: Thanks for your comment. Whether or not fellow travelers mean to stereotype, doesn’t excuse the fact we all have a responsibility as ambassadors of our own countries to keep peace and approach difference with sensitivity when we travel. When people can’t put their best foot forward, it reflects badly on the person… and their country. Kudos to you for not lending fuel to the neg .fodder & rising about your experiences!

  • Great post. During my 3.5 months in Europe, I encountered a few stereotypes against Americans. They were the oddest. The funniest/strangest was told to me by a German. When I cursed, he said he thought that only gangstas cursed. He didn’t know conservatives cursed. So I inferred that he thought all Americans were either gangstas or conservatives. We had a good laugh.

    Throughout my trip though, it was some of the Australians who lived up to their many stereotypes, but it wasn’t all of the Australians. One thing I learned is no one race or nationality is all the same and stereotyping people is supposed to be cured by travel. It’s a shame when it isn’t.

    Christine, I’m moving to Daegu in a few weeks when my apostille is back from the DOJ. I hope to meet you. Will you be there for a while? I love your blog! Feather

    • @Feather: Gangstas or conservatives, huh? Wonder what Hollywood films your German was watching? Sometimes, the funniest oddball stereotypes come from films people see.

      I like what you said about how ‘stereotyping people is supposed to be cured by travel”. I totally agree! When we’re traveling, it puts us in the mode of opening our minds to different cultures and a desire to understand. Also, congrats on your impending move to Daegu. While I will be taking some time off, I know I”ll be returning to Daegu to visit friends and job hunt. Would love to meet you when I”m back and I have a feeling (being that you’re vegan), we’ll probably share the same friend circle. 😉

  • Okay and was thinking about this post, and then I read your friends post. I’m guessing that the ugly Americans stereotype was actually born way before America was even a powerful country.

    1. Benjamin Franklin could have been the first ugly American. He spent a lot of time in France. Even though the French liked him a lot, he was seen as a bit of a novelty in the French Salons since he often dressed strangely, and had a strange character.

    2. American travelers in the early from the young America had no ties to nobility. Of course Europeans or any other country with a royal family would have looked down on that.

    3. America’s boorishness was chronicled in Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Tocqueville wrote that Americans rarely deferred to people of superior intellect or natural talents. He also liked to write about children who drank whiskey in the Midwest.

    So the stereotype of the ugly American is probably a stereotype that has been with the country since it’s creation. The flipside to this is that Americans also have stereotypes about people from other countries. While Americans may be faulted as being germ phobic, Americans tend to unfairly criticize the French as being dirty. (American hygienic concerns could probably be traced to the early 1900s through marketing campaigns by soap companies as a part of the health craze during that time. That’s the time when breakfast cereal became popular as a health food, Coke was a miracle cure, and Heroine was a cold treatment. I’m guessing that soap marketing was a part of all of this somehow. )

  • I often find that the things people say about Americans travelling overseas (loud, self-serving, culturally unaware, obnoxious) are things that could be applied to travellers of any nationality. Bad behavior isn’t isolated just to one group of people. I see examples every day. Great post!

    • @Andrea: Exactly and thanks! Stereotypes are hypocritical… it’s like the war comments. I was like– whoah. You serious?! Wanna count how many countries you tried to colonize? Also –some countries consider us conservative; others might say we’re liberal.It gets down to who’s doing the comparing.

      @3gyupsal: Fascinating response and wouldn’t have thought of any of that. Although… I do think the pharmaceutical industry, advertising and the fact, we’re largely consumer. has a lot to do with persuading Americans to be hypochondriacs. It’s like how the fashion world of the late 80s taught girls how to be anorexic or how pimple cream ads tell us that we should be self-conscious of zits. Are we the most germaphobic though? We’ll we don’t UV sterilize our cups nor do we have heat sensors in our airports, which detects someone with a cold or fever…. depends.


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