The Ugly American
. A great stereotype in that it is so easy to find examples when you travel - or more specifically when you live in a place long enough as an expat
and you cringe everytime you hear those voices a few decibels too loud and the complaints about bathrooms, food and the surliness of those natives. The level of survice that just would not fly in Peoria
In Barcelona, Paris, Urbino, Seoul, Ho Chi Min City - I've skulked down sidestreets or ducked into stores to not be associated with one of my tribe...
I've even seen myself transmogrify into that fat, hawaiian-shirt wearing ogre at moments. In the countryside a few hours northwest of Ulaan Baatar ride back was over 8 hours late. I was furious and hungry and found myself yelling at the driver - a young Mongolian guy.
Another time in a cave near Cat Ba Island in Vietnam. My flashlight - which I bought in Korea before travelling on to Vietnam - was more powerful than the guide's. When he realized this he asked to use mine, actually didn't ask but just kind of gestured towards it. I gave it to him for a while but then got frustrated bumbling in the relative dark. So I asked for it back. And left him in the dark and the group without a leader.
Both incidents are relatively minor but for me became little memories that I wince at. Both reactions (or overreactions) were moments in which my American (I use this term provisionally) expectations for how things should work, how things should run, overwhelmed my desire to be in a different place and observe how things are. Egotism (or more precisely egocentrism), possesiveness, an obsession with time and schedule and the desire to be served... all these traits were at work in these two little episodes. Exactly what you are trying to escape by traveling far away and yet what you come to find in your core, the lesser angels of your being.
But to characterize this as American? That's silly nationalism. I livesd and worked with Canadians, Australians, Brits, French people and Koreans. It has so much more to do with class and a certain blindness. A Canadian colleague trying to barter down on a watch on a Korean market when the starting price was about half of what it would be at home. A Korean aquaintance who thought nothing of answering a cell phone during a concert.
The Ugly American, the American Tourist has more than become globalised. Really it is the international class that has enough money to travel and who has certain expectations of how thay will be treated while having little concern about others. The kind of person who wants to be entertained and informed; the one who expects that money is the key into any meaningful exchange and buys the better things in life. This character used to be American but today is no more 'American' than MTV - it's now truly a transnationalist class. I see them just as easily as I try to fight the gawking crowds to get home at the 32nd and Broadway subway stop as I would on the Champs-Elysees with their cornfed, red-nosed faces and upside-down maps...