Let’s Drink To How Bad Your Country Is! Oompapa!

by admin on March 15, 2011

When my husband and I were in college, we had the great fortune of being able to study abroad together. Being United States citizens, we took great care to try to keep a low profile and not live up to the Ugly American stereotype of being loud, abrasive, pushy, and demanding. We immersed ourselves in local culture, language, and food, and tried very hard to become a part of the community we lived in.

Former President George W. Bush was the leader of the country at the time, and the U.S. was in the midst of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I mention this because news about the U.S. was almost always on the front page of the local papers. Many people we met had their opinions about it, but most kept away from discussing U.S. politics with us outright. Except…

We were on a weekend holiday in Germany (which was not our host country), eating and drinking at a very famous and historic beer hall in München. Again, we tried to keep a low profile and not make a ruckus. The tables at this place were quite long, with benches on each side, and you don’t get your own table. You just find a spot big enough and squeeze in, and if there is room at your table you should expect that another group will sit down with you. It was really a great way to meet different people, since anyone from anywhere might plop down next to you for a pint and a weinerschniztel.

One particular time we went to this hall a family from X Country sat with us, a middle-aged couple and their 12-year-old son. I wasn’t sure why they brought such a young boy to a beer hall, but I figured maybe that’s just a cultural thing and it’s okay to go to these kinds of places younger than we do in America. We introduce ourselves and start talking, and after about 10 minutes they offer us some “snuff” (or sniffing tobacco), to have… which we gently refuse, although their son has some. Again, I thought he was a little young for that kind of thing, but chalked it up to cultural differences.

As with many cross-cultural conversations, we get around to “where are you from?” I speak with the wife for a good while about my trip through X Country a few years back: how lovely the countryside was, the cities we visited, how nice the people were to us, etc. Complimentary statements, basically. She agrees that it really is lovely, and talks a bit about the places we have mutually visited there, and gives me some insider historical knowledge about them. Then she asks where I am from, and I indicate a few hours from New York, in the suburbs.

She then goes on to tell me that she never had wanted to go to America, but her family finally convinced her and they took a trip from New York to Boston last summer. The next twenty minutes was a lecture on all the things that are wrong with the United States: what a shame it is we had such bad poverty when we are so rich, all the problems with our country, government, policies, and President, the wars that the country was in, how ugly some of the cities they stayed in were, among other things. I didn’t even know what to say; I had just talked about how wonderful a time I had in X Country, (leaving out the parts I wasn’t so impressed with) and in return she didn’t say one complimentary thing about my homeland except that the Boston brownstones were nice. Then the husband (and even the boy, at times) starts in on his opinions and our group just sits there, dumbfounded, for the next half hour.

I don’t know what possessed them to think that it was acceptable to speak that way about another person’s entire country to their face (especially after one visit!). Regardless of whether I agreed or disagreed, I couldn’t help but feel offended that these people had been to the U.S. all but once, and seemed to think that long lecture and an in-depth critique was appropriate. I certainly didn’t invite political debate into a conversation about travel, and everyone else at the table was very uncomfortable. Eventually I said I was sorry they had such a poor time and dropped the subject. We left pretty soon thereafter.

I understand that this is a beer hall, and not the best place to find polite conversation, but this wasn’t the first or last time we had unsolicited advice about our home during our stay. Just the most memorable one. 0131-11

{ 96 comments… read them below or add one }

Dear! March 15, 2011 at 1:39 pm

I work in hospitality and didn’t comment on yesterday’s post because I could write a novel about the subject, but I just have to respond today since it was on a similar topic. I’m young, but I’ve lived in numerous countries, the US included. I went to college in the US as well.

I love visitors, but I despise tourists! I think the OP sounds like a lovely visitor, and it would have been a joy if she had visited where I live, but sadly, I don’t see much of her. Unfotunately for the US, the idea of the Ugly American, I think, came about because the US accent is so easily identifiable. Not a bad thing, but it singles them out from all of the the other ugly travelers from around the world. I’m educated, and well spoken, but I get treated like dirt because of my accent. I’m often seen as a lesser breed of human by tourists.

I will say that when I hear the words “WELL IN MY COUNTRY!” shouted loud and clear, regardless of who it comes from or their accent I know I’m in for trouble, and I’m in the zone.

Oh, and a list of my favorite questiions, thus far: (I’m from the Caribbean and these have ben actual questions)
Do you guys swing from vines?
How come you have cars?
What do you mean you don’t have a zip code? Are you that stupid that you don’t know (insert my country here) is part of the US?
Do you eat with a knife and fork in your country?
How come you have TVs here?
Where do you guys go when there are no tourists to take care of? Do you go to another island of something?
How do you know about (insert invention or television show of the last 100 years here) in your country? I thought you guys like, lived in huts with no electricity.
So, do your guys get our shows after like 20 years or something like that?
So, how did you learn how to dress properly? (Referring to dressing in modern attire or keeping up with the latest fashion trends)
So, do you talk in that clicking language like on National Geographic?
So, did you do a class or something to learn American? (I don’t even know what this girl was referring to.)
So what are you supposed to be? (Referencing a lack of clear visible ethnic background on my part.)
I thought (insert my country) was just for tourists. I didn’t realize people actually live there. (FACE SMACK!)

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aje March 15, 2011 at 1:48 pm

My favorite experience in regards to this is when I was studying languages abroad. the old joke came up, “What do you call a person who speaks 3 languages? multi-lingual. What do you call a person who speaks 2 languages? bi-lingual. What about just 1? American!”
The teacher and a few native students spent some time discussing how true it was and how it seemed like Americans didn’t care about any country/culture except their own… All while their five american students were there, in their classroom studying to learn another language!

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Hellbound Alleee March 15, 2011 at 2:07 pm

People are so silly to categorize others like that. What does an individual have to do with the policies of his country’s ruling class, unless he is the ruling class?

I just assume the others are speaking of the politics of the land mass I happened to be born in, and realize they aren’t actually talking about me. I don’t believe that symbols are real things, and the concept of “America” happens to be a symbol many people get sensitive about. I dare say that any given politician in any given country has a few flaws, and the other party would surely understand that the criticism is directed against the politician, not at them.

Surely we can all differentiate between a human being and a land mass?

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Allie March 15, 2011 at 2:17 pm

I’m sure I wouldn’t have thought of it at the time, but I would have liked to have said “back home, we have a saying… ‘if you can’t think of anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’”.
If you’ve got a problem with U.S. foreign policy, that’s the responsibility of the current administration, and feel free to take it up with the appropriate officials. The U.S.’s domestic problems aren’t any of your concern if you’re not a U.S. resident. BTW, I’m Canadian.

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Shannon March 15, 2011 at 2:27 pm

@Skoffin, oh, I feel your pain! My mom is Australian (I’m a dual citizen). Everyone makes dumb jokes about kangaroos and Crocodile Dundee. So rude.

I think making fun of someone’s country is a lot like making fun of someone’s name. However clever you think you are, they’ve heard the joke a thousand times, it’s not like they can help what their parents chose to call them, and it’s just too personal to crack jokes about.

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RP March 15, 2011 at 2:30 pm

No one is being too sensitive, not the OP and not Americans in general. The OP and their husband went to a bar to relax, not to be lectured to. As was said earlier, this was a rant not a discussion.

Right or wrong, agreed or disagreed, I hate that I apparently represent American politics wherever I go.

@MaryFrann – Yes, THIS. It’s the attitude that either you need to personally apologize for everything wrong with the United States or that you need to be told everything wrong with it as if you don’t know what’s going on in your own country. Debate is fine. Surprise lectures are not.

This would be like going up to a smoker, who is in a location where smoking is allowed and not bothering anyone including you, and ranting about the how bad smoking is. It’s rude even if it is true.

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ashley March 15, 2011 at 2:41 pm

@Ms Magpie Nice StarWars reference xD
I agree with ya though^^

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Another Alice March 15, 2011 at 2:57 pm

I agree with @Hal. As an American living in America, I very rarely try to get into a debate about politics with someone I feel would probably not agree with me. Not, of course, because I mind that they disagree, but because the debate is seen as personal, rather than simply an intellectual debate. I don’t think it’s because of a “sensitivity,” however; more of a cultural difference that politics are perhaps more personal here than abroad. Saying one is “liberal” or “conservative” to those of the opposite persuasion is, I think, more often taken as “So therefore I’m smarter than you” to the other person – and I’d lived in both ultra-conservative and ultra-liberal areas. Perhaps “passionate” is a better word than “sensitive.” And even if it is a sensitivity – who cares? Nothing wrong with being proud of where you’re from, wherever it may be, as long as debates are respectful and impersonal.

That being said, no matter what your cultural feeling about political debate, I doubt anyone looking for a real debate would talk to the OP like that. I actually thought of France, and another poster mentioned the country, and the story of how she asked someone what they did for a living and how it’s seen as rude. It’s just fun to think about how different things are “rude” in other countries; in America and other places, asking a person’s job is like asking about the weather – while politics is seen for conversation only with those you’re close with! All the differences make the world go round! Perhaps if someone bashes your country, one should just say, “Oh, yes, those issues are very important and we were just discussing them last week. That’s why we’re so glad to be here visiting your country and having a lovely break from all the debate in ours!”

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sterling March 15, 2011 at 3:43 pm

@Jen

We don’t know for sure exactly what she said but I wouldn’t jump to it being what she said was “true.” I also don’t think that the OP was being overly sensitive.
How would you like it if you were being niceto someone and they decided to tell you that your home country is stupid, evil, selfish and ugly. It might be true but it isn’t nice to say.

@M

You said you were annoyed by the comment America took you in because you were ot a charity case or a refugee yet you also say you came “had chosen to come to the US for the academic opportunities it afforded me.” Instead of staying home you came here to study and yes America welcomed you in. American school do not have to allow foriegn students even if the students can pay.

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LS March 15, 2011 at 3:49 pm

When I have to hear someone spout misinformed stereotypes, I just say to them, “Do you believe everything you see on TV or the papers?”
Of course, they’ll sputter, “Well, of course not…but… …”

At least one can plant a seed of reasonableness, if not skepticism.

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Suxuemei March 15, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Speaking of Americans …

I live in Alaska, and whenever I travel to the lower 48, the following exchange rarely fails to happen:

Me / Stranger: *Miscellaneous small talk*
Stranger: Where are you from?
Me: I live in Alaska.
Stranger: Oh, so you know Sarah Palin?
Me: Oh I’m not personally acquainted with her, no.
Stranger: Really?! I thought everyone from Alaska knew her!

From there, the conversation can take a few permutations, but the most benign is:

Me: Well, in a lot of ways the State of Alaska is the world’s biggest small town, but that doesn’t mean everyone knows everyone else.
Stranger: Oh ….

FYI, in the above situations, it is perfectly clear that the stranger is not asking if I have heard of Sarah Palin, they are actually expecting me, a random Alaska resident, to be personally acquainted.

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Suxuemei March 15, 2011 at 4:46 pm

To address the etiquette issue at hand – yes, debates are fun. But the way to open up one of those (without starting an actual brawl) is to say something along the lines of “What do you think of X?” Open-ended question, allows the other person to either engage or not, as they choose, and if they do choose to engage, they are more likely to discuss what they think in a noncombative way. If you disagree, you can follow up with more questions – “If you do X, is it a priority to address Y? Have you considered Z?” All sorts of ways to draw people into a discussion without an unprovoked attack.

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Pinkwildrose March 15, 2011 at 4:56 pm

That’s really sad that the family was so rude to the OP. I’m guessing that they’ve never heard that old etiquette adage about avoiding the subjects of sex, politics and religion in polite conversation. the family only showcased their own ignorance by speaking like that.

Frankly, I would rather be a good person who comes from a country where some of the politics might seem bad to some, rather than being a bad person from a country whose politics are somehow perfect.

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irish March 15, 2011 at 5:29 pm

The people the OP met from X country were extremely rude, and the OP was a very gracious American citizen. I don’t think that kind of behaviour is ever acceptable, however some posts have already succeeded in getting my back up. Countries needing to be grateful for US aid or past military help was mentioned; also that no country in history has ever tried to do right as much as America. The American tourists I have met that irritated me said things like this, that’s why I found them annoying. I have also met interesting, educated and extremely polite American tourists. Some Americans seem to think that the USA is the only democracy in the world (something that particularly annoys us Europeans) and have a strong superiority complex. The OP was not at all superior – commenters who can’t stop at ‘it is very rude to say things like that’ and insist on going on to imply ‘especially since you’d all be speaking German if we hadn’t bailed you out of the second world war’ ARE.

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K March 15, 2011 at 5:35 pm

Being polite doesn’t mean taking abuse. Simply turn away from them and disengage in all conversation or go sit somewhere else.
Even rabbits can figure this one out: http://language.rabbitspeak.com/rabbittalk_insults.html

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Tanz March 15, 2011 at 5:35 pm

There’s an old saying that goes “When America sneezes the rest of the world catches the cold”. In other words what happens in America politically, financially and even culturally has knock on effects for the rest of us, whether we want it to or not. So it could be argued that the rest of us do have some sort of ‘right’ to discuss and have an opinion on American politics and monetary policy. That said there is no need to be rude to Americans we come into contact with – as someone has already pointed out a citizen is not an entire country – and I do think that the rest of us need to remember that. Sure, I’ve met some rude Americans but I’ve also seen some very rude people from my country.

And another related point is to remember that even though another country may speak the same language that doesn’t mean the etiquette is similar. This site has taught me that!

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Emily March 15, 2011 at 6:15 pm

I live in America and this happens within it too. My mother’s family is from the south and my family lives the north closer to my father’s side of the family. My cousin visited and told me that everyone from my city (Chicago) was rude and even my family was that way too except for my mother who was raised in the south. He continued to say that he was raise the correct way and implied that I was not.

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Louise March 15, 2011 at 7:41 pm

“I raised my voice so everyone could hear — not angrily, but loud and clear — and told him I was tired of hearing my country abused without responding. He was misinformed about several things he had been saying and I pointed them out one after the other and explained how he could go about finding the facts. I ended by saying I was sorry to have to speak up, but I could no longer listen in silence. The United States is not perfect and has made mistakes. What country has not? But certainly no country in history has ever tried harder to do right and no country in history has ever been more ready to try to fix what was broken and extend help to a defeated enemy. I don’t know what the opinion of this list will be, but I still think my response was correct. I did not speak with anger, but simply pointed out facts he may have overlooked.”

It’s galling to hear your country bashed, but rightly or wrongly this likely did contribute to the stereotype of the Ugly American. It’s very “USA! No. 1! We’re the best! Better than you!” Heck, I live in the United States and I strongly disagree with what you said.

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Lady Antipode March 15, 2011 at 10:12 pm

Well said, irish (March 15, 2011 at 5:29 pm). I heartily agree.

I also agree with the posters who have pointed out that it doesn’t matter which country you are from, you are still susceptible to being lectured about its problems/issues. And all countries have problems/issues. Likewise the ugly tourist (as someone else has pointed out) – there are ugly European tourists, ugly Australian tourists, ugly Asian tourists, ugly American tourists. Being rude to someone by manner or tone (rather than saying the same thing in the form of respectful debate) is rude, regardless of which nationality it is directed at or coming from.

US posters – don’t forget it’s not just you :)

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jenna March 15, 2011 at 11:09 pm

@ Typo Tat –

If you had this happen to you constantly, though, from many different sources, you may well change your mind on the threshold for “overreacting”.

I hear it again and again and AGAIN, and even if in the beginning I was interested in a discussion about various issues, at this point I’m just not: I’ve been over what America’s about with enough people that I’m done – done I say! – with defending it to yet one more person who feels the need to tell me why my country stinks. If they’re going to pass judgments like that based on one trip or even if they’ve never traveled there at all (you’d be surprised how many people bash the USA who have never even been there) then I’m not going to waste my time discussing it with them. I might try to politely deflect and change the subject once, but after that, I’m gone, nice to meet you, have a nice trip buh-bye.

I mean heck, I lived in [a large Asian country famed for its lack of freedom of speech and bad pollution] for a year. I met a lot of great people, have some awesome stories and had some great experiences. I sure learned a lot. Did I like it there? Not particularly, no. I also have a lot of negative opinions about the place and now live in a different country that I happen to prefer. Am I going to tell people from this country – who I meet often as my new home is not that far from it and is popular with tour groups from that country – all of the things I think are wrong with it (and there are many)? NO! That’s just rude. It won’t change anything, it’ll just cause anger and resentment, and it’s not like it’s their fault that I don’t hold a 100% favorable opinion of my time there.

Instead, I’ll talk to the people I meet from that country (I do speak the language) as individuals and maybe make a new friend, rather than a new enemy.

If someone asks a genuine question, that’s different. If someone says “My trip to the USA was disappointing” but doesn’t go so far as to harangue me on why the USA is so bad, I’ll ask why and offer an alternative view and probably sympathize – because we do have a lot of problems. It’s the judgment-passers I have no interest in.

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ET March 16, 2011 at 1:00 am

I live in a country where it’s very rude to brag, so in the ears of the people in my country, “being proud” sometimes is the same as bragging. Add to that, that a lot of people in my country speak english or at least understand it and you would get a lot of “ugly American tourists” just by Americans talking, in a for them acceptable etiquette. It is also proper etiquette in my country to speak politics in general, talk about countries, but not about your own political agenda. great posibilities for misunderstandings, don’t you think?

If someone of my country had said the thing that Louise is commenting on, everybody in the room would have just cringed in their seats…

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Caros March 16, 2011 at 7:41 am

Dear! – you really made me laugh with those :), they show such a level of ignorance that you have to feel sorry for those who said them in a way.

I’ve been fortunate enough to live in several countries & travel to many more. I remember one incident clearly – staying in a youth hostel in Vienna, a stunningly beautiful Texan girl was complaining that all the signs around the city weren’t in English. She couldn’t grasp what I meant when I asked how many signs in Texas were written in German….

Personally, I’ve found a smile, an attempt at the local language (however concise) and a genuine interest in your location take you a very long way. I’ve had some wonderful encounters with complete strangers over the years. (That looks far worse written down than meant… ).

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Babs March 16, 2011 at 9:59 am

I can’t add much to this except it sounds like a one-sided story. Rarely have I encountered people, anywhere, who will go on a rant in presence of family to people they had just met in a restaurant. Because this is leaning more into caricature territory, I’m inclined to think these “Snooty Europeans” were doing something that is rather natural in Europe (talking about politics, disagreeing, possibly being acerbic about it, which is also not unusual) and the “Sensitive Americans” were unused to this kind of discourse and took offense (not knowing that this sort of topic and even some of the tone is not off-limits and in the end, everyone is still friends. This sort of debate is considered “spirited,” not “aggressive.”).
I have found Americans more sensitive to criticism of certain topics than I would be. I was surprised in college (in the US) to find out how frequently you just don’t talk about someone’s work, no matter what you thought of it. Things that were off limits in Europe weren’t in the States, and vice-versa.
For example in the comments themselves, this absolutely rankled me:

“But certainly no country [United States] in history has ever tried harder to do right and no country in history has ever been more ready to try to fix what was broken and extend help to a defeated enemy.”

REALLY? No other country has ever tried hard to do the right thing? No one else wanted to help other countries and if they did, they clearly didn’t try as hard as the United States? They just didn’t want it as much? No one else in the whole history of the world? The United States may be one of the richest countries in the world, and they may be one of the most giving monetarily in certain sectors, but to say that no one else even tries as well as the United States is insulting.

And finally, to clear up one point in the story: Children in beer halls in Germany is not unusual, it’s not the same as a bar or a pub. Similar to how no one raises an eyebrow to a glass of wine at lunch. It’s not about getting drunk, it’s a small amount of paced social drinking (getting drunk in public is still very frowned upon). Alcohol and related establishments have a different place in European society, so taking well behaved kids into a beer hall isn’t frowned on.

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Shannon March 16, 2011 at 10:41 am

@Babs, I’m American/Australian, and I’ve lived in Europe and South America. There are definitely cultural differences as to what are polite topics for conversation, and it varies from country to country and even city to city. Heck, sometimes block-to-block.

However, I think that one would need a skull of iron to NOT realize that their “spirited debate” was coming across as very rude and hurtful to the Americans, particularly when they refused to engage. If the other party just wanted a cheery chat and a pint, the other party’s “spirited debate” is really just a one-sided tongue lashing and utterly inappropriate.

Sometimes, one party is rude, sometimes the other party is too sensitive, and most of the time it’s a combination of both. But why not save the aggravation and change the subject?

I live in DC, and of course political debates are pretty common around here. As a frequent hostess, I keep an eye as to when a “spirited” debate has turned into a pile-on, a downer, or just plain boring. And that’s when I step in and change the subject, or say, “Hey, X, we’ve heard a lot about what you think, so, Y, do you want to weigh in?” Or I say, “STOP THE INSANITY!” and throw a few pillows. Not everyone wants or enjoys “spirited debate.” (Personally, I think of them as a cross between my worst migraine and a really irritating essay question.)

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The OP March 16, 2011 at 11:58 am

I thought I should clarify a few things:

1) Without going into my personal political leanings, and as I stated in the story, I didn’t necessarily disagree with her on everything she said. I fully recognize the issues with my own country, and found value and interest in the way that other parts of the world handle their affairs. What really bothered me was that she went on and on to a whole group of Americans about everything from government politics to the ugliness of some local impoverished towns without letting anyone get a word in edgewise right in the middle of an otherwise normal conversation. I didn’t expect her to flatter us for the sake of it, but I also didn’t feel that her one-sided lecture was appropriate for strangers, especially since we had already stated to her that this was not just our country, but essentially our hometown (she took a trip from New York to Boston, we live a few hours from New York, so they drove right through where we live). The places where we lived and grew up — that is probably what shocked me most. Many people during our stay had things to say about the States in general, but this was the only group that knocked down something as personal as the towns we grew up in, knowing exactly where we were from.

2) I stated “X-Country” on purpose. The family in question was not necessarily European, nor do I subscribe to the snooty European stereotype. These people were also tourists. I lived in a European host country and found, to no one’s surprise, that the people there were just like everyone else. Good, bad, and ugly.

3) Most people we met were great, and we had many interesting conversations with a multitude of locals and tourists. We did have polite discussions at other times with more reasonable people while abroad, discussing not only our own country’s upcoming 2008 elections, but our host country’s ongoing politics as well. Most people would simply ask questions or ask for explanations on specific topics, or state: “I don’t understand _____, why is it like that?” We were more than happy to talk over differences in this way, even when we had different opinions. There is an appropriate way to speak about these subjects that is respectful but also thought-provoking. This woman and her family had absolutely no interest in doing this. They saw an opportunity to use us as a sounding board for to air their grievances.

In this case I felt no obligation to try to be the diplomat and change her mind. She had clearly already gone to our country with preconceived notions, reconfirmed her way of thinking, and had no interest in discussing cultural, sociological, or political nuance. We wanted to enjoy ourselves in Germany; so after she ran out of things to say, and the conversation was effectively killed, we found an opportunity to excuse ourselves, and left.

4) I brought up the child in the bar just because it is an interesting part of the story. I had been to their country and had never seen a child in a bar before, and there were no other children so young in the beer hall, so it struck me as odd. But I figured I hadn’t seen everything while I was there, and just chalked it up to a culture gap I didn’t know about. I have no idea if him being there and using snorting tobacco was appropriate in Germany or in their own country.

Hope that clears up a few things.

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Ang March 16, 2011 at 1:06 pm

well I have to chime in…. I am an American who is a legal resident of The Netherlands. I have lived her now for 5 years. I have friends who are also new to The Netherlands from Peru, China, Russia etc. and they never ever get the comments I get about their countries and as often. It is not my fault what goes on in politics but I am held responsible. Once my hairdresser told me I voted for Bush twice and should be ashamed and I said how would you know whom I voted or if I voted and she said oh every American says that!
Also people think they know my culture from MTVand movies and well I have to try to explain that is not reality despite it looking as so for most Americans and now we are not all fat, and rich and have swiming pools

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Lizajane March 16, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Babs,

That poster didn’t say no one tried as hard. She said no one tried harder. There IS a difference, however subtle or glaring you may perceive it as being. And maybe what she said isn’t true in your opinion, or not true at all. You quoted directly from her post, and then based your argument on something different. Not cool at all.

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Calli Arcale March 16, 2011 at 2:18 pm

“Rarely have I encountered people, anywhere, who will go on a rant in presence of family to people they had just met in a restaurant.”

I have, and they weren’t “snooty Europeans” doing something which perhaps is acceptable in their country. They were Canadians, traveling in France. We happened to be sharing a vehicle for a guided tour of the countryside. Actually, it was only the mother who ranted; the father seemed rather mortified. My husband and I didn’t know what to say, not wanting to set off the crazy lady that we had to tolerate for the remaining hour of the tour, so we just bit our tongues and eventually the subject changed.

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Kai March 17, 2011 at 8:43 am

I don’t think the OP was in any way wrong. She’s on vacation. Her nationality isn’t justification for random strangers to start lecturing and ranting about how much this stranger hates the OP’s country. Yes, it’s true that just because the OP said something nice about the other persons country, doesn’t mean the other person has to compliment America. But the stranger had absolutely no right to be so rude and horrible to a perfect stranger over something the person had no control over.

I have plenty of ‘bad American tourist’ stories. I also have plenty of good American tourist stories. Same as I (and many others here) will have many other stories about tourists from other countries, both good and bad. Americans aren’t rude just because they are American. Rude people are rude people regardless of nationality. And it does seem to be that some nationalities, including America, get disrespected more than others.

Though I will say that some of the comments here kind of irked me. The ones about America always being the first responder, the one who has tried the hardest to fix things and help other countries out. It’s just that I have a number of stories where the facts are one thing, but the ‘American’ story is exactly the opposite. This isn’t just an American trait, I’d say every country rewrites things for their own benefit. But I have had quite a few rude Americans bring these things up to show how awesome they are, when in fact, they couldn’t be farther from the truth (and of course are very hostile when corrected). I’ve even had an American friend of mine tell me some ‘facts’ about my country, and then called me an idiot and told me to ‘go back to school’ when I told him he was misinformed.

But again, I may have had some bad and rude experiences with Americans, but I would never dream of attributing the rudeness of a few to the entire country. Nor would I start verbally abusing a country in front of a person from there. There are other ways to say that you didn’t enjoy your trip.

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RP March 17, 2011 at 9:42 am

I can’t add much to this except it sounds like a one-sided story. Rarely have I encountered people, anywhere, who will go on a rant in presence of family to people they had just met in a restaurant.

@Babs
1) Isn’t story posted here is one-sided? Unless I’ve missed something (and it’s possible, I haven’t read every post this blog has ever had) none of the stories have a POV of anyone other than the submitter’s.

2) Consider yourself lucky.

I was surprised in college (in the US) to find out how frequently you just don’t talk about someone’s work, no matter what you thought of it.

I’m not sure what you mean. Are you talking about academic work or employment? Discussion of people’s grades while in class or private conversations about someone’s presentations? Complaints about someone not doing their job properly? Talking about someone’s pay?

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Acadianna March 17, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Someone upthread made a reference to the joke about “speaks only one language = American.” I wanted to address that.

There’s a reason people from the United States tend not to be multilingual. It’s not because we’re lazy or xenophobic or have inferior educational standards. It’s because, in our very large country, most people speak only one language, English. We don’t have daily opportunities to practice other languages. To speak a language fluently — or to retain that ability over time — requires ongoing daily practice. Europeans have those opportunities in abundance; travel a few hundred miles and one can encounter a half-dozen different languages. In America, drive a thousand miles, and hear only English.

When I was in high school/college, I spoke French fluently and German almost as well, because I practiced them daily in classes. I was able to use them both easily and effectively while traveling. Now? I’ve lost most of both languages, for lack of any chance to practice.

This is changing a bit in the United States, especially in the Southwest. Our Spanish-speaking population has been growing rapidly, and we have many more chances, on a daily basis, to hear someone speaking another language besides English. As a result, we are now more likely to be bilingual than we used to be.

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LadyPek March 17, 2011 at 6:06 pm

babs, I’m happy for you that you haven’t experienced it. I certainly have.

I lived in Japan for a summer. I regularly got verbally attacked by Australians and Europeans on how awful America was–without me saying anything at all except for that I was from the US. Usually it was the same three topics–they hated George Bush, our food is bad, and we are fat and ugly. I got really sick of the insinuation that every single American is fat (I am 5’5 and weigh 120–I’m not sure what they were implying there). It happened CONSTANTLY at ex-pat bars. I got some real chips on my shoulder about the phenomena.

And there are plenty of terrible tourists from all over the world.

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Suxuemei March 17, 2011 at 11:53 pm

Another reason far too many Americans speak only one language is that language education isn’t emphasized here as much. Most places, the earliest that students begin to learn a second language is high school, and even than many places it’s not a requirement. As I understand, most other countries begin teaching (at least) English to students in elementary school (correct me if I’m wrong).

We are fortunate where we live – there are language immersion programs in the public schools that begin in Kindergarten for Spanish, French, German, Russian, and Japanese – it’s a lottery system and unfortunately I was not able to get my daughter in. But a friend of mine got both her kids in the Russian program, and I enjoy talking to them in the little Russian I remember from high school whenever I visit.

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Lizajane March 18, 2011 at 9:35 am

Acadianna,
Excellent explanation about speaking only English.

Where I live was settled by many German immigrants. Alot of the older people spoke it at home most of their lives, and even though they were born in the US, most have a slight German accent. But sadly, these people are passing on and German is spoken at home less and less. My husband still speaks some, probably more than most middle-aged people around here, but he lived there for two years. All of our kids speak some, as they have taken it in school.

Fortunately, most high schools here offer a four-year German program and many of the teachers are of German ancestry and teach language and culture. Trips to Germany are taken every 2-3 years. Our school is on our second German teacher (the first retired) and both have been excellent. All of this is in a mid-western state in a county where the largest town is about 10,000 people.

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Steve March 18, 2011 at 5:11 pm

To be honest about the language issue: I really doubt you need more than English anymore.

I know you can get by with just English in Germany, France, Italy, Ostria, The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Greece and many many other European countries. I am sure the native languages will be around for quite some time, but the need for Europeans to learn 4 languages in school is outdated.

As was stated before: Americans have no direct need for German or French, most Americans have no countries that speak another language close by and Canada is bilingual, so English will suffice there as well. Also: how many British citizens speak another language? next to none!

There is simply a need for everyone to learn English, if you have that as a native language… it will do.

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irish March 19, 2011 at 5:57 am

Oh but Steve… how much knowledge, understanding and cultural mindset you lose out on by only learning one language! The vocabulary and grammatic structure of other languages often developed to reflect their culture, you can really get to know a country speaking their language in a way you simply can’t through English. I know English is the only language one really needs, but I feel so strongly that learning other languages opens the mind and makes us deeper people.

I really feel for Americans, who can’t get the opportunity to use foreign languages without very long-distance international travel. And I imagine once you got there, many locals would recognise your accents and automatically speak to you in English. I couldn’t let the opportunity to comment go by, because at the moment there’s a major debate going on in Ireland – some of the new government want to make the Irish language optional in schools. Many of us feel strongly that this is a retrograde step, I certainly think the study of other languages should be promoted as far as possible.

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admin March 19, 2011 at 6:23 am

Can we put the “Americans only learn one language” discussion to rest? Over 30 years ago, I had three years of French in high school, 2 years of German in college. My kids were required by state law to have a minimum of one year of language. Two children chose Spanish, the youngest chose Greek and Italian. All three of them had at least a year of Latin on top of that. To graduate from a university, students must have a minimum of three semesters of a foreign language. Son took Japanese for one semester and then switched to Spanish. Nearly all of his peers have taken years of either French, Spanish or Italian and some of them are proficiently fluent in their second language to be hired for jobs requiring them to be fluent or to study abroad.

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irish March 19, 2011 at 6:55 am

Admin, I did not say that Americans only learn one language. I know very little about the American education system. I was making a point about the importance of languages, and responding to a comment from Acadianna that Americans don’t often get the opportunity to speak foreign languages in their daily lives, because so many around them speak English, and they can lose the ability through lack of practice. Above me, Steve said that English is all that one needs – not saying that Americans can only speak English. Lizajane, above him, said that schools in her area offer an excellent opportunity to study German, and agrees that the long-term lack of exposure to German speakers has a detrimental effect on one’s language skills. I find that the thread has taken a fascinating turn into discussions on language, and I would be sorry to put an end to it, especially as nobody is being offensive.

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TheOtherAmber March 19, 2011 at 6:20 pm

While it is a shame, and isn’t right, that Americans travelling get blamed for every negative thing America has done, you do have to realize that many times these people are just reacting to the overabundance of American media. Let me try to explain:

I’m not American, although I do have American relatives and go to the US frequently. I also have friends that are American, and friends in other countries as well. What the other countries get is a lot of media about, and from, America. Media that basically says America is wonderful and better than everyone else, we’re the best country in the world! And because there’s a LOT of American media, they hear this a lot. They tend to feel insulted about it, just like Americans would feel insulted if all they heard from another country was that hey we’re the best and we’re better than you guys. And I have to say, it’s not just the media – there are a fair number of Americans who feel this way and who have no qualms about telling people from other countries that America is “the best”. I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard an American say “If it wasn’t for us you’d all be speaking German now!”. Does that mean that all Americans feel that they’re better than everyone else? No, of course not. But if all someone from X Country hears about America is “we’re the best, we’re the greatest, we’re better than you are” then sooner or later they just might feel like they have to say “sorry, no you’re not”. And unfortunately an unsuspecting American tourist is likely to be the recipient of that.

I’d also like to point out that Americans are just as guilty of swallowing media hype and being rude to other countries. I’m Canadian, and after 9/11 the treatment we received from Americans was appalling. Why? Because media reported that we weren’t doing anything to help with the war, and that we’d let the terrorists into the US. Neglected to mention the thousands of stranded Americans that were being looked after here, or the fact that Canadian troops had been sent to other locations to relieve US soldiers so they could be redeployed, or that it’s the US border patrols responsible for allowing people to cross the border into the US not Canadian border patrols. And because of this Canadians visiting the US were often yelled at, cursed at, sometimes attacked, people I know had their cars vandalised in the US. And if you tried to actually give the facts, you were called a liar because hey CNN said so.

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Enna March 20, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Wow. The way I see it there are good, bad and wacky parts to every country – there is poverty in the USA but the USA isn’t the only developed country were there is poverty – I’m form the UK and we have poverty here too, the same goes for the rest of Europe, Austrlaia and New Zealand etc. Ah well at least you know that rude family won’t cross USA boarders ever again!

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Enna March 20, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Also there are a majority of good people and a minoirty of bad people in every nationality, race, religion, gender, sexuality, political standing, social standing etc etc and it is important not to judge one group on the actions of a few individuals of that group.

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Suxuemei March 21, 2011 at 12:08 pm

@irish:

“The vocabulary and grammatic structure of other languages often developed to reflect their culture, you can really get to know a country speaking their language in a way you simply can’t through English.”

100% agree – definitely noticed it in my studies of Russian and Chinese. Words cannot express how much another language broadens the mind; there is simply no substitute.

“And I imagine once you got there, many locals would recognise your accents and automatically speak to you in English.”

Lol – I could definitely see that happening – I went to Chinatown in San Francisco once (not quite the same, I know) and had zero luck getting anyone there to speak to me in anything but English.

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bmyster March 22, 2011 at 9:16 am

When some people travel, they leave their minds and hearts back in their own country. Only their bodies make the trip. It sounds like the tourists from X country did exactly that.

I think a debate can be interesting and engaging — if it is handled with respect and compassion on both sides. Compassion means stating facts and opinions in non-alienating ways.

For example, saying “We completely disagree with the war with Iraq. Why did America go to war with Iraq?” is far more compassionate and respectful than saying “The war with Iraq is another example of American imperialism and war-mongering.”

For me, the former would invoke a reasoned, open response such as “I personally disagree with the war, but I have no influence over it. ” The latter would probably make me leave if feasible, since I have no desire to get into an argument.

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poppy April 21, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Feeling free to give one’s political opinion about someone’s country can also be chalked down to cultural differences. In my country, which may or may not be X country, there is absolutely nothing shocking about it. And well, the general feeling in Europe is that there is no shortage of self-congratulation (shall I mention, especially on the part of US residents?), but no one will grudge a piece of sound advice?
To my mind, that is cultural difference. This is why X country inhabitants appear gloomy and rude to you while they regard Americans as shallow and hypocritical. The very definition of the nature of freedom is different on each continent, and I find that enriching past the initial surprise. But of course, it IS difficult not to wrap oneself in one’s national pride and decide to construe difference as rudeness.

Love from X (or Z) country!

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Nicole May 4, 2011 at 8:34 am

Well, those ARE some nice brownstones on Beacon Hill…

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Toya July 15, 2011 at 4:17 pm

I hate when people do this. I’ve travelled to several countries and I can honestly say that every nation has their good points and their bad ones. Being ethnocentric benefits no one. You have every place for what it’s worth. Take the good, leave the bad, and write down all the day’s events for future reference.

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