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

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… add one }
  • Bint March 15, 2011, 4:18 am

    As a Brit, I feel your pain. It’s amazing how many people think it’s absolutely fine to start in on me for being some kind of imperialist Churchill throwback, and everything my country did in history that they don’t agree with. As an English girl, I’ve also had it from the Celtic nations here too.

    I’ve given up now. I just say, “I don’t care. I’m proud of being English,” and nine times out of ten the other person is offended!

    That family was *incredibly* rude.

  • M March 15, 2011, 5:58 am

    First of all, let me say that this isn’t me trying to defend the rudeness exibited by the people at your table. You don’t go into a 20 minute debate with a complete stranger about their country’s shortcomings and not come out as rude.

    That being said, I can’t help but observe how touchy Americans get about their country sometimes. I remember this story from back when I was still living in the US. We were in the living room after a dinner party, a mixed group of friends from different countries, all studying internationational politics if I may add, when this happened.

    We were talking about America’s war on terror, some of us were for it, some against it: two of the Americans present started yelling at the rest of the people there, saying things like, how could we? how dare we talk badly about the USA, especially since the US was kind enough for taking us in?
    At this point, I’d like to add that I was not a refugee nor a charity case. I had, just like the other students at our university paid for my tuition in full and had chosen to come to the US for the academic opportunities it afforded me. This lasted for about twenty minutes, during which I and the rest of the anti-war group were called ungrateful, stupid and downright unpatriotic, which admittedly I was, since I’m not a US citizen.

    I realize the war on terror is a touchy subject and that not all Americans are like that, but nowadays I steer clear of anything even remotely controversial when I’m around Americans. I stick to the safe topics like the weather and, well the weather.

    I suppose you could chuck it up to cultural differences, but in my country, we on debate as it affords us the opportunity to have lively conversations that last until the wee hours of the night and usually end in some sort of alcohol induced treaty 🙂

    Kudos to you for keeping it together and not jumping at the lady for her rudeness, but it would have been nice if you had taken the time to dispel her misgivings: yes, I agree, there is a great divide between America’s rich and its poor (she wasn’t wrong you know), but we’re working on it; no, some of the cities aren’t as beautiful as those in Europe, but there are natural parks and lovely towns and whalewatching and gumbo 🙂 Instead of getting upset and leaving shortly after, you could have spent 20 minutes giving the lady and her child a lesson in class.

  • DGS March 15, 2011, 6:51 am

    As someone who was born in a different country (in Eastern Europe) and immigrated to the United States to escape religious and political persecution, I am very grateful to and proud of my adopted homeland and get very angry with people who feel the need to trash the United States given any opportunity. These are usually the same people that get up in arms if one so much mentions one negative experience an American may have had in their country. Firstly, it is incredibly rude to criticize another country to its residents/citizens – especially, in a casual conversation with a stranger. Secondly, I disagree with M that Americans are particularly touchy; I actually feel that everyone in the world feels a particular need to trash America and engages in it regularly (while conveniently ignoring how many times America may have aided that particular country with its money, power or diplomacy). Like any country in this world, America has its problems and shortcomings, and like any country in this world, the United States also has many wonderful attributes, not the least of which are its friendly, down-to-earth and welcoming, diverse people.

  • Lilya March 15, 2011, 6:53 am

    I’m sorry you had to spend time with this nasty family – I guess that shows that, in spite of what they think, Europeans don’t have the monopoly on manners.

    I noticed that, when recounting stories about their travels abroad, a lot of Americans sound apologetic – overly so, if I may.
    I’m Italian. Our reputation as people in general and turists in particular is even worse than yours – when I was traveling with my family, we were often told we didn’t act like Italians.
    However, I never felt the need to apologize for what other people did: their actions are their responsibility, not mine.
    When I’m abroad, I don’t need to make a conscious effort to fit in or watch my actions: I’ll just act like a civilized human being, like I do in Italy.

  • Amanda March 15, 2011, 6:56 am

    Ugh, what a rude group of people! I’m so sorry you had to sit through that.

    I am an American expatriate, and I’ve found that I need to be very careful in my current country about disclosing the fact that I’m from the US. Nine times out of ten, as soon as somebody finds that out, they immediately seize the opportunity to air out all of their opinions about the United States, and most of them are overwhelmingly negative. It once happened when I was working at a temp job – my supervisor found that I’m American and spent the next 45 minutes telling me about how awful US foreign policy is. And no matter how much I try to correct people’s misconceptions (because they are also usually quite wrong about how things work) they never believe me and continue telling me how awful my home country is.

    M, I can’t speak for those particular Americans, but I personally do tend to be rather touchy about people bashing my country – mostly because, as I said above, I get that ALL THE TIME and people are mostly rather ill-informed in their opinions, at least the ones they choose to share with me.

  • Jen March 15, 2011, 6:59 am

    I know that it was rude, but I can’t really muster much outrage on behalf of the OP. I have been in this position when traveling abroad, and have chosen instead to use such conversations as opportunities for open and honest discussions, rather than play the part of the offended American tourist.

  • Hal March 15, 2011, 7:08 am

    I agree with “M.” I am an American living in the United States. It is hard for me, too, to discuss with other Americans topics that concern our shortcomings. I, too, stick to the weather or sink into silent prayer when some people approach. We have suffered from many lapses in the years from before the Vietnam War. We are less well educated for one thing and it shows in our growing intolerance of points of view opposing our own. Healthy debate is gone from general conversation. The diatribe has replaced the discussion in what was once polite conversation. Our once fine superstructure is in serious decline. And, we are not slowing that decline. Those people in the beer hall were right. We Americans ought to listen. I think the world still wants the USA to succeed. Polite criticism can be strengthening to us. The young couple had a chance to hear what others think of us and counter or explain the remarks. They missed the chance in their defensive rejection of another’s viewpoint.

  • Mon March 15, 2011, 7:20 am

    I feel your pain. I have a “friend” who makes it a point out how stupid and dumb the Portuguese are. I’m Portuguese. She says I’m the exception but even so, it’s so rude.

  • boxy March 15, 2011, 7:24 am

    I was visiting in Germany a few years ago and had something similar happen during dinner one night, same situation where you squeeze in at a table.. Finally the man who was lambasting the US stopped and said, “I’m very sorry, I forget you Americans are sensitive and do not like to hear bad about anything.”

    I realized he was right. We’re a nation of super sensitive politically correct wimps and I was one of them! For some reason his simple apology for stating his opinion loosened me up and after that we had an amazing exchange. I’m so glad he outed me (and Americans) as being too sensitive. Several times since then I’ve heard Europeans say things about the US and it no longer bothers me. It’s quite freeing.

  • melissa March 15, 2011, 7:27 am

    I was living in Europe at around the same time as the OP’s story and I cannot tell you the many cruel comments I received to my face about how awful and horrible my country was. For example one night a bunch of people from my department and I went to a pub, and one woman (who knew I was American) out of the blue told me she and her husband would love to go to the US but they wouldn’t because they just couldn’t stand the American people. Another time a co-worker of my now husband was stopped and searched by immigration when he went to the US, and he decided to yell at me saying how horrible I was and how horrible the US was, and I hadn’t even opened my mouth! Or my absolute favorite came when I was interning in a large European city and an older gentleman in the building, upon learning I was American and from the south, told me to my face I was racist and a member of the Klan. I really could go on but the point is that many people from other countries feel the have the right to tell Americans how much the hate the US even if we never mention a negative opinion of their country.

  • SHOEGAL March 15, 2011, 7:58 am

    I don’t think I would ever spout off a bunch of negative comments about someone’s home country to their faces. I would have told this family all of the positive experiences I had in X Country even if I didn’t have an overall favourable opinion. I couldn’t be that rude. Perhaps Americans are super sensitive – I never stopped to consider it before – or maybe . . .they just love their country despite its shortcomings and our proud to be American. The US makes its share of mistakes – but they don’t need lectured repeatedly about it either.

  • Harley Granny March 15, 2011, 8:03 am

    I’m not going to be one of those that use this to speak my political views as that would be just as rude as the family at the bar.
    I’m an American but not sensitive about it if I feel the person bombarding me with their views really know what they are talking about.
    Obviously the woman and her family only knew what they had read in the media…we all know how reliable that isn’t. Or learned on their visit to Boston.
    I’m sure the OP was taken aback….torn between defending her homeland and/or correcting incorrect information without insulting the other person.
    I think the OP showed more class than the offender.

    I would have left it at….I’m sorry you have such a poor opinion about our Country and cultures would you like my feedback? No? Oh Well, let’s have another pint!
    Repeat as necessary.

    Just because someone else wants to engage in a political conversation doesn’t mean you have to oblige.

  • Elicat March 15, 2011, 8:21 am

    I visited the Soviet Union back in the early 1980s. Regardless of our problems, and we do have them, the United States is still a great country. There are stupid and rude people in every country–we don’t have a monopoly on that. But I agree that political discourse is out of control in this country. Not many Americans can have a civilized conversation about religion or politics, but then there are many in this world who cannot have a civilized conversation about religion. My parents went to college in the 1950s, when such polite conversation was possible, and they can’t help but miss those days.

    As an aside, it’s dismaying to hear about countries who want no interference from the United States until a violent upheaval has taken place. Then these same countries can’t understand why we don’t drop everything to come help them.

    @Bint–my husband is English, so I understand where you’re coming from.

  • Lizajane March 15, 2011, 8:28 am

    You wrote,
    “I suppose you could chuck it up to cultural differences, but in my country, we on debate as it affords us the opportunity to have lively conversations that last until the wee hours of the night and usually end in some sort of alcohol induced treaty.”

    Surely you don’t mean that no one in the US debates to take advantage of the opportunity to have lively conversations, as you do in your country. Because it sounds that way.

  • Gena March 15, 2011, 8:30 am

    Well, I’ve noticed that everytime there is a worldwide disaster, such as the earthquake in Haiti, the earthquake in Japan, etc, the US is the first to offer aid. We have our issues, but I’m not so sure we are worse than other countries.

  • Sandro March 15, 2011, 8:30 am


    Actually there are some parts of the USA I totaly disslike, but I would never joudge any american for that. The USA is a big country and not one can be made responsible for all of it. Forthermore, there is some stuff about my homecountry I disslike, but I would never leave it therefor.
    Thus I thing, noone should joudge that hard on other people for there homecountry

    greetings Sandro

  • Ann March 15, 2011, 8:31 am

    Been there, heard that. I’ve lived abroad for eight years. I have been chastised, insulted, and physically threatened… all for being American. Many times I’ve felt that it’s open season on Americans. It doesn’t really matter what we do, or don’t do… we are wrong in the eyes of many. Fortunately, I’ve met and gotten to know people throughout the world who would never dream of berating another person based on their nationality. I have, and always will, behave graciously and respect the customs of whatever country I am in. I have found that the best response is usually silence; and occasionally,
    “That’s an interesting assumption,” is appropriate.

  • Tippo March 15, 2011, 8:38 am

    The mother in the family in the OP’s post definitely played into a self-fulfilling prophecy. The mother didn’t want to go to America, thought America would be horrible, and then while in America, noticed all of the terrible things. If you go into something expecting the worst, chances are good that’s all you’ll ever see. The same goes with dealing with people; if you expect people to be a certain way, everything they do (whether related or not) will somehow fit into your stereotype and they can do little to change that.

    I think the OP did the best thing in that situation – she apologized for the mother’s poor experience (not for the country as a whole), and changed the subject. It had already become apparent that the woman’s opinion would not be altered, and pressing the matter would only lead to further uneasiness and reinforce the mother’s opinion of Americans.

    @M: Based on your post, it sounds like you’ve unknowingly committed a similar crime as the family in the story. You dealt with two Americans and now seem to think all Americans are that way. Every country has their fare share of people who fit into a stereotype (it had to come from somewhere), but the average citizen seems to be forgotten. Like anywhere else, you have some people who are great at debate, some who take offense at the drop of a hat, and a vast majority who could care less.

    Really though, what person wouldn’t take some offense if someone was lambasting their homeland without knowing any of the facts? You can be sure we Americans find just as much fault in our country as other people do; we don’t just sit down and accept everything that goes on. We have our opinions of other countries as well (and they’re not all good). There’s a difference, however, between healthy conversation and unfounded attacks. Far too many people seem to have formed opinions based on mass generalizations instead of facts. Why are we all so concerned with the happenings in our neighbor’s yard that we’re blind to the problems in our own?

  • --Lia March 15, 2011, 8:41 am

    The family in the OP’s post does sound rude. I’ll say that up front before going on to say something that may get me into trouble:

    There’s quite a bit of grey area and cultural difference as regards attitudes on discussing politics. I’m an American living in the U.S. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to visit Paris a few times. I had an introduction to meet the daughter of a friend there, and we took to each other immediately. In no time we were in a spirited conversation in which she spoke quite opinionatedly about American politics. For the most part, she was well informed. There were also places where she made bozo mistakes and didn’t know what she was talking about. (She was unsure on how state’s laws work and would jump to the conclusion that something she read about one state was true for the whole country.) I corrected her quickly, sometimes loudly. Since I grew up knowing that one never discusses religion or politics in polite company, especially with people one has just met, it was a new and wonderful experience for me. I found her to be generous and loving. Many of her comments were criticisms, but I never got the idea she held anything against me personally. The U.S. is a major player on the world stage so it made sense to me that everyone would have an opinion on what the U.S. does. I got the idea that she cared when she made her comments. On parting, we hugged. I still consider her a valued friend.

    On another occasion, I met a friend of a friend through our mutual craft/hobby. (We’re quilters.) She was wonderful about showing us around Paris. In getting to know her, I asked what she did for a living. She rather stiffly said she was a secretary and mentioned the name of the firm. I got the idea she was uncomfortable and didn’t pursue asking her how she liked the work or say anything about how my grandmother was a secretary. We talked about other things. In the airport going home, I glanced through a book on manners where I learned that in France, asking what someone does for a living is akin to coming right out and asking how much they make or asking “are you rich?” Whoops! Faux pas on my part.

    In the U.S., politics is off limits and occupations are fair game. In France, it’s the opposite. Also different thoughts on where and when it’s alright to smoke.

  • Nibsey March 15, 2011, 8:43 am

    If someone critises ‘America’ it does not neccessarily mean they are critising you as an American. At the moment my country Ireland is getting alot of criticism in the European community because of an IMF bailout, and quite rightly so. I may disagree with their criticism but I never take it personally because debate is healthy and no country should be omitted from criticism. I talk about the problems in my own country all the time, why should I be surprised if a, for example, French person notices them as well.

  • Elizabeth March 15, 2011, 8:49 am

    Sadly, many of these overly-opinionated non-Americans with strong beliefs are not thoroughly informed, and simply repeat the leanings of their media. Very rude and ignorant. I have traveled throughout Europe extensively; some people seek meaningful conversation with Americans to better understand the US; others foolishly preach and lecture with little true information or insight. I have politely pointed out that their base of information is clearly limited and that the US is a very large and complex country. I have found that the course of conversation is often guided by the level of defensiveness (or NOT) that is shown by an American – I’ve nothing to be defensive about so why would I ‘corroberate’ their mis-information?

  • jenna March 15, 2011, 8:50 am

    The reason some Americans get annoyed by this behavior (which *is* rude, even if it’s spun into a lively and honest discussion rather than an argument or a cause for offense) is because those of us who travel abroad frequently encounter it *constantly*. There’s a stereotype out there of the Ugly American tourist, though honestly I’ve never met this caricature (and I have spent most of the last decade living abroad – travel quite literally is my life) – if anything I find Americans are more aware of what the stereotype of them is, and take great pains to avoid it, and as a result end up more curious, more outgoing, more polite and more generous than a lot of other tourists. Someone did a survey once (I’ll link to it if I can find it again – I read about it a very long time ago) of local people living in tourist destinations around the world, and other than Europe, remarkably, locals consistently rated Americans as the *most* polite, generous and friendly. I won’t say who they rated the worst, because the point isn’t to tarnish tourists from other countries.

    And yet, we hear it constantly (rarely from locals, mostly from other non-American tourists – I’ve only heard of it coming from locals in Europe) – Americans are X, Americans are Y, there are so many problems in America, yadda yadda yadda. Sure, there are problems in America, and some people will exhibit bad behavior in any country, but we get an unfair share of people looking down on us, because it’s so often seen as “cool” to hate Americans. As an American who frequently travels, yes it wears thin and I can understand why someone would simply get tired of hearing it…even if you yourself believe that there are a lot of ways in which the USA could improve (and there certainly are).

    I’ve also found that people who are so quick to tell you how bad America is are often not interested in a lively and honest debate: they just think America stinks and want to tell you so. It’s really grating. Nothing you say is going to change their mind in those cases (it’s not always like this – I’ve simply noticed it as a trend). Or, to sum it up: haters gonna hate.

  • Jay March 15, 2011, 8:50 am

    @M: “That being said, I can’t help but observe how touchy Americans get about their country sometimes”

    Wow, and I can’t help but observe how much people from (Your Country) make generalizations based on their own limited experience! Fortunately, everyone from (Your Country) only “debate as it affords [you] the opportunity to have lively conversations that last until the wee hours of the night”. It sure is nice that everyone from (Your Country) is so reasonable!

    That being said, you replied to a post on people making rude public generalizations about America with one of your own.. Kudos.

  • The Elf March 15, 2011, 9:37 am

    Yes, I agree that we Americans can be touchy about our nation, but when America bashing is common is this really shocking? Neither is right, and we could all benefit from a little more politeness and a little less sensitivity.

  • AS March 15, 2011, 9:37 am

    First of all, let me point out that I am very happy with the OPs of yesterday’s and today’s posts, who don’t associate bad behavior with the native country. I have often had people, even my friends, who associate any bad behavior with the country of the offender (unless the bad behavior is from a native of their own country, in which case they’ll try to blame it on the place of origin, town, etc.).

    Coming back to the bad behavior, it seems to be Universal. I wanted to share a few of my experiences. I am from a country where states are divided based on the language we speak. I lived in a state while growing up where the language spoken is not what we speak at home (though I knew the local language very well, as well as English). We have very different cultures too, though once again, I was perfectly at ease with the local culture. But I often had to put up with uninformed or misinformed comments. I had a “friend” who would go around telling people how lazy and stupid I am because people from my state are always like that! I used to stammer while on stage when I was young, and in a summer camp that we attended, I stammered during a n elocution competition, and she told the counselors that it is because I am lazy and don’t wake up early in the morning to have my breakfast (not true; my mother won’t let me out of the house without having breakfast).

    I have been living in USA for the past 6 years. I have been fiercely protective of either my native country or USA. One of my roommates was pretty convinced that I was “dirty” and messy because my native country is “dirty” (I have OCD, and cannot tolerate anything that is not in its place or is dirty, but she totally ignored this). I date an American, and some friends from my home country are “concerned” that he may not have “family values” that we have. I am like – really?!???… take some deep breath, bite my teeth – and explain to them that that is not true. Luckily, our parents are more open-minded and not stupid to think of asking such awkward questions.
    People, who think Americans are the only ones subjected to such opinionated behavior, let me assure you that this is Universal. I have been subjected to such behavior very often, and it still irks me.

    I was brought up reading Enid Blyton. I used to absolutely enjoy reading her novels. I still think she writes well, but she did stick to some of the stereotypes of non English people, particularly French and Americans (especially in her “Malory towers” series). But she wrote in the early to mid 1900s. It is the 21st century now; we should know better than stereotyping people!

  • Typo Tat March 15, 2011, 9:38 am

    OP is overreacting.

    I’ve noticed that citizens of pretty much every country spend a lot of time criticizing their government, health care, education, transport and everything possible about their own country, but god forbid if an outsider says something!

  • AS March 15, 2011, 9:51 am

    Sorry for the repost, I had to reply to M.
    @M: I think you just stereotyped Americans once again based on the two Americans who started yelling. I don’t think all are like that. Also, I don’t quite think all Americans are pro-war (in fact, I find quite a number of people are against it.
    Some people are informed, and they have opinions about certain things, which might come up in conversation with friends, like in your case. I don’t condone the behavior of the two people who started yelling. But not all Americans are that way.

    Also, I don’t think it would help the OP to sit there and try to debate that the offenders are wrong. Some people just visit other countries convinced that they are going to hate it. OP probably has better things to do than to convince a total stranger that what they think about USA is misinformed.
    I once had a friend of mine who thought my country was awful! She then said that she read a travelogue written by a traveler from her country to my country, and the traveler hated the country. (An example she stated is that people in my home town were fat because they didn’t eat meat! First of all, we don’t have any abnormally high number of fat people, just about the average number of fat people in the world. Secondly, this is a tropical city with year-long supply of fresh vegetables, and vegetarians have plenty of options for food). Nothing I’d say would convince her that this is not true (though I tried). Finally I just gave up saying that this traveler seemed to have made up this mind to criticize the country before he even visited.

  • Maitri March 15, 2011, 10:18 am

    When I was eighteen, I lived overseas and worked for the State Department at the US Embassy. There was a kerfluffle in the US involving a citizen of my host country and this sparked protests outside the Embassy. I myself got inadvertently (and literally) shoved into the middle of the anti-American rally, and it was quite scary. It took a large burly Marine coming out of the gate to rescue me. So believe me when I say, I’ve been directly involved in serious anti-American demonstrations.

    I also agree with the previous posters that the woman in the OP’s story could have handled it differently.

    That said, just because the OP chose to use complimentary statements about the other woman’s country, didn’t mean that the other woman was supposed to do the same. The other woman came to the US and had a bad experience. She’s right – we DO have poverty in the midst of riches. We DO have serious crime and drug problems. If she was in NYC, especially, there is a lot that can be seen that isn’t the shiny happy image that we try to project. We also have an amazing cultural melting pot, beautiful countryside, and warm and friendly people all around. She saw what she chose to see.

    I don’t think she needed to go on for 20 minutes about how awful the US was, but at least she’d been here and formed her own opinion. She didn’t base it on watching Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian in bikinis on television. IMO the reality show phenomenon in our country has done quite a bit to damage our reputation in the rest of the world.

  • Cat March 15, 2011, 10:19 am

    I lived in southern England (Surrey) for over three years I became very tired of hearing about how America should have entered WWII immediately. Since I was not born until 1949, I did not have any influence over Congress’ decision to declare war only after December 7, 1941, following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

    If I had been in the Beer Hall with you, I would have moved to another seat. If I want to debate politics/social injustice/architecture, I will join an organization that does that. If I want to relax and enjoy myself, I will remove myself from those who do not want me to do that-though I have been known to reply, “I know what ya’ll mean! Granddaddy Captain Joe Lennard done fought them folks all the way through Tennessee, Georgia, and Mississippi with the 41st Georgia Infantry, but they done whipped him. Damn Yankees! “

  • Giles March 15, 2011, 10:24 am

    My husband and I traveled for almost a year and while we’re Canadian, we got this stereotype constantly. We met a lot of Americans wearing Canadian flags on their bags so they wouldn’t have to deal with it.

    On the other hand, some people like to have political discussions. My daughter’s on a debate team, and when they get together for drinks it always ends in a semi-shouting match over one thing or another, usually politics, but all are consenting and love doing it, not taking anything personally. Some people just like to argue. If you’re not game, politely say “You know what? I’m here to have fun and drink some beer, and don’t feel like talking religion or politics right now. Tell me more about your trip to Country Y.”

  • Squashedfrog March 15, 2011, 10:31 am

    I think its a bit of a myth to say that Americans are horrible abroad, actually when I have travelled in Europe I have never found this to be the case. Most Yanks I have met, both in Europe and in the UK have been pleasant enough. Many are shocked by portion sizes of food, and I have had a few compliants about prices in London, but for the most part the Americans I have met have actually been quite friendly. Of course that’s only my experience, and I realise its a big generalisation.

    HOWEVER – Im English and I will happily say that in certain places the Brits abroad are horrible. Im English and I WILL NOT ever again go on holiday to a resort abroad that is frequentled by large numbers of boozy Brits – we have a reputation of being bloody awful abroad and when you get into the package 18-30’s resorts Im actually ashamed of being a Brit. So I can actually understand people in certain places hating the Brits – Like the islands of Greece and the coasts of Spain etc. You wouldn’t drink until you threw up in the streets, fight, flash your genitals at cameras, pee in the streets, have sex with several random strangers etc when you are at home, so why do it as soon as you get off a plane in a hot country?

  • kjr March 15, 2011, 10:34 am

    I don’t think this story has anything to do with Americans (or anyone else) being too sensitive. I think it was just downright rude that this person felt the need to criticize someone’s home in an otherwise pleasant conversation. If they didn’t like it, they could have kept it to themselves and let it be. I don’t think the OP was being too sensitive, I think they just wanted the same courtesy they gave to the person they were having the conversation with. I am American and of course would not expect everyone to love my country, but telling me all negative comments does nothing but bring the conversation down. If they didn’t like their visit, they could have just kept it to themselves. I think this was a lack of basic conversational etiquette.

  • Merrilee March 15, 2011, 10:34 am

    Funny that this post came up. I was just thinking about my own experience traveling and was going to post about them. We went to two European countries on our honeymoon and the experience was night and day. In country #1, the people we encountered were fascinated by Americans and wanted to talk to us about what it’s like to live here, they were quite friendly, open, and engaging. In country #2, however, the people we encountered disliked Americans and one of our tour guides actually cursed us out on the tour bus for BEING Americans and bombing her beautiful city in WW II.

    As a traveling American at that time, I was aware of how other countries saw us, and was always gracious and polite to everyone.

    I get where the OP is coming from, though; it’s hard to be gracious and polite when someone is slamming your home country to your face.

  • Lady Macbeth March 15, 2011, 10:43 am

    My husband works with people from different countries, including quite a few Europeans (we live and work in America). The Europeans in particular constantly badmouth America- how fat and lazy everyone is, how badly everything is run, how all the food is terrible, etc. Yet they wanted to come here to work in the sciences, so apparently America does have something to offer, they just can’t admit it. My husband used to engage them but these days he is so tired of it that he just ignores them when they begin to insult the country where we all live.

    Not all Europeans are like this, of course, but this is what he has been dealing with for years now from this particular group of people.

  • BridgetteBane March 15, 2011, 10:54 am

    A friend’s Russian roommate once told him that he “was not a citizen of the world” and was ignorant of pretty much everything. How lovely!

    I think the best response for any person who is having their nationality criticized would be safe in responding “Every nation has it’s unique traits. Some are good, some are bad, no nation is perfect. I’m enjoying my time in this country, and would love to hear more about it from you.” Move the subject, and if they keep returning to the xenophobic litany, simply say goodbye and leave if you can.

  • Michelle P March 15, 2011, 10:58 am

    I’ve had similar problems as an American living in Germany for several years. I ignored it and enjoyed my time in a beautiful country. The opposite is true as well: telling Americans at home that I lived in Germany, there was negative stereotyping of Europeans as well. I change the subject.

    @Hal, you’re kidding, right??? Those people were not “right” to bash another’s homeland. If they don’t like America, go home. It is neither the OP’s duty nor obligation to defend their country to ignorant people, which is exactly what the people were. If you think the US is “declining” so badly, why don’t you go live somewhere else?

  • Dorothy March 15, 2011, 11:06 am

    I am sure there are rude people everywhere, but I also think that blaming the United States is such an automatic thing for many people they do it without thinking. I have an example.

    We were on a cruise that stopped in Turkey. We went on an all-day bus tour arranged through the ship. The people on the tour were a mix of English-speaking nations. (This was the English tour. There were also tours available in French, German, Italian and two or three other languages.) Our guide was a man who said he taught English in a Turkish high school and liked giving tours as it let him practice speaking English. All went well until there was a long stretch of just riding along and he ran out of things to say. Like many people, he couldn’t let there be a silence so he kept talking. Before long he was in the middle of an explanation of how most of the problems of the world were due to the United States and if the US would just do this and that and that everything would be great. This went on for some time, and I was writhing inside. Then suddenly I found myself doing something I am still proud of. 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.

  • MaryFran March 15, 2011, 11:13 am

    I’m an American and I traveled abroad for school and vacation at that time. The absolute worst was after the 2004 election when friends-of-friends in the country I was at asked me, “What happened?!” in reference to GWB winning a second term. My answer was then (and is now), “I am not my government.” Right or wrong, agreed or disagreed, I hate that I apparently represent American politics wherever I go.

  • ashley March 15, 2011, 11:15 am

    I agree with the OP that the lady was rude to talk about her country like that. Some of you may think its “touchy” or “sensitive” but I dont. Whats wrong with having pride in your country? Also not all americans are like that so those of you who think we are, please stop generalizing us.

  • Mary March 15, 2011, 11:15 am

    I think many people traveling, no matter where they are from, have the tendency to generalize too much. If you meet 3 rude Americans, they must all be rude. If one has one bad meal in London, English food must be bad. When traveling to Ireland (gorgeous, friendly country by the way) from the United States several years ago, there was an Irish girl sitting in the seats behind us on the flight over. She was commenting to her seatmate that she had seen all of the United States on her trip. Her seatmate asked her how long she had been in the U.S. She replied, “three weeks”! I’ve lived in my country for 37 years, have been to 39 states and could travel through the U.S. every single day for the rest of my life and still never see the entire country! It’s just like someone saying that they have seen all of England because they went to London for a week or saw all of Australia because they were in Sydney and Perth.

  • Ms. Magpie March 15, 2011, 11:31 am

    Yes, some Americans can be touchy about criticism of their country. This is true of people from any nation!

    Let’s recast the post this way: Two people from Tatooine are in a bar on Hoth and sit next to some people from Coruscant. After a polite and fairly friendly conversation about how lovely Coruscant is, the people from Corsuscant find out that their table companions are from Tatooine. They then start a 20-30 minute rant about how Tatooine is nothing but “a wretched hive of scum and villany.”

    This wasn’t a case of someone saying “You know, I visited your country and it really bothered me how stark the disparity between rich and poor was.” This was a rant. I’m an American who has lived abroad, and I welcomed the discussions but hated being yelled at by strangers (especially because they were often criticising parts of my nation I don’t particularly like myself!). What the woman in the story did was rude, hands down.

  • ellesee March 15, 2011, 11:33 am

    How rude. If they really had a horrible time, the polite thing to say would be “Sorry, I had a horrible vacation” and leave it at that, or turn it into questions (ex “is the US population mainly living in poverty despite it being a superpower?” “why are crime rates so high?” etc), which I find to be very engaging. Listing out every negative thing leads to nowhere. I usually laugh it off with “Sorry you had a horrible vacation/tourguide! Next time, let me show you around!” And drink to that.

    Also, what was the point of mentioning their son? It sounded like you were trying to find jabs or questioned their parenting/culture underneath your tolerance.

  • Kathryn March 15, 2011, 11:33 am

    The family in question was rude. I agree that it can be fun to debate politics and cultural differences with strangers from another country but this is not what these people were trying to do. And if they meant to do so, but simply found that the OP and her husband were not interested in engaging in such a conversation, what they should have done is change the subject. It should have been clear that the conversation was one-sided and that they were making the couple uncomfortable.

    I am not an American but I have traveled in the US and I have talked to American tourists in my own country and while traveling. I have found that the attitude and level of politeness of Americans varies widely – much like people from any country. I think where people get the idea that Americans are rude might be based on cultural differences – How open Americans are about discussing certain topics with strangers is very surprising to some people in other cultures which deem those things personal (like the example of discussing one’s occupation, above).

    Only once have I met an American who fit the stereotype of someone traveling who was upset that things in the foreign country were not the same as at home, and ought to be because the US is better. This person was a business traveler who complained that the quality of the Hard Rock cafes, etc in Singapore was not as good as those in the US. I have never met an American traveling for pleasure who said anything like that! I assume this particular person would not have chosen to travel on his own, but was forced to by his employer. The only other bad traveling faux pas I have encountered was perpetrated by my grandfather who is not American – when he got angry at the waiters in a foreign country for not speaking to him in English. So you see, it doesn’t depend on the country!

  • Elizabeth March 15, 2011, 11:41 am

    Every country finds somethings wrong with every other country. Otherwise we would have world peace. With that said, I firmly believe most the world has a misconception about American and it’s people and we have a huge misconception about the rest of the world. For one, I think American politics can be quite complicated to discuss depending on the topic. Like it was stated in an earlier comment, laws change state to state (and sometimes city to city). Add to it, we are not always properly educated by our news (who is more about ratings than news) and at times a general disinterest and disgust with our politicians it can easily become a touchy subject.

  • livvy March 15, 2011, 11:41 am

    I spent 2 months in an International School in Europe, where the first class of the day we jokingly called “Bash the Americans.” the class was supposed to be on International issues around the world, but each morning the teacher would introduce a topic very narrowly and negatively focused on the US. (“Why are the Americans so ignorant of European News?” or the like) We tried so hard at first to be calm, and really try to give thoughtful answers to questions, but it became so wearying, and so difficult to not be offended, that I think by the end we may have become sort of sarcastic. (“Why don’t the French know what’s going on in Iowa? Or even what is Iowa?) We didn’t go as far as to go for the global stereotypes that would have applied to our tormentors (no matter how true they might have been for particular individuals), but it was a close thing.

    Overall, I think it’s like discussing your family with non-family. It’s ok to complain about Cousin Joe with other family members, but when a stranger comes up bashing Cousin Joe, the family is going to be offended, and moved to defend Cousin Joe. It’s feels like a personal attack, even if it isn’t meant to be.

  • Jen March 15, 2011, 12:06 pm

    I very much agree with Maitri. It sounds like this woman was annoying, but not really offensive. Based on the examples given, it doesn’t seem like she said anything that wasn’t true. And just because a compliment was given doesn’t mean that the woman was obliged to lie through her teeth and return the compliment. Considering the direction of the conversation, I don’t think it would have been rude for her to say that she didn’t enjoy her trip to the US for this or that reason and then change the subject. It sounds like she went overboard, but I also think the OP is being overly sensitive.

  • Xtina March 15, 2011, 12:17 pm

    Regardless of who is picking on whom or however right or wrong they may be, it’s still not terribly good manners to go off on someone’s home country in conversation. Pleasanter topics can surely be had. I would no sooner talk down about someone’s home country, town, or whatever, than I would talk down about their physical appearance or their relatives. You just DON’T go there if it could be offensive, and even if the person says they don’t mind or doesn’t appear to be bothered by it, you can rest assured that you are, in some small way, probably hurting their feelings even if they are putting on a good face about it.

    In some countries, advertising that you’re of a certain nationality can make you a target. I am American and traveled with a group to a certain politically charged country a few years ago where Western people and ideals are not welcome, and there has been much racial targeting as a result. While everyone we met and dealt with were open, friendly, and inviting, we had been schooled extensively before the trip in keeping a low profile, what local customs were, and how to speak and dress (which included extremely modest attire and clothing that contained no words or obvious branding) so as not to attract negative attention to our group. Act the stereotypical “ugly American” there, and it could get you kidnapped or worse—not just looked down on as rude by the locals.

    Anyway–my point is that when in Rome, act like a Roman and try to blend in.

  • Angie March 15, 2011, 12:29 pm

    I agree that it’s rude to go into a tirade criticizing someone’s country. It would have been enough to simply say, “I spent some time in America and didn’t really care for it.”

    This happens even WITHIN countries. I live in Alberta, Canada, which is a prairie province that sometimes has severe winters, and have relatives in British Columbia, which is on the west coast and has mountains, the Pacific Ocean and very mild winters in some parts. Of course it’s beautiful, but the cost of living is much higher and the economy isn’t as good as Alberta, so both provinces have their ups and downs.

    My relatives there will sometimes go on and on about how horrible Alberta is and how they would never live here, to the point where it’s almost insulting. It’s like we’re morons because we choose to live here. One of my inlaws even refuses to come to Alberta, just because he spent two weeks here as a teenager and hated it. To avoid an argument, we just try to change the subject when they start bashing our province, but the subject shouldn’t even come up at a family gathering IMO.

  • Skoffin March 15, 2011, 1:12 pm

    For the most part I’m okay with talking country politics, however if someone wishes to start on that topic that should do so tactfully.

    I’m Australian and I do like to talk politics of my nation or others, however what I really hate is the people who like to state wild misconceptions about my country or throw out stereotypes or ‘aussie one liners’. (Such as ‘shrimps on the barbie’ or ‘a dingo ate my baby’)

    No, I don’t live in a dirt town. No, I don’t have kangaroos hopping down my street. I live in a city.
    And we don’t call them shrimps, they are PRAWNS. Ack!

  • Calliope March 15, 2011, 1:16 pm

    I’m another American who’s spent a lot of time traveling, and while most people I’ve met abroad have been lovely, I’ve come across unsolicited America bashing quite a few times. Interestingly enough, in all of my travels, I’ve run into maybe two or three American tourists who actually fit the Ugly American stereotype. Many more have been warm, friendly, and respectful of the country they’re visiting. Yet the stereotype persists, and some foreigners keep criticizing every American they meet about it. It almost seems like some people enjoy holding these stereotypical views of Americans, and that no amount of evidence to the contrary would change their opinions.

    Like Jenna said, the people doing the criticizing usually aren’t looking for a debate; they’re just looking to give a lecture. I don’t think I’m overly sensitive, and I don’t think most Americans are overly sensitive, but it does get tiresome. I readily admit that there are tons of things the US could improve upon, and I’m happy to discuss those things under appropriate circumstances, but I don’t appreciate it when people from other countries inform me how stupid and rude Americans are. Those saying that taking offense to this is something unique to “wimpy Americans” are mistaken. If you don’t believe me, go up to a stranger from any country you please and start telling him that the people from that country are a bunch of ignorant fools. You can add, “But you’re one of the good ones,” if you want. Just try it out and report back.

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