I am American (I live in New York), and less than a year ago, a friend and I went on a vacation to France. This was, without a doubt, the best vacation of my life so far, and I enjoyed almost everything about the trip (especially the food!) Before I left, a few people took it upon themselves to warn me about stereotypically rude French people that hate Americans, and I chose to ignore those people, because a) I don’t like to pass judgment on people I’ve never met, and b) don’t try to ruin my vacation before I’ve even left! As it turns out, (and I’m not sure if this was due to our own attitudes, or sheer dumb luck), every French person we had the pleasure of meeting during our trip was nothing but kind and helpful. I only wish I could say the same about the other Americans.
We spent the last part of our trip in Sarlat La Caneda, a medieval town in Southern France, where we stayed at a marvelous hotel run by some of the nicest people I’ve met. Our hotel package included dinner and breakfast, so we ate most of our meals at the hotel for the three days we were there. On one particular evening, the owner had the night off, so dinner service was left in the hands of his assistant manager (we’ll call her AM), and a young man who was waiting tables (we’ll call him YW). YW spoke very little English, but my traveling companion spoke a little French (and I’d learned enough to get through a menu), so we managed to get by. I had ordered boeuf et pommes frites (steak and fries) this particular evening, and they were delicious.
The evening in question had brought a new group of guests, including an older wealthy American couple (seated at the table next to us) who were the very personification of the phrase “Ugly American”. This couple made me feel embarrassed to be from the same country as them: they were demanding, condescending, and complained to each other that “nobody speaks English!” (Sarlat is way off the beaten path, with no train service to any of the major cities, so I was surprised to find the number of English-speakers that we did meet there).
YW was cheerful and friendly, never made a single mistake with our orders (despite the language barrier) and seemed enthusiastic to give the best service possible. The night before, we had asked for a simple pot of hot water for tea, and he brought up an entire tea tray, complete with little tea biscuits—for which we were not even charged! I’m giving these details so that you have some perspective on how horribly this couple (I’m calling them the American Uglies—AU) behaved. After being curt and demanding all throughout giving their orders and receiving their food, AU Husband called YW to the table and proceeded to berate him because he “did not like the way the fries were presented on [his] wife’s plate.” I was trying not to listen to their conversation, but at this I put my fork down and did a double take. My friend and I exchanged looks that said “did we seriously just hear that?” As I mentioned before, YW spoke limited English, so as AU Husband went on and on about the travesty of his wife’s fries being in disarray, all he could do was stand there, and stammer out “the… fries?… they are bad?” Finally AU Husband said “Get me someone who will understand!” Poor YW (looking like he was near tears at this point) went to go get AM. AM’s English was quite good, so she came out and asked “Yes sir, there is a problem with the food?” (okay, I’ll admit it—I was straight-up eavesdropping at this point. I was just so appalled by what I was hearing).
“I don’t like the way the fries are arranged on the plate!!” AU Husband replied angrily.
“The… fries, sir?”
“Yes! The fries!! Do you understand!?”
I was sure AM had understood, but she stood there a second, probably thinking the French version of “WTF, mate?” (as I was, the English version). “I am sorry. What would you like us to do?” she replied after a few seconds.
AU Wife spoke up with “Well, I don’t want it, now!” and AU Husband said “I don’t want mine, either. Just wrap it up, we’ll eat it upstairs.”
AM attempted to smooth things over, and finally convinced them to stay for their dessert, which they ate while complaining. Even worse, service slowed down for the rest of us, as the only two people on staff were busy trying to keep this obnoxious couple happy.
When YW emerged to take our plates, he was quiet, and visibly shaken. “The food is ok?” he asked, to which I smiled, and replied “The food was delicious. And I thought that the fries were arranged beautifully on my plate.” He cracked a smile after my friend translated for me.
Unfortunately for us, the hotel seated guests at the same table every night (I guess to avoid confusion, since everything was charged to the rooms), so we had to sit next to this boorish couple for the rest of the trip! Although thankfully, that was the last outburst we witnessed.
I don’t believe rudeness or entitlement is the exclusive domain of a single nationality. When husband and I were at Epcot a year ago, we encountered a few “ugly” Europeans and South Americans who had no respect for a wheelchair whatsoever. There are rude, obnoxious, entitled people of every race and nation. When encountering fellow countrymen who are behaving obnoxiously, I consider it my duty to go above and beyond kindness and courtesy to counter the perception that all Americans are traveling brats which appears that is what you and your friend did.