Incase you don’t know it (and I didn’t know the entire extent of it till I looked it up on Wikipedia), Ugly American is an epithet used to refer to perceptions of arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless behaviors of Americans at home or abroad. "For some reason, the people I meet in my country are not the same as the ones I knew in the United States. A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They're loud and ostentatious. Perhaps they're frightened and defensive, or maybe they're not properly trained and make mistakes out of ignorance."
So, as they say, acknowledging that you have a problem is the first step to solving it. I admit, I become the Ugly American at points (although I don’t isolate myself socially or live pretentiously; and don’t think I’m frightened or defensive, nor improperly trained). I do it both at home and abroad. I know I have anger management issues and I’m trying to be a kinder, gentler person, but sometimes I just lose it (I’m an Aries for cryinoutloud!) – and around here, it really isn’t hard because there is so much fuel for the fire.
This weekend, I was for sure an ugly American. I dealt with a counter clerk at a shoe store. Long-story-short, I left my American (how ironic is that) Express card there and, thankfully, counter clerk had given me the wrong color bag; so I returned the next day to change the bag and he gave me my card back. At which point, I ripped his head off. There is more to the story than that: it started the first day when he threw the card back at me and said, “Bank unavailable” when he tried for the mere 30 seconds to put the Amex through – looking at me as if I had no money and was declined. There was more… but bygones.
He started arguing with me – which I HATE. I don’t get it when you are the customer and the sales person wants to argue with you. It is shitty customer service and I almost instinctively argue back (until I kill the topic and stomp on its grave with glee). Anyhoo, I tried to make a point that one should never argue with an American woman as we almost always can’t shut up and stop.
As a side note, I almost never ever flaunt the fact that I’m American (and I
wasn’t trying to above). When asked around here, I prefer to say that I’m
a dual-national and married to a Kuwaiti. Most people will just say,
“Oh….” As if I’m on the same level of cultural understanding about life
here. It is a qualifier somehow. There is a distinction between
Americans who have been in Kuwait for many years (and understand the culture
and/or who have integrated into the society) and those who have shown up after
2003 (mostly contractors or military folks who have a specific assignment for
1-2 years and will move on “leaving only footprints, taking only photographs”).
Using the word “American” in any context is obviously taboo. It is unpatriotic to have an argument/disagreement or raise your voice and use that word. We are not allowed to show the world that we are human and as such, flawed. Doing so in this part of the world would mean that you aren’t here to “win hearts and minds” and to “spread democracy”.
A soldier-looking type was milling around the store and overheard parts of my diatribe. He waited – standing close to my friend and I as we shopped – for an opportunity to “have a word with me”-- loud enough so that all the customers and counter staff could hear it. He stopped me and said, “You give Americans a bad name. You are a guest in this country. Your behavior is atrocious…” Yada yada blah blah blah. (He was so upset that he had turned red from the lower neck, up.)
Now, here is what I find ironic and fascinating (and I haven’t been able to stop pondering it): He, as an American, found it necessary to become arrogant and demeaning to ME – who was, in the first place, arrogant and demeaning. I have never been spoken to in this manner by 1) someone I’ve never met; 2) someone who didn’t know the entire story therefore making him judgmental; and 3) someone who just like me, was arrogant enough to think he could stop someone (considering 1 & 2) and have the audacity to speak to them like a child. The feminist part of me would say that perhaps he wouldn’t have done this, had I been a man.
Dude must be either an officer in the military or work for the embassy because the “guest in this country” is a dead give-away (as well as the haircut and the shave) for “I just got here, I’ve been told to behave myself, and I feel that I can dictate my point of view to everyone else.” I didn’t have a sharp retort (which is TOTALLY unlike me) and only said, “Well, thank you for your oppinion, SIR.”
Here is the short and stinky of this interesting predicament:
I should not have been so pissed off at the store clerk and ripped him a new one, first and foremost. I have since found a way to apologize and I hope it is sufficient. Crew-cut dude will never know that, however.
I don’t consider myself a “guest” in this country. Kuwait is my home. I consider myself (and I hope that others do too) a resident and member of the community; hopefully adding to the overall good of the country.
As far as giving Americans a bad name – I hope not. I try my damndest to be a kind person regardless of my nationality, but alas, we all have good and bad days.
I am going to try really hard not to jump to conclusions or be as judgemental as I sometimes am. In turn, I hope others like dude will do the same. As my sister says, “You never know what someone’s day has been like or what they are going through, so just let it go.” Yup. I’m going to try to be more like that.