Is Being the 'Ugly American' Our Birthright?

03/16/2015 10:38 am ET | Updated May 15, 2015

We all know the "Ugly American" is out there. He... or she... sits beside us on airplanes as we travel to Mexico...on buses in Costa Rica...shops at the local mercados and supermarkets in Panama...and sits at the next table in the restaurant in Ecuador.

In fact, he lurks within us, appearing when we least expect it and, often, without us even realizing he's there.

Is being the "Ugly American" our birthright? Or is it just a function of our cultural upbringing? In other words, is it just the way we Americans are?

(And yes, yes... we know... everyone who lives in the "Americas"...north, south and central... is an American. But here we use the term "Americans" to describe those of us from the U.S. And disclaimer: in this writing we will, no doubt, offend more than a few of our fellow Americans with our generalizations.)


Courtesy of Jason Holland,

By very nature of our national constitution, we Americans are brought up to believe we have certain unalienable rights. One of those is to share our opinions and to speak freely whenever we like about whatever topic strikes our fancy. We do so whether or not we have all the pertinent facts and up-to-date information.

Give us a soapbox and we'll gladly climb atop it.

We were reminded of this when a colleague from Ireland once said to us after a speech we had given to a large audience: "You Americans aren't shy. We Irish could never do that... we would never be comfortable standing alone in front of a crowd and talking."

(Yes, that's another generalization for you. We know for certain there are plenty of Irish who, just as Americans, are not shy. There are talented Irish performers of all kinds and if you've ever spent time in an Irish pub, you would not describe the Irish as shy. And there are politicians in Ireland, of course, although we daresay they may be somewhat more polite and reticent than our own.)

We are constantly made aware of our American-ness every day as we go about our daily expat lives. As foreigners living in a country that is not our own, we are reminded that, "Wherever you go, there you are." We can't leave ourselves at home.

We Americans want everyone to know what we think. Our ideals and ideas are important to us.

So let us clear the air right now. In order for you locals of the countries where we American expats have chosen to settle to better understand us, let us share some of our American culture with you:

When we tell you what we believe to be true, we don't usually mean it to sound condescending. And we don't necessarily mean that your way is wrong. It's just different than ours. And we want to be sure you understand that our beliefs are formed by our vast collective American experience and have evolved with precision and sophistication over time...

When we seem brash, well... don't take it personally. Life in "our America"... in the U.S... is fast paced and hectic and productive. Back home we don't always have time for small talk. So if we forget to greet you with a friendly "Buenos dias" before we launch into our list of "needs" or "wants"... it's not that we intend to be rude. We're probably just in a hurry.

When we seem angry... for instance when we are in your country where English is not the official language and you, therefore, are not a fluent English speaker and you don't quite understand what we are saying...well, please forgive us when we storm off in a huff. In our country, we expect a certain level of customer service. And when we don't get what we expect, we look for another provider who will treat us the way we expect and yes, deserve, to be treated.

And when, without explanation, we don't show up for a party you've invited us to (especially if it doesn't start at an appropriate hour)... or we don't invite you in when you come to our door unexpectedly with some treat you have made for us... or we don't eat the meal you've prepared to welcome us into your community... please don't be hurt.

Our intention is not to offend you. It's just that we Americans are busy. The older we get, the earlier we like to go to bed. If it is raining or if our dog is sick or if we have some more pressing matter to attend to...well, you must understand... Ours is a culture of convenience. It's the American way.

And do keep in mind that we're picky about food... We're well educated and we've been taught the harm that certain foods can cause. We've had the luxury of being able to choose what we eat, so please understand if we don't care to eat rice or non-organic vegetables or if we ask if the meal is vegan, gluten-free, GMO-free, sugar-free, or if you can assure us your kitchen faucet provides the scalding hot water necessary to sterilize the eating utensils you've provided to us.

And when we do choose to live alongside you, please understand that we will exercise our right to have our opinions heard. We want to make our community stronger and we have so many wonderful ideas of how to do that...

We offer you the benefits of our best-in-class education and experience. We can explain how, together, we (well, you really, seeing as this really is your community and we are just guests here) can make so many changes for the better...

We can teach English. Oh, and, we can explain the importance of punctuality (including answering emails quickly) and what customer service really means. We can show you what makes for good neighbors. (No more loud joyful parties, please!)

If you don't already know enough about American pop culture, we can introduce you to our music, our movies, our style of clothing, and help you learn to cook the foods we like...

We can explain why your laws and rules make little sense and how they are keeping your country from succeeding as ours has. We can show you how to be more productive and earn more money... how to drive better... how to be better pet owners, better parents, better citizens!

Just think... in time, we can have a little America right here!

By the way: This is sarcasm, folks, which is something else we Americans do quite well. And please also note that, as mentioned, we've personally been those "Ugly Americans" on occasion and while we try our best to always be culturally sensitive, we will probably continue to put our feet in our mouths and, once in awhile, to offend our local hosts without having a clue as to what we've done.

Fortunately, another big difference between us and most of the rest of the world's residents: they're very forgiving. And for that, we are thankful.

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