Balinese Wedding


4 Tips to Avoid Being an Ugly American When You Travel


Before you dive into this post, understand 2 things:


  • this post has nothing to do with facial masks, chemical peels or specific facial features
  • I love America


The good old US of A is my country. I was born in New Jersey. Fabulous place in many ways.


But…..although the behavior of my fellow American travelers is changing, the Ugly American element still exists.


For the uninitiated, an Ugly American is a US traveler who:


  • believes all other countries are inferior to the USA and behaves as such in international lands
  • believes they should be waited on hand and foot because they are American citizens, often being the biggest douche bags for kind, overly generous, workers in service fields
  • believe that most other cultures are stupid or silly, and by default, arrogantly believe US culture and laws should be acceptable and in effect throughout the world


I could go on, but I have other stuff to do.


Many travelers from the US are kind, generous and yep, learning the ropes of international travel. I think like .00004% of us own passports. Joking; I believe the number is a bit higher.


Kelli and I are open-minded, engaging, kind, pleasant travelers.


Some folks believe we are from Canada, not the US (I am not kidding).


Let’s dive into 3 tips to help you become a worldly, open-minded, accepting traveler so you can leave that Ugly American bit behind.


1: Accept that America Is Not the Greatest Country in the World


Patriotism fuels prejudice.


The USA is a fabulous country in many regards. Freedom does largely reign in the States.


But people eat themselves to death here. I almost have to shop from the infant section at Walmart with my 32 inch waist.


Foreign policy? We do great things for countries. We do horrific things to countries.


No country on earth is the greatest. No Utopia exists.


The USA is a fascinating place. As is every country on earth.


But let go the delusional idea that your country is the best, or superior, and you instantly become less judgmental of foreign lands, more open-minded and more accepting of foreign superiority to the United States in other facets of life.


(On a side note; isn’t it funny how the biggest US patriots never left the country? Nothing like some good old contrast to ground you and to turn your pride into gratitude, and open-mindedness.)


2: Learn of Foreign Cultures Before You Land in a Country


Kelli and I research places before landing in the country.


Honoring local cultures goes a long way in dissolving the ignorant traveler deal.


I recall reading up on Balinese culture pre-trip. Big time spirituality infused in the culture. Part of their every day life, really.


Face-saving is huge in Thailand. Be nice to people. Never intentionally embarrass or humiliate folks. Especially in public.


My fellow Americans; leave that “the customer is always right” horseshit back in the States. The customer is often seen as a rude asshole in Thailand, even though locals will smile as they face-saving-ly apologize for the inconvenience.  Eventually though you will be ignored or denied service if you act like an asshole.


Chiang Mai Thailand


In Fiji, what we in the USA would consider robbery, local Fijians have a “what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine strategy.” Which is one reason why we house sat in Savusavu.


Expats noticed how their houses had been pilfered during long trips to their homelands. Turns out, the Fijians simply believe that if the expats were not using their stuff when gone, the Fijians would put the stuff to use. Cultural thing. No big deal.


3: Do New, Fun, Freeing and Sometimes Uncomfortable Things


I ate street food in Yangon, Myanmar earlier this year.


From spots a bit…..filthy looking.


Doing so opened up my mind – and digestive tract – to a new culture, to a new way of doing things, to a new way of living and being.


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Choosing to speak Spanish in Costa Rica when I could lazily speak English and offering alms to monks in Thailand and Laos and attending a Balinese wedding on the Island of the Gods all pushed me outside of my comfort zone.


Fun, freeing experiences like these open your heart, open your mind and help you become an honorary citizen of the foreign land.


In essence, Ugly American become adopted Indonesian, or honorary Costa Ricans, or hell, flat out Fijian,s as folks from that island nation make you feel like a Fijian with their heart felt, down home, inviting, generous nature.


4: Appreciate Differences


Instead of judging cultural differences, appreciate the deliciousness of contrast.


Waiting on line for 20 minutes in Costa Rica versus 20 seconds in New Jersey or waiting for your waitresses to wake up in Hoi An, Vietnam because of the 120 degree F, crippling heat indexes are not some nightmares, but just a different way of being.


I laughed my ass off when seeing the waitresses sleeping in Hoi An. But quietly; I did not wish to wake them. I also understood the brutality of the heat and humidity and how it affected me, and locals. I’d be sleeping on the tables between customers, too.


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