Let me begin where it all started. In the latter part of the 1700s, a popular rite of passage for young Englishmen of noble descent was to take a “Grand Tour” through mainland Europe in search of art, culture, and the roots of western civilization. Due to their great wealth and freedom gained post-University, they would spend months abroad, honing their language skills and mixing with the socialites and aristocrats of the Continent. For many decades, travel was thus reserved only for the elite. As technology advanced, so did methods of transportation, and as those methods modernized, their prices plummeted. With the arrival of the automobile and its widespread use the 1900s, long and treacherous treks in horse-drawn carriages were needless, and when commercial airlines took off in the late 1920s, dangerous crossings of the Atlantic became a thing of the past. In this modern age, to travel to the Old World no longer requires a sponsor from National Geographic and a snazzy pith helmet. Any American can be a trans-Atlantic traveller provided that they have the sufficient funds and the time. This new-found connection with other cultures definitely exciting, as it affords the ability for every tourist to be a small ambassador of their own country, reflecting their society through their behavior towards the residents. Unfortunately, not every ambassador is good, and with the high amounts of un-informed tourists flocking to see Europe every year, these bad ambassadors, also known as “Ugly Americans”, are many in number and voluminous in their incivility.
What exactly is this “Ugly American” I’ve been talking about? The principle isn’t that difficult to understand. The most obvious of all this undesirable creature’s characteristics is complaining. From the moment he touches down on foreign soil to the minute he boards the plane home, he complains about everything under that country’s sun. Food, politics, climate, topography, weird bathrooms, oddly shaped power outlets – the ugly American makes no differentiation. And why does he do this? It’s simply the fact that he does not like different things. He dislikes anything outside of his comfort zone, and he makes himself and his fellow travellers miserable because of it. His second most prominent characteristic is being ego- and ethno-centric. Making condescending remarks based on incorrect presuppositions gleaned from news sources is one of his favorite pastimes. He makes no effort to communicate in the local language, and he treats locals like they’re zoo exhibits, whose sole purpose is for gawking at and having their picture taken by one of the many large cameras slung about his neck. In addition to these pleasure-killing attributes, he is unadventurous. He constricts himself to a pre-made travel plan. He does not allow for going off the beaten path, although it’s probably for the best. He’d most likely get lost and blame it on the local maps. Although this description may seem extreme, these characteristics are common with many inexperienced tourists.
Although it seems that the only bad thing that “Ugly Americans” could cause would be a dampening bad mood, startling and troubling long-term effects exist. The first problem caused by large amounts of ill-tempered tourists is the fact that their bad attitudes convince the residents they interact with that tourists are undesirable, Americans especially. This causes contention between tourist and resident, and makes for very unpleasant interactions. For instance, consider Rome, Italy. The Eternal City, renowned for its museums and status as a religious pilgrimage site, experiences a huge amount of tourists per year, roughly estimated at 30 million in 2011. It should be no surprise, then, with roughly 50 years of bad tourists under its belt, that the residents of Rome should be ill mannered and rude. Many accounts from disillusioned tourists tell tales of snide and rudely incomprehensible tour guides, purposefully confusing curators, and greedy shopkeepers. While some of this unscrupulous behavior is the personal responsibility of the residents, much of it is brought upon them by the equally discourteous hordes of tourists that cavort through their city every year. On the other hand, contemplate the city of Salzburg, Austria. Salzburg is the historical capital of Baroque music in Europe, boasting to be the birthplace of Mozart and the hometown of many art and music festivals. Contrasting Rome’s volumes of sightseers, Salzburg is visited by around 5.5 million guests per year, and many of these being European tourists who tend to be less ethnocentric and rude than American tourists. Thus, the city has been less exposed to “Ugly Americans” and still exists in its “pristine” state. As you should expect, the city is clean, hospitable, and the residents are very welcoming and friendly. Fodor’s, a reputable travel advisor website, counts Salzburg in its “Top Ten Friendliest places to Visit in Europe”, preceded only by other less-known places like St. Andrews and the Dolomitis. Therefore, you can see that bad tourists negatively affect the places they visit. Consequentially, this causes more conscientious tourists pay for those selfish actions.
We have a diagnosis of this epidemic; all that remains is a cure to be established. The foremost cause of the “Ugly American” characteristics is ignorance. The “Ugly American” complains about strange things, acts selfishly, and is condescending due to the fact that he simply does not know better. One of the best forms of dispelling this ignorance is by educating tourists with pertinent facts and opinions in order to prevent them from acting in rude and thoughtless ways. A method of keeping countries “untainted” by bad tourists is to make certain that tourists are educated in the methods of etiquette, thoughtfulness, true tolerance, and altruism. Propagation of these methods could include reading material distributed in airports, planes, and information centers, cooperative efforts from the news media, and general integration of morality into society. This education can even begin at a young age. Children can learn from their parents to be tolerant of other people, non-ethnocentric (but still proud of their country), unselfish, and adventurous. Intolerance is inherent in human nature along with every other sin and vice. The only way to combat it is to combat it with the same successful tactics used to squelch selfishness, anger, greed, and laziness; by training children in ways that provide for the realization and suppression of sins, so that when they’re older, they won’t change from the way they’ve been taught. In these ways, the “Ugly American” can be completely annihilated, cities can be kept in their pristine states, the international opinion of the United States can be improved, and most importantly, tourists will have more amazing travelling experiences.
In conclusion, we have noted the existence of that abhorrent being known as the “Ugly American”, identified their characteristics and the harm they cause, and suggested the implementation of an intellectual method of wiping out the behavior. Once this moral education has been completed, there will only be “Considerate Americans” who, in addition to being good “private ambassadors” to the world, will be good ambassadors to one another once they inevitably return to their home country.
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Messia, Hada. “Tourists in Rome face new tax”. http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/europe/01/04/italy.tourist.tax/ .CNN World. 4 January 2011. Web. 21 February 2014.
Steves, Richard, et al. Europe Through the Back Door. Emeryville: Avalon Travel, 2007. Print.
Wilson, Allan, “Unwelcoming Unfriendly Rome”. http://live-less-ordinary.com/europe-travel/is-rome-tourist-friendly-bad-experiences . Live Less Ordinary 9 May 2013. Web. 21 February 2014.
--. “Land of Hospitality”. http://www.salzburg.gv.at/en/en-index/en-tourismussbg.htm . Land Salzburg. Web. 21 February 2014.
--. “The Friendliest Places to Visit in Europe”. http://www.fodors.com/world/europe/friendly-locals/. Fodor’s Travel. Web. 21 February 2014.