Americans are Ugly

Ξ November 21st, 2004 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Rants |

In most parts of the world, we Americans are not viewed kindly.

This is not a result of George Bush, US policy in Iraq or other political happenings, although that is certainly not popular in most parts of the world. I am referring to the American people… personally. We are viewed as arrogant, rich, thoughtless, cultureless, rude, ignorant (not stupid), and socially inept.

In Costa Rica, where I live, this is true as well. I spend a lot of time with folks from the USA… folks who both live here and those who come as tourists. Many come here and act just as their mommies taught them to behave… be respectful guests in someone else’s home. They appreciate the cultural differences. They marvel at the beauty of this country. They understand they are in a foreign land and things will not be the same as ‘home’. Many more do not.

Why is that? Why would someone come to Costa Rica and be all bent that not everyone speaks English. Hint: This is a Latin country! I see this all the time. When their English is not understood, what do they do? The speak louder, as if an increase in volume will overcome the basic fact that the listener does not speak a damned word of English.

The sad part is that Costa Ricans are such marvelous, gentle, and peaceful people. They may be the least offensive group of people I have encountered anywhere in the world. The lives of Costa Ricans center far more on family and friends and less on the job you hold or ‘things’. You will never find an aged family member shipped off to a nursing home. In a crisis, everyone jumps in to help.

Costa Ricans are a special group of people. There is something innately wrong about offending non-offensive people. (Clearly, this does not apply to the French who seemingly have no problem offending just about everybody). Onward….
So why do people come here and act badly? Why do they bitch and moan that this store does not accept dollars, or that they had to wait in line at a bank longer than in the US, or that there wasn’t a cab available at 2 AM to take them to the next bar? Why do they feel the need to talk loudly in quiet restaurants and act abusive to the wait staff? Why do they seeming ‘talk down’ to Costa Ricans? In general, why do they visit another country and expect it to be just like home?

Part of this I think is that Americans just don’t have to deal much with other countries. The US is like a big island isolated from the rest of the world (except for Canada and Mexico, and everybody knows they don’t count!

I am struck by the differences I see in European visitors. The young ones… 20 somethings especially. Most speak 2-3 languages fluently. This, of course, is because of the schooling and the close proximity to other countries. But it is more… It is because they actually visit those countries all the time, not unlike a person from Ohio might visit Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, whatever…. The difference is that there is no difference in culture (ok, maybe in Kentucky). Thus there is no reason to act differently. When you travel to other countries regularly, you learn that there are other cultures; other ways of doing things, other languages and traditions.

Sadly, this does not apply just to the tourists. There is a large population of ex-patriots living here. I know many who do not speak a word of Spanish after 10 years of living here. Why? Learning the language and customs of the country in which you live is, in my opinion, nothing less than showing respect for that country. Many folks come here, live in American enclaves, eat at Tony Roma’s, TGI Fridays or MacDonalds, and never experience the real Costa Rica. They make no attempt to learn the language. They live a wonderland of rain forests, beaches, mountains, wildlife… but never leave their homes. They would rather sit around and complain about the long lines, the inefficiencies, the bad roads, the government policies on residency… just about anything rather than learning to adjust to their new homes.

Of the people who do move here, about 40% return home within a year. Culture shock? Naw. That’s a cop-out I think. They just never made the effort. They never realized that a vacation in the tropics is not like living in the tropics. So they think that their lives here will be just like their vacation was last year. They expected the culture to adjust to them. Really silly. The Spanish and Portuguese were sailing ships and discovering new words several hundred years before George Washington was born. Theirs is a true culture… ours I think, is not. Our is more of a mixture of cultures and traditions from the ‘old country’.

Now we are faced with an influx of people disenchanted with their lives in the US. They hate (in no particular order), George Bush, The Iraq situation, the government, their families, their employers, their jobs, their lives, or themselves. They are coming here to escape. It is sunny and warm and it will be perfect. They could not make it in the US and they think Valhalla is here in the tropics. They want a simpler life… back to the basics… but they immediately start bitching about the schools, the roads, the banking system, and how backwards everything is here.

Well if you come as a tourists… please remember you are a guest here, as am I and all the others who where not born here. Act like a guest. Most of us had parents who taught us how to behave when we visited someone’s home. Remember what you mom said? She was right.

And for you future ex-pats? Come if you like… but please, come for the right reasons. You cannot run away from yourselves.


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