The Ugly American
July 19, 2001 3:37 PM   Subscribe

The Ugly American is becoming harder to distinguish among its European counterparts. What does an American look like, anyway? If you were in a foreign county, could you recognize an American, and if so, how?
posted by Oriole Adams (149 comments total)
I usually walk up to suspected "Americans" and ask them who won 1938 World Series.
posted by tamim at 3:41 PM on July 19, 2001

i can only tell you who won the 1908 world series.
posted by moz at 3:45 PM on July 19, 2001

When traveling in Europe for my honeymoon, I was apalled by how my fellow American citizens acted: obnoxious, demanding, ignorant, and LOUD. (We're easier to recognize by sound than by sight.)

Then again, many Europeans I encountered smelled bad and smoked incessantly.
posted by waxpancake at 3:48 PM on July 19, 2001

This is a cheap one, based upon five years of summers in Oxford. Apologies in advance.

Among the older: fat and/or loud. Shell suit. Tour bus. "Which way is the University?" (Circumspice, domine.)

Among the younger: khakis, white t-shirt, baseball cap. Either GAP, A&F. or the name of their college. Jawlines. Dyed blonde hair, dark roots. (I know that's frat/sorority, but still.) Loud. (Really, you are. So. Loud.)

At least they're not as bad as the 14-16 year old French and Italian kids, all disdain and hormones.
posted by holgate at 3:48 PM on July 19, 2001

my advice for all young americans traveling abroad: sew a canadian flag on your backpack. it works! nobody hates you!

oh, i'm part of the problem. just watch this trend, in a few years you'll be linking articles about the canadianizing of backpackers... "what does a canadian look like, anyway? if you were in a foreign country, could you recognize a counterfeit canadian, and if so, how?"
posted by palegirl at 3:50 PM on July 19, 2001

You can always tell if they cut, fork and eat with same hand.

On my Mac desktop I have three icons: Trash, Eurotrash and Améri-can(tm). Améri-can is my favorite!
posted by ParisParamus at 3:50 PM on July 19, 2001

i couldn't tell you who one the series Any year. I'm a bad american i guess.

Either GAP, A&F. or the name of their college. Jawlines.


you just described almost everyone in my city holgate.
posted by th3ph17 at 3:52 PM on July 19, 2001

please elaborate.
posted by thirteen at 3:54 PM on July 19, 2001

when i travelled around europe a number of years ago i encountered these "canadians." my first clue was the lack of "out" inflection that makes about aboot. at first, i was amused. as time passed and more "canadians" crossed my path, i became disgruntled. so, if your going to go the flag route, rent canadian bacon and work on your accent.
posted by heather at 3:55 PM on July 19, 2001

Very loud talkers. Very bad shoes - kids, leave the gym shoes at home and dress like adults, okay? General refusal to accept answers they don't like. "What do you MEAN, you don't have room service!" Insistence on being peeved when encountering people who don't speak English. Tendancy to start a sentence using the phrase, "In America......" that ends with America being superior to whatever it is being compared to.

I am not saying all Americans are ugly. Just that it is super easy to spot an American overseas.
posted by kristin at 3:55 PM on July 19, 2001

Americans are decided louder and stupider in France.
posted by ParisParamus at 3:55 PM on July 19, 2001

If you really want an expert opinion, ask a gypsie.

Also, look for shorts.
posted by hotdoughnutsnow at 3:55 PM on July 19, 2001

I'm taking my first (!) trip to Europe in November for three weeks (UK-->Belgium-->France-->N. Italy-->Switzerland-->back), and I'm completely paranoid about being the asshole Ugly American.

*scribbling furiously*

-Leave aside the Gap shit and the college shirts! (No problem. Don't have any.)

-Watch yer voice! (Actors are loud. I must assume that American actors are ear-shattering by European standards.)

-Beat up French and Italian kids! (Okay, maybe not.)

-Cut, fork and eat . . . er . . . with as many hands as possible! (I'm actually not sure what that comment meant. Americans eat with only one hand?)

-Wear nice shoes! (Really? Uh . . . okay.)

I don't think the rudeness thing will be a problem. I coddle servicepeople as it is, having been there myself.
posted by Skot at 3:57 PM on July 19, 2001

please elaborate.

Young American men, especially of the frat persuasion, have square heads and thick necks.

Oh, and they wear white socks. Nooo. Fashion crime!

Skot: Americans cut food, put down knife, swap fork to right hand, eat. Brits hold the knife while they eat.
posted by holgate at 4:05 PM on July 19, 2001

Very bad shoes - kids, leave the gym shoes at home and dress like adults, okay?
B-b-but I don't own any prissy adult shoes! I rather just not go to Europe. I am sure Europe will not mind my absence.

I don't wear white socks outside the gym, but I will study my other features closely. Thankfully no one has ever confused me with a fratboy.
posted by thirteen at 4:08 PM on July 19, 2001

And Skot, you're visiting five countries in three weeks?

Just try your very best to escape the syndrome known as "If it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium."

(When the UGA summer school people asked me how long it takes to "see Europe", I usually told then to put aside a year or so.)
posted by holgate at 4:09 PM on July 19, 2001

Fork in the left hand. Knife in the right. And lots of wine. And how annoying has it always been for Canadians, watching Really Ugly Americans sew our flag on their backpacks and then act like jackasses? Thank God you'all always screw it up when they start speaking french to you.

Skot - you can wear sneakers, and white socks, and Gap sweatshirts, and be fine. People will know you are an American, and that is a fine thing to be. Just don't cross the line to Ugly American. Be an ambassador for the new, non-Ugly American!
posted by kristin at 4:10 PM on July 19, 2001

I was in a McDonald's on the Champs Elysee when I was 16 (I know, Ugly American move right there, but c'mon, I was 16 and had had nothing but baguettes for a week). I tried my darndest to order what I wanted in French. I knew the words for lettuce, tomato, etc., all the things I didn't want on my burger, but I couldn't say "without"...some sort of brainlock. As I stammered, the very nice french woman taking the order said, "Would you prefer English?" Phew, that was close. My burger order almost got screwed up, but luckily she could speak English. Pretty ugly American move, though, butchering her language like that, not to mention going to McDonald's in the first place. What did I learn that day? "Without" in French is "sans". But I don't remember lettuce, tomato or anything else of French. Oh, I also learned that the French are evidently not proud of being associated with what we call "french fries", because they call them "pommes frites".
posted by msacheson at 4:12 PM on July 19, 2001

Speaking as a "frat boy", I find it amusing that you're stereotype is, erm.... correct.

*looks at self in mirror*

Khaki cargo shorts, check.
University t-shirt, check.
University baseball cap, check.
Jawline, check.
Use my right hand for both the fork and knife? yep.
I don't think I own dark colored socks.
posted by tomorama at 4:27 PM on July 19, 2001 [1 favorite]

I don't think others can pick me up in a foreign land, and nor can I pick up others here in NYC. With each passing day more and more people seems to be asking me for directions in the subway in their native tongue. And some of them live here in NYC. I can eat with my bare hands, chopsticks and all combinations of fork+knife+spoon juggling act.
posted by tamim at 4:35 PM on July 19, 2001

Just try your very best to escape the syndrome known as "If it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium."

Yeah, that right there makes you American. Maybe Aussie, but who can blame them: it takes enough effort just to get off their continent. They're not going back until they see just about everything.

The other things I'd say to prospective American travelers I've already written a rant on: why not to bring a backpack and why "doing" Europe is wrong. About half way down the page on this self-link.
posted by Mo Nickels at 4:40 PM on July 19, 2001

Speaking as someone who is first-generation American, I agree that Americans abroad can be pretty damn embarrassing. Not all of them. But a lot of them.

Speaking as someone who used to work in a lot of cafes, I can also say with some degree of confidence that a lot of German tourists are insufferable, and somehow manage to dress even worse than Americans.

And "socks-and-sandals" English tourists have some fashion crimes of their own to answer for.

I think the whole problem lies in the sophistication of the traveler, not in his or her country of origin. There are people from everywhere who miss the point of travel, who feel as if the foreign country exists only to satisfy their preconceived notion of what it should be. We generally call these people a-s-s-h-o-l-e-s, no matter where they are from .

"Drinking Watney's bleeding Red Barrel....Fat German businessmen making human pyramids in the swimming pool and frightening the children....oh they don't make it the way they do at home do they?" - Eric Idle moment
posted by Kafkaesque at 4:40 PM on July 19, 2001

And how annoying has it always been for Canadians, watching Really Ugly Americans sew our flag on their backpacks and then act like jackasses?

This bothers me on so many different levels.

First, the assumption that Canadians should receive carte blanche regarding how they are treated while travelling. Having travelled throughout Europe with both Americans and Canadians, I can say that from personal experience, there is an equal proportion of Canadian jackasses as there are American jackasses. The problem lies in the fact that there are simply more Americans than Canadians, and therefore, more jerks.

Second, it's pretty annoying that Americans think that they have to resort to wearing a Canadian pin in order to be treated pleasantly. I've never had to use these devices, and I believe that I have suffered not at all. I apologize for the assholes that feign being Canadian, but perceptions of Americans also suffer when sensitive, polite American travellers wear the maple leaf.

Third, just because you are Canadian doesn't automatically make you superior or better mannered. In fact, jingoism in general seemed to be higher among the Canadians with whom I travelled; they were more apt to act with the "Look at me! I'm Canadian!" mannerisms that folks assume Americans to have.

My advice to American travellers; wear the khakis and baseball caps if you are comfortable in them, but act politely and respectfully, learn as much of the language as possible (or at least "please" and "thank you" if you are slow with languages), eschew the maple leaf, and if someone asks if you are an American, say "yes/oui/da, etc."
posted by Avogadro at 4:44 PM on July 19, 2001

Don't worry, tomorama: in the six weeks of the UGA summer school, we turned a frat boy who asked for Bud Light at the bar into a Newcastle Brown drinker who played left wing in the ad hoc football team that crushed Nebraska 5-0.

More seriously: cheap flights, along with the EurRail pass, have done wonders to transform the nature of American tourism in Europe. While there's still a big market for the "country a day" tours, especially among retirees, from experience, college-age travellers are increasingly less likely to regard "Europe" as a single destination, just as cheap air travel to the US has attacked the preconceptions of Brits heading across the pond. (Previewing, I can see that Mo pretty much sums this up.)

Just to add to what Avrogado said: I can also say that the places where American (or any) tourists are most likely to be regarded as "ugly" are places they'd be better off avoiding in the first place: the well-worn routes and tourist traps. Travelling in the west of Ireland with my girlfriend a couple of months ago, we made a conscious decision to turn right where the tour buses turn left, and enjoyed it all the more just to hear people ask "what's an American doing here?"
posted by holgate at 4:57 PM on July 19, 2001

Oh yeah: The ways I could always tell Americans in Paris:

White running/tennis shoes or trainers.

Logos on every article of clothing.

Dressed according to the calendar, rather than the forecast. Thus, shorts in April, in Paris. Big mistake.

Not just being loud, but loud across wide spaces. Shouting from one metro platform to the other across the tracks. Shouting down museum halls. Shouting over aisles of merchandise in stores.

Walking in the streets in non-pedestrian areas. In groups, five or six abreast. Slowly.

Pointing. Always pointing. As if the rest of us can't see this thing that they're probably pointing at in a subtle movement of misdirection so it's not *too* obvious that the useless facts they're telling you about the thing they're pointing at come out of the guidebook in hand.

Always talking about what they are doing at that very moment to the people they are with, who are doing the same thing, relating mostly to discussions of location and space. I call it Tourist Peekaboo. "We will be over there [always about eight feet away]. We are going over there. Where will you be? Where is Tom? Is Tom with you? Oh, there you are Tom. Tom is right behind you. Where will Tom be? Tom, we will be over there."

Then they re-narrate what they just said, to the same people who just experienced the same event. "We were over there. We have been over there. Where were you? Was Tom with you? Oh, he was right there. Tom was right behind you. Where was Tom going? Tom, we were going over there."
posted by Mo Nickels at 4:57 PM on July 19, 2001

Hey, you Euros aren't so hard to pick out when you come over here to visit either. And the rowdiest people I have ever seen were a LARGE group of Brazilians on vacation in Orlando, you can't help but notice when people spontaneously break out in chants.
posted by owillis at 5:34 PM on July 19, 2001

msacheson: but I couldn't say "without"

Doesn't the word "no" translate nicely across many borders? I'd wager that "No (insert French word for tomato) (insert French word for please)," would have worked.
posted by davidmsc at 5:45 PM on July 19, 2001

The beauty of being an american is that you can travel several places in the country and be a completely unwelcome outsider in your own country. ie My trip to Tenessee with a NY accent. That was fun.
posted by revbrian at 5:51 PM on July 19, 2001


(Pronounced the proper way, to rhyme with "mat", not "mate".)

"pas de tomate" would have been fine. Better conversational French, I think, than "sans tomate", especially if slurred into "pad-a-mat"...
posted by holgate at 5:52 PM on July 19, 2001

Agreed. My venture to West Virginia sporting my NY accent was interesting.
posted by tomorama at 5:59 PM on July 19, 2001

(but yes, the general principle applies that while most European languages use a variant of "no", their words for "yes" are often quite dissimilar. What that says about the EU, I dunno.)

owillis: when I was in Paris with Herself, I played a game on the Métro, where we'd take guesses as to the nationalities of the people in the carriage. Cropped hair, wire glasses, beard: German; dark hair, dark complexion, disdain: Italian. And so on. Much fun was had. Ish.
posted by holgate at 5:59 PM on July 19, 2001

I'm hogging this thread, but tomorama just reminded me...

I don't have a typical "British" accent. I would not have made it into the cast of "Bridget Jones' Diary". Those MeFites who've met me (including mathowie) can attest to this. So when I travel in the US, I get misidentified, or simply not identified, on a quite regular basis. Which is fun, because once I identify myself as British, you can almost hear the gears shifting as people think "Hugh Grant doesn't talk like this..."
posted by holgate at 6:03 PM on July 19, 2001

There are ugly Americans in Europe.
Ugly English in Spain.
Ugly, ==AND I MEAN REALLY UGLY==, Australians in Bali.

My solution is to not issue bank tellers with passports.
posted by lagado at 6:14 PM on July 19, 2001

"Skot: Americans cut food, put down knife, swap fork to right hand, eat. Brits hold the knife while they eat."

As a bit of an aside, I (an American) use my utensils in the "British" manner. I heard they do it that way, figured I'd try it, and found it a lot more comfortable.

Is this for real? I can't imagine this (American method).
I guess Aussies are more "British" than I realized.
posted by lagado at 6:21 PM on July 19, 2001

lagado, that's how my mom always taught me (the "american" way), but i always wanted to do it the european way. i got a lot of flak for that...til i moved out.

posted by pnevares at 6:31 PM on July 19, 2001

I heard the Champ Elysee will once again be widened if the Winn Dixie people get their way.
posted by clavdivs at 6:50 PM on July 19, 2001

I didn't know all americans acted the same. I guess I've been in the stink of them so long that I haven't noticed. stupid me!
posted by mcsweetie at 6:52 PM on July 19, 2001

I didn't know all americans acted the same. I guess I've been in the stink of them so long that I haven't noticed. stupid me!

Yeah, well, it's true. People who'd never talk at home, much less sit or live next to each other, become fast, if temporary, friends while abroad.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:06 PM on July 19, 2001


"Pretty ugly American move, though, butchering her language like that, not to mention going to McDonald's in the first place. "

I don't think that is an ugly move at all, you were 'trying' to use their language. Imagine if you worked at McDonald's in the US and a French man came in and tried to order speaking only french, not even trying english... you would think "what an outrageous accent," and what a jerk. I have found that most people will appreciate your 'trying' to speak their language, and some of them get a good laugh out of it.

As for ugly Americans being loud, what about all of those huge rugby-playing thick-necked Aussies? THOSE guys are loud, and don't they have jobs? I mean, what's that all about... I kid, an Aussie saved my ass in Prague, and taught me about forty new words for fawk.
posted by hotdoughnutsnow at 7:07 PM on July 19, 2001

Sheer size! I think you can fit 2 locals into the average westerners stomach.

Of course the white t-shirt & socks with khaki shorts helps too.
posted by cmacleod at 7:10 PM on July 19, 2001

I can't tell you how many times, in both England and France, I was mistaken for being French. In fact, more than once, I was asked en francais if I was this guy (compare).

What the hell?! I look French!? Aaaack!

Oh also, the shorts thing--that's ABsolutely true. I wear shorts as often as I possibly can. I couldn't believe that no one over there across the pond wears shorts. Mind-boggling.
posted by fooljay at 7:12 PM on July 19, 2001

holgate: It appears that we have spent equal time in the city of Oxford. I just thought I'd point out that there is an even easier way to spot a teenage European because, EF rucksack or not, for some inexplicable reason, they wore them back to front (and yes, I too play spot the nationality on public transport)

I have to say that the loudest ugliest group of people in the country I'm staying in right this moment (Australia) are the Brits. I would normally be tarred with the same brush, being one myself, but for one lucky trait. I have a truely messed up accent that is almost indefineable. In South Africa many thought I was Australian, in Australia many think I'm South African and back home all but my friends thought I was Aussie too.

This gives me a bit of an edge in conversation since a conversant assigns me the wrong load of pre-conceived stereotypes upon first speaking to me. Which is nice.
posted by davehat at 7:18 PM on July 19, 2001

I, too, was mistaken for being French.

And it was all based on the French are rude stereotype.

I was in the Louvre giftshop reading a book by the counter when an fanny-pack clad, ugly American actually grabbed the book I was reading to show to someone else.

When I silently, but snappishly, grabbed it back, the man said something like "Excuuuse me. Or rather, pardon moi."

I could almost see him telling this story when he got back home:

"You should have seen this French bitch."

Yeah, who's rude?

This all reminds me of the David Sedaris's Picka Pocketoni from Me Talk Pretty One Day.
posted by mgtrott at 7:50 PM on July 19, 2001

Interesting advice considering my wife I leave for a month in Europe tomorrow morning. I'm sure no matter what we do we will still be labelled tourist - but ugly American? Maybe ugly Canadians.
posted by cmacleod at 8:28 PM on July 19, 2001

The ultimate rude American in Europe...this guy is a national disgrace. Wichita Falls Mayor Jerry Lueck sleeps during a briefing at the German Air Force Academy in Furstenfeldbruck, Germany .

It's worthwhile to read the article through to the end just to see all the things he did.

The icing on the cake:
When a radio reporter asked Lueck what he learned on his trip to Furstenfeldbruck, the mayor said, "they need to have more salt and pepper shakers in the stores to sell."
posted by netsirk at 8:35 PM on July 19, 2001


look it up
posted by internal at 8:36 PM on July 19, 2001

Mo, the friendship thing is amazing. If while in Europe I had happened upon fellow Michiganders, I probably would have bought them dinner. Such was the degree of pseudo-fraternity I felt with my countrymen. (this despite the fact that here at home I dislike most americans)
As for appropriate attire, the difference between Austria and Italy was dismaying. Austrians dress like stereotypical Europeans (pants too tight, shirts tucked in, dress shoes with jeans etc.) Italians on the other hand appear to wear suits to take out the garbage, I have rarely felt so naked in my life.
posted by Octaviuz at 8:43 PM on July 19, 2001

Dammit! My first American-bashing thread, and I missed the party!

(settles back into curmudgeonly silence, puntuated by the occasional drunken screed and lame joke)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:46 PM on July 19, 2001

I sort of had an ugly american experience when in Kenya this year on spring break. I was traveling with a class that was studying the interaction of civil society and the state there, so we really weren't tourists. (Important distinction, in much of Africa - tourist, student, or NGO.)

For part of our trip we were visiting a remote village in the Kikuyu Highlands and were working with the Green Belt Movement to plant trees on public land (at the school, mostly) and learn about "village life" -- the village life part was arranged by the women of the village and they had us chopping fire wood and hauling water from a well in a valley up steep hills. The entire village came out to watch us perform these tasks; the schools even let out. At first we were completely mobbed and overwhelmed (mostly by children.) These Kenyans had a stereotype in mind, either of Americans or of all white people being very weak and helpless. They wanted to laugh at us as we chopped wood and they did so. We laughed with them. Then when we were hauling the water (in plastic tanks on our backs with a woven rope threaded through and over our foreheads) they mobbed us as we walked up the hill, asking every few steps "are you tired?" "is that too heavy for you?" "should i take this now?" "i'll carry this the rest of the way" -- several of my classmates were insulted by all of this and were quite unhappy throughout our stay with the GBM, constantly trying to prove them wrong and show that we american college students are strong! and tough! and able!

almost nobody in our group ever delivered on the ugly american stereotype, but then, it's totally different in Africa. (Different than Europe, I mean.)
posted by palegirl at 8:56 PM on July 19, 2001

Geeze, I hate that utensil deal! My parents kept making me switch the fork form hand to hand. To keep the fork in your left hand is impolite and rude! Geeze... Luckily, I finally convinced my parents that I didn't think much of manners like that. I'll eat in the most efficient manner possible, thank you.
posted by whatnotever at 9:14 PM on July 19, 2001

palegirl: I spent 7 months travelling in Africa and every American I met, save one, was pretty fantastic. Most of them were working for the Peace Corp. in Malawi.

Unfortunately early last year, one of the nicest people I met there, an American girl called Jen, died in an automobile accident.

I just want to say that American travellers are, on the whole, fine. American tourists in touristy places can be as much a pain in the arse as 'x' tourist from 'y' country in 'z' famous place.
posted by davehat at 9:24 PM on July 19, 2001

Ahem, early this year.
posted by davehat at 9:25 PM on July 19, 2001

It's worth noting the origin of the phrase in the short-story collection The Ugly American, from 1958.

From an Amazon review:
The title refers to an individual in the book [it is his nickname because he IS ugly, yet he turns out to be a positive character: intentional irony] but I do think there is an insinuation in the title. This is a brilliant book that said so much then in 1958, and says so much now today. The implicit references are strikingly clear in the characters and situations presented by Lederer and Burdick. When abroad our American psyche, consciousness, and sub-conscious attitudes and assumptions, have not changed since this book was written. We are culturally, mentally, and linguistically isolated, and do not attempt to learn about other cultural norms for a variety of reasons.

The book itself laid out the Southeast Asia conflict with uncanny 20/20 hindsight, as if it had been written after the fall of Saigon; yet it was written before a single American platoon landed in Vietnam. Though tinged with virulent anti-Communism, it also recognized, pragmatically, what many shortsighted Americans could not: the feudal and colonial circumstances of the locals would find much stronger appeal in Communism than Capitalism, if only because of the rampant corruption that accompanied colonial rule.

I bring this up because the phrase has as much to do with American geopolitical arrogance as it does with the cultural sensitivity of tourists. It only came to apply to tourists in the popular meaning.

If Americans get treated nastily abroad, while Canadians are not, it isn't just numbers or attitude. It's because we've carried our weight around for years in so many ways, and even more so of late as The Last Superpower Standing. We've zigged where the rest of the world zagged. We've built our former enemies into industrial powers to buy from us, and gotten indignant when they sold to us instead. We've run around taking sole credit for saving Europe's keister in WW2. We've taken our limited, self-serving internationalism as a gift for which we should be thanked. We've claimed to stand for liberty, and supported dictators. We've proclaimed our courage and steadfastness in allied defense, and taken our marbles and gone home the moment it became dangerous.

Oh, yes, I suppose some of us were rude in shops.
posted by dhartung at 9:27 PM on July 19, 2001

I just want to know, I'm right handed, and when I eat with a knife, I hold my knife in my left hand and fork in the right. Is that odd?
posted by Apoch at 9:50 PM on July 19, 2001

I actually get no end of love from my mother in law, who is German, because I eat "in the British way", using both left and right hands. I still do think it's crass to use but the right. My Welsh-English upbringing I suppose.

So I am half English half Welsh, with (strangely) gypsy and an sixteenth of Micmac Cree thrown in for good measure...and one of the only nationalities I've been mistaken for was (at an Indian restaurant by an Indian waiter) a New Zealander (!) Must have been my Maori facial tattoos that gave me away.
posted by Kafkaesque at 9:50 PM on July 19, 2001

Hm. While I must admit we haven't been the most gracious tourists, I think it goes both ways. When America does do good, Europe (and the rest of the world) is often very slow to admit it (not the government, the people) and they're often quick to call on us in times of need. So there may also be the feeling that we've done "x,y,z" and they can be a little ungrateful. I'm no "my country, right or wrong" type, but we're not the only bad guy in this little culture mix...
posted by owillis at 9:56 PM on July 19, 2001

If I were in a foreign country, hmm...Well, the foreign country might be the USA, in which case I'd have to assume everyone was USAian.
But seriously, aren't we above all of this stuff on the internet? Aren't we internationalists?
posted by flowerdale at 10:09 PM on July 19, 2001

Well, this has been enlightening. Thanks to the helpful folks. I was half expecting lusty cries of "Skot! Stay home! MetaFilter is as close as we'd like to get!"

I just want to know, I'm right handed, and when I eat with a knife, I hold my knife in my left hand and fork in the right. Is that odd?

No! At an early age, I decided all the utensil-swapping was plain ridiculous, and I employ the same method. One less thing to worry about.

The no-sneakers thing really is a surprise. I mean, I know I'm welcome to wear them, I just didn't realize what a marker it was.

Most fortunately of all, though, is what I neglected to mention: my wonderful girlfriend is accompanying me on what will be her fifth trip over. She will likely head off some of my more boneheaded maneuvers.

And yeah . . . I know it's an ambitious itinerary. It might yet be scaled back (we're getting Eurail passes). We're planning on absolutely not micromanaging our schedule, and giving ourselves leeway to say screw it if we feel like it. ("Let's do Zurich next time.") Florence is really the big deal for me (uh, nothing personal to anywhere else . . . it's an art thing). Everything else is gravy.
posted by Skot at 10:18 PM on July 19, 2001

But seriously, aren't we above all of this stuff on the internet? Aren't we internationalists?

We are for sure, flowerdale, although I have to admit that this cutlery usage thing is really upsetting me.
posted by lagado at 10:33 PM on July 19, 2001

Fork in the left hand. Knife in the right. And lots of wine. And how annoying has it always been for Canadians, watching Really Ugly Americans sew our flag on their backpacks and then act like jackasses? Thank God you'all always screw it up when they start speaking french to you.

Pretty much sums up any basis for any argument I'll ever have about anything. Americans do fuck a lot of most everything up. A fun night in the Elusive Camel is ruined by meatheads from Texas who then want to hang out for the rest of the night. Hello??? At the Valiant Trooper we meet an older couple from America who've been quite the world's itinerants. To converse with them was a joy, as the world to them was indeed a stage to perform, but only off of it. To take it all in. Americans. . .

But gaddamn if them Europeans don't need to read a bit of the Lonely Planet before they come here to dine!

Rich southerners tip worse, I'll happily admit. At least the European reads.
posted by crasspastor at 10:37 PM on July 19, 2001

I just want to know, I'm right handed, and when I eat with a knife, I hold my knife in my left hand and fork in the right. Is that odd?

Actually, I lied, now that I, uh, actually read that. I'm a rightie myself, but when I eat, fork is in left, knife in right the whole time. Not quite the same thing.

This is the glory of the web, folks. Learning Skot's eating methodologies. Next week: "MILK! Is It Really Better From the Carton?"
posted by Skot at 10:39 PM on July 19, 2001

What about the Japanese? I can handle ugly Americans - it's easy to feel superior - but how do you put down people who are very well dressed, look damn cool, and are very polite (young Japanese people in the UK, at least).
posted by andrew cooke at 12:35 AM on July 20, 2001

Any American attempting to blend in with the Europeans should note that not only is the fork held in the left hand, but it is held upside-down from the American perspective. Americans use the fork as a shovel, Europeans push pieces of food on top of the upturned (from the US perspective) fork with the knife.

I've always used the shoes and sock test to identify Europeans here in America. Dark socks and shorts and under 30 - Euro. Sneakers of an unidentified nature (without a huge logo) - Euro.
posted by PMcCann at 1:37 AM on July 20, 2001

Working in the Oxford Holographics shop in the High Street for a Summer (back in '87 when it actually sold holograms), The customers were either American Deadheads or Italian 14-year-olds. Two points about the Italian kids not yet mentioned:

1. They travel in groups of not less than thirty.

2. They were mainly in town to shoplift. No, really. I remember a very instructive night in the pub with people who worked in shops all over town. Italian teenagers swept through the town stealing whatever wasn't glued down. Someone who worked in a department store said the first thing that some kids stole was a suitcase to take all their "souvenirs" home in.

Thus the Italian kids were indistinguishable from locusts.

I definitely preferred the Deadheads.
posted by Grangousier at 1:59 AM on July 20, 2001

Well, I'm going abroad (how cool does that sound) for my first time this fall. So I guess I'll wear dress shoes, black socks, shorts, a suit coat and tie, with a backpack with a Canadian flag sewn on, and I'll carry my own set of utensils which will consist of a Bowie knife for my right hand and a fork which I've hammered flat so that it has no top or bottom and I'll let my usual 1-week full-beard Miami Vice retro-scraggle grow for a bit to cover my jawline.

And I'll paste over any pesky logo with a "Kyoto Rocks" patch...

And, if I am unfortunate enough to be discovered to be an American, I must never let 'em know I'm from Texas...

Ah kin hardly wait...

At least Europeans are tuned enough to have an attitude toward tourists - in USA Texas, furrin tourists are irrelevant speed bumps...
posted by Opus Dark at 2:12 AM on July 20, 2001

It's funny, I constantly have the exact opposite of the Ugly American experience.
I live right outside Orlando FLorida, which is infested with the absolute worst sort of Eurotrash tourist, all year round.

Now, this is largely my fault, as I tend to dress like a street mime (lots of black, no logos), I don't wear sneakers (boots, black, no logos) and I've got the tan of a tubercular vampire. Still, whenever I wander about Orlando, it's scant minutes before some group of pasty freaks in blue ankle socks and really fucked up shorts with the khaki colored sneakers will accost me and demand the scores from whatever football team it is that he follows.
If they're reasonably civilized I just make something up. If they're obnoxious (almost always) I tell them to get some vitamin C pronto and fuck off.

I guarantee that whatever horrors the Ugly American tourist has to offer, our Euroweenie counterparts are right down there with us.
posted by dong_resin at 2:20 AM on July 20, 2001

It's much easier to pick out the Ugly Europeans here in the U.S.

You just find people that smell bad and have rotten teeth
posted by ttrendel at 2:29 AM on July 20, 2001

Ugly teeth I can live with (I have an odd-coloured tooth and refuse, on principle, to have cosmetic surgery), but smell bad - that's just the French.

Divide and conquer. Works every time...
posted by andrew cooke at 2:54 AM on July 20, 2001

Ooooo, Can I tell my stories.

American's view of Europe? - Bad Teeth and Meaningless Sex.

Wandering alongside Cardiff Castle I was accosted by a middle-aged American couple who, I kid you not, were wearing tartan EVERYTHING (obviously their family was scottish in the mid 1800s or something). They pointed at the Welsh Flag flying majestically over the castle and asked "Is that some sort of Family Emblem?"

I just smiled, weakly.

Tip 1> before travelling take time to learn the NAME OF THE COUNTRY YOU ARE VISITING THAT AFTERNOON.

The flip side of course is that when travelling in America I simply could not stop asking for a "packet of fags" rather than cigarettes and NOBODY could understand me in New York. "Coke, the drink" (pointing to menu). "COKE! You have nothing else of one syllable on the fucking menu!".

And proclaiming "Christ's Fat Cock!" when angry doesn't go down well in God's own Country.

Andrew : The Japanese tourists that wander round the UK simply invoke a combination of Envy and Awe - "Ohmygod where did you get those PVC Evisu Jeans"

Not that we can be proud of our "Brits on the piss" bretheren.
posted by fullerine at 3:17 AM on July 20, 2001

Young American men, especially of the frat persuasion, have square heads and thick necks.

Oh, and they wear white socks. Nooo. Fashion crime!

Skot: Americans cut food, put down knife, swap fork to right hand, eat. Brits hold the knife while they eat.

This is all entirely shit. I am a young American man. I have a round head and an average neck. I wear whatever socks I have, and sometimes none at all. And I don't do this absurd American food-cutting BS you mention. Neither does anyone I know or anyone in my family.

This is the most absurd reduction to nothing I have ever seen. Who the hell swaps their fucking silverware when they're eating? If this is a practice in parts of the US, it certainly isn't universal by a long chalk...I have never, never seen this.
posted by Ezrael at 3:38 AM on July 20, 2001

American women have big hair, wear white sneakers under tight jeans. Their bums are different from ours and they're generally a lot shorter than European women. Perfect teeth and too much make up. They ask all kinds of questions about the food they're ordering. 'Is there egg in this pasta?' 'Can I just order some side dishes?' 'Is there oil in this salad'? 'Can I just have some boiled chicken?'

Contrary to popular belief, ALL Americans I've ever met, smoked cigarettes.

I agree with Holgate on American men & their jawlines. Also: less prominent cheekbones than Europeans. Used to recognise them by their particular crew cuts, but that kind of hair style has crossed the ocean.

And yes... I've heard: 'IN AMERICA roads are a looooooot bigger.'

But don't get me started on Dutch and German tourists. You think Americans are loud?
posted by prolific at 3:50 AM on July 20, 2001

> Who the hell swaps their fucking silverware when
> they're eating?

I've seen many Americans do it: hold the fork in the left hand in a downward stabbing position to impale the meat while sawing through the meat with the knife held in the right hand, then grab the fork in the right hand and plunge the food into the gullet, then talk while chewing and begin sawing the next piece.

> If this is a practice in parts of the US, it certainly isn't
> universal by a long chalk...I have never, never seen this.

Maybe you don't eat where they use knives and forks? Anyway, this page about American table manners says Emily Post calls it the zig-zag style of eating and it says the method comes partly from America's late adoption of the fork.
posted by pracowity at 4:25 AM on July 20, 2001

Is this just let's say bigoted shit because we can day? Because I could comment on how European men and women seemed to me to be obsessed with making snap judgements based on a few people (for instance, I don't smoke. Neither have I met you, so I suppose that allows you to tell yourself that you can still accurately say that all Americans you have ever met smoke cigarettes) but that would be a snap judgement made on little information.

I don't care if you agree with Holgate, it's simply not so. Do you need a picture? Then will you believe that my jawline is not especially prominent? I also have long, long hair. Why does everyone seem to think that a few bad experiences means they can make this broad generalities? I had all sorts of run-ins with assholes from the National Front, intoxicated jagoffs in pubs who picked fights just because I was taller and wider than them, and so on. I don't take that to mean that all Englishmen are racists who get drunk and start fights and watch Football and attack the fans of the other teams. Likewise, my first real love affair was with a young woman from Calais, but I don't take that to mean that all Frenchwomen are lovely, caring and acerbic.

In general, it seemed to me at the time that the people of the European countries I have visited were people, with their own regional variations of course, but still people and worth meeting each on her or his own terms. I was unaware that it was possible to pigeonhole everyone by their nationality and be done with it, so as to spare myself the effort of coming to know them.
posted by Ezrael at 4:34 AM on July 20, 2001

The European, or "Continental," style of using knife and fork is somewhat more efficient, and its practice is also common in the United States

So, Pracowity, it's possible to use utensils in the US and never see a complicated and useless style of eating. Let me ask you something: were you under the impression that, even as you referenced that page, you should ignore the parts you didn't like just so you could make a cheap and lazy witticism? Or is that just the way you always are?

Maybe you don't eat where they use knives and forks?

As I said, if it's used it isn't universal. You helped confirm that, and then ignored your own link. I have no idea why you did that, but there it is.
posted by Ezrael at 4:38 AM on July 20, 2001

Perhaps Ezrael is an illegal immigrant?
posted by andrew cooke at 4:47 AM on July 20, 2001

Because I work "abroad" a lot - mostly Western Europe and Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore - maybe my perspective is a little different, but frankly, I've never had a really bad experience overseas (of course, airline ticket agents are airline ticket agents in any language and there's a hot, rank Economy Class seat in Hell for them no matter what country they're from). I'm too old to be a "frat boy" but I do have sneakers... That said, here's m.polo's very simple way to get along in any country in any language: before you go, learn four words (more would be great, but less won't cut it), namely "Please, "Thank You," "Yes" and "No" in the native language of the country you will be in. If you will be in more than one country on your trip, well, bring along a list. I swear to you, it's that simple. The "Ugly American" label just melts away and the treatment you receive from the people you deal with will be a thousand times more pleasant and productive. Those four words - and throw in how to say "one" and "two" so you can point at something and ask politely for it - and you're good to go.

(For the advanced student, learn to say, "I'm sorry, I don't speak Welsh. Do you speak English?" Substitute foreign language as appropriate. Positive cultural experience guaranteed. Works every time.)

(Oh, shut up, I'm not picking on the Welsh. It's just that in order to annoy a colleague, some guy at a newstand insisted on answering his questions in Welsh until my colleague, well trained in the m.polo Method (tm), used that line on him... I thought the newstand guy would never stop laughing...)
posted by m.polo at 5:07 AM on July 20, 2001

> Perhaps Ezrael is an illegal immigrant?

Or just angry again.

Anyway, I noticed a couple of national stereotypes showing up in the Times recently:
July 14: headline: "We don't have ways of making you laugh" (Germans still Nazi torturers?) and "Confirming the stereotype about mirthless Germans, it seems that humour just doesn’t help ratings [on German television]. "
July 15: the head of medical genetics at Cambridge University says "In science, as in many other things, a large number of Americans are relatively insular in their views."
posted by pracowity at 5:13 AM on July 20, 2001

Perhaps Ezrael woke up on the wrong side of the bed today?
posted by lia at 5:18 AM on July 20, 2001

Ezrael: forgive me. I was talking about a very specific context: five successive summers in Oxford.

As davehat and Grangousier said, Oxford in the summertime becomes a kind of international hell: verminous young Europeans in for language schools; American college students in the colleges for "the Oxford experience". Usually, because these programmes cost a shitload of money, the ones who come across are often the ones with the cash and the connections. So the proportion of frat boys and sorority girls is excessive, and they're often unbearable. But among the jocks and the bleached-blonde bimbos, there are many people of real depth and value, who evade the stereotypes. I've made a lots of friends that way. One of them is my main reason to travel to the US three times a year.

The same applies to Brits in Florida, or Spain, or Greece. There are people who embrace the stereotypes, and those who avoid them.
posted by holgate at 5:19 AM on July 20, 2001

This is from some newspaper article I read a few years ago. I thought it was funny.

Security Advice For Americans Traveling Abroad
Keep your voice down, because Americans are the loudest people on Earth. Learn how to talk like a Canadian.
posted by hootch at 5:26 AM on July 20, 2001

fullerine, I'm going to be saying "Christ's Fat Cock!" from now on, in my predominantly Roman Catholic country. I'm sure it'll be an instant hit! (I'm serious)
posted by lia at 5:27 AM on July 20, 2001

Following myself up:

So the proportion of frat boys and sorority girls is excessive, and they're often unbearable.

And I suppose my point is that the "Greek system" encourages a stereotypical life, dress, mindset, and it's that which should truly be blamed. We're in Columbine territory again.
posted by holgate at 5:28 AM on July 20, 2001

Any American attempting to blend in with the Europeans should note that not only is the fork held in the left hand, but it is held upside-down from the American perspective. Americans use the fork as a shovel, Europeans push pieces of food on top of the upturned (from the US perspective) fork with the knife.

The British and Irish keep the fork upside down (to those of us from the U.S.A.) and shovel food on to the back. Much of the rest of Europe will turn the fork upright and eat. Europeans keep both hands on the table (not elbows) even if they are not holding utensils. Europeans, particularly German and Austrian friends, will ask what you are doing with your hand under the table and giggle. I tend to eat with both hands European style as I have most of my life (went to a day school while my parents worked, which was run by Brits) and my Grandmother asked a couple years back if I were left handed.

I was back in Europe last Fall and found the use of English in Amsterdam and Paris amazing. My last time abroad was in '88 when I was living and staying in Oxford and Lyon and English was a rarity on the Continent. Amsterdam this time about 40 percent of the conversations were in English among non-native English speakers as it was used as the common language. I know very little Dutch, which is my own embarrassment as I am of Dutch lineage, and when I would ask for assistance to learn how to say in Dutch what I had just said in English the response was, "Why?". Although, I must have been doing something right (I also believe I am part chameleon) as people would come up and ask me questions in Dutch in stores and on the street, to which I would reply, "what" then get the response, "I am sorry I did not realize" in perfect English. My wife had people coming up and asking questions in French (she is of Italian decent).

In Paris this continued, but with questions being asked in Dutch and German to me. I do know some French and my pronunciation is better than the depth of my vocabulary (dangerous combination) and I would try to use what I know, but the Parisians would immediately switch to English. When did this happen? Some older Brits explained it as the effect of CNN, MTV, and the Internet. Is this so? I somewhat liked being treated as an idiot because I could not speak the native language (we do it here in the U.S. so I figured I was fair game - not that this is proper for any nation). I do miss '88 in Lyon where there was nearly no English spoken and kids would hear me speaking in English then start singing Beatles tunes with mumbled lyrics.
posted by vanderwal at 5:52 AM on July 20, 2001

Actually, Ezrael was feeling fine until he stumbled upon yet another 'Ugly American' discussion. I was born in the US, although from primarily first and second generation immigrants from Ireland, Scotland and Italy. My Morgan family are very involved in Irish and Scottish politics, although I personally am not.

I'm tired of the attitude that American tourists are some sort of horde that plague the world like locusts, especially from countries that spend so much money attracting them. I get tired of being gobsmacked by the stereotype before I even get a chance to open my mouth. It's getting to the point where I won't travel abroad anymore, which used to be one of the main joys in my life, because the people who reside in the nations I want to visit have already decided I'm a slopebrowed primitive before I get there, when to be fair they are no more educated, refined or mannered than I am.

I'm angry, all right. How about we all just stay locked behind our borders where we won't get on anyone's nerves or offend anyone with our different manners and, god forbid way of using cutlery. Horrors, some of us might have developed some horrible technique wherein we use a spork instead of a fork, and why should others be subjected to it?

Angry. That doesn't even begin to cover how furious I am at this. People bitch and moan about American provincialism and tell us we should broaden our character and see the world so that we can understand other cutures, and then we are derided and criticized when we do. Well, I have enough to do combating the forces of ignorance and arrogance at home without you giving the isolationist fringe in my country fuel for its America doesn't need the world rhetoric. You kick a man in the teeth enough times, he starts to take it personally.

Mock the Other. It's an old human trait. Doesn't make it attractive. Are a great deal of human beings pains in the ass, or loudmouthed jackasses who can't shut up and who love to say the most insipid things when they see a cathedral for the first time? You bet, and a lot of them are American. However, I have seen so many blanket statements about us in this thread that I'm really shocked that people are surprised that I'd take offense.

Forget tolerance. Forget understanding. Forget trying to believe in or establish the brotherhood of humanity. Let's get ready for a repeat of the genocide, since it isn't worth it to extend a little brotherhood to each other. I personally hope the world economy falls apart and we're all reduced to squabbling tribes living in a stone age. It would be more honest than smiling to each other's faces and cutting each other from behind.

And to think I once admired European culture. Thank you for murdering that for me. Thank you for killing my appreciation for Goethe, Schoepenhauer, Stendahl, Strindberg and Amis. Right now I look at my bookcase and curse myself for ever thinking that I could learn something about the fellowship of man from it.

Thank you for judging me a caveman based on my nationality. It was deserved, I know, for the years I spend politely ignoring your knee-jerk prejudices while I tried to find the roots of the towns that my grandparents were born in. I should have realized that we were outcasts, and never to be accepted or respected again.


Anger doesn't even come close.
posted by Ezrael at 6:37 AM on July 20, 2001

Mocking the powerful also has a long tradition.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:41 AM on July 20, 2001

Well, andrew, there's a lot to mock. But it's one thing to call a nation on its sins, and another to just be saying bigoted generalities about a people. I don't think more than 250,000,000 people can be summed up, but that's just me.

The US does all sorts of things that need to be addressed. Our President is someone I am personally shocked and horrified by. I disagree with almost all of our foreign policy, and find our spreading cultural imperialsm (made possible by the forceable spread of English by, well, the English in the last century) to be repellent. That's a given. Again, however, what we have here is just the same impulse to define someone as something so you can ignore them and deride them, and I won't sit back and nod and smile about how stupid and slow-witted and thick-jawed we are.

Because we aren't, and if you don't know that yet, then let me ask you this: how the hell did this nation of imbeciles become powerful in the first place?
posted by Ezrael at 6:52 AM on July 20, 2001

My tip, as a person who is often confused for a European, regardless of the country, is learn how to say "I'm sorry" and "excuse me". And use these phrases often. I think it's a big misconception that Europeans (I'm thinking of the French specifically) are rude, they are just very sensitive to good manners, and will reward them well.
My best experience? In a wine shop in Angers, I was chatting with the gentleman inside, and letting him know how friendly everyone was, and he said, "Thank-you, but you realize this will still be 60FF."
posted by nprigoda at 6:52 AM on July 20, 2001

you should see japanese tourists in michigan. like kids in a candy shop.
posted by clavdivs at 6:58 AM on July 20, 2001

Mocking the powerful also has a long tradition

So does mocking the weak. Why is it OK to mock the powerful yet indefensible to mock the weak? Is bigotry ok if you pick the right target?
posted by dchase at 7:01 AM on July 20, 2001

Thumbs up, Ezrael.
posted by crunchland at 7:21 AM on July 20, 2001

Pracowity said: July 15: the head of medical genetics at Cambridge University says "In science, as in many other things, a large number of Americans are relatively insular in their views."

Yes, I believe the head of medical genetics said that in response to this remark from the outgoing president of Harvard (also in the same article you linked to):

"At Cambridge, for example, they haven't made a discovery since Watson and Crick discovered DNA back in the 1950s."

And of course the people at Cambridge University were none too pleased about that undeniably false claim. You see, context is everything when you selectively quote articles like that.
posted by adrianhon at 7:23 AM on July 20, 2001

Ezrael, thank you for saying exactly what I would have like to have said on this issue if I had the time and the eloquence. I agree with you completely.
As a first generation American living in Paris, I am confronted with this issue daily, coming at me from both sides. There really are some large cultural differences that contribute to making people from the US seem so loud and arrogant compared to their European counterparts. But it's counterproductive to condemn them as a group rather than trying to understand them as individuals.
Europeans complain that US citizens are isolationist. But when they treat us as if we're worthless, it causes us to become more so.
I speak French reasonably well, and I have never, not once in all my time in France, been treated rudely. But the amount of US-bashing in the media is saddening. Just this month, for example, I was looking through a magazine and saw a fashion spread that was labelled "I hate America" in big letters. Funnily enough, the clothes displayed were based on the US flag design.
One thing that is true - we aren't as well educated, on average, as Europeans. I'm trying very hard to change it, but you know what, it's not my own personal fault.
Okay, so can we make a deal? A little more tolerance from Europeans would go along way - but so would a little more broadening of our worldview on the part of people from the US.
posted by hazyjane at 7:38 AM on July 20, 2001

holgate: the "Greek" system does no more to encourage conformity in dress, speach, behavior, than the hipster goth people hanging out in the theater dept do. or the granola types playing hacky sack in the quad. if you show up looking different than any of these groups social "norms" you are going to get a similar response from each. And judging people on what they wear, or their jawline does nothing for your hipster cred.
posted by jbelshaw at 7:40 AM on July 20, 2001

Yes, it is a lot more acceptable to mock the powerful than the weak. The fact that they are already more powerful is justification enough - if the weak can't even laugh at the powerful, what can they do?

It's funny that the powerful expect respect from the weak, but find it unacceptable to give up that power (and this isn't just an anti-American jibe (Kyoto), it applys equally to the developing/developed worlds).
posted by andrew cooke at 7:40 AM on July 20, 2001

Ezrael: Don't think I've ever agreed with you until now.
posted by owillis at 7:41 AM on July 20, 2001

Incidentally, people talking about condemning people for their differences might like to go back and read this thread. There's a lot of discussion of differences, but most of the condemning seems to be in the eye of the beholder.

After all, there's at least one country in the world where it's a good thing to talk loudly, wear shorts and white socks, eat with a fork in the right hand and have a square jaw. (Although, writing that, I can see that there's condemnation in every word. Shorts. Ye gods...)
posted by andrew cooke at 7:44 AM on July 20, 2001

Ezrael: chill your beans! I don't think anyone's being very serious here - of course everyone knows that Americans etc are just people like everyone else. It's just fun to throw some stereotypes around on a Friday afternoon. I wouldn't start burning your Goethe just yet.
posted by Mocata at 7:49 AM on July 20, 2001

> Angry. That doesn't even begin to cover how furious
> I am at this.

OK, then you're furious. Or more than furious. Fine.

> how the hell did this nation of imbeciles become
> powerful in the first place?

But how did the US become so powerful? There were many causes, including money, luck, size, natural resources, relatively weak neighbors, and cheap (or free) foreign labor.

> You see, context is everything...

But there's a difference between the two assertions. The American criticized the UK university system as being too underfunded to do good research, and that that was why, for example, Cambridge hadn't done anything worth mentioning in 40 years. The Briton, a Cambridge man who took umbrage at the remark, countered by saying that "a large number of Americans are relatively insular in their views."

The American's assertion, which is of course false, is against a specific system for a specific reason, not against any or all Britons. The Briton's assertion is much broader: many Americans hold insular (narrow-minded? illiberal? provincial?) views.

The American badly evaluated the UK university system and its successes. The Briton made a broad assertion about Americans, which is why I noted it in this context. And I never said I think his assertion is false.
posted by pracowity at 7:49 AM on July 20, 2001

Well, on the flip side, it is easy to spot the tourists in NYC, they are the ones the keep looking up and block the f*cking sidewalk when you are late for work.

As a comment to the thread, I am Scotsman in NY, though I have long since lost the accent. I recently returned from a 2 year stint in London, heed my words: Don't try and talk cockney, wear tight dark jeans and Liverpool shirts, ask for a lager, don't wash your hair, and most importantly, don't EVER talk on the Tube, and you should be ok.

Living there has given me a distaste for British in NY now, they are on my bus, they are in my bars, they are in our cafes, and think they can always win at pool. Vancouver here I come.
posted by remlapm at 7:57 AM on July 20, 2001

jbelshaw: last time I was in an American college town, there wasn't a "rush" season for hipster goth types -- not unless you count auditions for the drama society.

(Although the different characters of Oxford colleges exposes them as similarly self-selecting -- and replicating -- organisations. And that's why I cower at the thought of what people make of the Oxford Union debate team when it goes on its US tours. Ugh.)
posted by holgate at 8:00 AM on July 20, 2001

5 or 10 of the americans you have ever met were irritating, and now all x million of us are. the very definition of air tight logic, I say!

honestly, before you make another ignorant generaliztion about us, replace the word "americans" with "blacks" or "asians" and see how stupid your statement really is.
posted by mcsweetie at 8:03 AM on July 20, 2001

holgate: thats because they are a much more closed loop. Harder to break into that crowd. :) I'm not stupid, there are assholes everywhere, and yes most fraternities are a self-selecting sort of organization, but so is everything else. But that is off topic.
posted by jbelshaw at 8:14 AM on July 20, 2001

I just can't resist adding this from the onio.....
posted by davehat at 8:18 AM on July 20, 2001

I thought all this was just a bit of fun. To quote some random american comic..

"If you can't make fun of the French, who can you make fun of"
posted by fullerine at 8:21 AM on July 20, 2001


> Is this just let's say bigoted shit because we can day?

I'm late to the thread but I'm so glad I didn't miss it.


> I also learned that the French are evidently not proud of being
> associated with what we call "french fries", because they call them
> "pommes frites".

A lot of Anglicisms involving the word "French" will put people's backs up (can't imagine why, heh.). "French leave," for example (which they call "filer à l'Anglais.")


> While I must admit we haven't been the most gracious tourists,

Neither, I understand, were the first Romans. They've forgotten, but Gaul was gladder to see Eisenhower than Caesar.


> a number of years ago i encountered these "canadians." my first clue
> was the lack of "out" inflection that makes about aboot.

Practice for Yankees is available at home; see Virginia


> how annoying has it always been for Canadians, watching Really Ugly
> Americans sew our flag on their backpacks and then act like
> jackasses? Thank God you'all always screw it up when they start
> speaking french to you.

Practice is available at home: see La belle Louisiane. You won't fool a native French speaker with an ear for dialect, probably, even if you throw in some Canadianisms ("y" instead of "lui") but if you start jabbering away in Cajun French at the skinhead who just trod on your toe in the tube you'll probably pass muster.


> the head of medical genetics at Cambridge University says "In
> science, as in many other things, a large number of Americans are
> relatively insular in their views."

The head of medical Genetics at Cambridge, who learned subject-verb agreement at, oh, Leeds...


> You can always tell if they cut, fork and eat with same hand.

Ah always eats with mah bar-skinnin' knife. Picked it up from Col. Bowie.


> Circumspice, domine.

Topic drift dept.: what pronunciation do they push there these days? Church of England Latin? Or hard-c? Having learned Latin (more or less) from books I find my pronunciation flopping around all over the place. Dorothy Sayers (ultimate authority!) claimed it doesn't really matter what pronunciation you use as long as you pick one and use it consistently. And (reconstructed) Classical seems most logical (or anyway least affected, for someone who didn't have any tutors,) but that leads to pronouncing "v" as "w," which then leads to Caesar saying "Waynee, weedee, weekee," which I can't imagine. The treacherous subconscious always appends " wascally wabbit."

holgate again:

> I can also say that the places where American (or any) tourists are
> most likely to be regarded as "ugly" are places they'd be better off
> avoiding in the first place:

Note to self: skip Sarajevo.
posted by jfuller at 8:28 AM on July 20, 2001

Hilarious, davehat. And it's pretty much true, too. European men - they look into your eyes much too long, touch your hand or arm or even your hair when they're talking to you, talk about history....It's disconcerting, to say the least.
I swear I have not succumbed to this - I have a boyfriend back in the USA. But I'm betting many, many women do. It's pure genius really. But if Joe fratboy tried it, he'd probably just get slapped.
posted by hazyjane at 8:30 AM on July 20, 2001

> I thought all this was just a bit of fun.

It was supposed to be. But Americans have no sense of h.

(And if you think I'm going to put one of those obnoxious smilies on that remark, you haven't read my web page.)
posted by pracowity at 8:32 AM on July 20, 2001

Yes, we're generalizing. Yes there are plenty of exceptions.

But it's pretty funny watching citizens of a country whose "ugly American" reputation stems from a lack of sensitivity to others (as tourists, as a nation, whatever) get all sensitive about their reputation.

If your citizens are recommending that you sew another country's flag on your knapsack to be treated better, then someone's probably doing something wrong.

I grew up in a tourist town. I saw a lot of Americans. I liked many of them. Many others were "Ugly".
posted by websavvy at 8:34 AM on July 20, 2001

(From my "Latin for utter beginners" classes with the wonderful Dr Kerckheker, who bakes the best cakes in the world: hard-c, and "oo-er" for v. Which makes life fun if you're conned into reading grace, under the critical eye of the Classics fellows. Another thing I don't miss. And didn't Lord Peter Winsey have precisely that sort of speech impediment?)

And the old French term for syphilis (or is it gonorrhea?) is "the English disease", which is prevented (in English idiom) by using a "French letter". But this just raises the "rubber" vs "eraser" issue, so I'll stop there.
posted by holgate at 8:45 AM on July 20, 2001

"It's getting to the point where I won't travel abroad anymore, which used to be one of the main joys in my life... And to think I once admired European culture"

All this because of a half-hearted stereotype? Because someone said, in their experience, Americans tend to smoke?

So, what started out as a light-hearted thread on bad tourist behaviour, including those of German, English, etc. origins turned into another flag-waving, God Bless America affair because someone said Americans wear sneakers, or whatever. Very nice.
posted by jess at 8:50 AM on July 20, 2001

Oh, I also learned that the French are evidently not proud of being associated with what we call "french fries", because they call them "pommes frites".

"Pommes frites" just means fried potatoes. Given that they were first made in France, there's no reason for the French to call them anything else. Just like we say "football," and the rest of the world says "American football." I don't think that means Americans generally are not proud of football.
posted by anapestic at 8:57 AM on July 20, 2001

"If you can't make fun of the French, who can you make fun of"

The Americans. Well, if you're French, anyway.

I find this whole thread fascinating. In my travels, the hands-down winners for most repellant, obnoxious tourist personalities have always been South Africans, especially in France. Every single SA I've encountered (about one couple or group each day during my last European visit) were much louder, sloppier-looking (while wearing nicer clothes, go figger) ruder (in general but especially in restaurants) generally dimmer and more chauvanistically patriotic than the worst hick Amurrricun walking-stereotype could ever wish to be. G-d save me from ever encountering another South African in France.

That said, it seems to me that it is one thing to be immediately targeted as an American and another thing to be an Ugly American. Ugly Americans are Ugly even when they're at home. Obnoxious, boorish behaviour isn't suitable no matter where you go.
posted by Dreama at 9:02 AM on July 20, 2001

I went to Europe for the first time a few months ago. My brother, father and I went to Lithuania for two weeks (it's where the old man is from. He hasn't been back in fifty years). We were doing our best to be Thoughtful Americans; my brother and I can't speak the language, but we poured over phrase books and travel guides and did our best to learn how to communicate with people. Dad, thank God, still speaks Lit fluently.

Anyway, on our second day there, we took the minibus from Vilnius to Trakai. We got a grip on how the minibus system worked pretty quickly (hey, just like the bus at home! No way!), got our tickets, sat down, and waited. The bus filled up. Then came two American students who climbed onto the bus and asked, in English, "How much are the tickets?"

The driver looked at him blankly. The line stalled behind these two guys.

"" asked the louder of the two, using the Slow And Loud method of communication.

Dad said to the students, "Just ask, 'Kiek kainuoja bilietas?', man."

The students looked at us dumbly.

"Oh, for Chrissakes, the fare's 1.50 Lt," Dad said.

"Thanks, dude."

Now, I don't know about the rest of Europe (next trip, I swear), but there's this great series of city guide booklets called "In Your Pocket" that seems to cover Eastern Europe and Scandanavia. They've got lists of hotels, hostels, clubs, bars, cultural events and, shock and surprise, useful phrases, complete with pronunciation! And these dudes (who, we found out later were from the Valley and had spent the semester in Italy and were barnstorming through the Baltics "'cause they sounded like fun") didn't have Clue One about any of this! For God's sake, you've been in Italy for five months; haven't you learned how not to be an Ugly American? (Answer: no. We got the hell away from them as quickly as we could on our way to Trakai Castle, despite their best attempts to glom onto us for our guidebook and Dad's translation services. Was that un-American of us to leave two of our countrymen in the clinch? Probably, but if they can't make the effort even to, y'know, buy the damn Lonely Planet Baltic Book on Amazon Italia, to hell with 'em.)

My advice to any Americans going abroad: do your best to dress like the locals (though your language will give you away, whether you're loud or not), do your best to operate like the locals (don't be afraid to ask how the Tube works, for instance, and then remember how it works), and, for the love of God, learn how to survive in the local language! I wholeheartedly agree with the M. Polo method of learning how to say, "I don't speak your language. Do you speak English?" Learn how to say "Thank you" and "Please" and "How much is that delicious looking morsel that I'd like to eat?"

Sorry for the rant. I guess those guys got my back up a bit. Well, them and the busload of German tourists who bought out all the tsepelinu and Utenos in the cafe we decided to lunch in this one day...but at least the Germans had Made The Effort and were very genial.
posted by RakDaddy at 9:05 AM on July 20, 2001

If your citizens are recommending that you sew another country's flag on your knapsack to be treated better, then someone's probably doing something wrong.

but "our citizens" didn't suggest this, it was palegirl. single entity != the whole.
posted by mcsweetie at 9:16 AM on July 20, 2001

Yes, palegirl is the only American ever to recommend displaying a Canadian flag while travelling in Europe. I stand corrected.
posted by websavvy at 9:33 AM on July 20, 2001

"How much is that delicious looking morsel that I'd like to eat?"

Not to be applied to local daughters.
posted by Pyth at 9:34 AM on July 20, 2001

remlapm: I wouldn't suggest Vancouver (I'm assuming Vancouver, B.C.) if you don't want to deal with hordes of drunken American frat boys and sorority girls choking up the bars every weekend and buying every bottle of booze they can find at what they arrogantly call "an automatic 40% discount".
posted by raintea at 9:36 AM on July 20, 2001

My, don't we get upset!

I think that a major trait in British people is a great love for self-mockery. Many Americans don't share that love. Hell, in England it's practically a national sport, and far less time consuming than a cricket match.

People on this thread are just cracking wise. Is that really so threatening?

I think a lot of MeFi's take it as a given that readers of their posts will share a certain level of sophistication in regards to how they react to things. I didn't see any posts above that amounted to more than friendly jabs. I guess I just assume the best of people, but I assume to even be interested in MetaFilter you have to be of a certain intelligence, which in my view goes a long way to towards precluding bigotry.

I don't know. I think this thread was funny as hell. I'm sure I have been guilty of some of the stereotypical American behavior people have mentioned. Laugh at me for it just as I laugh at myself for it. I'm just glad that the goofing around was just that: goofing around. People make generalizations some times purely for comedic effect. The listener just has to understand that.

And it is very hard not to poke at someone who yelps so loud, Ezrael. I'm sure you are a very easy going person usually, and this particular issue just happens to bug you a lot. I don't know you so I don't know that for sure...just how it seems to me. I, for one, respect your right to feel as angry as you wish, but my advice is not to take it all so personally.
posted by Kafkaesque at 9:42 AM on July 20, 2001

I've been to the UK many times, and recall once when a local told me he could always identify an American. "Because of our accent?" I asked. No, he responded, by your walk. He went on to tell me that all Americans have a very cocky, self-important sort of swagger. Of course I was extremely self-conscious of my stride the rest of the trip.

I also wear my gym shoes while travelling, but only for the sake of comfort. We usually do a lot of walking, and low-slung pumps would give me blisters.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:07 AM on July 20, 2001

I once stayed in a hotel in London that provided meals with the boarding. On my first night, I had the choice of eating some kind of fish, or, as the menu called it "BBQ Chicken." I went with the chicken, which I thought was more safe.

What I got was two boiled chicken legs covered in ketchup.

How ironic that brits have the balls to call americans "ugly" because of our pretty teeth.
posted by crunchland at 10:28 AM on July 20, 2001

"Some of my best friends are American."
posted by prolific at 11:04 AM on July 20, 2001

turned into another flag-waving, God Bless America affair

Been here long? Most of the people who slam America are Americans (sometimes myself included).
posted by owillis at 11:12 AM on July 20, 2001

I've been living abroad for a few months now. I get really tired of all conversations with anyone new being automatically interrupted with "Where are you from" as soon as I speak. Why does it matter, really? A friend taught me a great response:

"Where are you from?"
"Have you read Darwin?"

Having a Canadian accent can feel like you come from no-man's land; in NYC everyone thought I was English (I fixed that easily by adding a bit of drawl to my o and ous), and in England everyone thinks I'm American. No matter where I am, home or no, tourists ask me directions and to take their picture, and I must have that "hello, are you insane? oh good, can you please talk to me" face.
posted by spandex at 11:19 AM on July 20, 2001

I've decided, upon reading this entire set of comments, to move to Uruguay (the only nation whose citizens have not been described as stupid/boorish/evil) and never leave.
posted by jkilg at 11:44 AM on July 20, 2001

Yes, of course it's purely oversensitivity on my part. It's got nothing at all to do with people simply wanting to clutch to their stereotypes to make themselves feel better, oh my no.

Look, the very fact that owillis and I are even close on this should tell you something. I don't mind America being attacked. What I mind is a little old lady from Topeka who wants to go see the places in Europe her ancestors come from being looked down upon because her customs are different. It's bigotry and it's bullying at the same time.

I also stand four square against people in Orlando telling dead German tourist jokes, in case that helps you see where I come from with this. These are people. Mocking a nation for its real or perceived crimes? That's not something I have any problem with. Telling snotty jokes about someone because you don't like the way they talk, or eat, or were educated? Because they're different than you?

That's bigotry.

If you don't see it, you don't see it. Do I have a sense of humor? At times. Not right now, though. I hear a lot about this supposed English genius for self-mockery...don't see a lot of it going on here, though. No, mockery of others, that's what I see.

Remember the flap over the film The Patriot last year? Remember how upset so many were over the depiction of English soldiers as war criminals and bloodthirsty savages?

Didn't see a great deal of "Oh, but it's all in good fun chap" when that came out. Heard a lot of talk about how Americans were actually racist towards the English (and forget for a moment that many Americans are the same race as the English are) and how deplorable those stereotypes were. So what I'm hearing is, it's okay for you to sneer at us, but we don't dare sneer at you.

Fuck that.

I will stack England's record as an imperial power against America's any day of the week, and it will come out atrocity for atrocity. You're no better, no gentler, no smarter and no kinder than we. That goes for just about every single European nation. I don't think that being from the US makes me superior: I am heartsick at a lot of what my country does in the name of its own security, I oppose many of its actions both in name and deed.

Either you see it or you don't, how provincial all this is, how watch for the mutant conservative to mock foreigners for being foreign. It's what led to charming terms like 'woggie' and 'gook.' If you can't grasp the difference between mocking the USA and its power politics and Sarah Anne Malley of Witchita, Kansas, who has never been five miles away from her home and is traveling abroad for the first time in her life, then you simply cannot see her as a person, but rather as an alien, an Other to be derided for her awestruck gape, her loud gasps and "What in the world is that?" exhalations. She may be loud and boorish in the restaurant, she may dress tacky, and she may be fatter than you like to see her be. But she's a person, and making fun of her just because she's not like you may be a human weakness...but it's nothing to be proud of.

Forgive me for not seeing the humor. My senstitivity is directly proportionate to the situation. It would be just as wrong for a native of New York to mock Hayley Mallen, a young woman from Ely, who came to the US to meet an ex-boyfriend and who found herself in Manhattan for the first time, gaping upwards. I would be just as pissed at that. I was just as pissed, when it happened to her.

Self-mockery? The fact that I'm actually sitting here at a keyboard, my fingers flying, trying to get people who have already decided I'm a chimp to understand that it's wrong to assume that about me is about all the self-mockery I can handle today, thanks. Maybe I and my non-white sock wearing, round jawed, average necked, non-smoking self are just wasting our time.

Fuck it. People are going to judge me based on my nationality, instead of my ability, because mankind has been doing that for two thousand years and it isn't going to stop now. It's just easier. Why am I fighting it? Why do I want to be judged on who I am?

So I'm an ugly American. Fine. You win. Think of me however you want. I know the value of my self, and if you can't or won't extend the grace to see it, or allow me to approach you with the same terms, that's fine. Your loss. After all, according to the article that started all this, you are all starting to act like us anyway. So welcome to a world where everyone treats you like an ass because they think they know where you are from.
posted by Ezrael at 11:52 AM on July 20, 2001

too sensitive dude. lighten up a bit. i don't think anyone actually thinks of you as a chimp.
posted by tolkhan at 12:01 PM on July 20, 2001

Nobody said that all Americans were ugly.

This thread is not about you. You may be American, but these people don't know you and aren't judging you. Nobody here has claimed that personality is entirely dependent on nationality.

There are ugly Americans. This conversation is about them. If you're ugly, it's about you. If not, then don't take it as a personal attack.
posted by websavvy at 12:03 PM on July 20, 2001

Would it be okay for me to say that all of the Australians tourists I've met have been the nicest people ever? That's a stereotype, right? I must be filled with hatred and intolerance, then right? :-)

Ezrael, I know where you're coming from, but you and the people you're fighting against here are fighting different battles.

True, sterotypes are horrible. They punish and limit people for something that other people who share the same characteristics did. Or sometimes didn't do but are storied to. I think we can ALL agree about that. (Am I wrong here? Does anyone disagree that stereotypes are bad?)

On the other hand, people can only trust their experiences. It's not only human nature, but animal nature as well. When an animal eats something that makes it sick, it learns "hey, that's bad stuff". It typically doesn't eat other things that look like that either, regardless of whether it is the actual thing in question.

When I was a waiter/bartender in Santa Barbara, the phenomenon was the summer Euro rush. We'd get inundated by European tourists who, almost to the man, would ask about the soap opera, complain that the food was too spicy and about the no-smoking rules and tip very poorly if at all.

Is it terrible of me to believe, as a bartender/waiter, that the next customer who fits that profile will act the same way? No. Of course, I give everyone a chance to prove themselves, but after having it ingrained time and time again, its difficult not to draw a conslusion.

On another note, I can tell most tourists in a snap where I live. Most others can as well. Why? Because we're DIFFERENT and yet tend to be within a range of SIMILARITY to those we live closest to.

And let's not forget that often times, rudeness comes down to cultural differences. Most of us were taught that it's rude to eat in the European fashion (not that it was ever said like that), and most us us have no idea that it's rude to let the rice in the sushi touch the soy sauce.

Nothing evil about that. Just different.
posted by fooljay at 12:19 PM on July 20, 2001

tolkhan: too sensitive dude. lighten up a bit.

I say fuck lightening up and to hell with being oversensitive. Ezrael's arguments are well-reasoned, well-crafted and, quite frankly, make more sense on an emotional and intellectual level than any other post on this thread. Impassioned advocacy does not necessarily equate to "oversensitivity," although it is a common tactic to charge oversensitivity instead of addressing a person's argument.

Ezrael: you are all starting to act like us anyway

That's exactly what I thought after a recent trip to The Netherlands. Jesus, there were more American trademarks on peoples' chests and feet that I see at home on the West Coast. Unfortunate. Great football (soccer) and nice people though.
posted by estopped at 12:31 PM on July 20, 2001

I must admit to feeling more in tune with the Scottish in my DNA than the Irish. I like their alcohol better, I like their history better, I like their countryside better (some of the best memories of my life were wandering around Edinburgh trying to fool people into thinking I was a native...never worked, but they were okay about it) and I even manifest some of the negative stereotypes

Matthew Rossi, quoted from here, who is also the person named here.
posted by tolkhan at 12:35 PM on July 20, 2001


> "Where are you from?"
> "Have you read Darwin?"

Ah, you're from the African Miocene. Aren't those new world monkeys trashy?
posted by jfuller at 12:41 PM on July 20, 2001

How to be an ugly american in SoHo: Make the cold beer analogy last at least one half hour. Say:"wanna huck some darts?". Bash the queen while stating your family was from Belfast. Use 'Bloody' in reference to the lavatory, use it loud. Yammer to people who ignore you, "they are listening, they love "yanks". Refer to self as "yank". Refer to King George III as someone who lost something. Comment on the lack of newspaper to wrap"chips" as a major change in English diet. Knock on English MeFi members front door proclaiming: "remember me?"
posted by clavdivs at 12:49 PM on July 20, 2001

Out of all this, the only thing I don't understand is what anybody in any country has against atheletic shoes. They are very comfortable.
posted by jennyb at 12:50 PM on July 20, 2001

estopped, you have a point about the "lighten up" thing. I didn't realize I was doing it, but my apologies, Ezrael. I guess I just don't feel like arguing about this. I think why this seems like self-mockery to me is that I see myself in both the mocked American and the mocking Euro. Also, I think when I hear Euro folks talking about "Ugly Americans" I take it to mean just those Ugly Americans, not everyone from America. Because I've seen those people. They do exist. Therefore I can identify with people joking about them. I'm pretty sure most people were, after all, joking.

jeez, maybe I did start arguing again.

I'm better at pithy and probably annoying little pop culture jokes.
posted by Kafkaesque at 12:52 PM on July 20, 2001

tolkhan: too sensitive dude. lighten up a bit.

I say fuck lightening up and to hell with being oversensitive.... Impassioned advocacy does not necessarily equate to "oversensitivity," although it is a common tactic to charge oversensitivity instead of addressing a person's argument.

yes, that's exactly what i was doing, instead of thinking that it didn't matter what anyone else thought of you, and that worrying about what a stranger halfway across the globe thought about you was pointless and nonproductive, and that the posts in a good-humored thread aren't the same as advocating a ban on American tourists in Europe and not serving them in restaurants and hotels, and that it's just not worth getting angry about.

nope, i was initiating a tactic.
posted by tolkhan at 1:38 PM on July 20, 2001

When I left, this was a good-natured rib-poking thread on MeFi. I return to a barge-load of recycled PC introspection. As an avatar myself, inclined to devlish advocacy, I think Ezrael was/is trolling. And he won. The result is mirthless and worthless. Let's all join hands and sing "It's a Small World After All".

Ez, let's you and me spend an afternoon at the local mall. You can wax poetic in an attempt to ennoble all the strange creatures who waddle through the food court, to the sputtering accompaniment of my ever-present laughter.
posted by Opus Dark at 3:18 PM on July 20, 2001

Here is a little rule thumb, if you are being loud and obnoxious in a certain setting in US there's a good bet that you would be considered loud and obnoxious in a similar setting in Europe, and vice versa.

I don't really understand why it matters how you eat or what you wear, as long as your polite.

If you are an American trying to pass yourself off as Canadian while traveling, I believe I would have to label you as a wee bit silly.

Although that said, when I travel in Europe and I'm asked where are you from, I always say Texas, I get a much more positive response from people. Go figure.
posted by efullerton at 3:44 PM on July 20, 2001

From my experience, it's much easier to identify americans by *what* they say rather than how they look.
posted by DiplomaticImmunity at 4:49 PM on July 20, 2001

I will stack England's record as an imperial power against America's any day of the week

We know what it's like to fall from grace. Your children, or your children's children, will learn...

(I'm drunk after a jolly good meal with a Japanese chap from my partner's work - he not only turned up in a cream suit and too-trendy-for-words shirt (see tiny sub-thread somewhere above), but did magic tricks at the end of the meal. I'm applying for Japanese citizenship tomorrow.)
posted by andrew cooke at 5:09 PM on July 20, 2001

The ugly American President.
posted by honkzilla at 5:12 PM on July 20, 2001

I always say Texas, I get a much more positive response from people.

That's because they're afraid you'll shoot them.


(he made foam rubber bunny rabbits appear in my partner's hand).
posted by andrew cooke at 5:12 PM on July 20, 2001

For a while, this looked like an honest dialogue about stereotypes. So much for that.
posted by harmful at 5:15 PM on July 20, 2001

So: My husband wears t-shirts and 501's as his daily uniform, finished with tevas or vans depending on the weather. He showers twice a day, in the morning and before coming to bed. He doesn't smoke, and his favorite TV show is the Simpsons. Have you figured out his nationality yet? Yep, he's french.

The article that started this thread was fascinating... it talked about the Americanizing of Europeans. I've been travelling to Europe yearly for about ten-twelve years now and I remember when black socks and leather shoes were worn all year round, but those days are gone. Everyone in the world shops at the gap now.

Anyhow, here are some fun facts about the french garnered from our four years together.

French fries (pomme frite) are Belgian, not french. The were invented in Belgium, which is a french and dutch speaking country. That's why they look at you funny when you say they are french-- they are considered -- along with Belgian waffles-- the Belgium gift to cuisine. The reason the french refer to them as pomme frites, btw, is because they speak french. Funny that.

French toast seems to be unknown in France.

Syphilis was called the english disease in France, and the french disease in England, because those two countries were invading each other in turn for hundreds of years. That's stopped happening recently, and now most folks call it syphilis.

French kissing happens often and publicly. In fact, PDA's seem to be way more frequent and smiled upon there than here. But I noticed that in England also, a country considered cool.

Almost everyone smokes all the time in public, and no-smoking zones are a joke. We were sitting in one next to another table that was smoking in the smoking zone. No one's gotten the memo that smoke travels.

The French actually do say "Ooo la la" but not like in the movies where it means "hot mama." It's said quickly, in a low voice "ohlala" and means "oh dear, that's no good, I can't believe it."

I have yet to meet anyone who likes Jerry Lewis, and most don't know who he is.

People on the french metro do stink when it's crowded, but strangely enough I've noticed people on the new york subway stink, as they do on the Rome metro, the BART, the muni and the L. At least I've never been frotted on the metro, unlike on the underground where frotting attempts were common occurrences. The french bathe, but I believe deodorant is not popular... a supermarket aisle has miles of soap, but not much in the way of deodorant.

Fork in left hand, knife in the right and everything is eaten this way including pizza. The only exceptions is white asparagus. White asparagus is found only in the spring, and has an extremely woody exterior. it is cooked and eaten like artichoke... boiled until the inside is soft, then dipped into vinegar and one puts the thing in one's mouth and biting down, pulls the exterior away leaving the insides in the mouth. Wow, writing instructions for visual stuff is hard! Do not try to chew the outside, you'll be chewing for a very long time (as I found out the hard way). Anyhow, IMO it's not worth it... order something else.

Finally I used to hate the french when I travelled because I couldn't believe they didn't understand english or my french. Later I learned that although they do all study it in school, most are quite shy about using it in front of native speakers (imagine whipping your high school Spanish to a Madridano.) And they really can't understand us if we don't' pronounce things correctly. in America we tolerate a huge amount of english mangling. But in French if you pronounce something with an American accent, they genuinely don't understand. I know it feels silly to use a french accent when speaking french, but it makes a big difference to people's ability to understand you are looking for the museum and are not actually insane. Everywhere I've travelled I've learned "please", "thank you" and to count to ten and it makes a huge difference.

okay, my fingers are tired. sorry for the loooong post.
posted by christina at 7:42 PM on July 20, 2001

Ha, Mr. Cooke is sloshed.(check his wallet)
posted by clavdivs at 9:01 PM on July 20, 2001

Very bad shoes - kids, leave the gym shoes at home and dress like adults, okay?

And heaven forbid you be an American with bad feet, that means you're a total asshole, right? Sorry, I'd rather have all of Europe despise me than walk around all day in dress shoes.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:55 AM on July 21, 2001


Your husband is French you say? Then why do you not bother to clarify that French toast, as known in America, is known in France by the name pain perdu and is a delicious although heavy desert.

I can only imagine that you are berating white asparagus to keep the secret from the masses. Maybe you are not, since you labored at your description which has one tiny problem: the asparagus should be peeled before being cooked (and do not eat the tough end). Makes my mouth water just thinking of those white babies.

My experience with Europeans not understanding American english has more to do with the speed at which many speak and lack of clarity in some American speach patterns. I have been stared at blankly in London realizing only too late that I said something like: "KinI'avaboddleawadderplease?"
posted by Dick Paris at 8:10 AM on July 21, 2001

Ah, yes... but that's dessert! And tastier than my mom's french toast. ;-)

I'd forgotten about pan perdu. embarrassing, since I had it only a week ago. I guess I didn't conect the two, but they are made from the same ingrediants. I also like the other low-brow dessert: isle flotant. yum!

As for the asperagus, I hold to my *my*personal experiences, which involved my inlaws and husband's friends never peeling them and always boiling them within an inch of mush. Eh. I like the vinegrette, though. Different strokes for different folks! You are right though, you have to put the pointy end in your mouth to avoid the woody foot. Anyhow, you can get them at berkely bowl if you are living in the bay area.

I wonder how we made so many evening items into breakfast. omelettes are dinner items, pan perdu is dessert, and waffles are snack food....

And yes, my husband still chastizes me for not enunicating. Kinyabringmeabirhon?
posted by christina at 8:25 AM on July 21, 2001

Yo, ezrael - nice way to shut down a light little thread, dude...

(FWIW, I just had to do an in-and-out trip to Orlando, Florida on Friday; anybody who thinks that the "Ugly" Americans are saving up all their vileness to spew upon our unsuspecting Euro-brethren has clearly never through Church Street Station in Orlando at "happy hour" on a hot summer Friday. What was that old Marine saying? "Nuke 'em all and let Walt sort 'em out"?)
posted by m.polo at 12:14 PM on July 21, 2001

I've been glad to stay away from this thread over the weekend. It was a pleasant weekend, all told. Now that I'm briefly back, I'll say three things, then shut up, as hard as a peripatetic reader and writer (in the wandering sense, not the Aristotelian) for me to do that.

For those of you who emailed me with either support or criticism, thanks. Either way. I am glad to see at least a few people get that being involved in something emotionally is not a crime, and for those of you who pointed out that I'm hardly innocent of such excesses as I decry...well, yes. I am not proud of my failures, but they do exist. (Although I think relating an expurgated, and limited to Scotland, excerpt from my experiences traveling abroad hardly makes me forget how other experiences traveling abroad made me feel.)

For those of you who think me a troll...I neither started this thread nor posed more than three or four times to it, and all of my posts were well-thought out and never insulted anyone directly. Was I angry, and engaged? You bet. I make no apologies for caring about something.

For how light-hearted and fun this thread was before I got here, I can only laugh. Anyone who's ever had a pack of men pick a fight with him because they think he's from New York and they know all people from New York are scrappers as it was so quaintly put knows how much fun it is to be lumped in with every single other person from your homeland.

I'm questioning if a more rational, less emotional attempt to express what I was thinking would have been more effective at reaching people. I suspect it just would have been ignored, though, from experience. Again, sure, there are plenty of American tourists who are guilty of the cardinal sin of traveling overseas without being native to the regions they travel to. Gasp. Likewise, what horrors that the French don't share the American obsession with shaving perfectly natural body hair, or fill in the foreign habit that some find offensive here.

Again, as the original article stated (and as I have in the past...go to my blog and look for the American Bastard post, if you want.) American habits are spreading. My point, ultimately, is this: if you want to judge people based on them, then good luck to you, because it will come around eventually.
posted by Ezrael at 7:54 AM on July 23, 2001

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