Americans are allegedly such lousy travelers that the world has invented an epithet to describe them: “the ugly American.” This term encapsulates their allegedly “arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless, and ethnocentric behavior” and their ignorance of and insensitivity to foreign cultures.
I’m here to demand a little justice. Sure, there are some ugly Americans out there, but while living in the Middle East I have met more ugly Europeans than you would possibly believe.
Most Americans I know who live in Jordan make at least some effort to respect the conservative Muslim culture by dressing modestly. So it was a total shock the first time I went to Petra, and saw crowds of European girls strolling around in spaghetti-string tank tops, bikini tops, and miniskirts. In Le Kef, Tunisia I saw so much skin that I decided the European tour companies must enforce a dress code.
At Mt. Nebo, where Moses first looked down on the Promised Land, I witnessed an irate Italian yelling at the Jordanian ticket agent and a group of tourist police — all of whom had been exceptionally kind and hospitable to us when we arrived. The problem? They wouldn’t give a youth discount to this man’s 14 year-old son (off a base ticket price of about $3). The Italian bellowed and pontificated about how he was a very important lawyer and demanded respect, while his wife and son stood miserably off to one side staring at the ground. Then he stalked off to his hired car and berated his Jordanian driver.
Last winter my family and I went camping in the serene, isolated nature reserve in Wadi Dana. The Jordanian park rangers informed us that one other group had a reservation that night. They rolled in around 8:00 that night: ten Danish girls in their early 20s. They demonstrated their enlightened European culture sensitivity when they began unloading cases of beer from the truck. They spent the night getting obliterated and asking their Jordanian guide to teach them dirty words in Arabic. The party only ended at 4:00am when I stumbled out of my tent and politely asked them to shut up.
The grand prize, though, goes to the Czech backpacker I saw yesterday at the King Hussein/Allenby bridge crossing between Jordan and Israel. He was standing in line behind me, surrounded by hundreds of Palestinian families with their children, wearing a t-shirt with a picture from Woodstock of a topless, stoned girl smoking a joint.
So a little justice for us Americans, please!