Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Ugly American

The first time I left North America I was 14 years old. During my initial year of living abroad, I became aware that Americans sometimes have a certain “ugly” reputation. It didn't take me long to understand the cause.


“Ugly American” individuals were easy to spot, and made far too frequent of an appearance in my years overseas.  I quickly learned to recognize them and steer clear. Having left American soil as a tourist or sometimes an expat, these poor representatives of America often could be heard even before they were seen. On a crowded bus or at a tourist attraction, his or her English words would rise above the din of the crowd, loud and complaining. Nothing was ever “as good as it is at home.” Shouting, (perhaps because they assumed it would help them to be better understood) they would make disparaging remarks about how “no one around here speaks English.” Their criticisms included but were not limited to the food, the people, the customs, the climate, and all things un-American or different to which they were accustomed. When they rudely claimed (while a guest in another country) that “America is the best nation in the world,” it left their audience with plenty of room for doubt.

At first, I tried to distance myself by emphasizing the Canadian heritage of my dual American-Canadian citizenship. But gradually, I realized the importance of diluting those impressions by acting as a “good" American. By representing the United States well, I hoped to help reverse any negative impact those “ugly" Americans were making. I wanted to prove that most of us are different from those unsavory individuals. 

I woke up this morning still stunned by the results of the 2016 American Presidential election, and realized that a similar situation now exists within the United States. Those of us not willing to be the “Ugly American” have a significant job to do. 

Somehow, despite having just elected as our next president a man whose well-documented episodes of prejudice, vulgarity, lack of judgment, and hatred characterize him as the “ugliest” of Americans, we must now find a way to show the world (and ourselves) that most citizens of the United States are better than that. It is up to each of us to ensure that what ensues from this election does not perpetuate and make that ugliness any more of a widespread reality. If the majority of American citizens do not uphold the core values of acceptance, respect, inclusivity, decency and basic humanity, then America should not be called the "land of the free."  

I am fearful that many of the votes in this election were cast in support of racism, misogyny, intolerance, and hatred; however, I maintain hope that most Americans do not really want these injustices to take stronger root and flourish. We must all now assume responsibility to be certain that this does not happen, and find ways to encourage our new President-Elect to consistently behave better than he has in the past.

America has long been referred to as a "melting pot" of people, and it has been our differences that has helped to make us strong. Every American who despises bigotry and inequality must now strive even harder to set an example that is consistently tolerant, accepting and just. We cannot afford to let the hatred that was unleashed in this election take hold and reverse the strides we have been making towards human rights and equality for all. 

If we are to shed the image of the ugly American both at home and abroad, we must all  - including our politicians and our newly elected American President - treat every human being with equality and respect each other's differences. We can only hope that even the people who have not behaved so in the past will soon begin to change ... for our future, the future of our country, and the future of the world. 


Blog Owner's Note: I haven't published here for some time, for a variety of reasons. I apologize to anyone who has visited here and been disappointed to find no new content so far this fall. I'm not yet sure of the future for this blog, but today I just could not let the results of the election take place without comment. 
Feel free to leave your comments, but please try to refrain from any "ugliness."


  1. Susan interesting point . I have to say as an American born and raised in Brooklyn, New York I too believed we were the melting pot and that "ugly Americans" were few and far between but this election showed the opposite. You can't really believe in respect and freedom and equality for all and vote for this man. You can't believe in women's value and vote for this man. You can't believe the "American" dream is obtainable for all and vote for this man. I'm broken hearted to face the fact that America showed its true side in this election. It's full of hatered and I just hope and pray that those of us who don't view humanity in that light can survive these next four years.

  2. Great to hear from you again, Susan. Great post too. I have spent most of today racking my brain to try to understand why anyone with a brain would vote for someone so vile. I can't. Women voted for him. Some whites, some non whites. Uneducated, educated. So on and so forth. To me, voting for T means you are a bigot one way or the other, consciously or unconsciously. You also probably don't care about the marginalized and have only the brain capacity to view and understand implications within your tiny world with a limited worldview. I could go on and on and still end up puzzled. Moving on is hard. But you are right. We all need to find healing. Hugs to you, my friend. We need it, esp. On a day like today. :(

  3. What a rich and thoughtful post, Susan. As a Canadian watching from afar, my heart goes out to you. I urge you to check out Garrison Keillor's piece in today's Washington Post. It left me feeling refreshed and a heck of a lot more positive.
    Lovely to see you back here. Sending you a jumbo hug.

  4. We're concerned as far away as Australia!
    I can't help wondering what the outcome would have been if voting was compulsory in your country.

  5. It is lovely to see you back, but the reason for your return makes my heart ache. One day at a time. With hope, and kindness.
    I do hope that if you decide to disontinue your blog you will stop in and let us know.

  6. I am sometimes so terrified about where this world is going. But I am convinced that there is a lot of wonderful, warmhearted and loving people, in every country! I know there is and I know all the hard work standing up against racism, intolerance and hatred which all are from the same source: fear and envy.
    I live in Sweden an we are as chocked as you are. Most people here did not hope for this to happen, though there is a lot of these anger and hatred here as well...

    But I think we have to keep on loving and caring, sharing humanity, we just have to do that<3

  7. So happy to see you back Susan! I still haven't been able to articulate how I feel about this election - I think I'm shock! When George and I were in Paris, we were very careful to at least attempt to communicate in French, and respect the culture, so we wouldn't be seen as "ugly americans". Very thoughtful writing, Susan. Hope all is well!

  8. Oh, Susan. Your piece brought tears to my eyes. John and I both feel that the American democrats had a chance to vote for a decent, honest man and instead chose a woman with a lot of "baggage" which I knew Mr. Trump would never ease up on. So...we ended up with a poor choice. However...I think I feel like you. I cannot believe what just happened and will happen to our country. The wrong people are now in office everywhere! Thank goodness our Governor won or it would be so bad for Montana. I just want to cover up my head for four years and not see what's going on. It won't be pretty. I guess we just have to put some pressure on the people we can to do the right things. I have missed your blogs. I hope all is well with you.

  9. What a beautiful post Susan! I have missed you so much. I hope this means that you are back!

  10. Susan,
    Great article, I remember once in a motel in Nairobi keeping my distance from “Ugly Americans” due to their loudness, obvious American style of dress, and stereotypical photographers vest for Safari-ing.
    I believe that the so called “Hidden Trump Vote” that the pollsters did not see, were actually embarrassed voters who despite their embarrassment of Trump’s actions and words voted for him due to desire for some type of change, any change. I pray that it is not their belief in racism, oppression of minorities and women etc. I’m ok with their votes as this Democracy allows for and stands for voicing your opinion by anonymous voting.
    I’m ok in principal of the post-election vocal and open protest of his election also. Although I am sorely disappointed in the violence of some of the protest, these efforts would have been so much better served prior to the election in registering voters, door knocking, public forums of discussion and vocal support for their opposing candidates.
    I hope that the people who are now protesting and those that mourn the Democratic loss will resolve to not forget. That they will use their energies to watch and vocalize their support of all agendas that they oppose that may be brought forth by the next government, that they will use their energies to make an equal change in the next National Election in 4 years.
    I would prefer to see the minority of celebrities who said they will leave the country (I really don’t care if they do leave) use their status to watch dog what may come in the future, vocalize their support or opposition, and help keep America the home of free, land of the brave. As it was, is, and will continue to be a wonderful Nation, strong, caring, and the place I call home.

  11. It is so nice to hear your voice again, Susan! And I give you a hearty Hear! Hear! to this post!


If you enjoyed this post, I would love it if you share it on your social media sites and with your friends!