Indiana University Overseas Study

Megan Shaffer

The “ugly American” stereotype is so often perpetuated, that it is often assumed that all Americans are the same: loud, arrogant, and disrespectful. Sitting down at a restaurant in Prague, the waitress asks where I am from and openly rolls her eyes and grunts after hearing my response. Is it fair?  No.  But I can see why it happens.  A little over halfway through my semester, I have witnessed the “ugly American” stereotype being fulfilled in 4 different countries and in over 10 cities.

While on a tour of a museum in Budapest, a couple of American students walking alongside me were making fun of our Hungarian guide’s accent. They were laughing so loudly that it was difficult for me to hear what the guide was saying.  Loud and disrespectful – the “ugly American” stereotype.  Once I went to a restaurant in a small town near Rome with some of my classmates.  The restaurant did not have menus and none of the employees spoke any English, so needless to say we had a very difficult time ordering.  The owner of the restaurant, however, was very kind and patient and did his best to explain some of their best items.  One of my classmates was frustrated at the owner’s inability to speak English, and after he left the table, he called him an idiot.  Openly expressing the arrogant attitude that everyone should speak English –  the “ugly American” stereotype.  In Italy, people dress modestly and always for the season. For women, this means tights under skirts and dresses from October to May. Every weekend that I go out in Rome I see young, American study abroad students wearing short, tight dresses with bare legs in February. Dressing inappropriately – the “ugly American” stereotype.

Castel Sant'Angelo

My friends and I in front of Castel Sant’Angelo.

I was told that studying abroad would widen my perspective, and it has.  Through conversations with foreigners and observations of many American tourists and students, I have discovered why Americans are perceived so negatively internationally.  Of course, the majority of American tourists are perfectly respectful when in foreign countries, but it is those who are not that stand out and are the most memorable.  In one of my courses at school, we discussed “cultural intelligence,” which is the ability to observe one’s surroundings and adapt one’s behavior accordingly.  Tall, fair, and blonde with camera in hand – there is no hiding that I am a foreigner, but I do my best to blend in.  Each time I travel somewhere new, I become more culturally intelligent.  I have learned to be more observant of my surroundings, and to dress and act accordingly.  My friends and I have become more conscious of our noise level, and aim to never be the loudest in a restaurant. I always try my best to speak in a country’s native language before assuming that someone can speak English.  So next time you travel outside of the United States, put in a little extra effort to be more culturally aware, and let’s put an end to this stereotype.

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