Beauty may only be skin deep, but ugly reaches deep inside. The inner ugly is the idea behind the pejorative term, “ugly American.” Americans aptly described this way suffer from what I call B.A. In other words, they have a bad attitude towards non-Americans. Ugly Americans act in an arrogant and demeaning manner towards those from other countries and cultures.
Perhaps you, yourself, don’t act this way, but Americans as a whole may be labeled “ugly” because of how highly visible Americans behave. While the initial thought might be that American tourists are the ones giving the rest of us Americans a bad name, that is not always the case. U.S. corporate businesses in the international arena have made Americans seem pretty ugly by mistreating the locals.
A vivid portrayal of this scenario occurs in the 2015 Owen Wilson movie, “No Escape.” Wilson’s character, an engineer, arrives in an unidentified South East Asian country to start a new job. Timing being everything, he shows up just in time for a violent coup. Citizens of this country were upset that foreign (translate American) businesses controlled their water supply. They are mad and are not going to take it any more. Looting and killing.will take care of that problem, they think.
Wilson’s character runs for his life. He is a target, not because of anything he has personally done, but because he is an American. That label inextricably links him with the American businesses taking advantage of the citizens of the foreign country in which he finds himself. He is thus “ugly” and suffers the wrath of the citizens of that country.
Americans being “ugly” is not a new development. The concept was the basis of the 1958 best seller, The Ugly American., a political novel penned by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick. .The book addressed the failures of the U.S. Diplomatic Corps in Southeast Asia. Not deigning to learn of the local culture, language, and customs, did not serve the Americans well in that area.
The current political climate makes a strong case for non-Americans concluding that the U.S. is a nation of ugly Americans. America First is the major theme of the Trump administration; the president embraced this philosophy off the bat, referring to it in his inaugural address. While I do not disagree with the idea that taking care of our country is and should be the primary concern, I am not sure that the way that idea is now being expressed gives our world neighbors any warm, fuzzy feelings about Americans. In my opinion it seems to gratingly come across that we only care about ourselves.
This perception is only going to be exacerbated by the political actions taken in support of America First. President Trump has announced major penalty tariffs on steel (25%) and aluminum (10%) imports. Certainly a $375 billion trade deficit with China needs to be addressed. But, placing oneself in a non-American’s shoes, you can see how these actions might be viewed as economic bullying by ugly Americans.
While tough talk and actions may be called for, I would suggest that Americans balance that harshness by showing their soft side. Reading The Ugly American prompted John F. Kennedy to work to establish the Peace Corps, a means to assist those in other countries. Anyone in the world can relate to the idea that taking care of one’s own is the top concern; however, non-Americans need to be shown that Americans do care about others outside their country and are not solely concerned about taking care of themselves, including lining their red, white and blue pockets.
Do I have the solution? No. Do I want to enter politics? No. Do I care about others who aren’t Americans? Yes. Is the ugly American really a problem? Yes! If you don’t think so, let me tell you a true story from an encounter with residents of another continent.
In November 2016, I went on a mission trip to Ecuador with a group from my church. During a down time, some of our group set out on a hike up to a waterfall. The views were stunning. I felt like I was in another world far away from my real life. Here I was in the Andes on a narrow trail in the middle of nowhere. Who would care about politics in this idyllic setting?
Well, politics reared its ugly head. As we progressed along the trail, our group encountered a couple of local residents. One was a very old man. These men spoke in Spanish to a couple of men in my group. It was obvious that our group was composed of Americans, if not from our clothing, definitely from our language. What do you think this little old Ecuadorean man wanted to ask Americans? Did he want to know what our country looks like? Did he want to know what type of houses Americans live in? Was he curious as to what type of food Americans eat? No, sir. He asked if Donald Trump was going to deport all the immigrants when he took office. This Ecuadorean man was very friendly to us Americans in his country; nevertheless, he perceived Americans were being hostile, i.e., ugly, to non-Americans in the U.S.
Where different countries exist, there are going to be different points of view, different ways of running things, and different ways of addressing issues. As my mother always said, “You can disagree without being disagreeable.” I will modify her words slightly. Americans can disagree with other countries, but we don’t have to be disagreeable, i.e., “ugly,” in doing so. Americans can do what needs to be done, but let’s do so in a civil and respectful manner. Let’s make “ugly” a four letter word in the figurative sense when dealing with our world neighbors. It’ll make the world a more beautiful place.
Just WONDER-ing: Have you ever been in a situation where your status as an American was viewed negatively? Was that because of something you had done or was it guilt by association with ugly Americans?