The New Ugly Americans

It is likely that most people around the world know the term “ugly American.” In the post-World War II years when American power and American dollars dominated the globe, Americans began to travel the world in larger numbers visiting the places they only knew from movies and novels. Along the way, we earned a reputation for being loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless, ignorant, and ethnocentric. Based on press reports and my own recent experiences, it may be time to hand the number one spot on the most hated tourist list to the Chinese.

My recent experiences with Chinese tourists in Europe and Thailand have not been pleasant nor have they brought out the best in me, either. I have rationalized my own bad behavior with a desire to survive against the onslaught of Chinese tourists who seem not understand the concept of personal space, lines, order, taking turns, courtesy or respect for local culture and customs. Perhaps like an earlier generation of Americans they think that being wealthy makes their behavior acceptable.

This past summer my wife was painting near the Uffizi Gallery Museum in Florence, Italy. If you paint in a public space, you have to accept that people will stop to watch you working, perhaps ask a few questions and take some photos. What you do not expect is people crawling over you like ants at a picnic, wanting to pose with your easel as a prop while friends snap photos, standing between you and your landscape while they take photos of you, leaning over you to get a better shot of the work in progress, and to do all of this in unison. It felt like and assault. I had to position myself to block the overly curious Chinese out of her space so she could paint.

I have had other unpleasant experiences with Chinese tourists but the encounters this week at the Grand Palace in Bangkok brought out the worst in me. My pants did not come to my ankles so I had to rent a pair from the Palace. You pay a 200 baht deposit which is refunded when you return the pants. The Chinese tourist behind me attempted to get around the Thai guard but she rebuffed their efforts, blocked their entry and sent them to the same line I was waiting in for my turn to rent pants. They decided it was not necessary to wait and started pushing to the front. I installed myself in the doorway and stopped them. Much like the character in the photo I placed a foot against each side of the door frame, put my hands on my hips, extended my elbows, and filled the door frame. A few pushed against me but none attempted to squeeze between my knees and elbows.

Chedi Guard
Chedi Guard
Guards
Guards

The Palace is also the home of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, or Phra Si Rattana Satsadaram, which is regarded as the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand. Many signs in numerous languages ask you to observe silence near the Temple. Tour guides are allowed to speak and explain what you are observing. I noticed that the guides are economical in their descriptions and use a lowered voice when speaking. The screaming Chinese tourists felt no such restrictions and ignored the pleas of the Thais as they shouted for others to join them in seeing the Temple.

Outside Temple
Outside Temple

At the end of my tour, I waited in line to return my pants and claim my refund. As my turn came a Chinese woman rushed up the line and placed her claim ticket in front of mine. I must have been channeling Thotsakhirithon. Without premeditation, I slapped her hand and her claim ticket away. She seemed stunned and retreated. She quickly recovered and jumped in front of the person behind. He was polite and allowed her to take his place.

Thotsakhirithon
Thotsakhirithon
Thotsakhirithon Head
Thotsakhirithon Head

I probably could have been nicer but if I had been then I would still be standing in line to rent my pants. I would have never made it to the refund line. The Chinese may be the new Ugly Americans but when we meet head-to-head I am not giving up the title without a fight.

The Palace is also the home of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, or Phra Si Rattana Satsadaram, which is regarded as the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand. Many signs in numerous languages ask you to observe silence near the Temple. Tour guides are allowed to speak and explain what you are observing. I noticed that the guides are economical in their descriptions and use a lowered voice when speaking. The screaming Chinese tourists felt no such restrictions and ignored the pleas of the Thais as they shouted for others to join them in seeing the Temple.

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One thought on “The New Ugly Americans

  1. In their defense, I must say that their culture does not use lines, or taking turns. If you fight your way to the front of a line to enroll your child in kindergarten you are doing something good for your family. Their concept of personal space is much smaller than a Western person’s. Living in the Bay Area of California I see this all the time. It doesn’t make it easier to accept. I will show this to a family member who lives in Taiwan- maybe he can explain it better than I can.

    Liked by 1 person

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