June 9, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 48°F


Coming to terms with ugliness

I’d heard about “Ugly Americans.”

Before my trip, people whispered about how horribly ignorant Americans traveling abroad can be. God, I was scared. I didn’t want to be one of them.

Well, it’s been about two weeks, and I can say with certainty we’re all Ugly Americans. But I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing. We’re not trying to be disrespectful. One on one, we’re outgoing and friendly with all Australians we meet — even the insane homeless dudes. But I call us Ugly Americans because as a group, the 24 of us are representative ambassadors of our loud, blatant culture of excess. I’m a little cynical.

The big difference between our cultures is how noisy Americans are. We get noise complaints and weird stares on the bus just having a conversation at our normal volume. Attempting to quantify the difference between an Australian’s noise level and an American’s is like trying to compare a wind chime and a Slayer concert.

We’re often unintentionally rude, too. On the bus to Murdoch University, we do sexually explicit Mad Libs in front of old ladies. We hold up bus lines as we ask for directions. Sometimes, I accidentally lapse into a broken Aussie accent. And we love impersonating Steve Irwin at all times: Crikey! Look at the size of her!

I like to think it’s just a lack of sophistication, but I asked junior Sam McGrath to sum us up.

“We just come off as loud, obnoxious, ugly Americans,” she said. “I feel like we have a hard time adapting, because we’re so set in our ways.”

Junior Dan Hausermann said his American approach to talking to women wasn’t working.

“We’re not a threat to [the Australian guys], and so far I’ve met a lot of really cool dudes down here,” he said. “Not a lot of chicks.”

I decided to get another perspective. I met Gary, a 44-year-old native of Perth, who was drinking a Guinness at an outdoor café.

“So, Gary, what do you think of Americans?”

“Well, they’re mostly friendly, confident, when they’re walking and talking,” he said. “A little more articulate than us Australians.”

I can tell he’s giving me the politically correct answer: very polite, very Australian. I laid it bare.

“Do you mean we’re loud, Gary?”

He smiles.

“A little bit,” he said.

I apologized for interrupting his afternoon beer and left, satisfied that I was, in fact, an Ugly American.

At least I’m a friendly one. That’s good enough for me. I was never good with tact anyway.