Bora Bora, 2005-10-24
I title my travel blog "Ugly American" as a joking reference to an Italian saying which was common in the postwar era:
It was a reaction to the bad manners displayed by many American tourists. They had money but lacked culture. Disrespectful of social rituals, uncomprehending of art or history or custom. A stereotype, but one based in reality, as I learned in my travels in a much later era.
In an English airport, a family of Americans sat loudly complaining to one another over lack of familiar condiments. "I asked for condiments, she brought me horseradish..." In a jaded tone implying it was the waitress who lacked civilization, not the Americans.
In Athens restaurants, Americans sat sullen, not conversing even with each other, much less befriending the waiters. They shot us daggered looks while my friend and I drank and joked and laughed it up with the staff and the many visitors from other countries. We were friendly, and festive, and popular. Other Americans seemed to resent us because we spoke to the locals. Their aloofness reeked of rejection and insularity, and a hierarchical commitment to being served.
The ugliest were an Evangelical couple from Alabama by their accents, who forced me off the stairs at the Areopagus although I was clearly gripping the guardrail from necessity. When I called them out for it they wanted to argue rules of the road.
: entitled, arrogant, unconcerned.
I felt embarrassed for my countrypeople. They don't read, they know nothing of history or culture or art or civilization, and they expect the people in whose country they're guests to accommodate their rude insensitivity. Bumpkins with bucks.
This of course is not true of everyone. But it was distressingly common.
I have nowhere to go with this. It's just a complaint, and I recognize its elitism. The fact that it's based on direct personal experience seems more sad than anything else. Why post it, then? I dunno. Protest I suppose.
Where the rude or oblivious Americans themselves are seldom the point. Most of my travel pieces are essentially extended commentary on the accompanying photo, where the photo was my reason for being there. The photo and the text are a set, where each comments on the other, or adds a dimension to the other, or thumbs its nose at the other, or something or other. Many times the text was written years after, even decades after.
So, what's in a name? A joke, a protest, a bit of self-deprecation. After all, maybe I'm the worst
of all. I'd be the last to know. Based on the vehemence of my confrontation with those clueless Evangelicals at the Areopagus it's entirely possible.
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The Ugly American Travel Blog
Prose and Photography by Mark Phillips
I walked from my hotel in Papeete across from the Moorea ferries all the way to Point Venus...
In a dilapidated courtyard, on a run-down veranda...
On the road within 200 meters of Club Med you reach tin-roof shacks without walls...
I was not able to predict what the trade-offs would be.
Athens smells of cigarettes and diesel.
It was white then, but it's brown now.
And so we settle down to an Athenian routine.
Aloof Americans at other tables.
Lord of the Lion's House of strength
I would ask the Oracle, if she lived:
Eat, drink, flirt, sleep.
Comfortable hotel, beautiful museum, extraordinary views, unbelievable restaurant.
My traveling companion has a system.
Travel in Africa when Obama was President:
The buses' air conditioners sound like beehives.
Much of the commercialization feels incompetent.
We share the site with an Italian drama class.
Far from the madding crowd.
It's pleasant, but it's corrupt.
Phidias' workshop was identified and excavated in the 1950s...
Americans wear brand tshirts.
Visitors on the stones.
Illuminating Plato's cave.
Walk in the sky.
Eye lock on the dockside...
The Philip Morris yacht Marlboro I...
The American surfers have very lovely friends.
Cold. Sting of disappointment.
Students and their English.
Woman with oxygen gushes, delighted:
"This is cool!"
The smell of burning leaves.
The European assimilation of Tahiti with Eden...
Think about the impressive things which humans accomplish.
"Stop makin' all that racket!"
I showed Miss Vega the Southern Cross.
The resorts are
Scrawny little thing, she looks so skinny.
I closed my eyes and walked the length of the pier imagining what it would be like to be blind.
In a cottage on the grass behind the beach...
Sea birds have voices...
Rose, lovely and helpful, stands friendly behind the reception desk.
Each room is like its own lifetime.
Le Docteur Francais who doesn't speak English...
Young woman in tears.
Gauguin's women are everywhere on the streets.
Pain. Loneliness. Struggle.
Hawaiian-style pedal steel drifts from a bar on Boulevard Pomare.
Pretty girl, white sun dress, white hat.
Honeymooners, retired couples.
The monks are experienced canvassers.
Stocky mom from Stockton.
Gray-haired husband, gray-haired wife...
Heavyset college-age man...
"Ya got no BAAAAAALLLLS..."
build their houses on stilts..."
"These U.S. people live all their lives in air conditioning."
"Her uncle was a roadie for the Beatles."
Pudgy white tourist in the omelette line.
The word "paradise"...
"Talk about a cultural icon, Andrew!"
Sydney was evidently designed by someone who plays a lot of SimCity.
Food with flavor.
Lack of pollution.
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