February 2, 2021:

I title my travel blog "Ugly American" as a joking reference to an Italian saying which was common in the postwar era: brutti Americani.

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. Brutti Americani: 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 brutto Americano 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.