I love America.
I really do.
I love its beauty, its vast landscapes, beaches, and mountains.
I love its wide variety of choices and cultures.
I love its music, its art, its movies, its toughness and its weaknesses.
I love New York City, San Francisco and New Orleans. I love Chicago and DC. Shit, I even love Baltimore, West Virginia and New Jersey!
But I have to say that after a recent two-week excursion to Italy that I am not too sure if I have that same love for Americans.
Not all Americans (of course) there are plenty of awesome ones! Like any reading this post (you, yes, YOU are totally awesome!).
I am sure you have heard the term “The Ugly American” at some point in your life. In general, yes, we are quite an ugly nation of people. When you have 300 million and counting, percentages say that not all can look like Brangelina. But what I came to learn upon said trip to Italy was that the term does not necessarily refer to an American’s looks. It’s referring to the American attitude. We are a pushy, cocky, self-centered, loud people and nowhere else does this become more apparent than when you travel abroad. And look, I am no world-traveling-snob, this was my very first trip across the pond, but it didn’t take long at all to realize just how easily an American sticks out in a city such as Florence. For one thing, Italians call it Firenze not Florence. They also call Rome “Roma.” I guess they simplified it for our sake? For another, you can usually tell an American by hearing them, in that, you HEAR them. Sure, I probably pick out the American accent easier than, say, a Swiss one, but it’s the sheer volume of how we speak that separates us from our European brethren. That is not to say there aren’t plenty of loud Europeans. Oh yes, there are quite a few of those too. I suppose it’s because our land is so big (along with our food portions, cars, and bellies) that we feel the need to make sure our speaking voices are heard. And if you are from the East Coast like me then you probably talk loud because you spend half of your conversations trying to talk over the other East Coasters you are conversing with (we tend to all speak at once).
Here are some examples of conversations I overheard other Americans having with each other or with the locals while I was in Italy:
1. While dining in Firenze (remember, that’s Florence for all you Americans) a group of four middle-aged women were talking to an Italian couple sitting next to them when the (soft-spoken) Italian man asked, “So yes, Obama is your first black president. You must be excited for that?” to which one woman responded “Well, I don’t care what color they are but I’ll tell you this: Americans don’t like him!” What? Americans don’t like Obama? News to everyone who voted for him.
2. While sitting on the beach in Monterosso a rather large married couple sat next to us and proceeded to have a conversation about the differences between Italian and American cultures. Okay, nothing bad there. Except that you could probably have heard them talking from Vernazza (the next town over). Why does it take so long in restaurants? Why do the trains go on strike for 24-hours? Why is it like this? Why isn’t it like that? It’s a wonder how Italy survived for thousands of years without Americans!!!
3. On a bus ride to Sienna two young American ladies talking louder than a group of 20 Italian school kids. I can’t really tell you what they were saying exactly but I know the word “like” was used at least 5 times in each sentence. “Like, I was out and, like, I told him to, like, you know, go out without me cause, like, I wasn’t gonna, like, call him back.”
Now look, I am not here to bash Americans, we have a lot going for us as well. Mostly, the ability to take trips to Italy and spend our money in their economy. And we met plenty of nice, well-mannered, and cultured American tourists who tried their best to blend in and soak up their surroundings. But make no mistake, The Ugly American is alive and well and there were some times where I simply wished I was Canadian.