For class week 4: El Americano Feo

Buenos Aires Travel Blog

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Stereotypes are rarely fun for those on the receiving end.  In this case I’m referring to the “ugly American” label, which I feel has been suddenly and unfairly applied to me and to groups of my fellow students here in this country.  

But I suppose that this is the nature of stereotypes - unfair, not leaving any room for the individual to explain themselves or prove that they fall outside of the narrow scope of the bias.  On several occasions here, I have noticed that locals as well as other international travelers (particularly those from outside of the U.S. or Australia) are much more willing to engage non-Americans in conversation, even non-Americans traveling within our own group.  It is as if they seem to know so much about America already from what they’ve seen in movies that they already think they know exactly what we’re going to say.  When they do decide to engage in conversation, more often than not one of the first questions has to do with whether we like Bush.  It has certainly impacted our group, whether consciously or subconsciously, as I’ve noticed that our members of a different background (despite being born and raised in the States) have begun claiming that second identity as their own, as it seems to open up avenues for more constructive and interesting dialog.    

And I describe it as sudden, because for so much of the time here I’ve felt so comfortable - living the cafĂ© life, shopping at the grocery, having people ask me for directions in Spanish, engaging people in friendly smalltalk as I try to improve my language skills.  I suppose we are lucky in that regard though, that the presence of our stereotype is transient.  It certainly does give one perspective on the misconceptions and misunderstandings among groups within a society, and really makes you wish that everyone, especially Americans, could get out and travel the world a bit more to help our relations at home.  Additionally, having the opportunity to hear different perspectives in the media (particularly world news) and to encounter outsiders’ views on a range of topics (particularly American foreign policy) has a similarly eye-opening effect.  

There are two reasons I feel this stereotyping just seems uncalled for.  First, we are trying.  We are trying to speak Spanish.  I know that I am trying to dress less conspicuously American, and notice that I am uncomfortable when I’m walking around in a group of people sporting flip-flops in winter or hoodies emblazoned with giant American brand names or schools, seemingly telltale signs of stupid tourists.  In other countries - namely European nations - this tactic seems to work well for winning the favor of the locals.  Second, not only are we actively trying to engage them in their language and to take part in their culture through food and music and nightlife, but we are also economically relevant to their businesses.  We could find no other explanation for some of the painfully poor service we witnessed last night other than the fact that we are not portenos.  Now, I will speculate that part of our dissatisfaction with the restaurant service may have resulted from differences between the States and Argentina in terms what constitutes a good dining experience (Americans enjoy prompt acknowledgement, friendly service, a glass the never actually reaches empty, anticipation of the customers’ needs - most definitely and emphasis on service, whereas Argentines seem more content to be left alone by the waitstaff and emphasize the intra-table interactions - the conversation mostly).  So, while stereotypes aren't desirable, they do have the potential to teach us a bit about our societies and human tendencies, and present good jumping-off points for deeper inspection into their roots and significance.    

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1,913 km (1,189 miles) traveled
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