On being Anti-American

Buenos Aires Travel Blog

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I consider myself a somewhat well traveled individual, and while I haven’t seen the world, I have seen enough to know that I want more. The biggest problem I have with traveling is overcoming stereotypes. I’ve traveled with both South Africans and Americans, and while I thought that being branded a racist was bad, I hadn’t really experienced true anti-American sentiment until last night. Being Jill’s birthday, we decided to combine our ambition to see more of the neighborhood and an excuse to celebrate into an evening of good food and some dancing. Knowing we didn’t have a reservation, and that there were 16 of us, we decided to try eat before the dinner rush. We chatted with the hostess about accommodating our group and were perfectly happy with being split up into different tables. After being told to come back in 20 minutes we grabbed a quick drink next door and returned in time to be sat. The 5 more minutes that we were told to wait slowly turned into another 20 before reaching almost an hour on top of the original 20. I understand that the pace of BA is unique, and we’d come expecting that. What was frustrating was that tables of equal or bigger sizes were sat before us when they hadn’t been waiting nearly as long. Eventually some of the group went to another restaurant, thus defeating the celebration purpose, and our spirits were definitely down.


Our food was excellent and the wine perfectly complimentary, but the service was terrible. We were made to feel completely unwelcome and almost rude for having dared dined there. I understand we’re a big group, and I understand that we stick out, but we’re trying. Of everywhere else I’ve been, just the fact that you’re trying counts for something, but seemingly not here. My Spanish has improved tenfold since I got to BA, and while it isn’t great, my effort should at least count for something. As we left, I apologized to our waiter for being such an apparent hassle and was glad when he blushed slightly. The way we were treated was my first experience of anti-American sentiment and let me tell you, it’s not something I would wish on my worst enemy. What angered me wasn’t that I was being confused for an American, or even that I was being considered one by association, it was that in that instance we were trying our best to be so un-American and still got slapped in the face. At my table were two excellent Spanish speakers and everyone was polite. I’d hate to see how the table at which one of the students was wearing a BASEBALL cap was treated.


We salvaged what was left of our night and went out dancing. Four of us girls went, and we met an Ecuadorian friend from the res there. While in line the chicos behind us heard us talking English, assumed we were American and starting spouting out racial slurs, including the ‘n’ word in an attempt to get our attention. That was the first of many times we were harassed during the night, the last of which occurred when our cab driver tried to take us the wrong way home. I woke up this morning with a horrible sense that the Portenos we came into contact with last night were hypocrites, no better than the American stereotypes they love to hate.


Putting it out of my mind, a few of us went on another explorative adventure and on the way home stopped off at a local grocery store a little ways away from the res. While there we ran into both classmates and teachers. On our walk home we saw some more classmates in a café and stopped to chat, and were later asked for directions by a Spanish speaking girl. The turnaround was amazing. Just last night I felt ostracized for being who I am, and not 12 hours later we were being confused for locals. My faith in humanity once more restored, my step quickened (even if only to avoid being hit by a bus) and a small smile spread across my face.


I feel that maybe now I can sympathize with both the American, and the anti-American sides, and perhaps I needed an experience like last night to put the issue in perspective. Regardless, I think people should think before they judge, and that credit for trying should be given when it’s due.

Vagabondatheart says:
Emily, I can always go around and pretend I'm from Korea, where I was born, but I don't. Instead, I tell those I meet on the road, I'm an American living in Calif. who was born in Korea. Suffice to say, you have ignorance everywhere, and even if you have 10 good incidents and one bad, I think it's common to reflect on the one bad incident. You write eloquently and having also been on the receiving side of anti-Amercian attitudes, among other things, I found that, as you know already, is to best represent yourself and perhaps influence and change others' preconceived stereotypes and opinions on their own accord by the example you set forth. I miss BA and I truly miss Kapp Stad! Lekker dag! ;-)
Posted on: Jun 10, 2007
Amanda says:
Thank you for sharing your experience - it's very interesting to hear, and I'm glad to have read it!!
Posted on: Jun 10, 2007
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