In America we believe that anyone can grow up to president – or a carpenter, a kindergarten teacher, a porn star or a nuclear physicist. (Someday I’m going to write a story about the woman I knew who was two of those, and a man I knew who was the other two.) In America we proudly protect the small freedoms as well. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness means people can speak loudly in stores, ignore the fact that most of the world’s population speaks a language other than English, or complain that there’s no where to get decent pizza outside New Jersey. In other words, in America, we believe that everyone has the right to be a jerk.
So why do so many people think the rules ought to change when Americans travel to other countries? I’m not talking about breaking local laws or disrespecting cultural traditions or religions, I’m talking about the right to be ignorant, loud, overweight or poorly dressed. I’m talking about the right to be a jerk.
– If I want to announce that the immigration lines move much faster at JFK, I can (they don’t).
– If I want to declare, at any volume, that the Frick Museum in New York is better, I can (it is).
– If I want to tell everyone that the problem with foreign food is all the weird spices, like garlic and oregano, oh wait – that was a Brit, never mind.
Open any travel book, talk to any tour guide, go to any website about traveling in foreign countries, and you will be overwhelmed by anecdotes on ugly Americans, who they are, how to spot them, and how they reflect badly on the rest of us. Then you will receive a checklist instructing you how not to be one of “those” tourists:
– don’t say “how much is that in real money”
– don’t wear baseball caps or sneakers with socks
– learn to say please, thank you, and count to ten in the local language
– don’t tell everyone you meet how it’s so much better in America and if only the locals would …
I can sum up all this advice on how to be a good tourist as,”people who tell other people what to do are jerks.” Hmmm…
But my real question is this: why do I have to represent the rest of you? Says who? Why do I have to care what Kamchatkans think of my footwear, just because you do? If I go into a bank and ask for “two hundred bucks worth of the local play dough”, what’s it to you, or the bank teller, or the entire city of Cairo? Just because you think trying interesting local cuisine is fun, why do I have to order the ortolan avec sauce printemps instead of 2 poached eggs avec bacon? I agree that if you act like a polite guest you will be treated like a polite guest, in travel too you reap what you sow. However, you have every right to be a jerk, it’s the essence of liberty.
In fact, now that I think about it, maybe being a jerk doesn’t reflect badly on America at all. In America, we believe that everyone has the right to be a jerk.