How To Not Be An ‘Ugly American’

“You need to speak a little better English, Señor!”

5 min readAug 13, 2021


By Khosro on Shutterstock

“Ya, I have one, you need to speak a little better English, I could barely understand you!” the crass voice cackled from the back of the group. It was the kind of voice that makes nails on a chalkboard sound like Mozart. I looked back at her in both disbelief and disgust, and a little embarrassment that I shared a country with her.

We were at a popular destination in Mexico. I’ll say it again, Mexico. The local tour guide asked if anyone on the tour had any feedback positive or negative about how the tour went that day.

Karen “the voice” McEnglish in the back had a problem that a Mexican guy, who typically speaks Spanish and was only accomodating us by speaking English, didn’t have his act together enough to polish up his English so she could understand. Luckily he shot back “well, ma’am, you are in Mexico.” Yes!

I felt like slapping her. “How about YOU learn some Spanish,” I told her afterwards. “You are in HIS country and you complain about him not catering enough to you with polished English. Embarrassing.”

This, my friends, is an ugly American.

The Collins Dictionary defines Ugly American as:

An American who travels to a foreign country and gives the United States a bad reputation by acting in an offensive way.

The Urban Dictionary elaborates:

An Ugly American is an American citizen that visits a foreign country and views everything from an American standard, refusing to acknowledge local culture and standards. Because of this ethnocentric viewpoint, the American is often ignorant to or dismissive of the foreign culture and is perceived as rude.

I’d seen this entitlement/ignorance combo before.

As a Marine, a bunch of us 19-year-old dudes were let loose for a weekend in some foreign country. Most of it was great. We’d meet and have great conversations with the locals, drink their beer, and eat amazing new foods. For most of us, it was the adventure of a lifetime and we were good representations of both the Marine Corps and America. We showed respect to other cultures. Some of us even married the “locals.”