The Ugly American


Lake Orta

Despite all of the stereotypes and legends, the truth is that American tourists are usually no better nor no worse than any other group of tourists.  What they may lack in terms of linguistic capabilities (which is much in comparison to tourists from any other country), is often made up for in terms of generosity and goodwill (like being content with even the smallest courtesy).

And yet there are many Americans who actually live in Italy full-time who seem to hate the place and who attract the inevitable comment from their Italian hosts, “If you don’t like it, why don’t you go back home?”  And while this is not an attitude that I particularly share (after all, you are entitled to your opinion, even as a foreigner), it sometimes rings true when you consider that unlike most other immigrants (from sub-Saharan Africa, for example) going home is always an option, and no Americans here have been forced to emigrate for economic reasons.

I met one of these Americans this morning waiting outside the Consulate in Milan, where I had gone with my family to renew passports.  Due to a new US State Department regulation, no bags are allowed to enter even the security check-point of the embassy, and this includes women’s purses.  My wife, naturally, had to rid herself of hers, and the security guys suggested the cafè on the corner, which is doing a brisk business of holding your bags for 5 euros a pop.

5 minutes later, while we were just about to enter the security zone, an American women in her late 40s showed up, and she too was told kindly to find a place for her bag.  She went into mild hysterics, calling the situation ridiculous, unreasonable, etc., to the point of asking the security guard rhetorically what on earth she was supposed to do with her “frigging purse”, to which he responded only that she should take it up with the State Department, not him.  (After all, he’s not even an American security guard.)

Up to now, she was just a slightly bitchy American.  She turned ugly when I told her that the cafè would hold it for her.

“Oh yeah, right, like I’m going to leave my bag at an Italian cafè.  I’ve lived here long enough to know better than that.”

Her rude tone toward me, who was just trying to be helpful, didn’t help, but what really pissed me off was her accusation that all these Italians are thieves and not to be trusted, and no, you can’t go telling me that about the country I love.

“And I’ve lived here long enough to know that absolutely nothing will happen to your bag if you leave it in that cafè.”  (Which is, incidentally, 100% true.)

She stormed into a litany of woes, like her smashed in car windows and her apartment that is broken into “daily”, but I wasn’t listening anymore.  Eventually she left in a huff.

She’s probably one of those who is constantly complaining about Italy, up down and center, and so you know what, she should just go back home.  I myself prefer the following Italy:

The one where inside the Consulate, an older Italian man waiting for his grandson’s passport turns out to be the director of a major classical music festival on Lake Orta, and invites you to come up and get in touch with him this July.

The one where total strangers in a cafè pay for your coffee just because they’re feeling generous and think your kids are cute.

And definitely the one where the cafè next to the American Consulate tells you “Nah, don’t worry about it” for the 5 euros for holding your bag, just because you haven’t been gone very long.  That’s the Italy I love.

I just hope they didn’t give the discount to that dumb cow.

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