Ugly Americans

When did Americans become so angry? That’s the question of the morning.

I’m writing this at six a.m. in the Orlando airport after watching several outrageous incidents.
First, a man carrying a cup of gourmet coffee screamed at a security checker when she wouldn’t let him into security screening with his precious brew.

“I’ll finish it before I get to x-ray,” he said.

“No beverages, no liquids past this point, period,” she said, pointing to a nearby sign.

This exchange went on for several minutes, getting louder and louder until the man realized he wouldn’t win. He called the woman several choice names, then stalked off, drank his coffee, and was back in less time than it took to fight about it.

I would have forgotten the incident if it were the only one.

But it wasn’t.

A man tried to jump ahead of the line (all two of us) at the Alaska Airlines ticket counter because he was flying first class. We had already been called to the desk, and removing our paperwork.
No choice names this time, but lots of shoving, eye rolling, and finally, an in-vain attempt to use the touch-screen check-in.

The Alaska employee was Not Amused. She seemed to be taunting him as we left, closing her window and letting him continue his fruitless efforts to check in on a computer system that wasn’t functioning properly.
This morning, several other people yelled at employees or at customers, throwing things in frustration or snapping at their children.

It put me in mind of a sign I saw at Heathrow Airport in London one very frustrating morning last fall. The sign said, in essence, that anyone who spoke sharply or rudely to airline personnel or airport employees would be arrested and detained.

At the time, I thought it a bit extreme. Its net result was a lot of red-faced passengers with bite marks in their lower lips, and very surly airline employees who could sense the tension.

But the sign did prevent the kind of scenes—angry, nasty scenes—that I saw not just this morning in Orlandor, but all through my recent trip to Europe.

And sadly only the European trip, every single person who behaved badly—outrageously even—was an American.

It got so bad that my travel companion and I could spot an ugly American—an American behaving like the world owed them and no one else—from half an airport away.

I know Americans have always had a well deserved reputation for behaving poorly overseas. But when I traveled to Europe thirty years ago—heck, seven years ago—Americans didn’t scream at people. Yes, Americans refused to learn the local language and the local customs, but we weren’t furious all the time.

We are now.

And not just when we visit an unfamiliar place like Europe. We’re behaving badly at home too.

What’s wrong with us? What makes us feel so entitled that we can skip ahead in a line or feel that the rules (as stupid as they can be) don’t apply to us?

My theory of travel—especially air travel—is that we make an agreement with the transportation company when we buy a ticket. We agree to abide by their rules.

If we don’t want to play by the rules, we should find another way to get to our destination.

Everyone who travels these days is uncomfortable, harried, and stressed. There’s no need to make it worse—

Unless you’re American.