Guest Contributor – ArthurinCali – 24MAR2023 – Ugly Americans

The trope of the ‘Ugly American’ can be a sad reality at times. What is an Ugly American you ask? From Wikipedia;

Ugly American” is a stereotype depicting American citizens as exhibiting loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless, ignorant, and ethnocentric behavior mainly abroad, but also at home.

It is important to recognize that applying this pejorative to every scenario that involves a cultural faux pas is incorrect. For example, when dining overseas it is not rude or inconsiderate to ask for clarification on what a menu item is, or what ingredients it contains. For those with food allergies this can mean the difference between life and death. This article on the signs of an Ugly American points to the practice of asking the exchange rate in US dollars for items. This I disagree with as not everyone can always have currency exchange information on their smart phones. Many merchants and businesses helpfully keep currency conversion handy just for this reason. There are however, a few clear-cut examples I recall from traveling overseas that are worth mentioning. These I classify as Ugly American Situational Syndrome, or UASS for short.

I have written before about Guam, but here is another story on island life…

A lifetime ago in the late 90s I was stationed on the pacific island of Guam at the start of my naval career. After purchasing a ‘Boonie’ car whose better days were seen around the Reagan administration I began to explore the island in my time off. Being a naïve 19-year-old sailor, I went pretty much all over the island without regard to islander dynamics in mind.

One weekend, I went to a pool hall by myself and began to play with a group of Chamorros (local Guamanians). I had noticed the bar in passing a few times and decided to finally check it out. After meeting the owner and playing a few games with him, I noticed that I was the only American in this local bar. I asked Richard (the bar owner) if it was ok to be in the pool hall, and he replied, “You are welcome here anytime. You are respectful.”

Back at work that Monday, several fellow sailors asked where I was that weekend. (pre-cell phone era) I explained that I had gone to the pool hall downtown. They expressed shock and dismay that I went there, explaining that they had tried to go a few weeks ago and had been summarily thrown out after being told it was for locals only.

“Were you drunk and being dumb?” I asked. “Yeah,” they admitted.

This attitude of barging into places and acting as if there was a sacrosanct right to be in a space was a common theme overseas. Going into a local bar and trying to take over is textbook UASS behavior.

Spending time exploring the country of Singapore is quite the experience. Located at the southern tip of Malaysia, this small island nation has many attractions. From the world famous Singapore Zoo, to the famed Gardens by the Bay, a $1 billion botanical garden inspired by the three distinct ethnic cultures of Chinese, Malay, and Indian. On this visit, our group of Sailors found ourselves on the famed Orchard road, a retail and dining district. Lining the street were plenty of restaurants to choose from, and we quickly decided on a pleasant outside café with a patio. A large sandwich style billboard on the sidewalk displayed the drinks available for order. Besides Coca-Cola and various teas, the café had three types of beer; Heineken, Stella Artois, and Tiger beer (the local favorite, usually consumed as a last resort).

A polite waitress came to the table and we began to place our drink orders. Everything was moving along smoothly until she came to our traveling companion that I’ll call ‘Don.’ Without too much backstory let’s say that Don was, well, unworldly is the nice way to describe it. On this deployment, he was one who would look for the nearest McDonald’s, or ask nonsensical questions on local culture. Not one to disappoint, he requested a Budweiser. Then a Coors Light. When informed that the café did not carry those he topped it off with, “You mean to tell me you don’t have any American beers?” Maintaining my composure through gritted teeth I helpfully directed Don’s attention to the before mentioned sign on the sidewalk that had the available refreshments. He continued to show his dismay that a restaurant 8800 miles from the USA would not carry his favorite swill.

It is not that difficult to avoid the UASS label while traveling and living overseas. Understanding different customs and cultures will help one avoid becoming a living embodiment of UASS.


Ugly American Definition

7 Signs You’re An Ugly American

Singapore Travel

Singapore’s Orchard Road


Guest Contributor – ArthurinCali – 31JAN2023 – Check the Menu First

Adventures overseas.

Many a young man has had a yearning for adventure, and I was no different. Eager for travel and new experiences I jumped at the chance to be stationed overseas after joining the US Navy. That wish was granted when after boot camp when I was assigned to a helicopter squadron on the south pacific island of Guam. At 30 miles long and only 10 miles at her widest point, Guam was to become my home between deployments for the first 4 years of my naval career.

Guam has been continuously inhabited for over 4000 years starting with the migration of Austronesian people, known today as Chamorro Peoples. With the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, this began a 300-year period of heavy Spanish influence which can still be seen on the island through the remains of forts, missions, and architecture. Language, food, and religion of local island culture still reflect the Spaniards traditions that were imprinted. After the Spanish-American war of 1898, Guam became a territory of the US, a status that remains to this day.

At the outbreak of WWII the Japanese occupied the island until being defeated by American forces in the Battle for Guam campaign of 1944. The war had lasting effects on the island, with many relicts still visible such as sunken ships, tanks, and airplane wrecks. One Japanese soldier, Shoichi Yokoi, fled to the jungle in 1944 during the battle for control of the island. He survived undetected for nearly 30 years until being found in 1972, still believing that the war was not over.

(This is only a quick overview for the fascinating history of Guam. I highly recommend furthering one’s knowledge through the links provided.)

How do I describe the feeling of arriving to a new country? It may as well have been a new planet. To go from the pine forests of East Texas-to a tropical island with endless blue stretching out to the horizon was almost visually unreal. I recall that the airline arrived late at night so the trip to the base did not give me much clue as to what the surroundings were like. Waking up and stepping outside of the barracks to the sight of palm trees and blue crystal water was a shock. The ocean depths surrounding Guam are some of the clearest in the world, attracting many divers to explore the pristine coral reef.

With over a century of American influence, many things on the island were similar to what one would find on the mainland, but with a twist. There are plenty of US restaurants as dining choices; from Outback Steakhouse, to McDonald’s. Major hotels line the shores of Tumon Bay, and tourism makes up a significant part of the economy. Yet it is the little differences that are interesting. One example is that you can order local dishes at major franchises like Spam & Eggs at McDonald’s. A popular local ice cream is literally packed with a vegetable medley including carrots, potato, and beans. Yes, beans. The story goes that this was invented to encourage island children to eat more veggies. The blend of culinary diversity gave one ample choices.

Not long after arriving I was able to purchase a ‘Boonie’ car. This description is for an old vehicle that has seen numerous owners, mostly due to military personnel transferring off-island. So, essentially a beater car. Mine was a well-loved 1980s something black Camaro that set its own schedule as to if and when the A/C would work, which was seldom. She also had semi-electronic windows that refused to roll up when it rained…which was every day. Great combo for an island that gets an average of 95 inches of rain a year. At one point I kept more towels in the car than in my bathroom for these occasions. Did I mention the roads? Can’t forget that. Having limited building materials, Guam incorporated ground-up coral reef into the asphalt road construction. Not too big of a deal…unless it rains. This forces the oils up to the surface of the roads making them slicker than an ice rink. Even with most posted speed limits at 35 MPH this doesn’t help when everyone ignores that speed limit. The major road, Guam Highway 1 ran north to south of the island and was menacingly nicknamed ‘Guam Autobahn.’

Even with these transportation challenges I enjoyed exploring different parts of the island. Most weekends were spent checking out the latest place of interest I had read about or heard from someone who had visited. Swimming in underground cave pools and visiting 17th century Spanish Forts were a highlight of my time spent in Guam.

The villages held festivals for saints and holidays throughout the year. It seemed that every weekend a different village held a fiesta so myself and a few guys from the base decided to check one out. The best comparison would be to a small town county fair atmosphere, with carnival games and attractions. The friendliness of the Chamorro people cannot be overstated and we soon found ourselves invited to get something to eat from one of the local villagers. He had an elaborate setup in his front yard with a large canopy that shaded a set of folding tables and chairs. The food was arranged on a couple of tables to one side that reminded me of Sunday dinners after church back in Texas. After getting a plate of ribs and vegetables, we found our seats and dug in. After a while, our host came over and inquired if we were enjoying the food. He was especially interested in what we thought of his ribs. When I told him they were good he asked, “Would you like to see my stock?” I replied sure and he motioned for us to follow him around to the back of the house. Now, being from Texas, I was expecting to see a pig pen, or possibly an enclosure with goats. Instead, we were greeted with a large kennel…of dogs. The realization of where the ribs had come from was interrupted by one of my companions saying, “So that’s why they were so tender?” Always check the menu became my new motto that day.

Guam is a special place to me, even after traveling to 20+ countries during my naval career. It was the start of my world travels and was the first experience of how vast this world truly is. But remember: Always check the menu.



Guest Contributor – ArthurinCali – 27JAN2023 – Observations Overseas

Japan is high on my list of most interesting countries for several reasons. One, the aesthetics of the architecture and layout of the landscapes were so distinctly different from what we see in the US. Decorative shrines, the villages, even big cities were impressive. Attention to detail and respect for their history could be seen in a lot of things they build, if that makes sense.

I was fortunate to be there for extended periods while on detachment which allowed the opportunity to travel around during my off time. Taking the train to Hiroshima to visit ground zero of where the atomic bomb was dropped is humbling. They has an interactive museum there with many artifacts that survived.

Not one country, but the Middle Eastern region was an experience of near-total culture shock. Dubai, Kuwait, Bahrain, and the UAE left quite an impression on me as to how different other ways of life can be from the USA.

Europe…was kind of disappointing. Yes, France and Monaco were neat, especially as I have French ancestry, but the attitudes towards Americans they display is not just a stereotype. I understand that is a strain of the culture to be a bit brisk and come off as rude, but for an East Texan raised on Southern manners and politeness it was not easy to get used to. haha

One quick example of French ‘politeness’: I was at the Cannes train station about to head to Monaco and spotted a deli with croissants. Looking in the glass display I saw that the price appeared to say €10 for one. I thought that might be mislabeled as the currency conversion meant it was over $10 for one. I asked the deli employee if that was the price. “That what it says on the paper,” he replied as he walked off. So yeah, it was an experience.

Italy is one of the countries I want to go back to one day. I spent one day in Rome seeing the sights, and would love to go back. Being able to walk right up to the Coliseum and touch it felt amazing. So much history to take in.