Ugly Americans make us all look bad

A few months ago Yaxue wrote a great post looking at how many Chinese view Americans as too trusting and naive; in their words we were “Dumb Americans.” Today I want to look a little at Ugly Americans, and how easy it can be to reinforce stereotypes.

The main thing I want you to keep in mind is that of China’s 1.4 billion people, only .05% are foreigners. Of this .05% a large percentage are Japanese and Korean. That means in many parts of China when a non-Asian is eating in a new restaurant, stopping by a store for the first time, or just taking a new route to work, they are likely to interact with someone who has never before dealt with a person of another color. Without exaggerating, most towns in the American Midwest are more multi-cultural than the majority of Chinese cities.

Note: I’m not particularly thrilled with using “Non-Asian” and skin color as points of reference, these things shouldn’t define people. In China though, it does really make one stick out.

Due to this relatively isolated population, the majority of Chinese people have little choice but to base their opinions of foreigners on, at most, a few interactions.

In the small town of Longzhou, where I was one of two white people, virtually everything we did became common knowledge among people of the town. I would hear fruit sellers say things like, “Oh the tall one already bought oranges today. You should get bananas.” Or students I hadn’t seen in a week would tell me that I had had a good trip to Pingxiang that weekend.

The things “the foreigners” did eventually became the stuff foreigners do to the people in that town. There was constant pressure to maintain a good public image.

So last night when I heard this conversation between a couple of 30-something Americans at the table next to me, I was more than a bit embarrassed by the impression they must have left.

Guy: No, I ordered the egg and cheese burger. This is wrong. (In broken, slow Chinese with a southern accent and exceptionally patronizing tone) Has egg, cheese, beef, like that one.

Waiter: (in Chinese) Egg and cheese burger only has egg and cheese. Do you want me to add beef? (English) Add-ah the beef?

Guy: (English) Yeah, it’s an egg and cheese burger! There should always be beef. How can you have a burger without beef?!

(Waiter heads back to the kitchen to fix the “mistake”, which is actually fairly rare in Chinese owned restaurants.)

Girl: Jeesh, these people should really learn English.

Guy: Yeah, it’s pretty stupid that they don’t.

The whole conversation revolved around a simple misunderstanding, in Chinese “burger” (汉堡 hanbao) means anything served on a hamburger bun, but doesn’t imply the presence of a beef patty (As an American, I’ve spent some time researching this subject). This isn’t the waiter’s fault, it is the fault of some long forgotten translation or a poorly prepared English teacher. The Americans should have been aware of this, given that they were discussing the English classes they were teaching, and the low level of their students.

The part that bothered me most about this interaction is the conclusion the two foreigners drew from it, Chinese people should learn English. It’s really these expats who should learn Chinese, or they should accept that from time to time they are going to get something different from what they thought they ordered. The only reason they were able to even mistakenly order the wrong food, was that the restaurant had prepared an English menu for them.

I have by no means managed to be a perfect “cultural ambassador,” and I’m sure I’ve come across just as ugly as those two did last night, but it has never escaped me that my actions will leave some kind of impression. I am representing America, and in many cases Western people in general, regardless of whether or not I am conscious of that fact in the heat of an argument.

I am realistic though, there are going to be days when you just don’t feel like putting on your happy foreign face. You’re going to get tired of random hellos that sound like cat-calls, pictures with strangers, and in my case, unwanted shoulder rubs from middle-aged Chinese men (I’m really hoping that’s just a cultural thing). It happens, you are human.

So all I ask is that when you see a fellow foreigner breaking down, I hope you’ll step in and try to keep that negative interaction from representing all of us.

63 responses to “Ugly Americans make us all look bad”

  1. Pete Nelson says:

    Hey Tom, this is so true. A few years ago my wife and I were visting the Louvre, and we saw (unfortunately) a very stereotypical ugly American. I hate to say it, but it is just true. This older “gentleman” was dressed in a loud shirt, Bermuda shorts, black socks – the whole package, believe me – and was disclaiming in a very loud voice “why in the hell they don’t have no signs in English in here!” It was all I could do to keep from yelling at him “because you’re in FRANCE, you idiot!” I was (for one of the few times in my life) truly embarrassed to be American. I wanted to tell everyone around me “really, we’re not all like that guy!” After that, I always make it a point to try to always be as polite and gracious as I can – I’m in *their* country. As much as I love my own country, I recognize that most people feel the same about theirs, and when I’m visiting, being poilte and respectful is the least I can do (starting with not expecting everyone else to speak English!)

    • M says:

      actually english is world international standard language, so in main tourist spots should be names and descriptions in local language and in english too, there is nothing wrong about complaining that in some famous museum as Louvre they don’t have english descriptions/informations for all foreign visitors

      • BILL RICH says:

        There is nothing wrong complaining, and there is nothing wrong not to put up English anything if they don’t feel like it. It is still their own museum. Putting up foreign signs is to make it convenient for the foreigners. And I don’t see too many French signs anywhere in USA.

  2. Chip says:

    Tom, did you call them on their behavior?

  3. Chip says:

    I’ve been around a few ugly americans, and it’s fun to call them out when they’re being douche bags. Which is probably an “ugly american” behavior itself, but I just can’t stand when people act like this.

  4. So funny – my favorite ugly American anecdote is all about a hamburger incident also, while on a ferry from Naples to Palermo last year:

    We literally are still yelling “HAMBURGER. Ham. Burg. Urrr! DO YOU SPEAK AMERICAN?!” at each other a year later. Great post!

  5. Good post Tom. I have learned to be a “pretty American” after living here in China for over five years. When you see and hear foreigners – particularly Americans – acting so pious and proud, all you can do is be patient and realize that they are truly ignorant and insensitive. I used be that way when I first moved here and quickly realized how immature and ridiculous it is to act this way. I have become much more humble in the past four years and am so happy I have been effected by the simple Chinese cultural habits. There are many things I don’t like about the Chinese people but not liking what people do exists everywhere you go. There are also many things I do like about China and if I had to move out of China tomorrow, I would surely miss it.

    In reference to Chinese people stereotyping Americans, I think it’s funny that many Chinese base there understanding and impressions of Americans from Hollywood movies. After all, this is all they see from USA so how else are they to think of us. I always tell those who tell me this that only some of the things you see in movies actually happen and only some of the people do the things they see in movies. I think it is important to always try your best to be an outstanding person to the Chinese since many of them already think this about Americans. And those of us who have lived in China for any length of time don’t want to let them down either.

  6. yaxue c. says:

    My family and I, all 4 of us, were at Elevation Burger, a popular eaterie in DC’s Northern Virginia suburbs, the other day, and I revealed the fact that I didn’t know a burger must have a beet patty to be a burger. Fortunately the girl taking my order didn’t yell at me but my husband did roll his eyes, a 1001th time, all the way to the back of his head. I always know I need to learn English, but now I know I REALLY must learn English!

  7. NotAnotherTourist says:

    This is one of the reasons I chose to live in rural South Korea, because I didn’t want to associate with foreigners like this. Unfortunately, it’s Americans who get the stereotype but I’ve witnessed the same ugliness from Canadians, Brits, and Aussies (coincidentally I haven’t been around any Kiwis or South Africans who were rude). In fact, I have heard a lot more ignorance and racism out of Canadians than Americans, which really surprised me (I thought they were supposed to be the tolerant diplomats)!

    When I was in the Peace Corps one of the first things they told us during training was that we were representing Americans 24/7 and that everything we did would probably be scrutinized. The exact same gossip about what we bought or if we had visitors spread like wildfire. I once arrived back to my host family’s from a language lesson after stopping at the store to buy a Coke and when I walked in the door before my host mother could even see me, she called out, “Why did you buy Coke today? I have Fanta here for you!” It took me about 3 mins to make the purchase and get home! We were warned that anything we did would be mentally scored and heard a tale of a Volunteer who’d been “perfect” until his last night in his village when he got so drunk he went screaming through the streets half naked and that is all the people thought of him since then! It may have been exaggerated to make their point, but I believe it has its merit.

    I think it’s just my nature to want to make a good impression, but I always felt really glad when people would say, “We are so glad to have met you, we always used to think that foreigners just come here to party and are rude, but you and your husband have proven that many of you are very nice and respectful!” I think I also try to go out of my way to be a good role model for foreigners, you never know who’s going to gossip about you and you don’t want to further the ugly stereotype!

    As for the hamburger/hanbao incident, I can understand and excuse the Americans’ confusion because of the poor translation of burger (after all I was totally surprised to learn that in Costa Rica, HAM comes on top of the hamburger patty), but their snide remark about the Chinese speaking English was definitely uncalled for. If I had the language skills to explain what had happened to the waiter, I would have told him about the translation confusion and apologized for them by telling the waiter, “they’re new here and can’t speak Chinese yet, thanks for your patience.”


  8. Just to balance things out, we “Chinese” are not faultless in all this ugly behaviour either. Here in Hong Kong, we have those BROCS (‘born or raised overseas Chinese’) who come back here and some of them sometimes swagger away at the locals – and are seen even more objectionable here than the ‘foreigners’ doing it. I AM sorry to report that (at least in my experience and at least in Hong Kong) it is the North American BROCs who tend to have more of the “ugly beef patty” behaviour (as I’m now going to call it because of this article) – though the other BROCS are not off the hook.

    (Sorry, I’m a BROC myself but I am not targeting North Americans or anyone – just what I’ve seen. If I’m wearing my motorcycle gear, I’ll tell off people with bad behaviour. When I’m out of motorbike gear, I’m a bit of a wuss and don’t have it in me to tell them to eff off.)

    It’s a two-way street too. Homegrown-born or -raised Chinese go to Europe and North America complain the Chinese food there isn’t authentic enough. It’s like that one occasion in Singapore when a couple of true-blue Chinese tourists complaining about Singaporean char-siu (roast pork) rice having curry in it. What the hell did you expect in Singapore? Can’t we just treat the curried char-siu as an inside joke and enjoy it???

    As to the hamburger/hanbao specification, I know in the USA that there SHOULD be a beef patty in it. If there isn’t, it is no big deal. In a high-class restaurant, I MIGHT probably make an abject fuss (then again, I might not). In McBongo’s or similar, it’s pretty brain-damaged to fuss over this. I don’t expect American or British or Aussie spaghetti to taste like my beloved Italian spaghetti, so why should anyone with half a brain expect “Asian” burgers to be like American burgers? You see what I’m driving at?

    I do apologise for being boring and longwinded again.

    • MAC says:

      KFC should not call a chicken sandwich a hamburger. Millions of Chinese are being misled.

      • The bizarre thing is that KFC in Hong Kong calls their chicken sandwiches (on a bun) as “chicken burgers” but not a “chicken hamburger” or similar permutation. I take it KFC in the PRC actually calls the chicko a hamburger then, correct? If true, KFC needs to have their knuckles rapped.

  9. Lorin Yochim says:

    Hmmm…do chicken burgers in the US have a beef patty as well? What about those veggie burgers I sometimes order? No beef there…I hope. Forgive the foolish questions, but I wonder if I’ve been living under a Canadian rock for much of my life.

    I do agree with the gist of the comments above that point out that ugly behaviour is NOT limited to Americans. It seems to me that those other Americans embarrassed by this behaviour are smuggling in the idea that Americans somehow *ought to be* more capable of “pretty” behaviour for some reason. It may be that there is a style of presenting ugly behaviour that is particularly American, and that is what makes us notice them more. Equally likely is that the high moral tone of official US spokespeople makes badly behaving Americans an easy target for those who would like to pump up the reputation of their own nationalities.

    • Miller says:

      I’ve always understood “burger” to refer to ground meat (or meat substitute) on a bun. Hence tofu burgers, turkey burgers, etc.

      • Tom says:

        but if I told you we were having “burgers” or a “bacon burger” you would assume the inclusion of a ground beef patty, and not some other substance.

      • M says:

        yeah, it’s like this at least in some european countries where we don’t have burger culture of serving burger meat in bun on plate in restaurant with french fries (while it’s spreading in some hipster restaurants), but we know burgers only from local fastfood stands and McD, so in general almost any warm bun with anything inside can be called “* burger”, while “sandwich” (both of them in local language transcription) is reserved for squared bread with anything inside, while this one is not very common in fastfood stands, mostly bought in petrol stations and supermarkets

  10. Meryl Mackay aka 马美丽 says:

    This is so interesting – we all have our “beef patty” anecdotes! I remember arriving in Singapore in 1966 and hearing Brits being very rude about Chinese. It was the start of my love affair of all things Chinese so I always tried to be polite. However it is so easy to cause offence unwittingly and I know that I have done this on occasion. Incidentally, I was the victim of racism when I lived in New Zealand, when my Kiwi boss deliberately said in my hearing that “The only good Pom (Brit) is a Returning Pom!” (one who has left NZ to return to UK). Yes, NZ is beautiful and we still have friends there despite being Returning Poms, but there is always the exception isn’t there! Keep up the thought provoking Posts, Tom!

  11. King Tubby says:

    Don’t eat hamburgers myself, but encountered a ton of Ugly Americans in South Korea. Very loud, scruffy attire and without curiousity about the local culture. A good reason to cross the street which we always did.

  12. Mac says:

    Living in a country like China, sometimes you unintentionally lower your standards of courtesy:

    So I am getting ready to go back to the US, and I decide to go to silk market (beijing) because as far as finding shoddy merchandise perfect for gifting, it has one of the largest selections. I go to the third floor electronics section, and see mini-led flashlights perfect for my father. I go to a few stalls inquiring about prices, mostly sky-high, and finally arrive at one stall with a very nice, 3 inch long mini-led light. The girl at the stall quotes me 700 RMB (110 USD). I say, in very polite Chinese, “I am buying this product in China, and it wouldn’t cost 1/4 of that price in the US”. So the girl flips out, and 3 inches from my face begins yelling, “Whats wrong with China? Whats wrong with China? Why do you foreigners think you are so much better than Chinese?” I am a relatively mild-tempered person, but when someone screams in my face enough to make me feel threatened, I bite back. So I take the flashlight, and bounce it off the tabletop so it knocks down her little tower of LED lights stacked on top of each other (bad decision) and tell her that I will not be spoken to like that. It was all I could do to restrain myself from saying, “If you are really that tired of your life in Beijing, go back to your village where you can be with your family and not be pimped by these silk-market stall owners.” But knowing that 90% of the people working there were from a similar background, I decided on account of my personal safety I had better watch what I say. Anyways, the girl is slapping me and pushing me, I am telling her that she has no right to talk to customers in that way, and the mob of nationalist sheep starts growing larger and larger. At this point my options are scram, or wait for something worse to happen, so I pull a Barry Sanders spin move and quickly make my way to the exit.

    Its really unfortunate that this girl has had such terrible experiences with foreigners that she felt it was necessary to treat me in such a way. I am generally quite courteous, however I won’t stand for that kind of treatment.

    Lets all close up shop and move to Taiwan, where people respect each other.

    • Mac, I’m sorry to say yours isn’t the only reaction to Americans or foreigners on mainland China. A lot of us Hongkongers get exactly the same – “You think you Hong Kong people are better than us?!” Anyone who thinks Chinese people place great importance on ‘face’, then I invite anyone to become a Hongkonger and travel into China to find out just how much we Chinese actually value ‘face’.

    • Lorin Yochim says:

      Perhaps the vendor “girl” lowered her standards, too. To what should we attribute that? As to her questions, I’m still wondering.

    • M says:

      no, only problem was that girl was just stupid brainwashed nationalist and it had nothing to do with you, these people take personally anything you say about China, you are not allowed to criticise anything, otherwise you will be advised to leave China if you don’t like it, they don’t know anything about diversity of opinions, about free speech, so what you can expect from them?

      and especially thieves as this girl/seller are usually the dumbest, they don’t have even basic knowledge of world around them, so they think they can overcharge people as much as they want and when you point at fact that even in west something like that cost 1/4 of what they charge they will feel offended maybe because they slowsly get the feeling they are being accused to be dumb thieves and losing their face (which is funny thing, when the thief calmly stealing you is the good one and you who will get angry of being robbed are the loser who is losing the face as if robber had any face in the first place)

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        Wow. It seems these girl/sellers/thieves are barely human, as “sellers” not entitled to respond to the infinitely entitled “consumer,” not entitled to a bad day, not entitled to defend their honour, always in the wrong in the venal pursuit of the poor, defenceless foreign shopper’s dollar. Really, what can you expect from such an ignorant, uneducated person?

        Honestly, folks, this situation occurred in a junk/counterfeit market where everyone behaves with barely concealed contempt for everyone else. We all know that not succumbing to this atmosphere of disrespectful contempt is extremely difficult for both buyers and sellers. We all know that those markets sell crap to foreigners looking for crap to take home to friends with whom they will joke over how cheap that crap was. We all know that this girl has to face people every day who treat her as an annoyance and who would rather get the trinket or shoe or North Face jacket at cost no matter the pressures placed on her to maximize profit and/or make a marginal living. Is her reaction so hard to understand? What’s next, are we going to say that she should not be in the business? That she should have stayed home? That she ought to have studied harder so that she could work for Nokia or Bombardier or…

      • M says:

        what are you actually trying to say? that is OK to quote 700RMB for crappy LED light which cost in west 170RMB and in China is real price maybe 40RMB (dunno really what are we talking exactly about, but to have general idea about prices is no problem to check or Taobao) and when you say to her that abroad it’s much cheaper than here she will attack you with “Whats wrong with China? Whats wrong with China? Why do you foreigners think you are so much better than Chinese?” which is completely off topic, because nobody was saying anything bad about china or that foreigners are better than chinese, he was just pointing out that in west he can buy it for 1/4 of her BS price and she tried to change subject to some nationalist BS

        if these sellers are acting like this, then they really should find some other work and not be in business, go home to their village and work on field, when they can’t even react calmly to logical argument about 4 times bigger price in USA, not even started bargaining. girl probably thinks that all westerners are stupid walking ATMs and she can charge them anything and they will quote it and when she suddenly realized that she was wrong she tried to play on nationalist topic about wrong china and chinese with her little brain

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        Is there an echo in this room?

  13. Mac says:

    I think some of the disrespect from foreigners stems from foreign people seeing the disrespect Chinese show themselves and each other, such as how the government treats people, ultra-materialism resulting in loveless marriages and prostitution, service-staff being treated like dogs, etc.

    • Meryl Mackay aka 马美丽 says:

      I agree with you, Mac. Personally, I avoid the Silk Market in BJ as I hate the lack of emotional intelligence sometimes displayed on both sides of the transaction. In my culture “The customer is always right” – at least that was what I was taught when as a kid, I served in my parents’ shop. So there was no bad day allowed me even though I was a callow youth. Restraint was the order of the day for me which is why I hate the in your face reactive sellers in the Silk Market. Yes, these people are badly treated and most likely much more badly treated by their fellow countrymen than they are by foreigners.

    • Tom says:

      I think this point is an incredibly important one. In China, it is fairly acceptable to scream at a waitress over a mistake, more so in an expensive restaurant. People often act as though the wealthier they are, the more entitled they are to treat others like dirt.

  14. Lao Why? says:

    Anyone coming to China or any other country where English is not spoken should prepare for such incidents. You’re in somebody else’s country, idiot (not to mention dealing with a server who gets verbally abused all day long by the locals!) This is a no brainer incident (literally).

    The harder situations are when you are almost hit while walking in a cross walk with the right of way and the driver honks at you with a loud and sustained (get out of my way) honk. Most Chinese pedestrians have mastered the art of passively ignoring the obnoxious driver. My American friends visiting Beijing have trouble with this. They ask “who has the right of way?” I telll them, “legally, you do but in reality, you don’t. Beijing has 24 million people and 4 million plus cars. If cars obeyed the laws on the books, traffic would not move. So the system has evolved to this. The real law is Newton’s law: Whoever is more massive has the right of way!” I do everything I can to keep them from pounding on the hood of passing cars.

    The hardest thing for an American to understand is that in China what people write, say and legislate is frequently not what they do, regardless of the typical blather of “strict compliance”.

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  16. Cai says:

    Please forgive the dumb and slightly off-topic question, but I’m still learning Chinese. If 汉堡 hanbao refers to anything served in a hamburger bun, then wouldn’t a better English translation be “sandwich”? If not, then why not?

    • Tom says:

      This is a good point, this is an example of where Chinese borrowed a word from English, but then gave it a slightly different use. In Chinese 三明治 (sanmingzhi) is used for a sandwich that is on slices of bread (including a Sub sandwich). While 汉堡 is a sandwich on a hamburger bun. The problem is that Chinese English textbooks never make this clear, and KFC has done a poor job of reinforcing this usage.
      It might seem silly, but I do make a point of explaining this difference every year to my college English students.

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        I guess I was being too obtuse in my post about this above. My fellow Canadians can correct me here, but I can make a long list of “burgers” that have no beef or other meat at all. Obviously the difference is that these “burgers” are named ironically. Still…never mind…I’m digging a hole and it’s filling up with water.

  17. Jin Zhao says:

    Wow… Why did they ever go out of the U.S.? The thing is, Canadians can be douche bags too (yes, Canadians!). My old partner on the radio back in Beijing was a big Caucasian Canadian guy. He had lived in Beijing for two year at the time, and never learned any Chinese. And he always rolled his eyes when he had trouble communicating with Chinese. It often made me very uncomfortable when I was with him. I thought I was being polite not calling him out at the time, but now when I think of it, I should have.

    • Lorin Yochim says:

      Best post so far.

    • M says:

      well, how can chinese distinguish between tourist who is in China for one week and someone living there for two years? of course if you are at places where no tourist is supposed to go you are right, but otherwise he’s got point

      I don’t speak chinese either, because I didn’t came to China to learn chinese language, I was not fascinated by chinese culture, I didn’t came here for some “noble reasons” like 95% of foreigners for whom it was dream to live in China and get to know great chinese culture and all that BS, I just came here to work, but of course that doesn’t mean that I will be stupid and blaming anyone from my lack of chinese, it’s my problem in many places (police/offices), atlhough in touristy places/sights or in McDonald’s I can blame workers who don’t speak english, I don’t expect it in local restaurant I am enjoying, but in international chains like McD or Subway where I go only very rarely one would expect they would speak at least basic English if they are trying to pretent to be international

      • BILL RICH says:

        And I didn’t find any Arabic speaker in USA MacDonald either. MacDonald = bad.

  18. Joel says:

    Ha, Tom, you’re playing softball here. The daily conversation in the English teacher’s office where I worked was worse than the one you wrote about (I used to hang my head when our head teacher would talk to the Chinese staff… I even went in after and apologized a few times). While you’re example is totally representative — that behaviour is ubiquitous among laowais in China — there’s plenty of other too-common behaviour that surely leaves an even worse impression. When I saw the title and that this was about Americans making negative impressions, my mind immediately when to English teacher coworkers who slept with or tried to sleep with every moderately-attractive Chinese coworker or former student they could. The girls one by one eventually left the school, but the foreigners never had to. I watched students transform their image over just a couple short weeks from schoolgirl to bar trash. it was so bad several of us tried hard and repeatedly to intervene in one particular situation, but the girl was unbelievably naive and willfully blind. And of course all the staff and most of the students know exactly what’s going on. Even our landlord criticized the former American tenant for bringing home his Chinese girlfriends. As you know, it’s not just our movies and TV shows that give Chinese the impression we’re all whore-mongers.

    And, as a Canadian, I’m doing you all a public service my informing you that the whole stereotype of Canadians being polite doesn’t apply to Canadians under 50. Canadians can be total jerks (Vancouver summer riot, anyone?).

    • Lorin Yochim says:

      Softball, indeed. Fortunately Tom’s softballs have a way of bringing the fiercer hurdlers out of the bullpen. Their comments say it all. The advantage of this, of course, is that we get a better sense of what causes “the ugly” to behave in ugly ways. They are not ill-programmed robots or morally depraved people. As Mac points out, they are people under pressure behaving badly. Does this excuse them? No. On the hand, that some of them defend their actions in on line forums even after careful reflection makes me wonder.

      I do appreciate your bringing up the matter of sexual harassment/misconduct in workplaces. This is, in fact, a major problem for some schools that employ foreign teachers. I don’t really have anything to add to your account, except that you might reconsider using the terms “bar trash” and “whore-mongers” here out of respect for these young women who really are doing nothing more than being manipulated by abusive teachers. This is not to say that they have no agency in the situation, but pursuing an ill-advised relationship and a foreign/Western style social life does not make one a “whore” or “bar trash.”

      Also, as a fellow Canadian, I’m wondering why you draw the line at age 50? 😉

      • Joel says:

        I agree, Tom is a very skilled softball player, and accomplishes more throwing underhand than most the guys do throwing fastballs.

        The coworkers I described knew what they were doing. I don’t think it was so much the pressure of culture stress, as it was the absence of the social restraints/mores they grew up with, and with those gone, the only thing left to determine their behaviour was their personal character and integrity. But I totally agree with (and have seen) what you write about decent people behaviour badly when under pressure, especially culture stress induced pressure..

        “Whore-mongers” refers to the Western guys (though it does imply the girls are “whores”). I deliberately made sure “bar trash” referred to the girls’ image, not the actual person because of the exact concern you pointed out. I used those terms because that’s how these girls are seen and treated by these guys, and wanted to bring that out. But now that I’m reconsidering, I probably shouldn’t have done that because in the big picture that technical distinction doesn’t really do much.

        Ha, 50 was pretty arbitrary. My impression at least is that the generations older than me (I’m 32) are from a different Canada, at least in B.C. Before we began to feel like ethnic minorities in our own cities, before the education system (at least in BC) swung hard to the social left (when I was in primary school in the 80’s), before “Gen X” was born these Canadians created that “nice” stereotype. It just doesn’t fit most of the mainstream people I know from my generation on down.

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        That’s a fair explanation, Joel. I do think that your original comment was not insensitively phrased. As you’ve already suggested, it’s usually better to take the high road and avoid that kind of language. As to the generational shift in Canada, I’m sure you’re putting your finger on something, though it may be just moral panic and/or nostalgia for a Canada that never really existed. That, however, is likely a discussion to which many other blogs are dedicated, so I’ll let it go for now.

  19. M says:

    actually by my experiences in many southeast asian countries with different nationalities I find Americans most educated and polite people I’ve met unlike groups of British guys who go there just to be drunk and make mess and annoy everyone, Aussies are not very different from them, but in general during travelling around China most of the people from english speaking countries were quite sophisticated travellers compared to low life bunch you can meet especially in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, at least Malaysia because of muslim image and more expensive alcohol is a little bit better and Indonesia and Philippines are too difficult to reach for them 🙂

    I am also trying to be ambassador everywhere I go, but sometimes it’s too much and if you have to deal with uncivilized people for example in beijing subway there is no other way how to educate them about who is leaving train first and who is entering it later than by brute force of good hockey moves

  20. Anne says:

    Our family travels a lot and our rule is “order what you want and eat what you get.” Every traveler to a foreign country should learn it! It is a simple rule and has given our children the opportunity to try many dishes they would have missed out on otherwise.

    • Tom says:

      Excellent rule. I will be making a note of this one for my eventual children, and will impose it when my dad comes to visit in a few months.

    • M says:

      yeah and this way they will never learn about business and never improve quality of their service if everyone will be quiet, you are real pioneer of progress

      • Tom says:

        What this rule means is that when you order something, and it turns out differently than you expected, you don’t get to blame the server for your lack of understanding. In the story I mentioned above there was a misunderstanding from both sides. Screaming “How can you have a burger without beef?!” doesn’t really improve quality of service either since it doesn’t actually help the restaurant understand what the problem is.
        The next time I’m there, I’ll offer to correct their menu (as I have done at many other restaurants in China). These people in the story weren’t trying to deceive anyone, so it is quite different from your unpleasant experience in Beijing.
        The Silk Market seems to have come to represent all business transactions in China, and serves as a remind of important these small interactions are in forming our view of people and countries.

      • M says:

        I fully understood what she said and I said that if I order A and they bring me B, then I won’t be so stupid to blindly accept B without mentioning that I wanted A, this way they will never care about customers when they will find idiots who are not complaining and satisfied with anything

        for me if I am going to restaurant where I clearly order A and they bring me B I will teel them that I wanted A (depends how busy I am as well, if I have time to wait more) and depending on what will they do after this I can visit this place again, but I am not definitely going to place where I order A, they bring me A and then they charge me B as what happened to me 2 days ago, anyway 96 of my orders out of 100 are completed without any problems and this what I described happens 1 times out of 100

    • Lorin Yochim says:

      I completely agree with this rule and Tom’s understanding. There are relations in this world more important than that of buyer to seller. To understand one’s interactions with others only through this relation (yes, even when in a market!) is dehumanizing.

  21. James says:

    ” in my case, unwanted shoulder rubs from middle-aged Chinese men”
    On a train, I was practicing my newly aquired vocabulary with a fellow passenger, when he grabbed my arm and began petting it. Now, my arms ARE hairy, really hairy compared to most Chinese guys, but still….AUUUGGHHH! Wierd situation… what to do? I took his arm and began petting it. He finally stopped after a few minutes.

  22. […] 博文链接: […]

  23. Gary says:


    For reasons unknown to me, and most likely attributed to your awesome intelligent, reasonable words – among other factors – your site is so often the place of smart, mature discussion that, sadly, is not all that common nowadays in the Sino-matic blogosphere.

    And LOL sir. The stereotype that Americans are ignorant loud presumptuous louts who just “WANT A GODDAM CHEESEBURGER AND SOME GODDAM FRIES” is quite becoming. This behavior might be more acceptable in the setting of, say a American diner in the US, with ethnic staff. But in China. Ugh. Seriously, it makes me cringe how Americans harbor entitlement and their now-defunct status as The World.

  24. Gary says:

    Also on the point of fast food places basically (mis)educating Chinese. My mom calls every fried breaded piece of chicken a chicken McNugget. This is quite funny when ordering at Jack in the Box, KFC, or Wendys.

  25. […] 博文链接:丑陋的美国人让我们都很难堪 […]

  26. Anonymous says:

    Kudos to those of you who can manage to live your lives without letting the attention get to you. Even though Taipei is the most cosmopolitan part of Taiwan, and probably more so than most mainland cities, there are times when I want just want to scream “what the **** are you looking at?”
    But then I realize that however I feel as an individual, I will always be representing something much larger than myself (which really is no different from growing up in Canada as one of Trudeau’s children and something to which Joel alluded to, but not in a sense I take as particularly positive).

    That being said, stereotypes here are not so far removed from China. Lots of English teachers, and the associated baggage that comes along with being part of that group. People expect them to be players, but at the same time, lots of “playettes” know exactly what they are getting into.

    The aversion to sexual pleasure and moral condescension displayed in some of these posts reflects a concern with moral purity reflective of particular cultural upbringings. Not all are so puritanical in their approach to young people, particularly young women, enjoying the fruits of sexual liberation. Are such relationships exclusively about the exploited (female) vs. the exploitee (male)? I don’t think so. At the same time, lets not forget that being a foreigner in a foreign land one is free of the restrictions one was brought up with. I am not saying that gives you a license to seduce, but as Lorin says, let’s not deny the existence of agency, no matter how distasteful it may seem to some.

    Final point – Canadians can be douche bags, too. (I say this as a Canadian). But then again, most of the Canadians I know are like me: conversant (or more) in Chinese, many with children, married to Chinese-speakers, and established residents with careers, businesses, and more.

    • Joel says:

      No hard feelings, but your comment has some large, inaccurate and prejudicial assumptions (among other things).

      The aversion to sexual pleasure and moral condescension displayed in some of these posts …

      Actually I think it’s morally condescending is to assume that people who morally condemn Western fratboys for taking advantage of naive and culturally patriarchal Chinese girls in large numbers do so because they have an “aversion to sexual pleasure”, thereby dismissing their moral stance without consideration. It’s my high view of people (in terms of inherent individual value) and positive view of sexuality that compels me to condemn behaviour that fails to hold high the value of individuals and their sexuality. I’ll try not to make assumptions about what compels you to assume that those of us who hold such ideas do so because we are sexually averse, puritanical, and uncritically perpetuating our sexually repressive cultural upbringings. 😉

      …reflects a concern with moral purity reflective of particular cultural upbringings. Not all are so puritanical in their approach to young people…

      Or it reflects a coherent and long-considered understanding of the nature of people and what is and is not good for them, and the nature of human sexuality and intimacy and what is and isn’t truly sexually positive.

      …particularly young women, enjoying the fruits of sexual liberation.

      I would argue that much of what people typically think of as sexually liberating is actually sexually repressive, shrinking sexual and relational potential and one’s capacity for sexual experience and pleasure, and is merely a more subtle way to obligate women to do what men want, while some things that people often consider sexually oppressive (monogamy, for example) actually allow for the greatest sexual potential. I would be happy to compare the fruits of politically-based, Cosmo-prescribed sexual “liberation” (‘women should have sex like men’) with the fruits of what I think is truly sexually liberating any day of the week. But I should know better than to get into arguments with anonymous people on the internets. 🙂

      Are such relationships exclusively about the exploited (female) vs. the exploitee (male)? I don’t think so.

      Exclusively? Of course not. Often? Most definitely. You seem to assume a level social playing field between men and women in China, or assume that personal responsibility counteracts the unevenness, or something. But those assumptions aren’t even true of North America.

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        I’ve been thinking about this exchange for a few days now. I think that there is some puritanism denial of pleasure going on, but I think Joel is stressing an equally important point. The situation is more “also and both” rather than “either or.” Our limited disagreement could be clarified if we refer to concrete situations. In my post I had a few different situations/experiences in mind. 1) the case of a mid-forties foreign teacher and his senior 3 (grade 12) “girlfriend”; 2) a mid-forties Chinese college teacher and his undergrad student “girlfriend”; 3) any number of workplace “romances” between both foreign male and local/Chinese colleagues. Obviously questions of law and power (and instinct) help us to understand each of these more situations more clearly. Again, the specifics of each case will matter to the judgements we make on them, but I have no problem condemning the first and second as abusive situations and third as ambiguous, despite the fact that all three may have involved a whole lot of pleasure for both parties. An analysis of unequal power, however, does not turn on whether or not pleasure is the proximate result of such relationships. We do not need to know, for example, whether or not Monica Lewinsky finds pleasure in cigar play (forgive the crudity of my e.g.) to know that, as a young, female intern, she is at a distinct disadvantage in her relationship with the President.

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        Hmmm…make that “crudeness.” Damned auto-correct. I love blaming auto-correct for everything. As a mac user, I really miss being able to blame Bill Gates for everything. Down with Steve Jobs!

  27. mrchopstik says:

    Not much time to get to this blog lately so am only now reading it and the many comments. I, too, have a few stories I can add here but they would, for the most part, be nothing more than ditto statements. But I’ll add in one anyway. 🙂

    When I first went to China, I was with a group of 5 foreign teachers (all Americans) who had spent significant time studying China and Chinese language – the sole exception being myself who had one year of very limited Chinese study. By Christmas of that year (5 months after our arrival), I was the only one on speaking terms with the staff and administration at the school. So, while the remaining teachers all went to Hong Kong for the Christmas break (against school regulations), I stayed (for both monetary and personal reasons). The school staff was appreciative of my efforts and they went out of their way to provide me a Christmas party at the school – at which I got to play Santa to the children and none of them believed in me for a second.

    I could not then fathom the other Americans attitudes toward China when they had put so much effort into learning about China and its language and, while my own was not always perfect, I felt an obligation to show the school that not all Americans were as my compatriots portrayed them. Sure, I had my idiosyncracies where I would not drink alcohol or smoke (though, to be fair, the culture of drinking and banqueting that is so pervasive today was not nearly as pernicious at that time) but I tried my best to live within the parameters that existed there. It’s tragic that so few other foreigners are willing to make the same efforts.

  28. […] know I’m toeing the “Ugly American” line here, but I don’t think that it’s so unreasonable to expect to sleep in a […]

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