Sunday, January 21, 2007

Don't Mess with My Dad, You Ugly American!

Here's a funny if infuriating incident at the airport today involving my Dad.

Dad was in Manila this week, at the same time I was, though he was flying back to Dumaguete and I to Davao. His flight was earlier, around noon, and mine was much later in the evening, so he left for the airport ahead.

So Dad lined up at the Cebu Pacific counter marked Dumaguete. He was a tad surprised that the queue was short. (I'm reconstructing the event from his story.)

As it turned out, the American guy ahead of him shooed him away. "We're on a medical mission to Dumaguete, and there are 59 of us," the American guy said. "Go to the other line." And he pointed to the Tagbilaran queue.

Apparently, the medical mission wanted the queue to themselves.

Dad's response: "Why? I'm going to Dumaguete. This is my line. Why are you telling me to go to Tagbilaran?"

If you don't know my Dad, you don't know how much noise he can make. Oh, yeah. He made noise.

The rebuke shut the ugly American up. But Dad wasn't finished. Dad started calling other passengers to the line. "Dumaguete! Dumaguete! This line for Dumaguete!" And pretty soon, there was a long snaking line. The medical mission could kiss their privacy goodbye.

It was only then that two Filipino doctors accompanying the medical mission apologized to Dad.

Sigh. What Dad did shouldn't have been remarkable. By now we have to be able to stand up for our right to decent treatment in our country. But it took my Dad to stand up to the ugly American; all the other Filipinos meekly followed the American's instructions.

Why? Because he spoke English? Because he was blonde and white?

In our own minds, we are still second class citizens in our own country.

Defiance is the only response. Way to go, Dad!

And Mr. Ugly American: you can medical mission all you want, but if you're going to be all superior and rude about it, you know where to stick your medical mission.


  1. You know, in fairness, it actually is easier to check an entire group in all at once if they're traveling together, both for the passenger and the airline officials. Likely they all had the same paperwork and visas, so they wanted to stick together to keep things simple. I doubt it was necessarily because of a desire for privacy. Everyone does it -- if we're in a group, especially a large one, it makes sense to check in together.

    I'm not suggesting that the American doctor wasn't being discriminatory, as I obviously wasn't there to witness the incident. Your dad probably would have been checked in at the Tagbilaran counter since they all have the same computer systems anyway. But you're right, the doctor could have been more polite and less Ugly American about the whole thing. Good on your dad for standing up for himself!


  2. I know it is common practice to affix the label "American" to any Caucasian spotted in Southeast Asia, so I hope this was truly an American. We don't need to be given credit for the stupid things that blonde, white foreigners from Europe, Australia, Canada and South Africa do as well.

    Also, this "ugly American" label is not fair to those of us Americans who do not engage in such demeaning and disrespectful behavior. People see this term over and over again and then assume we are all thoughtless jerks. There is enough overgeneralization and stereotyping in the world already, and it is never constructive to group people together if you have not met everyone in that group.

    I'm sorry your dad felt like he was being pushed around in his own country. He doesn't deserve that, for sure, especially since he did nothing to provoke this man. Next time, however, please don't throw around that term "ugly American" is offensive and insulting to the rest of us in America who have great love and respect for people of other cultures.

    Thank you.

  3. I know this is sort of off-tangent. But I'm still sort of thrown-off every time I see a Caucasian do menial jobs here in Ozland. Does that have something to do with this post-colonial image we have of white folks as being always in a position of dominance (i.e. superiority) and so it strikes us as odd when we actually see them empty out trash or sweep floors?

  4. Hi, Marj: oh, no doubt about it, it is easier to check in an entire group. Which is probably what happened. But: why not check them in on a separate line? Why take over the entire Dumaguete counter?

    It would have been alright if the Tagbilaran counter were shorter than the Dumaguete counter. But that wasn't the case.

    Thanks, though, for posting your thoughts.

  5. Hi, Arashi: thanks for weighing in, and for being a voice of reason.

    However, I use the term "Ugly American" in the particular sense: according to the Wikipedia, Ugly American is an epithet used to refer to perceptions of arrogant, demeaning, unthoughtful behaviors of Americans abroad.

    From the novel: "For some reason, the people I meet in my country are not the same as the ones I knew in the United States. A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They're loud and ostentatious."

    You're right that Americans don't have monopoly on bad behavior. However, there's still something in the fact of this association. While we Filipinos need to make those distinctions, Americans also need to do something about their own image.

  6. Hi, Sparks! Congratulations on the start of your new academic program! I hope you have fun there.

    You know, your perception is not unique. Sometime back in 1980, a relative told me she felt disconcerted when she saw Chinese in Taiwan doing manual labor. Chalk it up, I suppose, to a lack of exposure. Without those expanded horizons, we're stuck with certain images and preconceptions.

    Remember: it took Europe to open Rizal's eyes about the Philippines.

  7. Bonjour, Dominique!

    I'm inclined to agree with Arashi on this one. The Graham Greene book was searing in its indictment of America's presence in Southeast Asia at a particular time in its history, and its unfortunate that the term Ugly American has now been used to verbally tar and feather the entire American population because of the actions of a few overseas expats and travelers who exhibit boorish behavior.

    I've lived and traveled overseas dozens of times and have found that poor manners and racism/discrimination are not particular to any one ethnicity, nationality or race. Americans just happen to be the most visible because it's the most powerful country on earth, so they're super-easy targets. As you mention, Dominique, the term Ugly American is an epithet, much as 'nigger' and 'coolie' are, and doesn't do much to enlighten attitudes as it perpetuates the notion that one can generalize about an entire group of people based on the behavior (usual bad) of one member.

    Filipinos are no more or less racist than any other group of people, but I would like to think that our history as a colonized people has gifted us with a more finely honed sensitivity against discrimination of any kind, whether it's directed at us or someone of another ethnicity. Perhaps that's being idealistic (or unrealistic?), but the racism has to stop somewhere.


  8. Thank you, Dominique and marjorie, for you comments.

    The problem with trying to improve our image as Americans is that our reputation precedes us, and so we are already working against perceptions that have been formed throughout history. In addition, the lack of any real centralized culture in the U.S. predisposes us to act outside the accepted limits at times. That does not excuse disrespectful behavior, but such behavior isn't always intended to be hurtful.

    We need to adequately understand the culture we are entering so that we can be blessed by the experience, instead of unconsciously imposing our will upon it and hurting others in the process.

    Of course, some do intend to be hurtful, and those are the truly Ugly People.

  9. Hi, Marjorie and Arashi:

    Well, the perspective certainly looks different when I'm no longer in the heat of the moment. Thanks both for the wise words.

  10. Hi Dom, kudos to your Dad for standing up to that display of arrogance.

    If by overreacting, you meant the use of the term "ugly American", I beg to disagree.

    an opened mind who is not constantly on the defensive will know that the use of that term is not an indictment of the entire American population but more like the most fitting term there is for anybody who would fit the shoes.

    I've been getting a lot of reactions here, mostly Filipinos who felt the same as i did about that incident. Sadly, we can only sigh and shake our heads. what can be do about that actually?

  11. Olga...

    But it often is an indictment of the entire American population. At least, that is how we perceive it, whether true or not. If you're not an American it's hard for you to understand this. I was born and raised in a country where every other evening's newscast features video images of my flag being burned by people in many different parts of the world (including the Philippines). We can be excused for constantly being on the defensive, for we are constantly attacked.

    I don't condone what the Caucasian foreigner did in this example. He could have handled it with much more tact and gentleness. But the use of the term "Ugly American" (always a capital "U") to describe him and others only perpetuates an unfair stereotype, and the world is already teeming with enough of these. Sadly, people aren't as open-minded as you may think, and won't differentiate between an isolated incident and a gross generalization.

    "Stupid, Tactless Foreigner", though scathing, actually has a much better chance of alienating far fewer people and will guarantee that you net the Europeans, Australians, South Africans, Indians, Chinese and all other foreigners who behave with such thoughtlessness.

  12. arashi,

    somehow I understand how you feel about this. but i hope you wont lose sight of the fact that only the mindless fanatics and extremely prejudiced throngs get TV coverage. The rest of us who keep quiet and have no quarrel with the US - therefore boring and wont boost ratings - would never get to see our faces on any TV.

    by the way, i hope there are more of us open-minded enough people than you and i believe.

    but the fact remains ... there are sensible people around.

    Not everyone hates America. You should see the lines at the US embassy. cheers.