The Ugly American Spreads His Wings
Over the last few years I have lived and worked as a teacher all over Europe, exploring different cultures, languages, cuisines and rhythms of life.
When I first started learning to teach English overseas with the team at Teach Away, I didn’t think things were going to end up this crazy.
My first destination was France where I lived for a year and half and I can say with certainty that it was the most memorable of all the places I have visited. Perhaps it was because it was the first time I left the states or the fact that I was greeted by every man and woman by receiving 2 kisses on my cheeks.
It felt rather strange being greeted by a complete stranger in that manner. It’s still a bit odd when I think about it, so for my first post I might as well write about that.
My second day in France and I wanted to check out my future workplace. I went to the school to introduce myself, only to be greeted by an easy-on-the-eyes woman who proceeded to put her arms around me and kiss my cheeks.
I thought it was an odd way to meet your boss to say the least and made me feel a little bit out of place, but I was eager to learn the etiquette differences. After I was finished I went to meet a friend of mine who lived in a small town near Paris.
We hadn’t seen each other in four years and decided to meet at the Eiffel tower so I could send some pictures to friends and family. I took a bus there and as I was getting close to seeing the tower I received a phone call from my brother asking how I was going.
I started telling him about my first few days, how odd some of the customs were for me, and how bloody small the Eiffel tower looked (I’m actually nervous around heights and it was freaking me out) For all you hear about the amazing tower I expected it to be twice as big, I kept saying, complaining about it.
To be honest, I felt guilty for exploring Europe without him so that helped as well to talk down everything I saw.
Eventually I arrived at the tower to find a huge line of people waiting for the elevator. I’m by no means a patient man, I don’t line up for much. I was nervous about the height and started pacing about shaking out my nerves. I knew if I waited for a long time I would bail on the trip up.
Thankfully my friend arrived quickly, we talked about everything that’s been going on, laughing, and cursing about having to wait in line so damn long. Eventually a young lady approached us, looked me straight in the eye and went “Sir, have you ever read the book The Ugly American?”
I wanted to respond but she continued right away “You see, I came on the same bus as you. You were shouting into your phone like an idiot the whole way, talking poorly about the country you chose to visit and disrespecting our way of life. As if it was so horrible getting a kiss in the cheek by an attractive woman? And now look at you. You and your friend are louder than 50 people combined, talking nonsense again and complaining as if the world should bow to your every desire. Shame on you!”
I couldn’t even say sorry as she quickly walked back to her spot and the crowd shouted in agreement. I had never been so ashamed in my life. Suffice to say we were quietly waiting from there on, well technically I was, my friend was snickering whole way saying “Your face! You should’ve seen your face!”
So up the tower we went. After taking a few nervous pictures I saw the same girl who had so ‘eloquently’ put me in my place just a couple of minutes ago. I walked over to apologize and ask her to dinner as amends for my behavior and a chance to explain myself. She said yes, but things only got worse from there.