Whether you’re a tourist traveling to the UK to sight-see or a future UK resident relocating to London to live, I have a message that bears repeating. I’ve spoken before about the expat dilemma of not knowing exactly where you fit in anymore either at home or abroad, and part of that spiel addressed fitting in with locals while still being proud of where you come from.
I still say be proud of your nationality, but please, oh please be tactful in conveying that pride. This post is directly inspired by my train ride to York, England last Saturday, during which I wanted to absolutely crawl into a hole and hide. You see, it’s one thing to stay confident in your national identity inwardly and to politely defend it outwardly to deflect criticism when prompted (rather than being apologetic if you don’t really mean it), but it’s quite another to cater to the stereotypes that the locals can and will use against you, not to mention against everyone else of your same nationality. As an American, I certainly see the stigma that our country has abroad, and while I refuse to be apologetic, I also thankfully don’t fit the stereotype of “Ugly American.”
The Ugly American is the tourist or expat striding through foreign streets who wears arrogance and close-mindedness like a bad suit. And this last weekend, I sat across the aisle from hands-down the Ugliest American I’ve yet to encounter over here since moving to London. We’re stereotyped as loud-talkers to begin with, and this man was no exception. Despite the fact that he and his partner (wife or girlfriend, I couldn’t tell) were seated directly facing a young British couple and might have therefore made a point to keep their conversation that much quieter and to themselves, this man blasted his voice through the entire car for the entire two-hour ride. What was worse, he decided it was a good idea to interrogate his partner on her political perspectives and insist on the rightness of his not only at the expense of her patience, but at the expense of other foreign policies, including those of the UK. While he interrupted himself now and then to admire the height of old church steeples scattered across the English countryside, he continued to (loudly) speak his disdain of certain foreign systems and views. If I could have evaporated into the upholstery of my seat, I would have in a heartbeat. I was mortified to hail under the same flag as this man who so grossly mistreated his right to freedom of speech.
When you’re a guest at a party, while you might engage in amicable debate as part of an intellectually stimulating conversation, you do not condescend to other guests nor insult your host. So while we’re guests of this country, we shouldn’t knock it either. I’m not saying you should swallow your opinions by any means—being an “expatriate” doesn’t have to literally mean “non-patriot”! But perhaps don’t broadcast differences in opinion in an antagonistic manner sure to offend when no one has provoked you in the first place. If there’s no debate, let’s coexist in harmony and celebrate all we do have have in common with our gracious hosts. It’s curiosity and respect that surely brings us to another country in the first place, so whether as tourists or expats making the London move, let’s foster positive international relations and be gracious guests. 🙂