This week, I found myself in jolly old England, only I have to admit, I wasn’t too jolly when I first got here. An hour and a half in the immigration control line at the airport will weaken your jolliness a bit. I was detained by a power hungry immigration officer, not for the lack of a working visa, which I did not need, but for the lack of inquiring about a working visa, which I did not need. This kind of interaction will take a little more jolliness from you. Getting to your hotel room at about 1:00 am will weaken it some more. Still, it’s no excuse to be ugly.
The term “Ugly American” is a term I truly detest. Wikipedia defines it this way:
“A term used to refer to perceptions of arrogant behavior by Americans abroad.”
Having traveled to many different countries over my 30 years of seminar travel, I’ve seen it up close and personal. “We don’t do it that way in the United States,” is usually the mantra that identifies this ugly behavior. I’ve heard it, I’ve seen it, and unfortunately, I’ve lived it.
Strolling into my hotel and stripped of my jolliness, (an interesting irony for a man named Jolles,) I mumbled my way through the usual hotel welcome pleasantries. Just as I was getting ready to break off this smile-fest I inquired about the internet.
“Yes sir. That’s ten pounds a day… per device.”
Per device? That meant I could get email on my laptop, but not on my cell phone. My cell phone was on strict orders, (through its settings menu,) to not roam while on this trip. Per device meant I could not use it even in the hotel – without paying another ten pounds a day. That’s when my jolliness ended, and out came the words I detest:
“We don’t do it that way in the United States,” along with a smirk.
Shame on me. No, we don’t do it that way in the United States. As a matter of fact, half the hotels in the United States don’t even charge for internet services to registered guests. Good for us! Unfortunately, I seemed to have forgotten I wasn’t in the United States. In the United Kingdom, all the hotels charge for internet services… per device. I growled a little, grabbed my key, and marched off like the ugly American I had become.
But this story has a better ending than that. I woke up the next morning feeling jolly again, and thinking straight. This wasn’t my country or my culture, and I had no right treating a man, who was merely repeating company policy, the way I did. I went back to the front desk, found the individual who had been subjected to my rude behavior, and promptly apologized. Fortunately, the individual I had offended barely remembered our encounter. I did, however, and I wanted to make it right.
This little faux pas of mine reminded me that every time we find ourselves not liking something because “we don’t do it that way,” it would be wise to think very carefully about how we react. Just because, “We don’t do it that way,” doesn’t make it wrong. As a matter of fact, we might learn better ways of doing things if we aren’t so quick to pass judgment on the different ways of different cultures.