Inside the Capitol

Monday, May 12, 2008

5-19 Ugly American Getting Prettier

MON, 5-19-08

SANTA FE - The Ugly American is getting prettier. Or so it seems to us after a month's cruise on a large ship with about 1,000 Americans, about 1,000 passengers from other English speaking countries and some 800 people from countries in which English is not their first language.
Since this is a ship run by British officers and all announcements are made in English, it is safe to assume everyone has some fluency in English or is with someone who does.
Ships crews are international so nearly all passengers are likely to find a crewmember who speaks their language. Thus, communication among passengers is pretty good. Sometimes a British accent is almost as difficult to understand as any foreign accent.
Among the many people with whom we visited, we felt we saw a change in attitude by Americans and toward Americans. The Ugly American of past years was characterized as loud, demanding and dismissive of foreign cultures and customs. Of course, we realize that not all of us exhibited those characteristics, but enough did to give us a reputation.
What changed either Americans, foreigners, or both? The events of Sept. 11, 2001 may have been the primary catalyst. We traveled frequently during 2002 because 9-11 fears considerably reduced foreign travel, forcing airlines and cruises to slash rates. During those days, we experienced great sympathy toward Americans. We heard statements such as "We are all Americans now." At U.S. embassies, flowers and memorials were placed at the front gates by local people.
In May 2002, we sailed through northwest Germany on the Kiel Canal, a shortcut from the North Sea to the Baltic, and witnessed farmers gathered along the waterway waving American flags and cheering.
We were in Brussels the following year on Armistice Day and saw almost as many American flags as Belgian flags. And their famous Manikin Pis statue was dressed in an American Legion uniform.
Since then, our nation's foreign policy hasn't won many friends internationally. Much of that 9-11 sympathy has dissipated. At many U.S. embassies, memorials have been replaced by armed guards.
But we think we have seen more good will toward us, as Americans, than we did a decade ago. Fellow passengers from other countries seem eager to tell us they don't dislike Americans. They're a little apologetic about our governments disagreeing.
They can't sympathize with us, however, about our high gas prices. In the countries we visited on this trip, gasoline ranged from $6 to $10 a gallon. And there was no pity about our weak dollar.
When we visited two ports in Hawaii, the shopping bags brought back on ship greatly increased in size. We think of Hawaii as expensive but it was the least expensive port on this cruise. That includes Australia. New Zealand and the resort islands of the South Pacific.
We enjoyed seeing the foreign lands but we don't plan to return. All things considered, Hawaii is the best resort island in the Pacific.
We docked in Honolulu in the middle of town for about 12 hours. Once again, we noticed that even in a city that size, we heard almost no car horns or sirens. Rental car drivers in Hawaii somehow quickly learn the rules of the road. Few things are important enough to warrant a honk or even a siren.
But we did notice the usual racket from motorcycles. No place I know in the world has figured out how to require bikers to have no louder pipes than cars. Bikers say it's a safety issue. Car drivers need to hear them coming since they can't see them as well.
But for some reason senior citizens riding motorcycles seldom make loud noises. And I never read in the papers about senior cyclists being hit in traffic. It's the tough guys with tattoos that are fearful of their safety. The minimum age for motorcyclists should be increased to 65.
Will be back in office on Thurs.

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