How Ugly Westerner Syndrome Diminishes Your Travel Experiences

How Ugly Westerner Syndrome Diminishes Your Travel Experiences

Are you an ugly westerner?

It’s an ingrained mindset and attitude of cultural entitlement based on the idea that where you are from is the best place in the world.

Then you get on a plane and travel far away and act like you are still at home. You demand similar low-level delusion from the natives of the land you visit. And everyone you bump into in this foreign land should know you are a Westerner and treat you reverently because of such.

“Don’t you speak English?” “The food is much better in the U.S.A.” “Why do you use this funny money? Why don’t you use real money?”

Have you ever asked such questions?

Well then, if you have, then you defeat the purpose of traveling before you even buy your airline tickets.

It’s called Ugly Westerner Syndrome.

It will diminish the enjoyment of your trip.  You will probably offend every non-westerner you meet. You might get financially ripped off with such an attitude. You will waste time chasing the perceived expectations of how a vacation should unfold for a westerner instead of appreciating the unpredictable nature of travel as it really is.

After all, why travel at all if you really believe that no other country compares to your home country? Why go to another country just to tell people, point-by-point, how your home country is superior?

Travel is all about stepping out of your comfort zone, trying new things and being open-minded enough to look at the world from a different point of view.

You will make new friends, you may learn about undiscovered restaurants and experiences and you will create better memories, the real currency of life.

Also, being willfully and rebelliously oblivious about world cultures, especially the culture you plan to visit imminently, could result in you being offended at best, or being financially ripped off or imprisoned at worse.

Before you demand that the hotel concierge or roadside vendor use, “real money,” you should be aware of the taxation practices of international countries.

Did you know that many countries charge tourists a tax because they are tourists likely to spend money? Sometime it is called a, “Value Added Tax,” or VAT, but essentially it is a tax for being a tourist using proprietary facilities in a cash-strapped or developing country.

Tourists who arrive in Thailand by air will pay a TTA or Thailand Tourism Authority tax of about $14 USD for stays over 3 days. If you arrive in Thailand via entry through a neighboring country by non-air means, it will cost a buck or 2.

A Malaysian island is considering a tourist tax as well. Tanzania is keeping theirs.

If you have ever seen, “VAT,” on your hotel or resort bill, then know you have paid some form of the tourist tax on the basis of being a foreigner with money.

And that is the tourist tax when it is out in the open. A lot of places have an unspoken tourist tax.

It is better to realize that this is the way the world works. Calculate exchange rates before you leave. Really think about how to take the most advantage of the exchange rate in your favor. The country you visit, its hotels, resorts and attractions are doing the same in their own favor as well.

Tourism is a business after all.

As a tourist you are a part of that chain.  Demanding to use, “real money,” instead of dealing with the reality of exchange rates or different currencies will only bring you more problems than you need.

When you travel, do you only visit International versions of American burger joints?

Have you ever been to the French/Belgian Burger King, known as Quik?

Or the Philippines answer to McDonald’s, Jollibee?

Do you know where to find the top fast food joint in South Africa?

Why would you travel to a distant land to demand to eat a Big Mac or Whopper? Save that meal as a homecoming gift.

You could miss out eating wildly different version of a burger, or an experience in a gourmet restaurant with locally sourced food or finding a new kind of product.

Travel is all about expanding your culinary experiences.

Do you insist on talking loudly about how great your country is in comparison to the country you are visiting?

Saying how cool you are doesn’t necessarily make it true. Shouting, “U.S.A!” in the face of every native you meet on your international trip will only add credence to anyone who asks you, “why did you leave?”

Travel is about learning about new cultures and being open minded about new experiences. No one is suggesting you burn your passport or switch citizenship, but only to consider the culturally toxic environment you are creating with such a mindset.

Consider: How do you feel when tourists or immigrants visit your country and yet talk of how superior their respective home countries are?

You do the same thing when you visit another country and act in a similar fashion.

Travel is about perspective, perception and context. Brussels is only called, “Brussels,” internationally. Within Brussels and in Belgian, the city is called, “Bruxelles.”

Japanese people within Japan call their country, “Nippon,” or “Nihon.”

A little understanding and perspective, on everyone’s part, can only empower a travel experience.

Running your mouth obliviously while you travel, because of the relative freer rights of expressions granted westerners compared to the rest of the world, can get you in serious trouble.

Did you know that it is against Thai law to insult, ridicule or denigrate the Thai Royal Family?

Publicly, electronically or privately insulting the royal family of Thailand in any manner will result in imprisonment.

A singer was recently imprisoned for 7 years in Thailand for insulting the royal family, though longer sentences can go up to 30 years for the same offence in Thailand.

Uttering, “But you can’t arrest me, I’m an American,” in a tone of voice stressing your cultural superiority in such a situation will only result in the arresting officer injuring themselves through convulsions of raucous laughter and in turn, adding another charge against you.

The aim of this article is not to trash westerners for being westerners but to reinforce how lucky and privileged you should feel to be a westerner with all the privileges it entails.

American citizens can travel to about 170 countries, give or take, visa-free for a period of time or with the opportunity for visa-on-arrival privilege. The United States is usually in the top five when it comes to countries with virtually unrestricted travel freedoms.

If you were born in or are a citizen of a western country, you can go virtually anywhere in the world. Currency exchange advantages, depending upon where you go, will ultimately benefit you.

The multitude of vacation and recreational opportunities available to you, especially in the developing world which depends on tourism dollars, is incalculable.

Why frame the enjoyment on your travel within the context of re-creating the emotional atmosphere of your home country everywhere you go?

What would be the point in ever leaving?

In the end, it is simply not enough to be cognizant of not being an, “Ugly Westerner.”

Be grateful that as a westerner, you can literally go anywhere in the world.

Why be arrogant about that?


A. A. Francis

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