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"Ugly American" Stereotype

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"For some reason, the [American] people I meet in my country are not the same as the ones I knew in the United States. A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They are loud and ostentatious."
U Maung Swe, The Ugly American

When American citizens go abroad, they will be arrogant, shameless, entitled, rude, and ignorant.

The stereotype is most often applied to American tourists, expats or diplomats, since they are in the best position to interact with foreign cultures. They will be portrayed as unappreciative of and disrespectful to the culture, prone to comparing things negatively to how they are back home, and often expecting the locals to cater to them and throwing a fit when they don't get what they want. (To top it off, most portrayals of this involve white Americans, which highlights the cultural disconnect if they are in a country that isn't mostly white.) However, it can be applied to any type of American character. Businessmen in town for some dealings? Money-obsessed and all too ready to screw over their foreign partners. Celebrities on vacation? Tacky Nouveau Riche Rich Bitches compared to proper European Old Money. Foreign Exchange Students? Lazy and entitled. Its fictional leaders arriving for diplomatic meetings? Only concerned with American growth. Religious missionaries? Fire and Brimstone preachers with drawling accents and racism. Two or more Americans talking to each other? Expect lots of profanity.

This is a common stereotype in many parts of the world for a variety of reasons. One is American individualism and values of freedom of expression contrasting the collectivism of many other cultures; unlike in most cultures that value social harmony and peace at the expense of individual expression (e.g. Japanese Politeness), in America speaking your mind out is actively encouraged, even if it is critical of superior institutions, or offensive. This is paired with a belief in American exceptionalism and/or twisted or exaggerated into extreme self-centeredness. The US's position as a dominant military and economic world power and the high purchasing power of the dollar (allowing a not-wealthy American to live large elsewhere) in many countries are other factors. There's also the recurring stereotype of Americans suffering from Global Ignorance. Could as well be a result of feelings of insecurity and isolation stemming from being in a different, unfamiliar place, coupled with popular notions that everyone else in the world hates Americans.

However, it is not uncommon for American writers to portray Americans in this way as a form of Self-Deprecation. And although this stereotype usually applies when Americans visit other countries, it could also apply to a sympathetic foreigner reacting to a rude American on home soil.

The Trope Namer is "Ugly American", a 1948 photograph of an American tourist in Cuba by Constantino Arias. The phrase entered public consciousness with The Ugly American (not the show Ugly Americans). However, the trope goes at least as far back as Mark Twain's The Innocents Abroad.

Very related to Eagleland — the implication is that the United States is perceived either by the writers or the characters as the America the Boorish, which is why the characters representing them act this way. More forgiving versions of this trope will draw from the Mixed flavor of Eagleland and portray them as clueless and occasionally insensitive, but good-hearted. Note that a character's uncouthness must stand out because they are specifically from the USA; one rude American in a cast of other Americans is not an example unless the stereotype is talked about.

Compare Americans Are Cowboys, Hawaiian-Shirted Tourist — to drive home the stereotype, an Ugly American might wear a cowboy hat or a Hawaiian shirt, or a bathing suit in a situation where it's not appropriate. They are also likely to be overweight or obese. See also Crass Canuck, The Bogan, Northern Irish and Nasty, Dublin Skanger, The Quincy Punk and Football Hooligans for their uncouth Anglophone cousins, Asian Rudeness, French Jerk, The Idiot from Osaka, and Japanese Tourist. Contrast Courteous Canadian. No Real Life Examples, Please!


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  • The title character of Coach Lasso is an "American coach in London", and is rude, crude, and thinks he knows best, even though he doesn't actually know anything about the sport he was hired to coach.
  • This Honeycomb Cereal commercial has a trio of obnoxious American teenagers abroad in London trying to make one of Her Majesty's finest react to no avail. One of the girls pulls out a box of the titular cereal on him which gets the job done and the three continuously tempt him with the sweet deliciousness of toasted honey. The boy even smarmily brags about the cereal being “All the way from America!” It gives them what they want and then some; the guard succumbs to his craving and transforms into the Crazy Craving mascot, stealing the Honeycomb box and running off, much to the teens' anger. The ending shows the trio now as cravers themselves chasing after the guard craver trying to get their precious toasted honey back while Her Majesty and a servent (played by Jeremy Irons, of all people) watch on. The latter dryly informs his queen "Americans, I believe…" when she confusedly asks what they are. The American cravers are noticeably more rabid than the guard.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Peepo Choo explores this trope with our primary American characters, Milton and Jodie. Milton is at least well-meaning, but the majority of his visit to Japan consists of him making wild and unruly gestures and speaking gibberish to the native population, if only because he thinks that's what Japan would be familiar with (since he's using the titular series as a reference guide). Jodie, however, is just a rude guy trying to get in the pants of any girl he can find.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! - despite Kazuki Takahashi's personal fondness for American culture and games (Duel Monsters was, after all, originally a parody of Magic: The Gathering) pretty much every American in the manga is this to one extent or another. Especially resident flag-wearer Bandit Keith.

    Comic Books 
  • Knight and Squire #6 presents The Joker as this, utterly contemptuous of British culture in general ("this thin-sandwiched, coffee-diluting pigsty") and the UK superhero scene in particular. ("The sheer camp! For you people, it's like the sixties never ended!")
    Joker: I am getting so tired of double meanings and wordplay and things one just implicitly understands. Could you people please just say what you mean?! You know, like us Yanks do?!
  • The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist: Lampshaded by Adrian, who stumbles upon a protest while being interviewed in France. He frets that his ignorance of the situation depicted on-camera will make him look like an ugly American.
  • Untold Tales of Spider-Man: Richard and Mary Parker (Peter Parker's parents) exploited the stereotype in India by playing "Ugly Americans" with two goons guarding an enemy installation, portraying themselves as crude and tacky tourists while asking the guards if they'd be so nice as to take their picture. Figuring they had better send these annoying foreigners on their way as quickly and with as little drama as possible, the guards fell for the ruse. The "camera" the Parkers gave them was actually a knock-out gas dispenser.

    Fan Works 
  • The Miraculous Ladybug fic The Hero of Paris centers on an American tourist named Michael who photographs and films nearly everything he comes across during his Paris trip, to the point he decides to livestream someone who appears to be having a manic episode in a train restroom. Said person turns out to be Gabriel Agreste/Hawk Moth, turning Michael into an Accidental Hero when he exits the restroom and thus inadvertently reveals his secret identity to the world.
  • A Good Omens fic by A.A. Pessimal is set in Austria in the early nineteenth century, and refers to an older version of this trope: here, loud, overbearing and ignorant British tourists, the temporal version of Americans a century later, exploit the same position of being wealthy exponents of British attitudes to the rest of the world, and tour central Europe on the Grand Sneer loudly demanding to know where's this Wien place when it's at home, and why can't the locals grasp that we want to go to Vienna? And is this Fiorenze place anywhere near Florence? The demon Crowley speculates that when the USA has ascended in importance and supplanted Britain as world superpower, the average American abroad will be every bit as obnoxious as a typical Brit.

    Films — Animation 
  • The opening sequence of Despicable Me features a family of loud, boorish, overweight, dim-witted American tourists on vacation in Egypt (soundtracked to "Sweet Home Alabama", no less).
  • Flushed Away: A recurring background character is an American rat tourist in a cowboy hat engaging in typical obnoxious tourist behavior, like teasing a Royal Guard, or watching the World Cup final and criticizing the players for not knowing the first thing about football.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The teen sex comedy Euro Trip was originally titled Ugly Americans because of its portrayal of American tourists in Europe: idiotic stumbling youths.
  • Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga: Played with. Lars, an Icelandic man, meets some teenage American tourists in Scotland and proceeds to mock and insult them for their supposed rudeness and stupidity. The Americans are portrayed as a little air-headed, but still decent people, making it clear that Lars is in the wrong. Of course, this is especially ironic because Lars is played by the American Will Ferrell.
  • In Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties, the American cast goes to the UK. Garfield yells at Odie not to pee on a British soldier's leg, because that'd make him an ugly American.
  • I Am Cuba: This film was a 1964 Soviet-Cuban co-production meant to celebrate the Cuban revolution. Unsurprisingly for a Soviet propaganda film, arrogant, crude Americans exploit the locals economically and sexually.
    • The first segment of the film centers on a character named Maria, a prostitute who degrades herself by servicing loud, crude American businessmen. One highlight has the john who patronizes Maria get lost and stumble through the slums.
    • Later, American sailors walk around Havana singing an obnoxious (and fictional) patriotic song, before assaulting and nearly raping a young Cuban woman. She's saved by Enrique, a young Cuban student radical.
  • In Bruges: The beautiful Belgian city is visited by many tourists, but Ray is hostile to Americans in particular.
    • He offends a family of them when he calls them fat.
    • When another tourist annoys him he strikes the man, blaming Americans for the Vietnam War and the death of John Lennon. He later regrets this mistake: the man is Canadian.
  • In The Man with the Golden Gun, Sheriff J.W. Pepper is vacationing in Thailand, and is fittingly an overweight, loud white man who acts lewdly and disrespectfully. He tries to invoke his American police authority over the Thai cops to no success.
  • Downplayed in Midsommar: of the four American tourists who travel to Sweden, only Mark is particularly obnoxious and boorish. He consistently makes snide comments about the festival and Swedish women. However, the Harga look down on his attitude and seem to be aware of the stereotype: one of them yells "you American!" after he unwittingly desecrates a sacred object.
  • Played for Laughs by National Lampoon's European Vacation, which sees the American Griswold family go abroad. Father Clark Griswold is The Fool who shepherds his family across a whirlwind tour of Western Europe, mother Ellen tries to be the Only Sane Man, and the Griswold children are disgusted at being dragged through a continent-sized Weirdoland. This family tends to make themselves personae non gratae wherever they go, causing mayhem and trouble everywhere with their ignorance.
  • Never on Sunday: Homer, an American intellectual visiting the Greek city of Piraeus. He's not the ugly American sort that gets drunk in a bar or sexually exploits local women or screams at people for not speaking English. Instead he's a more subtle example in that he presumes to lecture all the locals on how their culture has declined since Alexander and how they should really act more like Americans. Most of this is focused on Ilya as Homer dogs her footsteps and insists that she really should not enjoy being a whore so much and that he can "save" her. His real motivation is My Girl Is Not a Slut but he can't admit that even to himself. He also causes one of the bazouki players to have a moral crisis when Homer insists that he can't be a musician because he doesn't read music. Homer gets over himself in the last scene, pounding shots of ouzo and shattering the glasses like the locals, but it's too late to win Ilya.
  • The Treadgolds from No Kidding are a pair of obnoxious, stuck-up, little brats with a stereotypical American drawl.
  • Spring: In Italy, Evan is razzed by two British tourists about being American, and Evan admits that everyone hates Americans. Later, he watches an obnoxious American tourist bedecked in star-spangled shorts and bandanna cause a scene and scream the national anthem. That same tourist eventually becomes an Asshole Victim.
  • The Spy Who Dumped Me is mainly set in Europe. When the Russian Nadedja is given the order to shoot "two dumb American women", she can't find Audrey and Morgan because of all the uncouth pairs of American tourists.
  • Otto in A Fish Called Wanda is an overtly jingoistic and idiotic patriot who accuses the English of being sexually repressed football hooligans, yet flips his lid when he's reminded of the Vietnam War and claims that America didn't lose it but simply tied with their enemy.
  • Downplayed in Slumdog Millionaire. Jamal and Salim make a living as kids by pretending to be tour guides to the Taj Mahal, and scam chubby American tourists with made-up trivia that the visitors are too dumb to realize is fake. However, none of them are particularly rude and one couple even helps them from being arrested.
  • In Watch Your Stern, Commander Fanshawe and Captain Foster see Commander Phillips as one.
    Commander Fanshawe: Commander Phillips to see you, sir.
    Captain Foster: Who?
    Commander Fanshawe: The American Commander for the Creeper plans.
    Captain Foster: Oh, yes, I remember. What's he like?
    Commander Fanshawe: Like most Americans, sir.
    Captain Foster: Oh, pity.

  • Evoked in Two for the Lions, in which Roman private eye Marcus Didius Falco is sent on a mission to Tripolitania (i.e. North Africa) for Emperor Vespasian and—reluctantly—has to travel with his brother-in-law Famia, a horse-vet who works for one of the big chariot teams. Falco has to drag his drunken, chauvinistic, Lower-Class Lout relative out of trouble until Famia, buoyed up on drink and a conviction that a Roman abroad can do whatever he likes with impunity, gets drunk, and belittles the local Gods as not a patch on the superior Roman deities. He is arrested by the temple guards and sentenced to death at the paws and teeth of the arena lions. Contrary to expectations, Falco does not manage to get him out of it.
  • A Bell for Adano: Captain Purvis, second in command to Major Joppolo in the American unit that is occupying the town of Adano after the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943. Purvis is loud and crude and obnoxious. He calls Italians dagos and wops. He makes horribly offensive crude sexual advances to women. When a returning prisoner is telling, in Italian, a serious story about how Tina's boyfriend was killed, the non-Italian-speaking Purvis keeps interrupting.
    Purvis: Major, are you going to sit here jabbering dago with these people all afternoon? How about cutting me in on this pretty little squiff here?
  • Downplayed with American tourists (and even Americans in general) in Agatha Christie's works: They're loud, overbearing and obnoxiously friendly, but still good at heart. Although it should be noted they come from a period of time before America Saves the Day was a cultural norm.
  • The Innocents Abroad: Ur-Example. Something of a travelogue parody, it chronicles Twain's adventures vacationing in Europe and the Holy Land. He identifies the American tourists onboard as judgmental pseudo-sophisticates who don't truly appreciate the cultures they're experiencing.
  • Rebecca: Mrs. Van Hopper, the protagonist's initial employer, is an American woman on holiday in Monte Carlo. She's obnoxious and latches onto famous and wealthy guests to bolster herself.
  • The Ugly American: The American diplomats in Southeast Asia live comfortably, are unconcerned with local affairs, and don't really integrate into society. By contrast, the Soviet diplomats are familiar with the culture and the locals. A Burmese journalist giving a speech lampshades it, saying Americans in the United States are generally fine, but once they go abroad they become isolated and pretentious. This echoes a previous statement in the book by the Philippine president at the time, Ramon Magsaysay. (However, the titular ugly American engineer is not an Ugly American; although he finds himself unattractive, he's hardworking, willing to get his hands dirty, and treats the locals as equals.)

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Amazing Race usually had a team who fit this stereotype every season during its early years. The most notorious example is Kendra of season 6 who, among other things, wondered why people in Africa kept “breeding and breeding.” Over the years, this casting choice has fallen out of style for obvious reasons and they now stick to people who are more polite and respectful of other cultures.
  • Black Books: One episode involves the Irish Londoner Bernard having to deal briefly with a married couple of American tourists. The husband is presented as a boorish loudmouth who demands to know if he has any books on armories; when told where the military history books are, he declares that he doesn't care about history, he wants "modern warfare! Infrared! Fallout! Killzones!". He also calls Bernard a "Scotchman" to his face (earning perhaps the deadliest death glare in the whole series). Later in the episode the pair returns; the guy demands a refund for the book he bought.
  • Emily of Emily in Paris arrives in Paris a fresh-faced twenty-something. Although she does not speak a lick of French and has little understanding of the country besides what she knows from American films, she already has big ideas and behaviors of which her French colleagues initially disapprove. In one scene she makes a scene in a restaurant about how her steak is undercooked and in America the customer is always right (even though she is begrudgingly proved wrong soon after). She's a decent person and a Blithe Spirit who shakes up the office, but her French colleagues have reason to see her as an Ugly American, with her boss Sylvie later calling her out on it.
    Sylvie: You come to Paris, you walk into my office, you don't even bother to learn the language. You treat the city like your amusement park and after a year of food, sex, wine, and maybe some culture, you'll go back from where you came.
  • Fawlty Towers: Mr Hamilton, an American guest staying at the hotel complains about how bad travel is in the UK compared to the United States, due to the smallness of the roads (describing the M5, the main artery route into the West Country, as a "back-road"). He also criticizes the menu for not having certain foods — demanding filet mignon and (infamously) a Waldorf Salad, even though neither items are listed — in such a barking, obnoxious, entitled manner that it's actually possible to feel sorry for Basil (a usually unsympathetic character). And towards the end, he tells Basil that the hotel is a disgrace to Western Europe (although many of the patrons do agree).
  • Friends: When the gang goes to London for Ross's wedding, Joey behaves like a stereotypical tourist: walking around with a map with pop-up landmarks, buying gaudy souvenirs, taking videos of everything, and repeating his catchphrase "London, baby!" Subverted in that Joey's enthusiasm is very well received by all of the Londoners he meets; Chandler, due to his desire to avoid this trope, is the only one who has an issue with Joey's behavior.
  • The Good Place is set in the afterlife. The two American members of the ensemble, Eleanor and Jason, are both portrayed as hedonistic Lower Class Louts. Eleanor is a self-professed "Arizona dirtbag" Lad-ette who tries to scam her way into staying in the Good Place; Jason is an Asian Airhead petty criminal who has a host of Florida-related mishaps. By contrast, the British-Pakistani Tahani and Senegalese-Australian Chidi are much more sophisticated, although still "bad people" by the standards of the afterlife. The third season emphasizes the Boorish aspects of America when their backgrounds are tackled.
  • Ted Lasso subverts this with Ted himself. Ted is an American who's pretty ignorant about England and its culture, but he's eager to learn and embraces the country's traditions with great enthusiasm despite his confusion (though he still really doesn't like tea and can't understand why British people enjoy it). According to Rebecca's taste, he even bakes better British shortbread than the British do.
  • What Would You Do?: "Rude American Tourists" has actors play a rude, tacky, loud-mouthed American couple in Paris as an experiment to see if they would anger the Frenchmen around them. Overall downplayed — while the French reactions range from amused to annoyed, it is other American tourists who tell the couple off.

    Video Games 
  • Hitman: In "Situs Inversus", taking place at a high-tech hospital in Hokkaido, Japan, there's a patient named Amos Dexter, an obnoxious, alcoholic Texan who tries to enter restricted areas, only to be refused by the security guard. Amos rants about how he should be able to go anywhere he wants because he's an American and America is the world's security. After the guard still denies him entry, Amos calls him a commie.
  • The American students Roy and Tiffany from Rival Schools: Roy is an obnoxious, racist Jerk Jock (at first), and Tiffany is a shallow Dumb Blonde.
  • Rufus from Street Fighter IV plays into this. He is a fat, ugly, arrogant American who believes he is owed the title of number one fighter in America over series regular Ken Masters. The problem, though, is that he doesn't actually have any idea who Ken is or what he looks like, so he goes around the world picking pointless fights with every other character in the game because he thinks they are Ken. This includes people who could not possibly be Ken, such as people who are not even American, or people who aren't even male. (Additionally, Ken is American himself, and he's generally chill, down to earth, appreciative with other fighters around the world and heroic, practically everything (except nationality) that Rufus isn't.)

  • In El Goonish Shive, an American tourist interrupts the Ms. Exposition British museum guide describing the "statue" of Abraham.
    Guide: With its cryptic message, this anonymous work of art is rumored to be an artistic stunt, or possibly even an act of sorcery.
    Tourist: Ooh! I know what it was!
    Guide: You do?!
    Tourist: Yeah! It was a stunt! 'Cause everybody knows magic ain't real!
    Guide: ...Well deduced, sir.
    Tourist: Hell, yeah! Once again, it takes an American to solve the rest of the world's problems! High five, honey! Now, let's find a McDonald's so we don't have to eat British food on our British vacation.
  • Kevin & Kell: While traveling the world and using her powers to fix the Y2K Bug, Fiona abused them to alter/restore landmarks and take blood sausage off a British restaurant's menu. Once she consciously realizes what she's doing, she calls herself this trope.
  • In Scandinavia and the World, a comic about personified countries, America is a loud, impulsive, violence-prone ditz with Heteronormative Crusader tendencies, while his Distaff Counterpart Sister America is a well-intentioned but clueless Hollywood Liberal type. Both of them are constantly confused and upset by the behavior of the main Scandinavian cast. However, they're also played somewhat sympathetically and treated as basically good goofballs despite their many flaws.

    Web Animation 
  • OverSimplified: The Americans from "The Pig War" video are consistently portrayed as rowdy, obnoxious, and frequently unreasonable bunch. Under the banner of manifest destiny, the settlers band across the continent to try to take over as much land as possible with impunity—often disregarding existing (often Native) settlements to build houses and McDonald's everywhere while firing away guns at local wildlife. Meanwhile, during the border negotiations, the American representative would frequently veto suggestions from the British representative, then punching the latter in the face, despite the suggestion being perfectly reasonable.
    American: Well, that would be a completely fair compromise that protects the interests of both parties. AND THERE'S NO WAY I'M EVER GOING TO AGREE TO IT! (punch!)


    Web Videos 
  • Although he is surprisingly cultured for someone who willingly travels like a hobo, the pseudonymous Vagrant Holiday plays into this stereotype for laughs or to get out of trouble with cops in foreign lands.

    Western Animation 
  • Bojack Horseman: While on a trip to Vietnam, the Vietnamese-American Diane runs into a few clueless American tourists who ask her if she speaks English and asks for directions, even after she explains that she is also American.
  • Pinky, Elmyra & the Brain: In "How I Spent My Weekend", the Brain tries to take over France. His plan involves building a giant robot which turns the cheese into the one thing the French hate the most: stupid American tourists. Naturally, the French are driven to hysterics.
  • The Simpsons: Invoked by the British Media. The Simpsons take a trip to London. After being stuck driving around in a roundabout for hours, Homer gets fed up and decides to act American and drive out of the roundabout, nearly causing wrecks. His recklessness causes him to crash through the gate of Buckingham Palace and into the Queen's carriage. Homer tries to downplay the incident, only for him to get beat up by the British Royal Guards. Headlines to come out of the incident include "Yank Bangs Queen, Old Bean" and "Simpo to UK: I'll Kill You All". The Simpsons are generally obnoxious and arrogant every time they visit a foreign country.


Video Example(s):


American sailors

American sailors walk around Havana singing an obnoxious (and fictional) patriotic song, before assaulting and nearly raping a young Cuban woman. She's saved by Enrique.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / UglyAmericanStereotype

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