Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Ugly American Syndrome--Again

Yesterday, my first real day out of bed, we went into David because the US Consulate (Embassy?) was holding an information session at the Gran Nacional Hotel.  We were interested in voter registration, since I'm not sure whether or not I'm still registered in the state of Washington.  We had hoped we could somehow register at this meeting.  In retrospect, this was just a vain wish out of laziness, because of course each state has it's own requirements.  But we went.

There were quite a few people in the room, and we immediately spotted a couple we knew who recently bought a house in Alto Boquete.  They had rented just down the road from us for months, trying in vain to find property they could afford in Potrerillos.  But some doctor in Florida is convinced that his next million is just one deal away, and they were unable to buy the land they wanted.  Tired of waiting, needing to get on with their lives, they bought a house from someone who is desperate to get out of Panamá and back to the US.

We were standing there chatting, just beyond the "Hi, how are you" stage and into the reasons why we were at the meeting.  They mentioned getting driver's licenses, and karen was just starting an explanation of their situation when some jackass American, dressed in shorts, sandals and flowered shirt that cost enough to keep a Panamanian family in food for a year, walked by and said in a voice loud enough to be heard throughout the room, "Driver's license?  You don't need a driver's license.  That's just a folded $20 bill..." by which time he had passed out of the room and was down the hall far enough that even his overly loud and smartass voice couldn't be heard through the doors.  

He really didn't have anything to add to a conversation to which he was not invited.  He had nothing useful to offer.  He was just trying to show how hip he was, how "smart", how cynical, what an insider he was--and what a total pr_ck he was.  He succeeded admirably with the last-named.

Why me, God?  I'm not a particularly nice person but even I don't deserve this sort of exposure to the ugliness of the standard Boqueteño.  You can not believe how many times you get exposed to this kind of crap in Boquete.  It's now a stereotype, which is why all of us assume that any ill-mannered jerk acting out in public is from Boquete.  It isn't that we don't have our share of cynics or that we are romantic idealists, but in Potrerillos, anyway, we don't act out in public.  Our mothers taught us better manners.  Then again, maybe he didn't have a mother.  He might be a biological experiment that failed--badly.  Somebody contact the lab and tell them to dump that particular Petrie dish of genes.

I was tired and still weak, and in no mood to be polite but unfortunately before I could react appropriately--like booting his overdressed rear end into the Pacific and back to whatever godforsaken piece of dirt he came from--he was gone.

There were Panamanians outside, staff of the hotel, going about their duties.  People like this mentally retarded boor always treat the Panamanians as if they don't exists as human beings, perhaps to show their "superiority" as Americans, born by divine right (which God?) to be above all other inferior nationalities.  Perhaps to show how insecure they are, maybe their contempt.  Because believe me, it is contemptuous of the Panamanians to treat them like furniture.

It's also a mistake to treat them as if they don't understand English.

Regardless, it is always illuminating to see how people act when they think no one (important) is looking.

We found out we had made the trip for nothing, got out of there, and escaped back to our little piece of the world.


Linda & Clyde said...

Good Afternoon, Joyce,
We sure are glad to see doing better and getting back to blogging, it was nice to see your entry today. We missed the blogs, this week. Yep, you have a perfect description of the Ugly American, I would hope they are few and far between. That type of American is irritating, no matter where they live or go. Have a good day!

Linda and Clyde

Joyce said...

Hi, Linda and Clyde,

Thanks for the concern and yes, I'm just about back to normal. Slowly getting back into a work schedule. Today I planted out lettuce and a cantaloupe, and potted up some more veggie plants.

I'm working on two related posts but they're taking a while because I have other things I need to catch up on.

I hope you and the herd of critters are all all right.


sunshine said...

Joyce, I was worried to hear of your illness this week. Hope you are feeling a lot better.

Thanks for the post re the 'Ugly American'. It is nothing to be terribly ashamed of. Those type of people exist all over the world.

In the UK, we have similar types - who think they are high and mighty...and are flippant and know-it-alls. I won't reveal the specific nationality, but you can guess (I imagine).

They are overly aggressive, in your face, rude, and treat many others (especially non-english speakers) with pretty much disdain.

There is a lot to be said for modesty, kindness, humility and compassion.

All my best,


Joyce said...

Hi, Will--

Thanks for the comment and information on The Ugly ____ (pick your nationality). And I totally agree with your list of virtues, which means I'd better get started working on them because as far as I can tell, I have little to none of any of them--particularly modesty! Ah, well, I can stand on Great Age.

There are plenty of things wrong with Panamanian society but who can cast the first stone?


Anonymous said...

What bothers me is his attitude about laws when he expects to bribe his way. It weakens the rule of law.

Joyce said...

Hi, Anon,

I agree completely. Corruption here more or less exists at about the same levels as corruption in the US--at the government level, in giving out contracts, etc. That does not mean, however, that corruption at the local level is nonexistent--just as, of course, it exists in the US at that level, too. Of course it does.

Whether it's true or not, the Mexican police have a horrendous reputation for corruption and bribery. However, as far as I know, the Panamanian police do not.

To enlarge on your point, which is excellent, let's look at it this way. Suppose yo run into a Tránsito who is NOT, actually, going to ask for a bribe. But suppose you go ahead and offer him the folded $20 bill. You're a gringo, an American, whom we all know is either stupid or crazy or both, and besides you're rich compared to the average Panamanian. Who's to say that the Tránsito cop figures that's just the way gringos operate, so he takes your money, lets you go--but now is wondering if that can happen again.

So yes, the rule of law is weakened. And yes, it's going to say something to the Panamanians about Americans and their respect for the law.

It's infuriating.


Theresa in Mèrida said...

THe first thing I thought of when I read the $20 usd bribe was it would be cheaper to get a driver's license than pay twenty bucks everytime they stopped you, how stupid! The second thing was that I am glad that I don't live in a town where we have a large ex-pat population, those sorts of people don't feel comfortable living somewhere where they might actually have to speak the native language or buy unfamiliar goods.
All in all that guy probably found himslef in Panama because he has been run out of his last place of residence, I wonder where he will go next?

Joyce said...

Hi, Theresa,

Thanks for the excellent comment. That's exactly what flashed through my mind, too, at the time. the driver's license costs $40 and is good for 4 years unless you are 70 or over.

Yes, it's stupid, but do you really think people like him have two brain cells to rub together? Plus it was meant to do nothing but show off. I can't convey in words his tone of voice but it was the equivalent of a cynical smirk. It was utterly aggravating--it stopped our conversation cold until his voice, still yakking away, could no longer be heard as he went down the hall.

And yes, wonder where he'll go next. One of the horde trying desperately to leave. No doubt he was at the meeting to see if the US Embassy could call in the Marines to rescue him, poor boy.

Great comment. Thanks.


Gordo said...

Joyce, I can tell by this post that you are my kind of people. Funny, your bloglist is the same as mine, and we have mutual friends in common.
Give my best to Karen & Yim when you see them.

Joyce said...

Hi, Gordo,

Karen and Jim are, as far as I know, now in the US to help celebrate Karen's daughter's wedding. They'll be staying a while, visiting. They'll be moving into their new home when they return. Truly nice people. We'll be sorry to see them leave Potrerillos. They would have been wonderful neighbors.

Thanks for dropping by, Gordo!