he phenomenon of the "ugly American"
-- when U.S. citizens abroad are regarded by host residents with
disdain simply because they are American -- swells and ebbs with
shifts in our government's foreign policy as much as with the
behavior of citizens traveling overseas.
For 12 days, starting on the day of the release of the photos
showing abuse of Iraqi prisoners, I was traveling in Europe and the
Persian Gulf states. Regarding America's image abroad, President
Bush acknowledged that the abuse has "caused harm that goes well
beyond the walls of the prison," and I can testify that
anti-American sentiment is running very high. I first traveled
internationally during the Nixon administration, and I cannot
remember ever listening to such widespread negative bias against
A friend of mine in London -- a steadfast supporter of President
Bush and the invasion of Iraq -- estimated anti-American sentiment
in Europe running at 85%. An Italian friend, also a vocal supporter
of the president and the war, thought that estimate was low.
In Qatar, almost everyone I spoke with agreed that Saddam was an
evil the world is well rid of, but that didn't temper their anger
with America. Some would say they were only angry with the
administration and not with everyday Americans, but there was a
near-universal perception that all Americans are guided by a
profound ignorance of Arab sensibilities.
This belief led two wealthy, U.S.-educated Qataris I spoke with
to state that they now have no interest in visiting the U.S., as
they did regularly before 9/11. One of them first noted the
increased red tape in obtaining a visa, then said he felt he would
be unsafe in America.
When I expressed doubt that he would be in physical danger
simply because he was an Arab, it turned out that what he really
felt was that he would be greeted within America as the foreign
equivalent of an "ugly American." He felt unwelcome in the U.S.,
and beyond that, he felt his dignity would be at risk on U.S. soil,
almost certainly at airports, but possibly elsewhere as well.
The bottom line for them, the other said, was that "there are
plenty of other places we can spend our money where we'll be
This isn't a surprising reaction from a traveler who feels
"ugly" in a destination, and I worry that this logic may affect the
outbound recovery the industry is experiencing as U.S. travelers
prepare to head back to Europe this summer.
Travelers who are not within the cocoon of an escorted, packaged
tour will, at the least, encounter a host or two expressing
displeasure with U.S. policy, and may well encounter overt
anti-American prejudice. If these experiences are shared with
friends, it may become assumed, as it is in the Arab world, that
unpleasant encounters become integral to a trip to certain
If that, in turn, leads Americans to the same conclusions the
Qataris expressed -- "there are plenty of other places we can spend
our money where we'll be welcomed" -- it could have a significant
effect on the industry recovery. Especially if it turns out that
there are not plenty of other places where Americans will be