My “Ugly American” Moment Dwarfed by Obama’s

uglyamrcnSo ten years ago I am on a short excursion to Paris with my wife and we are in a small grocery store buying a few items. While we are checking out at the register, the cashier picks up the bananas I had laid on the counter, and he starts talking to me in French – and way too fast for me to understand what he is saying.  No problem. I had prepared for just such a moment by earlier practicing my oft used mantra that I employed throughout my two years of high school French: “Je ne comprends pas” (I do not understand)

Problem is, the cashier’s apparent irritation with me (he is telling me the bananas have to be weighed in the back) has made me nervous, and I can’t come up with those treasured (saving face) French words I yearn for.  I get overtaken by a sudden panic. Then, to my dismay, out of my mouth comes, in Spanish, “No comprende,” followed by, in English, “I am American.” The cashier then rolls his eyes, takes the bananas and weighs them in the back himself, and gladly finishes with the two of us at the register.

As soon as we leave the store, I say to my wife, “How embarrassing, as far as this guy is concerned, I will forever be the “Ugly American!’”

For those not familiar, the term “Ugly American” refers to an American traveler, who due to his American ethnocentricities, behaves offensively to the locals of the country he is visiting. So what do I have to say about my “Ugly American” moment in France ten years ago? Well, at least my heart was in the right place.

So a couple of weeks ago, there is this horrific terrorist attack and massacre at Charlie Hebdo Magazine headquarters in Paris, and a related massacre and bloodbath at a Jewish kosher grocery store soon afterward. The civilized world is outraged and a mammoth “March of Unity” is planned involving millions, to be lead by world leaders, walking arm-in-arm through the streets of Paris.

The day arrives.  All the big names are there, but Obama is a big no show. To throw some salt on the French wound, not even Vice President Joe Biden or Secretary of State John Kerry make it to the march, either. And, as if things could not get any uglier for our American President, he gets John Kerry and singer-songwriter James Taylor to travel to Paris to let the French know, via James Taylor serenade, in Obama, “You’ve Got a Friend.”

Okay, ten years ago I once played “Ugly American” to some cashier at a grocery store.  What is the big deal? My “Ugly American” moment in France is nothing compared to President Obama’s.

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