The Ugly Americans

Canadians have a reputation for politeness. We may not be known for much else, but it's a pretty good rep to have. I heard about a group of Aussies who were grilling every "Canadian" they met looking for American imposters - "you're not really a Canadian, are you?" Each nationality comes with its own stereotypes, and I'm finding out (again) that there are reasons for stereotypes.

To get from Phonesavan (the town near the Plain of Jars) to Vang Vieng, I took a car run by a local tour company. The driver was going to Vientiane to pick someone up, and taking me along to Vang Vieng meant an extra $10. For me it was only slightly more expensive than the public bus and meant I didn't have to be up at 5:00 AM. When I was picked up, there was already a Lao guide in the car with the driver. We stopped at another hotel to pick up two American women in their mid-thirties. They were upset that we were going to be crowded in for a six hour ride, they thought they'd be in a minivan with only a couple people and now we were five in a Honda CR-V. After much discussion the driver gave the women $10 back and they got in with an ill grace. Route 7 from Phonesavan all the way to Route 13 is a well-paved two lane road. But Route 13 deteriorates all the way from Route 7 to Vang Vieng until it looks more as I would expect over here. As we neared Vang Vieng, our driver hit a pothole and one of the women said to the other in a loud voice "He is such a shitty driver!" The driver spoke rather poor English as did the guide. I don't think they understood, but I was still shocked. What makes this even stranger is that the two of them had spent six months ten years ago touring south-east Asia on a shoe-string budget. They knew what to expect with transportation and roads over here.

I spent ten years living and working in the U.S. I know there are many good people in that country. But people like this are the reason that so many Americans choose to tell locals and backpackers "I'm Canadian." People like these two leave an impression that will take years of decent Americans to erase.