That Time I was Called an Ugly American

The GypsyNesters all dressed up!

I met the meanest woman in the world on cruise ship.

David & I were sitting in a near-empty onboard restaurant after an afternoon cooking class, and had a jovial group of fellow classmates seated with us – new friends from all over the world.

Yes, we were a bit loud.

Yes, we were critiquing the food – we had prepared it, after all – and, I was being exceptionally snarky.

The portion that I had created was simply pathetic. Not only was it ugly, it was so poorly put together that it wasn’t possible to transport it from plate to mouth, so tasting wasn’t even possible (likely for the best).

And, yes, we were having a blast.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a tidbit of the class we took:

About three quarters through our meal, a woman appeared at my side. There wasn’t a beat between my looking up to acknowledge her and her spewing out, “You are a really rude person.”

I was floored. Hoping to just make her go away, I looked at her straight in the eye and said, “Thank you,” and turned back to my new buddies.

Everyone had turned to look at me with wide eyes. No one knew how to react; the woman had effectively shut down our fun little impromptu party. Seconds later, I realized she was still standing at my elbow. Stupidly, I looked back at her.

“People like you are why people hate Americans. You are an ugly American.”

Let me tell you, it’s downright mortifying to be called out as an ugly American before a group of new international friends. Mustering up just enough breath to give (what I hoped would be) a dismissive second “Thank you,” I again turned back to our party. Everyone sat stock still – as dumbfounded as I was, unable to respond.

Did she stop there? Not by a loooooong shot.

She went on a long diatribe spelling out my faults. I honestly don’t remember what she said because by this point, I had shut down. I’d never had anything close to something like this happen to me – before or since (this happened two years ago and I’ve just now worked up the nerve to write about it).

So I thanked her again and she finally, mercifully, left. She had run out of awful adjectives.

Our group hung around just long enough to make sure I was okay, but the fun bubble had been burst. David and I walked to the elevator with one of the members of our party. I’ll call him Charles.

Once the doors slid shut, David says to me, “I can’t believe I just sat there like a lump – I was so completely shocked by that woman, I couldn’t open my mouth to defend you. I feel horrible.”

Charles echoed the sentiment. “I’ve never seen anything like that, and I can tell you’re really shaken. I really wish I would have said something.”

It was all I could do at that point not to burst into tears, something that I always do when people are nice to me when I’m upset.

I think I muttered something like “it would have just made it worse.” Which I still firmly believe, but to this day I wish I had gotten in her face. I can never come up with a good zinger when I need it.

After a big ole see-you-later bear hug from Charles, I bolted to our stateroom and had a good cleansing cry. Then David and I tore into Ms. Caustic in that therapeutic way that needs to be done to make ourselves feel better:

We called her names.

We thought up snappy comeback lines (better late than never).

We talked about stalking her and laying some of those snappy lines on her at an opportune time.

We questioned her lineage.

If you have brain disease, be careful on the Great Wall of China

But I couldn’t shake the feeling of humiliation.

The uneasiness followed me through dinner that night. I fell asleep thinking about it.

The next morning it shadowed me in Beijing and it was even hanging in the back of my mind as David and I raced up the Great Wall.

I had let Ms. Caustic into my head. Why do I allow that?

The covered walkway of The Summer Palace of Beijing, China

That evening, we snagged a prime spot in the front of the ship at the huge, forward-facing windows overlooking the port.

Glasses of wine in hand, we chatted with the adorable family at the next table about the incredible things we had seen that day. The Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace – places that we never dreamed we’d see in our lifetime.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests at The Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China

The teenagers of the group were dynamic as they excitedly told us of their Beijing adventures and Mom and Dad were grinning from ear to ear.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ms. Caustic plop down nearby.

Not wanting to face her, I turned my attention to the windows, my back to the family and Ms. Caustic.

In the time that I finished my glass of wine (my leisurely sipping had become more like frat house chugging between my nerves and the urge to bolt) she had changed the whole dynamic of the adorable family’s conversation.

Starting in with all of the things she just hated about Beijing, she soon had them agreeing with her. It didn’t take long before the family was sniping at each other.

Ms. Caustic then ratcheted it up a notch. Masterfully, she played this family until the girl and her mother were full-on arguing before making a tearful exit.

Who does this sort of thing? What makes someone like this tick?

My only solace – after two years of mulling Ms. Caustic over – is that she has to have a miserable life.

And, ewwww, what terrible solace to have.


YOUR TURN: What DOES make someone like this tick? Have you ever encountered someone like this? Am I a horrible person to take comfort in her misery?

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73 thoughts on “That Time I was Called an Ugly American”

  1. Sounds like anyone she perceived as having a good time was a target for her. She must be a truly miserable person. I hope this was healing for you to write this. I totally get the not being able to come up with a zinger when needed!

  2. Witnessing her bad behavior on a second encounter definitely showed that you or your behavior weren’t/aren’t the problem. Some people are just miserable, and they want everyone else to be right along side.

  3. I try to remember this when there’s an argument or confrontation brewing…”Don’t argue with idiots. They’ll drag you down to their level then beat you with experience.” You took the high road.

  4. By your response you proved to the people who mattered you were not what she called you. Too bad the management didn’t sit her at a private table so she couldn’t ruin the experiences of others. She had a toxic personality.

  5. Perfect! You gave Ms. Caustic absolutely nothing with which to engage you! You had her from the first ‘Thank you.’ She was forced to just move on and try to ruin someone else’s day! Perfect!

  6. I’m surprised “Thank you” didn’t shut her up. I would have been stunned, too- and after the second remark, probably would have snapped back “and you’re just ugly!” LOL What bothered me the most, however, was the silence of the others; that is what would have made me cry…

  7. These kinds of experiences do get absorbed, when they hit some kind of very tender spot, or a vulnerability of some kind. That’s maybe why it took so long to write about. Thanks for doing so. It helps others recognize that there are people out there whose agenda is to be venomous and destructive. So sorry it happened to you.

  8. I’m sure she’s a miserable person. The only way she feels better about herself is by tearing others down. For her to be a master of this perverted skill, I’d guess she’s been doing it for a long time, or learned at the hands of another master when she was a child and a verbal victim. I think you showed great dignity and restraint. Be proud of yourself for not sinking to her bottom feeding depths. Brenda

  9. I applaud your reserve in not making it worse by arguing with this woman. I so wish someone had stepped up and said, “Total buzz-kill, not allowed, only fun allowed here!”

  10. What a horrible individual. Sounds like personification of negativity. I have come across some one like this and it is like being sucker punched and then kicked when you are down because you don’t see it coming. Thank goodness you never have to see her again!

  11. This reminds me of when my husband and I went to Paris, many, many years ago. We were staying with a group of Americans in a hotel with a group of teenage Italiens. One night the teenagers were being really loud, running up and down the hall, screaming etc. So my husband went down the hall and banged on the door one of the offending rooms. When they opened the door he just put his finger to his lips and went, “Shhhhhh” (since he didn’t know any Italien) then turned around and came back to our room. The next morning our tour guide told us that one of the Italien kids had complained to the hotel managment about the “Big, Scary, American” (My husband is 6′ 3″ and weighed about 215 at the time) who had pounded on their door and screamed at them for 5 minutes. Francie (our guide) said that the hotel management was actually glad that my husband had done something because they apparently had tried to quiet the kids down several times with no success. So for the rest of the 10 day trip he was know as “The Big, Scary American”

    1. I know this really has nothing to do with what you experienced with that hateful woman, but I thought it might give you a giggle.

  12. What you experienced is a person with borderline personality disorder. I put up with a spouse like that for 30 years. It was to the point where I fixed the hot supper they demanded, grabbed my plate and locked myself in the spare bedroom til I got up and started each new day. Verbal attacks if I was in their presence. Constantly. It took counseling with an abused and battered women’s advocate to learn that this was still abuse, even if no physical harm occurred. He was removed from the home with an order of protection. The scary thing is that when I looked back, I realized his mother was the same way. Always trying to instigate an argument. Always attempting to create drama. And now I realize one of our children has the same trait. I work with small children and over the course of 30 years, I have seem this trait in toddlers and the behavior seems to stick. Nature or nurture? Not sure. Just know that they walk among us…..people that CHOSE to be unhappy. People that want others to be unhappy. They are very negative people, but don’t see that THEY are causing the negativity. Mbelieve me when I say….”It wasn’t you that day, it was her”. Just brush it off and know that you encountered a borderline – they instigate drama, nothing is EVER their fault and you cannot reason with them. You survived their attack, but don’t take it personal. You did nothing wrong. They did.

  13. This could have happened to anyone. We can all relate to having such an encounter. It’s unimaginable how she can sleep at night.

    It’s very gratifying indeed that you got to see her “work” on an innocent happy family — an awful thing for her to do, but it makes for a gratifying end and a great story. She’ll get hers (probably getting it every day by being rejected).

    1. I understand that everybody is different, and celebrate that fact, but as long as I live I will just never understand some people. Why live their lives like that? Oh well, all we can do is move on and be happy in our own lives.

  14. This woman obviously has deep personal issues, probably been bullied at school, called names, this her defense mechanism, shouting & trying to humiliate people, antagonising them, just to get a reaction, because she has been bullied in the past, she is copying the bullies, to make her look smart – but it didn’t work with you because you didn’t rise to the occasion, this must of nearly killed her! You did great by ignoring her, pat yourself on the back, she won’t be vile to you anymore, she will sadly find another person, to be nasty to. Have a fabulous time & enjoy every minute of it xxxx

  15. I feel for you and give you my empathy. I am currently dealing with a similar typed person at my new place of employment. She is moving to another shift…thankfully. I agree, she is miserable just as Ms. Caustic is. Unhappy.So much so, she feels she needs to blame others for her unhappiness.

  16. In college a classmate was exactly as ms caustic. She humiliated me, accused me of things and of having character traits that spimply weren’t there. Many times I landed silently sobbing in the bathroom. On our departure day, as we were saying our good byes and final good luck in life hugs were being passed, she turned to me and said “o Kim I am sorry”, to which I blocked her hug, held up my hand to say stop and said “I wish you all that you deserve in life”. Karma can decide that not me. Ms caustic has issues.

  17. Hi Veronica,
    The nasty woman I believe is very depressed and is jealous of you and your fun dinner company. She is depressed and hates seeing others having fun. There are many of these miserable people and they need psychological help but of course they don’t think there is anything wrong with them so they probably just rot and die in their own hatred eventually. I enjoy your website.

  18. I was shocked to read of your encounter with The Wicked Witch of the West. She is a member what Dr. M. Scott Peck called “The People of the Lie.” She is quite simply evil. There is no other way to describe it. And she is quite happy to drag as many people down as she can.
    Be thankful you will never see her again. I feel so very sorry for the people who have to deal with her everyday.

  19. I unfortunately meet people like that quite often,i can called them out in front of everyone what’s up with the Negative Nancy Attitude, or How much do you charge to haunt a house, or bluntly tell them if I need your opinion, I’ll get my head examined. Recently I had a client that was so rude, I just kept repeating Be quiet your a nag over and over and she finally left me alone.
    So don’t take the See you Next Tuesday personally, and keep enjoying your Awesome. Life.

  20. When I meet people like this I always think to myself, thank god she/he is NOT part of my life. Just imagine living with kind of negativity on a day to day basis?

    Great story, thanks for sharing:)

  21. There are all kinds of people in this world, and unfortunately some love to spread discontent. I can’t imagine someone calling you an “ugly” American at all. I do know what you mean about not having a retort right away. I don’t have that talent either. Hopefully, this will never happen again. Keep having fun. What else is there in life?

    1. I sincerely believe that the great majority of people are good. I see that every day as we travel. But I really should have some good retorts in my back pocket, just in case – so if you come up with one, be sure to share. 😉 That way I can be assured of less fun interruption!

  22. I have encountered a few people like this on my travels. I never know how to deal with sudden cruelty. You set her off because you were having fun. Americans can be loud, but anyone from any country can be loud.

    What she was trying to do was make your evening about her, and the only way she knows how to do this is to lash out. She thinks she’s giving you valuable information, though: that Americans are loud and rude.

    I’m sorry none of your group came to your rescue. It would have been a great scene if they had.

    The irony of this situation is that she was the rude one.

    1. I think everyone was as shocked as I was, and I don’t feel like it would have done any good for anyone to ride to my rescue – especially because Ms. Caustic would have LOVED to cause a big scene. I hope she left disappointed that she didn’t get to have a heated discussion (or at least a two-sided one, anyway!) because I tried to defend myself or Americans as a whole. My guess is that I would have come out on the losing end as I can’t imagine I have as much practice being (intentionally) rude. 😉

  23. I’m sure it’s no consolation but, seeing her doing that to someone else at least backs your thinking of, “it’s not me, it’s her.” up.

    I’m not sure why people are like this. Yes, I’m sure she is miserable. There are plenty of miserable people in the world though and not all of them act like this.

    I don’t know, but I’m glad you don’t work with her or live next door to her. Imagine the people who do?

  24. What a witch! If there is a next time, maybe you could wave a dismissive hand and say “Go away, shoo! You have no power here. Begone before someone drops a house on you!” (modified from the Wizard of Oz) 😀

  25. Grace is definitely the word of the day for you- you’re my hero, truly!! I, too, spend all my time with my honey after stuff like that venting and wondering why I couldn’t have come up with something good in the moment (although he would have!). I just wrote a blog post about how we see ourselves in the people we meet on our travels, but in this case, SHE was clearly projecting her “issues” onto you!! What a bummer for that family behind you, also!! What always gets me about people like that is that I want them to see themselves, to understand the hurt they’re putting out there, and hopefully take the time to reflect and (shock!) maybe even change. And for you… just be a duck and let it all rolllll down your back and off into the water!!

    1. I felt so bad for that family too – the hard part about witnessing it was that I couldn’t do anything for them. She was so masterful that I don’t think they would have realized what she had done. So for me the get in the mix would have been embarrassing for them, I think. I certainly didn’t want to do that.

      1. I could definitely see that- I wouldn’t have said anything, either. Hopefully they’re solid enough that afterwards they could talk about it and say, “What?? We really didn’t hate it! That was HER influence.”

    1. She wasn’t American, but I didn’t catch her accent. I’m glad I didn’t pick up on it – I’d hate to fall into the trap of making a general assumption because of someone’s nationality. Or – more likely in my case – develop some kind of weird phobia. 😉

  26. I wish I knew why people seek to spread toxicity. I would have cried or made things worse by proving Ms Caustic correct and telling her to get the f+@% away from me (making me an ugly American). I’m so sorry she was evil to you. You responded beautifully with calm and poise. I grew up with several poisonous people. I have left family get togethers, rather than give them the satisfaction of seeing me hurt and cry. I need to borrow your grace 🙂

    1. Not sure if it was grace – or pure shock. Well, yeah I am, it was pure shock. 😉 I HAVE learned to not confront people as well. It really doesn’t do any good and I end up feeling worse when I do – people like that are just better at it – more practice. What I DO need to work on is wishing that I HAD confronted when I didn’t. Ohhhhh those scenarios that run through our heads…

  27. Here you go: “Do you work hard at being so rude, or does it come naturally?” or “Hello, Mrs. Pot? Mrs. Kettle here. Nice to meet you. In our country we have a little saying, perhaps you’ve heard of it?” I’ve got more from a lifetime of online trolls. Most of it is NSFW, though. 😉

  28. Some folks just are trolls – whether virtually trolling about or live and in person. I have a relative just like this – and they don’t know any other way to be. I’ve found the best answer to a troll is to laugh at how very ridiculous they are – just flat out bray in laughter because c’mon, aren’t they just beyond the pale? That will shut them down – they’ll usually run for cover but if they attempt to sling more arrows and you’re giggling at them now what is the end result? They look like the fools they are and you feel pretty good – it also gives innocent bystanders something to giggle at as well. 🙂 Life is pretty funny- and some folks are too ridiculous to keep a straight face!

    1. I hadn’t equated online trolling to real life until you pointed it out – interesting. I bet she’s just a peach online! George, you’re right – if we don’t keep our humor in life, where would we be?

  29. Ugh. Some people truly are poison. How she spread it to that other family! Good for you for not letting her spread it to you.

  30. My mouth is dry from it hanging open for so long. Wow! What a terrible thing to happen to such a beautiful and intelligent person. People like that are sad and pitiful. After feeling bad for you it suddenly hit me that this situation may one day happen to me… I am moving to the UK next month and I can be a bit loud, with my loud laugh when I’m having fun with friends or at the movies. I will do what you did and reply by saying “Thank you” because I think that is the only way you can respond to people like that. Again… wow!

  31. Wow. You handled this a lot better than I would have. I most certainly would have burst into tears — while she was lashing into me! I think you did the right thing by not engaging her in conversation. People like this just want to hurt others — because they are lonely people with no friends. She was probably jealous of your ease and charm with your new friends. The whole situation is made even worse by the fact that you were on a ship — that meant that you were almost certain to run into her again…and again…and again. How awful for you. But I’m glad you wrote about it.

    1. Luckily it was a big enough ship that I only ran into her those two times. That was plenty! And I might have burst into tears at the time, but pure shock saved me – thank goodness, because my guess is that was her ultimate goal.

  32. How could anyone be so rude on an amazing vacation shared with nice and friendly folks! Glad you decided to post this; you responded with grace and set a good example for how to deal with people who never learn how not to rain on other people’s harmless parades: talking about it reminds us that we can choose to make or ruin someone else’s day and beyond.

    1. Thanks so much Jenny – it’s funny that I KNOW that I handled the situation properly, but I will always WISH I had gotten in her face. You’re right though, I’d much rather make someone happy!

  33. Goodness! I’m in shock. Has Ms Caustic spent years refining the art of destroying people’s happiness. It’s beyond any reasoning I can think of. Sadly people like that can get under our skin and stay there way too long. I’m so sorry you had this experience and I hope I never meet her, that’s for sure.

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