There was one ugly incident during my recent holiday in Sri Lanka. We traveled around by two coaches and stayed at hotels. Naturally, when the 75 of us descended on a hotel all at once, the hotel receptionists were really busy trying to check everyone in as quickly as possible. I tended to wait in the lobby until the crowd dissipated before going to the counter but at one hotel, I saw one of our party who is not a close relative of mine and whom I did not know growing up in Sri Lanka (let’s call him K) gesticulating angrily at the receptionist for some time.
Later on I spoke with my cousin’s son (let’s call him M) who had also been standing at the counter during this exchange and he said that this man had been angry because in the confusion the receptionist had accidentally returned his passport (used as ID by the foreigners) to another member of our party. This was a minor error that could be, and was, easily corrected since the receptionist knew who had got the wrong passport and the person given it would of course return it since a wrong passport was of no use to him and he would have wanted his own one back. And we were all in the same travel group too, further minimizing any potential damage.
But K had been furious at this mistake and kept yelling at the receptionist for his error and at one point had even thrown a pencil at him. M was upset about this behavior and was tempted to speak up but not wanting to create a scene at a family gathering, had kept quiet. But he was later angry with himself for not speaking up at K’s bad behavior and so later in the restaurant he went up to K and said that he should not have behaved that way towards the receptionist.
At that K got furious with him and said that he was perfectly justified in behaving that way and asked M who the hell he thought he was for a young whipper-snapper like him (M is around 30 and K must be around 70) to correct him. And then he delivered this kicker: “I am an American and so I can treat these people any way I want.”
All of us who heard this story from M were appalled. Because apart from the fact that no one has the right to treat anyone else this way, you have to understand that the hotel staff we encountered everywhere were all exceedingly friendly and polite and bent over backwards to be nice and helpful, rushing to open doors and carry our bags, smiling all the time. The hapless receptionist at the receiving end of the abuse was very young too and to his credit kept his cool and did not respond in kind though it would have been perfectly understandable if he had done so.
The irony was that K was born and brought up in Sri Lanka to Sri Lankan parents and only emigrated to the US as an adult. And yet he had managed, by some process of osmosis, to acquire the stereotypical characteristics of the proverbial Ugly American, the sense of exceptionalism that they are superior to people of other nations and can treat them like dirt. Conversely, young M was born and grew up in the US (three of his four grandparents were native-born Americans and only one was born in Sri Lanka) and this was his first visit to Sri Lanka.
Later a few of us went to the hotel manager and apologized to him for the awful behavior of the member of our party and asked him to convey it to the receptionist. We felt that it was the least we could do.
People in the service industry or people who are in subordinate positions to you deserve to be treated particularly considerately because they are in no position to fight back. They are bound by their jobs to take on the chin whatever the customer throws at them. Unfortunately some people take this as an opportunity to be abusive. Such people are despicable and beneath contempt.