This pejorative has been around since at least 1948, when Cuban photographer Constantino Arias titled a picture he’d taken of a big-bellied, sombrero-wearing Yankee tourist in Bastista-era Havana but it didn’t enter popular usage until publication of a book by that name in 1958 even though the title character, Homer Atkins, is featured late in the novel and doesn’t exhibit the crass behaviors of the typical ‘Ugly American’. However, he is described as ugly in his appearance.
Most Ugly American tourists tend to be fat, Caucasian, typically middle class and richer (hell, we poor folks can’t afford to travel no way), used to getting their way all the time at home – so when they travel abroad, they have the same expectations. They are loud in public, seem to feel that English should be spoken everywhere they go, often take their spoiled mutts along with them, and comment on the local cultures and populaces in a negative manner, usually in comparison to the United States.
Many opinion polls rate American tourists as some of the world’s worst behaved, and this includes the perspective of fellow Americans. I cringed whenever I encountered other Americans carrying on in a juvenile manner whilst on holiday overseas…and was damn grateful when Europeans often mistook me for one of their own, rather than one of those bumbling, arrogant obnoxious assholes. I certainly did not comport myself the way my fellow Americans did. I never dressed badly in shorts and godawful shirts with colorful sayings, and I surely did not compare the US favorably against the countries I was visiting in a braying voice meant to be heard by everyone within fifty feet.
On the other hand, Brits are often pegged as the worst tourists and have beat out Americans on several polls, particularly lately. This isn’t at all surprising, when you consider that the British are often as patriotic and smitten of their own culture as Americans are of theirs; they also can be loud especially when drunk (which they usually are while on trips overseas), demanding that English be spoken everywhere, and generally stuck-up chinless wonders who still seem to think the sun never sets on the British Empire.
Is all this why Canadians have that little Maple Leaf flag on their bags and persons when they travel?