Don’t Be a Chuck

The unfiltered behavior that has become the norm for some people in the virtual world of social media isn’t acceptable when you are a guest in another country. Yet lately when Janet and I travel, I feel like I’m seeing more of it than I ever did before COVID. Most of what I’ve seen along these lines, I believe, stems from a handful of people venting two plus years of COVID fueled frustration without regard to their surroundings, helped along by too much booze. The behavior is self-indulgent and immature, and though the frustration it stems from is understandable, allowing it to jump the air gap from the virtual world of social media into the real world of human social interaction is not. It is something to guard against, especially when visiting another country.

To most people that is a simple truth, but not everyone gets it. I want to share two encounters I had with ugly American tourists during my recent visit to the Dominican Republic. Even though these types of encounters occurred before COVID, for some reason they struck me as particularly bothersome on this trip. Perhaps because they happened at the idyllic beach resort of Secrets Cap Cana, a resort I associate with people who know how to cut loose and have fun, but in a responsible way that is respectful of other vacationers and the people whose country we are visiting.

Which brings me to Chuck…not his real name by the way. Chuck was an ugly American tourist, COVID version. I ran into him one evening in the Preferred Club Lounge at Secrets Cap Cana. The Preferred Club lounge is an exclusive venue within an exclusive resort, that is itself located in the exclusive gated enclave of Cap Cana. It is the go-to place for guests who appreciate savoring a glass of premium whiskey or cognac. In short, not the place you expect to encounter a Chuck.

When Chuck got dressed the day I ran into him, I don’t think he considered the fact that what you wear when you are in another country can tag you as an ugly American. I’m pretty sure even if it had occurred to him, it wouldn’t have mattered. Chuck didn’t care. I’m also guessing Chuck thought he was being clever in his choice of attire. Everyone in the Preferred Club Lounge was dressed in resort casual wear as the dress code required for admission into the ala carte restaurants. I’m not talking tuxedos and ball gowns here…summer khakis and collared shirts for the gentlemen, capris, skirts or summer dresses for the ladies. Not Chuck and his friends…they wore shorts and t-shirts.

Chuck’s attire in itself wasn’t remarkable. Unlike the restaurants at this resort, the Preferred Club Lounge, though exclusive, doesn’t have a dress code. Plenty of guests opt to stop by for a nightcap in shorts and t-shirt after changing out of their dinner wear. What was offensive about Chuck’s attire was the message on the back of his t-shirt. In large block letters, Chuck’s t-shirt labeled him as being DEA.

My first thought upon seeing Chuck’s t-shirt was how gutsy, or how stupid, he must be to wear a shirt branding him as a member of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency while visiting a Caribbean Island nation. A closer look at the t-shirt revealed Chuck’s idea of the DEA was not the same as mine. His t-shirt spelled out DEA below each big block letter in only slightly smaller print words impossible to miss: D=Dicks E=Enjoying A=Alcohol, and Chuck was certainly acting the part. It was the kind of thing you might expect to see at a college fraternity reunion party, not at an exclusive resort in another country.

I had just gotten past realizing what Chuck’s t-shirt declared him to be when he decided to do shots, with his buddies cheering him on. So much for savoring the complexity of an ultra premium whiskey or a high end cognac as you let your taste buds revel in the complexities of the blend and the unique flavor profile imparted by the toasted oak cooperage. Chuck’s drink of choice for his shots was Johnny Walker Blue Label blended Scotch whiskey. I don’t think he had a clue what it was, or that it retails for $250 per 750 bottle, just that it was on the top most shelf behind the bar so it must be good. And while Chuck was enjoying the alcohol content of the Johnny Walker Blue, he was hardly able to appreciate it when knocking back shots like it was Wild Turkey.

That was the only time I ran into Chuck during my week-long stay, thankfully, but Chuck wasn’t the only ugly American I encountered. There was also Sherry and her posse, again not her real name. The day after my encounter with Chuck I was heading to the beach just before noon when I passed a gaggle of about 10 guests, including Sherry, who were congregating in the swim out pool of one of the guest’s ground floor ocean front suites. Sherry and her posse earned their mention in this post for a host of reasons, but I’ll focus on just two.

When you book a swim out room at any Secrets resort, the pool is intended for the enjoyment of the people in that room. It is not a place to invite all your friends to congregate…that’s what the main pool is for. The swim out pools aren’t private at Secrets Cap Cana like they are at some resorts, but they are small…just big enough for two. Each building with swim out pools has 6-8 swim out rooms and the pools are all connected to one another. When you try to host a gathering of 10 people in your swim out pool, you can’t help but spill over into the pools in front of the adjacent rooms, and that’s a big no-no in a resort that caters to couples. The swim out pools are meant to be relaxing and romantic, used by only the people booked into the room, not as a venue for a communal pool party.

Sherry and her group of friends must have thought they were at a college spring break party in Fort Lauderdale, because that was how they were carrying on. Except this was not spring break, and they were all in their 50s and 60s. Sherry was standing, barely, in the middle of one of the swim out pools shouting in alcohol-slurred, Caucasian accented Spanish at the top of her lungs, “Que paso pendejo.” If you don’t know what that means, it is a Spanish slang phrase that ranges in meaning from mildly profane when directed at friends, to being really offensive when directed to someone you’ve never met before. I’m not sure who Sherry was shouting to, if indeed anyone in particular, but she was facing out toward the public spaces and none of her besties were between her and the nearby walkway. There is no doubt at least a few people heard her. I was several hundred feet away and I heard her. I don’t know what was more offensive to me, Sherry’s behavior or that of her friends for allowing her to carry on. Fortunately, Sherry turned her attention back to the rest of her posse after just a few minutes.

Most of the guests we shared the resort with during our week in paradise were fun loving people enjoying themselves, and their unlimited adult beverages, responsibly. The Secrets brand of resorts is geared toward providing a romantic, mostly quiet atmosphere for adult couples.  There is a sister brand to Secrets, Breathless, that caters to the spring break crowd, but when a group books into a Secrets resort there are always at least a few members of the group that belong at Breathless. Secrets Cap Cana was host to quite a few small and large groups that came and went throughout our stay, and all were celebrating something. Celebrations ranged from COVID delayed weddings to milestone birthdays and anniversaries shared with multigenerational groups of family and friends, and the general mood of the resort was festive. Individual members of the groups were respectful…when they congregated as groups in the public areas they got somewhat boisterous at times as any group will, but they were fun to watch and to interact with. They represented American tourists the way I like to be represented as an American tourist visiting another country.

I mention Chuck and Sherry not because they put a damper on my stay…they didn’t. As I noted earlier both encounters were brief, and I have encountered similar ugly Americans in my travels on occassion before COVID. But they are examples of behavior I have been seeing more often than I care for since COVID. I don’t have a problem with cutting loose and letting out pent-up COVID frustrations…we’ve all been through a lot. Where I do take issue, both as a travel agent and as a traveler, is when people behave like ugly Americans while visiting another country. I care because these few bad apples become the image foreigners have of America and Americans, but they aren’t representative of who we are. Far from it.

Chances are you won’t encounter a Chuck or a Sherry the next time you travel out of the country. If you do, I hope your encounter is as brief as my two recent experiences. I know I will occasionally continue to run into people like Chuck and Sherry when I travel. I just hope the distance between the encounters becomes greater as we all relearn how to travel in a COVID world.

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