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Published: February 4th 2008
Anita and Tom
On the way to the Perfume Pagoda
The Beautiful Americans and English
One of the reasons for coming to Vietnam was to go on a library tour sponsored by the Library Project of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. As a board member of that organization I was invited to recruit tour members. I was able to recruit outstanding tour members; two from my home town and two from the United Kingdom.
Recently, I got an email from one, Anita Graves, saying she had forgot to tip her taxi driver to the airport when she left and ask me to find him and tip him five dollars. That I was able to do and I hope her conscience is cleared. I tell this story to stress the point that the members I recruited were the opposite of some of the characters portrayed in “The Ugly American” by authors William Lederer and Eugene Burdick in 1958. The book mainly went after our Foreign Service people. The heroes were small people like a priest and a chicken farmer. The book had a profound affect on my generation and even caused President Eisenhower to overhaul our Foreign Service operations.
The heroes of the Library Tour were these first time members
who tried their best to be the opposite of “The Ugly Americans.” The studied the situation the best they could, learned a few words of Vietnamese, learned certain taboos to avoid and so on.
It’s hard to explain how learning just a few words of Vietnamese gives you much respect with the locals. My first day back in Vietnam I walked over to my favorite coffee shop and ordered “Cà phê sữa dá.” A man across the aisle stuck his thumb up in the air and with a big smile said: “American Vietnamese #1. Even if you completely mess up and say something totally wrong they respect you for trying.
Jackie and Jane always seemed to have a right gift for any occasion. They were a special hit with the orphans we met.
So this blog is to salute those beautiful members Anita Graves, Tom Seltmann, Jane Hughes and Jackie Jones. They did their best and were a hit with the people they met.
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