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As I write this, I’m recovering from a case of Olympic fever. In between wondering how I’m going to get my fix of beach volleyball over the next four years, I can’t help but reflect on what a great job Rio de Janeiro did hosting the games, despite all the challenges the city faced. Unfortunately, though, it’s difficult to talk about the Olympics right now without mentioning Ryan Lochte.
Watching his saga unfold, I was reminded of a conversation I had years ago with someone who works in Los Cabos for the U.S. Consulate. This woman — who spent a good deal of her time getting embarrassed tourists out of the local drunk tank — said the common thread she sees in all those cases is a series of really bad decisions.
“It’s one bad decision after another,” she told me. “They don’t stop at the first bad idea; they compound one mistake with the next one and, eventually, I get a call.”
Lochte made his bad decisions on one of the grandest stages of all, and his mistakes have implications for all U.S. travelers. Just a quick check of some of the headlines confirms our worst fears about the damage his stupidity caused.
“Here are eight reasons why Ryan Lochte is the loathsome face of the ‘ugly American,’” reads one headline.
“Ryan Lochte is everything the world hates about Americans,” screams another.
Right now, there are U.S. citizens traveling all over the world who have to apologize for Lochte and explain his thinking. (Good luck with that.) Fair or not, his bad behavior impacts all U.S. travelers and, to some extent, so does every American’s actions when he or she travels overseas. Lochte’s incident might have become especially infamous, but tourists who disrespect local residents or consider themselves to be above the law will negatively affect the travel experience of future visitors.
Fortunately, this incident will eventually fade from the headlines. But it serves as a great reminder for all of us that, when we travel, we are representing our country, and we are all just a few bad decisions away from being a national embarrassment.