I’m sitting in a café in Buenos Aires, sipping on a beautiful glass of Malbec and wondering why it is that we Americans have such a bad reputation abroad. Don’t get me wrong, the people here in Argentina have been wonderful and welcoming, which is not uncommon in any country. It just seems that they look at us sort of funny until they meet us one-on-one.

For years I thought this perception of us was a product of the Bush administration’s foreign policy. But on this trip to South America I have realized that individuals play a huge role in shaping others’ opinions of us.

I’m here with a group of people. My wife and I are independent travelers and have never done the group thing. But since this is a work-related trip we are here with around 100 other people. So it has been interesting seeing how some people behave in a foreign land, and how a bizarre tragedy can shape perceptions.

As Americans, we have so many things, and people, to be proud of. My new acquaintance, Andy, is not one of them. Andy is one of those well-off guys who is living proof that no amount of money can buy class. He is loud, obnoxious and drunk most of the time. I had the, um, pleasure of dining with Andy a couple of nights ago at a nice restaurant in Rio de Janiero. When I arrived at the restaurant, Andy was already seated. In front of him was a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels. I would love to say that Andy was in rare form this evening but, sadly, he was in typical form. Making passes at the waitress and every other woman in earshot was embarrassing enough, but he managed to go further by insulting the Brazilian people, food and customs — very loudly I might add.

While Andy did his best to influence the outside world’s opinion of Americans, Jane’s story is simply tragic. Here is a young woman in her early 30s who, on her first night in Buenos Aires, went out on the town. When she arrived back at her hotel room, she decided to have a smoke. But her room was non-smoking. At this point, no one really knows why, but she made a terrible error in judgment. She opened the window of her 8th-floor room and climbed over the wrought iron barricade onto the wet ledge to enjoy her cigarette. The outcome was horrible and unbelievable. She slipped on the wet ledge and fell to the street below, killing herself instantly. Of course the press had a field day with this story, and dozens of headlines appeared throughout Argentina. I can’t even begin to imagine how horrible her family felt.

I had the opportunity to meet both Andy and Jane for the first time on this trip, two people with totally opposite personalities. Andy is so loud and boisterous, while Jane was happy and friendly. But both left a lasting impression on our hosts.