How the world sees Americans.
November 6, 2002 10:13 PM   Subscribe

How the world sees Americans. "They readily distinguish between the official face of the American government (who they tend to disagree with and fear) and American people, pop culture and values (which they tend to adore and emulate)." "It's the world's superpower ... that has a childlike understanding of everyone else."

Journalist Mark Hertsgaard travelled the globe gathering opinions about the U.S. He talks about the surprising results.
posted by gazingus (108 comments total)

 
Good to know they don't assume we're all Bushite drones.

Maybe before my next international trip I'll get a t-shirt with a picture of GW, that says, "I'm With Stupid."
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 10:57 PM on November 6, 2002


But hey, at least we can now say that we have more in common with nations around the world, like Iraq, China, Cuba, and North Korea: we're a one party state...
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 11:04 PM on November 6, 2002


"The arrogant person never knows they're arrogant and that's the problem with our official stance in the world. " -author Mark Hertsgaard.

So Hertsgaard presumes to comprehend "how the world sees Americans" without sounding arrogant? What is he, an American or something?

He goes on to pontificate: "Sure, but that's one more sign of how little we listen... we don't want to listen. We want to tell.".

Hertsgaard goes on to blather about *global warming*, ignorant Americans, American arrogance, the ignorant arrogance of Americans, and finishes up with the American phenomena of arrogant ignorance.

I will forthwith exercise my arrogant right to ignorance and pretend I never read that steaming heap.
posted by hama7 at 11:14 PM on November 6, 2002


What I, as a non-American, have found, is that people from around the world may wish to emulate some aspects of American culture (specifically, the ones which have been "made cool" through TV and movies), but generally, they don't like Americans as people very much. The rationalizations range from "constantly shouting and generally noisy" to "egotistical and uncultured" and "in possession of this odd sense of entitlement". While some may equate a like or dislike for Americans to overall national policies, anything I have heard or experienced has resulted in positive or negative feelings based much more upon the attitude of the individual than of the country overall.

Friends from traditional American tourist destinations (Paris, London, Rome, etc) have stated on numerous occasions that it's painfully easy to pick out the American in any group as the one who is talking the loudest while saying the least. Personally, I have met quite a few visiting Americans and have found that it's about a 50-50 chance that any of these stereotypes hold true. Of the negatives, I would have to say that the sense of entitlement one has been the most apparent from my own experience.

I guess I am somewhat anti-American, but I admit that it is based much more upon what I see on the web (especially) and TV than what I have experienced from meeting the ones I have. In addition to meeting some egotistical and unbelievably ignorant people from the US, I have also met some tremendous souls who are genuinely interested in where they are.

I await your flames.
posted by Electric Jesus at 11:16 PM on November 6, 2002


I await your flames.

You forgot arrogantly ignorant.
posted by hama7 at 11:19 PM on November 6, 2002


Electric Jesus, I don't think that 50-50 ratio is an accurate portrayal of Americans as a whole. It's just that those who live up to the stereotype are somewhat less likely to travel abroad than those who don't.
posted by Acetylene at 11:21 PM on November 6, 2002


I will forthwith exercise my arrogant right to ignorance and pretend I never read that steaming heap

So you believe that the people of the world have a great love for the government of the United States?
posted by moonbiter at 11:52 PM on November 6, 2002


On a related note: I've been told by one German friend that if she is unsure whether a person is Canadian or American, she always asks if that person is Canadian first. She says this is because no Canadian wants to be mistaken for an American, but Americans don't mind if they are mistaken for a Canadian.

She claims that this is considered polite in Germany. Anyone from Deutschland here? Is this true, or is she just making this up?
posted by moonbiter at 12:04 AM on November 7, 2002


Moonbiter - That's SOP worldwide, for most travellers I've known, and most considerate people do the same with Antipodeans as well - ask Kiwi first, then Australian, if you can't pick the accent.

Or, if you really want to wind them up, ask if they're South African. That's always good for a laugh.

No one nation is as consistently despised as America, worldwide, as far as I've been able to tell in 15 years or so of wandering the globe. Whether it's deserved or not is another discussion - I merely note that this has been my observation.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:08 AM on November 7, 2002


The Germans are typically considered the loud, obnoxious Europeans.
posted by dagny at 12:08 AM on November 7, 2002


I await your flames.

I agree with hama7.

You foreigners sure have a way of uniting us Americans.
posted by WolfDaddy at 12:17 AM on November 7, 2002


I would add that Hertsgaard's observation :

"...people were really able -- and I heard this repeatedly -- to distinguish between America and Americans. There's America in the sense of the official government and the military. That official face of America in the world is not very well liked. And then there's Americans -- the people of the country, the ideals of the country, our popular culture. It was quite a sophisticated view, I thought, considering that they are very far away. Yes, America is in their face all the time, but the part of America that is in their face is that official part. They were able to still say, but you know, we love Americans and we love what you stand for. I heard that over and over again from all different walks of life and all different parts of the world."

is spot on, in my opinion. Many of us furrinners quite like American people, while fearing and/or loathing America.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:21 AM on November 7, 2002


Well being an engineering student at a University in the heart of America, I can tell you that almost every single foreign student I've met had this idea of what Americans were like, and it usually wasn't good. But after a few months they see what Americans are really like and I've actually had people say we are the nicest people in the world. Now, not everyone says that, but everyones idea of Americans almost always changes for the better. And for some reason its always the cocky rich brats that go overseas and ruin our name. Mind you this is the people of America they really like. Some still have issues with the government.
posted by Ron at 12:25 AM on November 7, 2002


Like a lot of people, the TV, movies, books, and music I listened to since I was a kid is from America, a place I have never even been to.

It never really struck me as too different culturally from my country (New Zealand). But meeting Americans face to face and on the net I can see you are a bit different: much more into sincerity and politeness than most, believing in things. Taking the piss is a big no-no, as is swearing and being negative.

There is also a type of really spottable American abroad: large body, goatee beard, knapsack, water bottle and khaki shorts.

You also have a particular tone in your accent not in other Englishes which makes you stand out in, you know, crowds.
posted by dydecker at 12:26 AM on November 7, 2002


I'd say the article was spot on. Of course, a similar effect could have been achieved from getting a few of us furriners to write a few paragraphs on what America means to us. I don't think I'm partiularly unusual in my British opinion, but I'm sort of with Electric Jesus. I add the caveat that the type of American who wants to either study or travel to Europe is exactly the type of American I prefer to meet.

Hertsgaard is correct when he says that the rest of the world was squarly behind America straight after September 11th, but Bush blew it with that "for us or against us" speech. If Bush had played his cards right, America could have had so much more international support.

I'm sorry you didn't like the article, hama7, but the problem is with you, not Hertsgaard.
posted by salmacis at 1:03 AM on November 7, 2002


I think we not-Americans can not only distinguish between the American government, its culture, and its people, but also between the normal (?) people and the American tourist who is often very recognisable (see dydecker's description).

But one thing a lot of people just don't understand? The lack of gun control (though it didn't mess up your image that much:
Americans are often thought of as obnoxious, arrogant loud mouths that strut like John Wayne while saluting the Stars and Stripes and singing The Star Spangled Banner. But in the past year, after a spate of random gun-related massacres in the US, a new aspect has been added to the American stereotype: the gun crazy psycho.
(http://www.bond.edu.au/hss/news/9931104/)
posted by roel at 1:20 AM on November 7, 2002


I'm 'Merican, have lived in Europe (London) for the past five years or so and have managed to clock up about almost 400K frequent flier miles during the last six years (erstwhile employer kept me on the go).

Often I've been in some restaurant either here or on the continent and could pick out the 'Mericans simply by spotting the phrase or travel book; I'm highly detailed oriented so I doubt many of the locals could tell since these folks were quiet, respectful and generally interested in their surroundings, the people and the culture they were experiencing.

And then there were the others that refuse to even try phrases in the local language, insist that locals should behave like the folks back in The States ("Yo dude! I know they smoke in restaurants in Paris - but its their country and you're out of line by insisting they dont smoke!") or - and this is my pet peeve - continually (and loudly) compare absolutely everything they come across to something back in America.

Instead of just appreciating it for what it is.

Hey did you ever stop to think for a minute that this building IS NOT just like that building back in New York? Maybe the building back in New York is just like this building!
posted by Mutant at 1:38 AM on November 7, 2002


sorry you didn't like the article, hama7, but the problem is with you, not Hertsgaard

Good way to avoid personal attacks whilst discussing the link.

I'm guessing this pompous Hertsgaard ass is an American, and I see that his American arrogance has not prevented him from speaking on behalf of the entire planet. I don't agree with his Salon.com opinion, but I did enjoy reading the (rather lengthy) article and interview.

I just object to pompous, arrogant American asses criticizing Americans for being pompous, arrogant American asses.

Although the irony is delicious, albeit wholly unintended.
posted by hama7 at 1:42 AM on November 7, 2002


In the region of the United States where I live (eastern Pennsylvania) I encounter such a wide range of people...people with different accents, skin color, religious beliefs, occupations, etc. I would be at a loss as to how to group them, and I am amazed other people find it so easy. In one day, I could wave hello to my Indian neighbor, speak to my Ukrainian grandmother, pass an Amish couple riding in a horse-drawn cart on my way to school, drop my mom off at work (she's a nurse) and meet her co-workers from Jamaica, France, Scotland, Africa, Bosnia, Spain...I don't think I'm unique in that respect. I don't even live in a big city. Of course, I was born here, so I'm ignorant by default, right? Because if you are American, you are a selfish idiot, but if you are not American, you are a compassionate sage. Criticizing U.S. foreign policy is one thing; insulting all U.S. citizens based on your experiences with American films or tourists is another. My point is, you cannot generalize all Americans. I mean, you can, but your statements have no substance. True, there are ignorant people in America--but there are ignorant people everywhere. Ignorance is a worldwide problem. This book, and this article, are by no means an effective way of combating ignorance.
posted by Zulujines at 1:43 AM on November 7, 2002


There's America in the sense of the official government and the military. That official face of America in the world is not very well liked. And then there's Americans -- the people of the country, the ideals of the country, our popular culture.

I don't know if it's a split between the two categories - the author should have people, ideals and cultures as separate categories as well. Then you can ask whether the category over-rides or is dominant of another country's - that's when some anti-America feelings start coming into play.

Does the Government/Military over-ride other countries? In some places - most certainly.
Are the people dominant? Well some and, yes quite often, it's the tourists. But when I was in USA I found some of the nicest people anywhere in the world.
Are the ideals dominant? It's hard to disagree with most of what USA says it stands for.
The popular culture? Our TV is riddled with bollocks USA television to the detriment of our own television. But lots of American stuff isn't at the expense of our own stuff - art films, independent bands etc etc

Anyway that's when I start to feel anti-American - when I see people losing their ability to choose how they want to behave in their own country.
posted by meech at 1:51 AM on November 7, 2002


And Brits have rotten teeth, and the French smell bad and are extremely rude, and the Germans are all Nazis who have a fondness for sausage meat and excrement, and the Koreans all eat dogs, and the Canadians are bland, boring imitation Americans who serially mispronounce "ou" words, and Africans are savages who boil people in big kettles, and the Russians are all Boris-and-Natasha commie spies who are always drunk, and...

It's called stereotype, folks, and it's the blunt tool of the dull. Aren't the quiet, intelligent, humble Europeans et al, able to understand that people are different, and that painting cultures, countries, and people (especially the United States, which is broader and more culturally, racially and regionally diverse than most of the nations we're supposed to look up to) with a broad brush is a recipie for a, well, a bad paint job. Legitimate complaints about negative experiences with specific Americans is one thing, but the rest of it sounds like the products of ignorance and sour grapes.

continually (and loudly) compare absolutely everything they come across to something back in America.

so Americans aren't allowed to exercise the human impulse to compare and contrast other lands and places with home? I'm around foreign travellers in America all the time, and I never get mad at them for, well, being foreign.
posted by sir walsingham at 1:53 AM on November 7, 2002


"especially the United States, which is broader and more culturally, racially and regionally diverse than most of the nations we're supposed to look up to"

Well, not sure about that, but that point's moot for now. The point is that Corporate America and phrase such as the "American way", "American family values", sells an image of the USA to the world that is relatively homogenous and unvaried. As a minor experiment, what are the regional food variation across 200 mile of the states versus Europe or Asia? (I don't know the answer, its just interest)

Back on topic, we in Britain understand imperial arrogance, indeed, some of us still are infected with the meme. It really is necessarry to relax a bit and see that there are other ways of life out there.

If citizens of the USA are not just a teensy bit arrogant, why is there a baseball world series that no one else in the world cares about, why do you call yourself Americans when Canadians, Mexicans etc. don't and they are from America too and why is global warming bullshit?
posted by lerrup at 2:13 AM on November 7, 2002


The fact that Americans think foreign ability to "distinguish between the official face of the American government (...) and American people, pop culture and values" is a "surprising result" says everything, doesn't it?
posted by arf at 2:27 AM on November 7, 2002


In the interests of enhanced international understanding : An American's Guide to Canada.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:47 AM on November 7, 2002


why do you call yourself Americans when Canadians, Mexicans etc. don't

but "Great Britain?" Watch that plank in yer eye.
posted by shoos at 3:34 AM on November 7, 2002


Aren't the quiet, intelligent, humble Europeans et al, able to understand that people are different

We can actually, but it's more fun not to. *chuckle*

Surely most people see generalizations and stereotypes for what they are.
posted by ginz at 3:45 AM on November 7, 2002


but "Great Britain?"

Mmmm, like United States...
posted by inpHilltr8r at 3:54 AM on November 7, 2002


but "Great Britain?" Watch that plank in yer eye.

I think it comes from the french name, Grande Bretagne, which (i think) translates to English as Larger Brittany.

So I can safely say it's not that Great, shoos
posted by iain at 3:55 AM on November 7, 2002


see here for more info on Brittany / Bretagne / Britain.
posted by iain at 3:59 AM on November 7, 2002


"Great Britain?" Watch that plank in yer eye.

Find a significant number of people that regularly self-identify as "Great British" (as opposed to British/English/Scottish/Welsh/Irish) and I'll (1) be surprised and (2) concede that you have a point.
posted by bifter at 4:07 AM on November 7, 2002


1 Yes, some people think Great means fantastic (stand up all you Tories), but not most of us. I resent plank jibe a bit, as I pointed out the imperialist meme in British thought previously (not Great Bristish thought you'll notice).

2. I always thought it was Greater as opposed to Lesser (as in Smaller) Britain meaning the island of Ireland, but there you go.

3. you don't want to get into a celtic Britain v England thing here, trust me.
posted by lerrup at 4:16 AM on November 7, 2002


4. you don't want to get into a celtic Britain v island of Ireland thing here, trust me.(only kidding!! sort of.)
posted by Doozer at 4:33 AM on November 7, 2002


You know, I think it speaks volumes that Americans actually care what the rest of the world thinks of them. I sincerely doubt the Swiss are as introspective and insecure as we are. I really don't think Norwegians give a damn about what an illiterate, retired terrorist thinks of them. And yet, sitting on top of the world as we supposedly do, we constantly seek the approval of other countries before we invade them. How bizarre.
posted by crunchland at 4:40 AM on November 7, 2002


pompous, arrogant American asses .

hama, I'll get you to make me a cup of tea from that black kettle, since you've got it handy...

From the article

You mentioned that before Sept. 11, the press knew about bin Laden's plan to launch a major attack on the U.S.

Isn't that something?

Was it just the American press that didn't mention it or was it everyone? Did they mention it in European papers?

That's a good question. And I have to confess that I did not check that out.


I can't speak for American's as a whole (seriously, who ever could?), but this guy is a tosser.
posted by backOfYourMind at 5:05 AM on November 7, 2002


oooh, misplaced apostrophe...nasty.
posted by backOfYourMind at 5:07 AM on November 7, 2002


Oh, since it's been mentioned, can someone explain the pot/kettle thing to an ignorant non-english native tongue speaker? [I know it's off topic, but I really need to understand this one day]
posted by ugly_n_sticky at 5:10 AM on November 7, 2002


ok, yes, i was being a little childish, and the etymology more or less excuses the name

But the whining! Please. Jesus. Help. me! Cant stand.. it. ..any llonnger....
posted by shoos at 5:12 AM on November 7, 2002


crunchland: You're wrong. In my experience most peoples want to find out how liked they are. Everyone wants to be liked.
I think what Americans in general lack is humility. USA is the world's richest and most powerful nation, the Americans know it and they show everyone that they know it. USA is just another country with both bad and good things, lots of both. I don't think Americans really understand that.
posted by lazy-ville at 5:21 AM on November 7, 2002


Ugly: "The Pot Calling The Kettle Black", an expression which can be applied when one person says something of another person, which in reality can be said of both.

In other words, hypocracy.
posted by Doozer at 5:23 AM on November 7, 2002


The full expression is "That's like the pot calling the kettle black," referring to olden days when cooking was done over a fire and both pots and kettles would be blackened on the bottom. It is used to describe a statement as hypocritical.
posted by cardboard at 5:33 AM on November 7, 2002


"They readily distinguish between the official face of the American government (who they tend to disagree with and fear) and American people, pop culture and values (which they tend to adore and emulate)."

Thats mostly because the government in most places doesn't represent its people to the degree it does here, be it the unelected EU commission, a French President elected only every seven years, or some military leader.

Yes, Americans are loud, and somewhat uncultured on the whole, sincerity and optimism are more important traits.

Much of the dislike of Americans is hidden jealousy. The biggest boy on the block will always induce such feelings. All we can do as Americans is look in the mirror, and try to be the nicest Biggest Boy possible.

Americans make fun of themselves and their culture. How often do foreigners get exposed to that? To Saturday night live skits? To the opposition candidates in our elections? To the dissent? The irreverence?
posted by ParisParamus at 5:49 AM on November 7, 2002


I lived in Oxford for a while, and eventually taught at a public school at which there was a pretty great number of American high school students whose parents had sent them abroad. Since these kids were abroad, the school sent them on a number of "cultural" fieldtrips, with me along as the least senior teacher. Invariably, no matter how formal the venue, I would have to throttle several of my young men for starting to exclaim loudly about how if it weren't for America, England would be speaking German right now, how it was really great to live in a nation that was free and not oppressed by a monarch, etc. This appalling lack of respect or historical knowledge was pretty damn hard to take from 17-year-olds who had obviously never worked a day in their lives, much less fought off the Nazis, and I'm an American. I can't imagine how people from European nations stand this, frankly.

What really disturbs me is that I don't think that the people who are rude abroad are unrepresentative of Americans in general. Certainly there are a lot of great, knowledgeable, sensitive people, but I don' t think that they are in the majority. On the other hand, I live in Texas, so maybe my population sample isn't representative.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 6:05 AM on November 7, 2002


You think that rich, likely spoiled American teenagers abroad are representative? I'm not so sure.

The real "problem," is that Americans have more money than education. So the louts are louder and get to travel more.
posted by ParisParamus at 6:11 AM on November 7, 2002


Americans make fun of themselves and their culture. How often do foreigners get exposed to that?

Please, Australians (and Brits) have a great tradition of taking the piss out of their own culture. We're certainly much harder on our elected representatives than many nations.

The real "problem," is that Americans have more money than education. So the louts are louder and get to travel more.

I think you're being to hard on US tourists. I'm sure they're no worse than anyone else, but it's no fun to badmouth people from Estonia, so noone bothers...
posted by backOfYourMind at 6:23 AM on November 7, 2002


OK. OK. I admit that most Americans are embarassing.
posted by ParisParamus at 6:24 AM on November 7, 2002


Electric Jesus: Personally, I have met quite a few visiting Americans and have found that it's about a 50-50 chance that any of these stereotypes hold true.

Oddly enough, as an American doing customer service in a tourist region I can say that the stereotypes about visitors from other countries also apply about fifty percent of the time.

I also have a fifty percent chance of meeting a 'generally noisy' and 'egotistical and uncultured' American at the next Chamber of Commerce meeting (the Chamber of Commerce is an organization of business owners where we sit around and discuss how best to suck money out those arrogant French, the orally challenged Brits and our inscrutable Asian visitors).

If anything I think your 50-50 ratio is optimistic, I find far more than half the people I encounter to be woefully ignorant and lacking in humility... regardless of the passport they hold.
posted by cedar at 6:25 AM on November 7, 2002


Paris -- sadly, the rich, likely spoiled teenagers learned it somewhere.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 6:37 AM on November 7, 2002


I travelled America and asked people for their perceptions of the French. I was able to learn that they view the French government is ineffectual and cowardly, and believe that the French people have a highly inflated view of themselves and their culture that isn't consistent with reality. The French tend to be rude, demanding, and egotistical, not to mention smelly.

The point is that opinions are like assholes -- everybody's got one. The opinions of others are characterized as "mutifaceted and sophisticated" only when one agrees with those opinions. What is the point of this other than to imply that the U.S. is ignorant, and that "the rest of the world" is in a position to "teach" Americans what's wrong with them?
posted by pardonyou? at 6:38 AM on November 7, 2002


OK. OK. I admit that most Americans are embarassing

Jeez, can I get you a hair shirt to go with that self-flagellation? *inserts emoticon to suggest 'gentle ribbing'*
posted by backOfYourMind at 6:43 AM on November 7, 2002


I thought we as a world had previously agreed to shitcan the idiot stereotypes and decide on an individual basis who is an asshole and who isn't based on observed behavior?
posted by UncleFes at 6:44 AM on November 7, 2002


I think that a lot of people in the world view the USA in the same way that USians view California. Or the way that CAians view LA.

Anyway, this discussion reminds me of an old BBC TV prog. called 'Do They Mean Us?' which put together news & documentary footage about the UK that had been produced & broadcast by foreign TV co.s. It made for interesting, sometimes uncomfortable & often surprising viewing.

You can look at it two ways...
(i) 'Do They Mean Us?': 'How can they be so stupid, they've misrepresented us!' or
(ii) 'Do They Mean Us?': 'Wow, it helps to know how we look from the outside'.

I started off at (i) but soon moved on to (ii). A little self-examination is good for the soul...
posted by i_cola at 6:59 AM on November 7, 2002


I think there are a couple things going on here as to world opinions about Americans:

1) The term "American"--especially used by foreigners to describe our tourists--represents a continent of 280 million people. Thus, any stereotype is bound to be far more generalized and exagerated than a sterotype applied to "French" tourists (a nation of 60 million people) or "Canadian" (25-30 million people.)

2) There is a general perception among Europeans (that I've experienced) that Americans are uncultured and untraveled. Partly I believe this stems from the statistical lack of fluency in a foreign language. Well, frankly, most Americans do not need to know a foreign language (With the growing exception of Spanish) to engage in a normal daily life. This is because The ENTIRE UNITED STATES AND CANADA, our closest neighbor SPEAK ENGLISH. You can travel across a continent without changing your language. This is impossible in Europe. In Europe, to travel a distance that we would consider small by Western American standards you might pass through two or three language zones. So Europeans, if they want to travel or engage in culture and business beyond a zone of say 200 miles of their home, should speak a foreign language. Plus, in Europe visiting a foreign country is MUCH easier than in America. Thus when Europeans and American student meet say at University, I find Europeans appalled "what do you mean, you've only been to London, no where else!" But Americans do travel. We travel in America, which is really no different from and Italian taking SNCF to Marsailles.

3) The issues of cost of travel plus language barriers has traditionally made Americans, especially those of middle age who may not want to "rough it" travel in large groups while in Europe. Thus they are an easy target to pray on in terms of stereotyping, just like Chinese or Japanese tourists.
posted by pjgulliver at 7:06 AM on November 7, 2002


This is an extremely silly discussion. The only generalization that I hold to is that generalizations are inherently stupid.

If you think that all the people in a given culture are loud and arrogant because the only ones you notice are loud and arrogant, you might want to reexamine your logic a bit. It truly begs the question.
posted by toothgnip at 7:16 AM on November 7, 2002


so Americans aren't allowed to exercise the human impulse to compare and contrast other lands and places with home?

Of course they are. My point is I've found when travelling its far better to try to fit in, than to draw attention to yourself.

This behaviour starts with language - try to speak it, just a little! A little effort goes a long way in most non English speaking countries and even more so when they learn you're American.

Continues with respect for local cultures - that little incident in Paris ended up with the American who asked that a nearby diners cigarette be put out (who was there first, BTW, and enjoying a smoke with desert), making a complete ass out of herself by standing up and using a menu to wave the smoke away.

And it ends with sensitivity - the fact that America does it better or did it first doesn't oblige the traveler to announce it to whom ever is in earshot.
posted by Mutant at 7:24 AM on November 7, 2002


Mutant, what possible reason do most Americans have to learn a European language beyond Spanish, and that only for domestic US use? English is the most widely spoken second language in the world, overwhelmingly so in Europe. Like it or not, it is the lingua franca. That's why Europeans learn it from an early age. Anywhere I can go in Europe, I can be reasonably sure that someone while speak some English. If I am an average American, who will probably go to Europe only once in my life, if at all, why do I need to know a language? What utility is there in knowing one specific foreign language, most of which have no utility on the world stage (I would love to speak italian, but where would I use it save Italy?)

For the record, I'm American, and speak French fluently and am learning Spanish. I also want to learn Russian and plan to study it when I return to grad school. But I have specific goals in learning these languages, I studied French literature to a degree at university and now work in international consulting. If I'm going to be a customer service rep in Acron Ohio, I don't need a second language.
posted by pjgulliver at 7:29 AM on November 7, 2002


For a more reflective discussion on this topic it's worth having a look at Granta's What we think of America Issue
posted by stunned at 7:33 AM on November 7, 2002


i like american people, but absolutely don't like american government, corporations or culture. the government is totalitarian, the big corporations loot other countries wealths, and the american pop culture has been so diffused around the globe that it's making other rare human cultures disappear.

i have met 4 or 5 americans who live in mexico, and all of them are my friends now. people is very similar in nature, with similar emotions; so it is not that difficult to make friends from other countries. i have discussed with these american friends about their government, corporations and pop culture, and they partially agree with me.

the problem is that american people don't care a shit for their government policies overseas, or about the pillage made by american corporations in third world countries, or about the impact that american values and pop culture can cause in other antique and valuable traditions. american people, living in the supposed ‘greatest democracy’ in the world, should be able to change that. none country can make america different. no one can change america other than their people. i can't understand why you chose bush as your president, why you don't do something to stop your army destroy an already fucked country like iraq, why you don't sign the kyoto protocol, why you… blah, blah…

this world is going to the shit, if things continue like these, certainly, in a couple of decades, human race will seriously face its destruction. the frontside to revolutionize these is american people.
posted by trismegisto at 7:56 AM on November 7, 2002


One point that seems to be missed in this discussion:
Whether or not the stereotype is justified, whether or not people in other nations act just as badly as the stereotypical "ugly American", this is the perception of America as seen abroad, and foreigners are acting on that perception. And as we've seen, those actions are not exactly in America's best interest. After 9/11 America asked, "why us?", and the world pointed at the stereotype. It's not enough to say, "but that's not what we're really like". If you want to end the stereotype, you have to make the effort to show you're not really that bad (because you aren't). You can be sure the people holding that stereotype aren't thinking "hey, maybe we're wrong and these Americans aren't as bad as they appear." They feel threatened and powerless, always a bad combination.

(one other quick note: it seems like Europeans use "America" to refer to the continent, while in Canada and the US it only refers to the USA. A Canadian might - might - think of himself as North American, but would never consider himself American. Interesting. How do South and Central Americans view themselves in this regard?)
posted by GhostintheMachine at 8:08 AM on November 7, 2002


this is the perception of America as seen abroad, and foreigners are acting on that perception.

I can't see that it's our fault when non-Americans act ignorantly on the basis of stereotypes, or our responsibility to educate them. That's sort of like saying that African-Americans ca. 1960 had a responsibility to educate white Americans and show that they "really weren't that bad."

Isn't it supposed to be the other way around?
posted by UncleFes at 8:25 AM on November 7, 2002


Mutant, what possible reason do most Americans have to learn a European language beyond Spanish, and that only for domestic US use?

Gee I was thinking more along the lines of if you're gonna be in Paris for holiday, take a phrase book and just try to speak some, not necessarily learn it!

Minimally, if you can say "Please" and "Thank you" in the language of the country you're visiting - even if you're reading it directly from a book - you'll get treated better. Switch sides and see if from the perspective of the native, and you'll understand why.

Congrats on the langauges you're learning - its comendable! But I wouldn't be so quick to assume that where ever you go in Europe "someone while speak some English."

That has not been my experience at all, especially in the small towns but quite often even in the capitals.
posted by Mutant at 8:31 AM on November 7, 2002


you have to make the effort to show you're not really that bad (because you aren't)

Isn't that the rub? If we assume that the U.S. is "not that bad," and that the perception of the ROTW is therefore somehow "erroneous," what effort could the U.S. possibly make to change the minds of "the ROTW" (to add to the stereotype pile)?

This is just about impressions and opinions. The world holds the opinion that Americans are arrogant and "childlike." Americans (by and large) hold the opinion that they are not. Presumably, one view is "right" and the other "wrong" (or, at least, "more right/wrong"). The premise of this article is that the "world's" view is the right one. But again, that's just one interpretation. Reasonable minds can differ.

(on preview, what the good uncle said)
posted by pardonyou? at 8:31 AM on November 7, 2002


The problem is that highly-educated Europeans are comparing themselves with "average" Americans, which is clearly unfair. Since the U.S. seems very well-represented in almost every academic (and other) field, I'd have to say that the American "elite" are every bit as good as the European.
posted by callmejay at 8:34 AM on November 7, 2002


the government is totalitarian

Have you ever experienced a totalitarian government? Several members of my family were murdered by a totalitarian government many years ago. Can you tell the difference between a democratic republic whose current administration you don't like and an actual totalitarian government? I'm just curious.

I try to understand the political systems, culture, history, etc. of any countries I am interested in or visit for any prolonged period. If I read some op ed piece making generalizations about a particular country or if I hear people making negative, hyperbolic assumptions about a country or people, I don't fall lockstep in with their viewpoint. Instead I try to learn more about said country or people and draw my own conclusions and also assume that, as an outsider, my views are necessarily
incomplete.

It's funny that the non-Americans who make these generalizations about America and Americans, here and elsewhere, fail to see the hypocrisy of the fact that they're guilty of what they're complaining about.

In other words, plank, pot and kettle.
posted by sir walsingham at 8:35 AM on November 7, 2002


Americans, in their natural habitat are great, warm, loving people. Americans on vacation elsewhere in the world are frightening to many small children.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:44 AM on November 7, 2002


In other words, plank, pot and kettle.
Plank? What's that plank doing there?
posted by ginz at 8:45 AM on November 7, 2002


Have you ever experienced a totalitarian government? Several members of my family were murdered by a totalitarian government many years ago. Can you tell the difference between a democratic republic whose current administration you don't like and an actual totalitarian government? I'm just curious.

I'm very pleased to hear you say this - I agree. I haven't had family members killed, but I've had experiences with genuine totalitarian governments. And no, sometimes on MeFi it doesn't seem as though some folks can tell the difference.

... and the american pop culture has been so diffused around the globe that it's making other rare human cultures disappear ...

Terrible, terrible. Rural Chinese now watch MTV - and want to toss out centuries of elegant, repressive culture in favor of free expression. Nations with a long tradition of clitorectomies are getting push-back from women. And of course, the entire world is still mourning the loss of the rich depth of the Taliban culture that may now be gone forever.
posted by MidasMulligan at 8:48 AM on November 7, 2002


The USA in my humble opinion is a great country which I love to visit as often as possible, in fact I could say that New York is one of my favourite cities, the manmade mountain range of manhattan is wonderful. The thing that does annoy is statements such as 'Greatest country on earth' or 'greatest constitution' etc, baseless claims like that are extremely annoying. Anyway I must remeber to visit the dentist......
posted by johnnyboy at 8:51 AM on November 7, 2002


UncleFes, that's exactly what African-Americans did in the 1960s - they forced white America to view them differently. Since white America wasn't going to voluntarily change, they had to be forced. Yes, we should all just reject any stereotype and judge people on their merits, but while you're waiting for that to happen you're going to be the target of many more attacks. How many will it take before you do something about it?

And pardonyou?, that's a rather defeatist attitude. "what effort could the U.S. possibly make"? Well, for starters, any effort would be nice.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 8:51 AM on November 7, 2002


If citizens of the USA are not just a teensy bit arrogant... why do you call yourself Americans when Canadians, Mexicans etc. don't and they are from America too...?

Because in nations with names in the format of Government Type of 'X' (e.g. People's Republic of China, Estados Unidos Mexicanos), is it normal to call members of that nation 'X'ian (or 'X'ese). It's not a conspiracy to ignore the rest of the hemisphere, it's just the only nation to use the name of the continent in the name of the nation. You could as easily argue that it is arrogant to refer to the USA as just the "US" since, Mexico, our neighbor, is also a "United States" (That's what Estados Unidos means, you know).

I've spent a little time in Europe. I speak French well enough to be understood, and certainly had very little trouble getting around France and Britain. The only times I had troubles were in tourist areas where the service people were expecting obnoxious touristy behavior and tried to anticipate me (No, you don't have to repeat the menu to me in English - I understood you the first time). I have a feeling that I didn't help the perceived American stereotype any because I wasn't annoying enough to stand out in people's minds. People remember the loud annoying tourist, but not the quiet student who checked a map before leaving and doesn't need to ask directions.
posted by Karmakaze at 8:57 AM on November 7, 2002


centuries of elegant, repressive culture in favor of free expression. Nations with a long tradition of clitorectomies are getting push-back from women. And of course, the entire world is still mourning the loss of the rich depth of the Taliban culture that may now be gone forever.

I must object to this hierarchical attitude, is the american way the most humane and developed cultural model?. The point is we may not agree with or even be mortified by cultural practices elsewhere, however it is not our place to act as judge, jury and executioner. Quite simply it is none of our business.
posted by johnnyboy at 8:58 AM on November 7, 2002


I agree that Americans are arrogant. We have a lot to be arrogant about. :-)
posted by oissubke at 9:03 AM on November 7, 2002


they forced white America to view them differently. Since white America wasn't going to voluntarily change, they had to be forced.

To which white America responded with violence. It was only over time that African Americans have come to equality, and there are those that would say (in some cases rightly, imo) that the job isn't entirely finished even now.

But shouldn't old Europe have learned young America's lesson here?

How many will it take before you do something about it?

Seems we are doing something about it now, for which we are being roundly castigated. Hmph.

Anyway, the "plank" thing refers to Matthew 7:1-5: "1. Judge not, that ye be not judged. 2. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. 3. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4 . Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? 5 .Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye."
posted by UncleFes at 9:04 AM on November 7, 2002


You know what has changed my view of Americans more than anything else? Metafilter.
Before stumbling across Metafilter some time ago, my experience of American citizens was mainly of the 'spoiled brat', 'overfed, undereducated, loud', 'goatee and long shorts with a Canadian flag on the rucksack' variety. The former two being annoying, the latter being amusing since the moment they were obliged to communicate with anyone they gave the game away.
However, since coming to Metafilter and interacting with more Americans, my opinion has changed. I've seen that there are indeed thoughtful, witty, insightful people over the pond, who are able to laugh at themselves and can appreciate that the whole world isn't in thrall to their country - attributes which the people I'd met on my travels and in my own country seemingly didn't posess.

I think there is some mileage in the theory that many of the Americans who travel outside their own country do so not because they want to learn about other cultures, but to reassure themselves that they're still the greatest at everything. But I also know that there are many of their fellow countrymen and women who don't conform to the stereotype I believed in the past - they just don't turn up at Stonehenge (I live near Stonehenge) as often as the bus loads of boobs in sandals and Hawaiian shirts.
posted by Markb at 9:06 AM on November 7, 2002


Dismissing this writer out of hand because you don't like what he has to say is foolish. He went out and did his research. He talked to people and found out what they thought.

I would suggest this a fair bit more than what most of the detractors in this thread have done to back up their arguments, which seem more along the lines of "Who cares what this sonofabitch thinks? Who is he to say what the rest of the world thinks. How dare he insult Americans!"

Why should the citizens of the US care about what the rest of the world thinks?
  • Because when they think we are arrogant or bad, ignorant or evil, most will be less inclined to work with us.
  • Because when they think we are arrogant or bad, ignorant or evil, many will be motivated to actively oppose us.
  • Because when they think we are arrogant or bad, ignorant or evil, some will be motivated to try and kill us.
There are clear strategic reasons why we should be concerned about this. I'm not saying that the people of the United States should run around trying to please everyone all of the time, because this would be impossible. However, it's entirely possible that there is a lot of room for improvement. We'll get along a lot better in a world full of friends than we will in a world full of rivals.
posted by moonbiter at 9:06 AM on November 7, 2002


johnnyboy, am I to understand you think it's perfectly acceptable for other nations to abuse human rights? That's ridiculous. Sure, there's a grey area between right and wrong, but that doesn't mean black and white don't exist. Not all opinions are equally valid.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 9:21 AM on November 7, 2002


I have met quite a few visiting Americans and have found that it's about a 50-50 chance that any of these stereotypes hold true.

The same can be said for Europeans who come to the US or Europeans who Americans see abroad. But, I don't really believe this. Why? Because I have been abroad and taken time to live in place and meet the "locals," watch local TV and/or just chill. This experience has shown me that people are just people. The reason the stereotypes are three fold:

1) People look for stereotypes out of irrational ignorance and hatred.

2) Stereotypes are easy, because it takes time and effort to get beyond them.

3) Stereotypical Americas stick out because their load manor over shadows us real Americans. I could talk about load brits or assies in pubs abroad, but then I would be just as guilty as the people I condemn. I figure I only think this because even a few loud people tend over shadow the quite people.

moonbiter,

It may be ok to hate Americas, and it may be ok to hate anyone. But people should not do this based on ignorance and half-truths.
posted by Bag Man at 9:29 AM on November 7, 2002


Why can't they meet us halfway? Abandon their stereotypes, give us the benefit of the doubt and learn about Americans really are, good and bad? I'm not saying that we can't act with a little more circumspect on the world stage, governmentally and individually. But damn, we're getting patently, unfairly and offensively stereotyped here, being physically attacked as well as berated in the world press, and being told it's our responsibility to change it! All in a political environment where America is subjected to continual criticism from those for whom a quick reading of that quote from Matthew might be considered a good start. It does, you must admit, at first blush seem an overly harsh indictment, and unlikely to generate pleasant, conciliatory feelings amongst the stereotyped.
posted by UncleFes at 9:31 AM on November 7, 2002


UncleFes: Are you arguing for or against my views? Cause it's kinda hard to tell. No, the job's not finished, but at least there's been some progress. All because the victims of a stereotype stood up and said it was wrong. If you don't let people know their view of you is wrong, they'll continue to believe in the stereotype. Give them a reason to change their minds; don't expect a sudden revelation.

Also, I don't think it's Europe the US needs to worry about. Europeans may be annoyed with perceived US arrogance, but they're not likely to launch a first strike against you. Ditto Latin America, who seem to wish you'd just leave them alone more. The biggest (but not sole) threat comes from the Arab world (although presenting that as a single entity is just as much a stereotype as the rest discussed here). And they're the ones who need to be informed of the real America.

As for being castigated for the action you want to take, that's simple. It's the wrong action. Like a friend telling you not to drive after you've downed a 40 ouncer, the flak you're receiving stems from your choice of actions, not the motivations behind them.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 9:35 AM on November 7, 2002


I've had a few experiences traveling outside of the U.S. that are rare for my socioeconomic status. Ignorant American a is fairely acurate desrcription of my behavior. Because here the way we act is not ignorant and not knowing any better, what can be expected? I did not know that it was rude to walk into a cheap french Cafe with a drink from another store. The employees at burger king dont care if you walk in with a bag of food from another place and eat with a group who has already bought food at BK. If I were a salesperson making a sale to a french woman here and she said Merci, it would not make a difference to me. I know what she meant.

I did notice that if you attempted to speak the language you were treated better. But I felt phony in only being about to say please, thank you and hello. I was probably just being paranoid in the way that I felt the french already knew I was American, they would probably think even less of me trying to use thier most basic words, like I am so ignorant that is all i can do. So I didnt.

One night in a restaurant bar I was eating with a group of Americans in Paris. A few in my group could speak fluent frech. A group french 20 somethings at a table next to ours were making fun of us right out loud like we were invisible. They were mokcing my friend who had a red coss on his shirt, "Americans want to look like doctors."

In a busy cosmetics store in les halles I saw a man come in and spray himself 20 times or more with a sample bottle of cologne. He was spraying his whole exterior and then the insides of coat and shirt. I cant help but gawk at something like that because I just dont see that kind of behavior in my local mall.

I am not saying that because of a few things I percieve all french as rude, but it is the differences that stand out the most in my mind. People within my group also said ignorant snarky comments, like if it werent for us you would be speaking german(under their breath). It was only after being treated rudely first, not that it makes it ok. It is all about who is stepping on whos pride.

In Mexico I dont think I was viewed as rude at all nor did I find any general rudeness among the people towards Americans. Once I was out of the typical tourist areas I was treated extremely kind.

In France I was under the impression that Americans were supposed to bow down to their culture and in Mexico I felt that the people wanted to share their culture.
posted by Recockulous at 9:45 AM on November 7, 2002


"do you know where the castle is?"

-"well, if ye turn roond and look ower thair.."

"yup"

-"ye see where that giant volcanic heap ay rock is?"

"yup"

-"see that massive 11th century buildin on toap ay it wi
turrets n cannons?"
posted by sgt.serenity at 9:49 AM on November 7, 2002


Jaysus. 'The Great Europe v. U.S (or America, or whatever) Hullabaloo of 2002' rumbles on unabated, and watching this thread is like staring at a car wreck at this stage.

As Winston Churchill would have said, "Never have so many become so impassioned because of so few, over so little". Or something like that.

To summarise: Apart from headbangers in a small number of countries, the vast majority of non-Americans have no problem at all with American people, believe it or not. However, the gung-ho attitude of the present U.S Government really is universally deplored (for reasons ranging from Kyoto, to the ICC, to arms exports, to GMOs, to the wasteful use of global resources, to cultural imperialism, to the IMF, to propping up oppressive regimes - the list goes on, so take your pick, bearing in mind that no other government is angelic either).

Of course, as Americans you don't have to give a damn about others' opinions, and probably shouldn't. But as the biggest boy in the playground (yuck - a PeePee analogy!)your Government's policies affect others' lives far more than others' Governments affect your lives, so maybe you shouldn't really be surprised or upset that others DO have reasons for their opinions which you don't necessarily understand or which you might be offended by.

On that note, I'm getting my coat and going for a pint........anyone coming???
posted by Doozer at 9:54 AM on November 7, 2002


It may be ok to hate Americas, and it may be ok to hate anyone. But people should not do this based on ignorance and half-truths.

Well, I don't agree with the ok to hate part, but I definitely agree about the second part. People should not make decisions based on ignorance and half-truths. That's what I find foolish about outright dismissal of this article.

People seem to be dismissing it based on how they emotionally react to it, and not on whether or not it is actually true. The sad thing is, its not all that hard to find out. Just ask non-US citizens what they think. This is easy with through the medium of the internet. Heck, several non-US posters have already chimed in to this discussion and corroborated the article.

I agree that ignorance is goes both ways. However, we cannot rely on people in foreign lands to go out of their way to understand us. To get something done, you have to do it yourself. It's our responsibility to teach them why we are not all that bad. It's our responsibility to lead by example.

It is in our own strategic interest to do so.
posted by moonbiter at 10:03 AM on November 7, 2002


Most foreigners get their image of USA from American movies and tv. To see what kind of an image foreigners have of America, you only need to watch American tv . In this context, I don't think you can blame us foreigners for not liking you.
posted by lazy-ville at 10:05 AM on November 7, 2002


Lazy-ville: Yet why is American mass media so popular overseas? The French government actively subsidizes cinema and television, I'm sure other governments do as well. But it is American film, American television, and American music that is watched and listened to the world over.
posted by pjgulliver at 10:29 AM on November 7, 2002


It's called stereotype, folks, and it's the blunt tool of the dull

Great tagline:

Metafilter: the blunt tool of the dull
posted by jsonic at 11:10 AM on November 7, 2002


Whether or not the stereotype is justified, whether or not people in other nations act just as badly as the stereotypical "ugly American", this is the perception of America as seen abroad, and foreigners are acting on that perception.

The real question is, how much can the United States really do, given:

--We're on top, so we're aways going to be resented, consciously and unconsciously by other people.

--Everyone else is going to hold us to a higher standard. Our mistakes are always going to ressonate more.

--We have welcomed more immigrants/peasants than any other country, so we're going to have a less educated populous, on average, for the foreseeable future.

So we should listen to criticism, weight it, try to improve (as all people should), but keep in mind that the deck is stacked against us.
posted by ParisParamus at 11:22 AM on November 7, 2002


pjgulliver: I didn't say American media is bad. American movies and tv simply tend to portray their, mostly American, protagonists as basically perfect. Apparently this is what Americans want to see. One easily might come into a conclusion that Americans see themselves as perfect.
posted by lazy-ville at 12:01 PM on November 7, 2002


Has anyone read Jean Baudrillard's "America?" Baudrillard constantly refers to the US as "the only remaining primitive society," and i fear we are about to prove him right once again.
posted by hatutah at 12:11 PM on November 7, 2002


paris: the deck is also stacked against you because, when an american travels abroad and makes an arse of himself, everyone will realise he's American. It comes of having an accent that is so familiar to anyone watching tv.
posted by iain at 12:41 PM on November 7, 2002


Well, I don't agree with the ok to hate part, but I definitely agree about the second part.

I want to clarify what I said. When I said "It's ok to hate Americans sometimes..." I meant to assert, if you have had many specific negative incidents with Americans I can understand why you won’t necessary like Americans. I did not mean its ok to "hate" in a sense of holding a prejudice or a racial animus.

we cannot rely on people in foreign lands to go out of their way to understand us.

We should...if you don't like a whole group of people on basis of ignorance or half-truths you sure as hell have an obligation to find out the true facts.
posted by Bag Man at 12:44 PM on November 7, 2002


I agree with most of what Mutant said and Doozer makes a great summary.

As someone born on the "not english speaking side" believe me when I say; it DOES make a difference if you make an effort to learn a few words, then you look interested (even if you dont pronounce properly) instead of looking like you dont give a shit, like english is owed to you.

"We're on top, so we're aways going to be resented, consciously and unconsciously by other people" stop saying that for one, and stop saying you're world champions at football, at baseball, etc... You're the only ones playing it!!! (or dont play other countries' champions)

Show you know the world exists and you know you're not the best and only valid part of it.

Last thing, how about making sure your gov. is helping people around the world instead of telling them what to do and how?
posted by reyn at 1:11 PM on November 7, 2002


Doozer: Wait up, I'm coming with you!

"Guinness: there's food in it, there's drink in it, an' there's a night's lodgin' in it."

(Can anybody possibly find anything new in the link or the discussion?)
posted by languagehat at 1:30 PM on November 7, 2002


UncleFes: Are you arguing for or against my views?

Well, both. I haven't read anything here that's entirely right or entirely wrong. Very little is.

All because the victims of a stereotype stood up and said it was wrong.

Not entirely. Yes, they stood up and said it was wrong. BUT there was a significant portion of white America, especially in government, who spoke out as well and said it was wrong. Where is that?

Give them a reason to change their minds; don't expect a sudden revelation.

I still contend that it really isn't the responsibility of the stereotyped to disconfirm the ignorance of those who stereotype them. It's the responsibility of the stereotypers to open their minds and hearts to the possibility that classifiying 300 million people as arrogant and infantile out of hand.

The biggest (but not sole) threat comes from the Arab world (although presenting that as a single entity is just as much a stereotype as the rest discussed here). And they're the ones who need to be informed of the real America.

The Arab world itself has some things to answer for, arrogance not the least among them. It takes a very special kind of arrogance to presume that your invisible magical overlord is not only better than everyone else's, but commands you to murder innocents and justifies it before the fact. Two wrongs don't make a right, but if the Arab world feels it can make claims about Americans based on the actions or perceived actions of a few, they should not be surprised when those they would criticize level some criticisms of their own. Being grownups on the world stage is a two-way street.

But I agree with you in re: Europe and Latin America. For this thread, the focus is European opinion, so that was the startpoint.

As for being castigated for the action you want to take, that's simple. It's the wrong action.

That is your opinion. A singificant portion of the American voting public (as well as a significant portion of the world) thinks otherwise. I'm not here to justify military action as being practiced (that's for a multitude of other threads). I will say, however, that the subject is not even remotely as cut and dried as either side would like to pretend it is. It's just easier for each to point at the other and say "you're wrong!" That's a shame, since we should be doing the exact opposite - full discussion on both sides as to the justifications and detractions of going into Iraq and the war on terrorists as a whole. My hope is that someday, rational intelligent people who differ on the subject will sit down, hash out the evidence and arguments and make a good decision, rather than scoring points.

I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for it, though.
posted by UncleFes at 1:38 PM on November 7, 2002


I really don't understand why this conversation is centered on stereotypes. The guy's interview precisely shows he believes the world has a positive image of the people of the USA but resent US policies. In other words: Egyptians will greet you by the pyramids and watch Buffy eagerly but will dislike the fact that again Mubarak is reelected with 90% (and more) and nobody cares in Washington.
posted by ugly_n_sticky at 2:07 PM on November 7, 2002


I lived in England for five years when I was a teenager and the rudeness, bitterness, and racism I witnessed there were something to behold. As a minority, I was exposed to all sorts of condescension and racial epithets, even by my friends and teachers, one of whom even confided that he "felt sorry for [me] because [I] wasn't English."

Before all you Brits get your tea bags in a twist, let me add that I did also meet some wonderful English people, but generally what I found was that the English weren't very trusting, and apart from the family of one friend, none really "opened up" to me...meaning they didn't just welcome me into their home and act naturally. Everyone seemed to have their guard up when I was around.

I moved to California in 1983, and immediately noticed the difference between Americans and Brits. Yes, Americans can be a little cocky and arrogant, perhaps they have too much self confidence, but from my experience, I can say that they are much warmer as a whole. They may not say "please", "thank you", and "excuse me" as much as the English, but they are more genuine and friendly. They seem to make an extra effort to make you feel included and at ease.

I have been called a racist name only once in the 19 years I've lived in the US, and that was by a customer whose credit card I'd misplaced (btw he showed up the next day to apologize profusely and shake my hand). Compare this to the hundreds of times I was called a paki, wog, or a similar charming name while I lived in the UK. I realize there are horrible bigots in the US, it's just that I haven't run across many.

I understand the criticisms of US foreign policy, lord knows they are justified, but I have a knee jerk reaction when Europeans -- particularly the English -- go on about American character flaws. Physician, heal thyself!
posted by Devils Slide at 3:54 PM on November 7, 2002


I'm an American (can't imagine calling myself an USAen) who has lived and worked in France for the better part of a year. I can definitively say, yes, my fellow Americans tend to be tools. It does not matter if we travel alone or in packs, some of act as if the world revolves around us, and is our oyster to eat as we please. I've seen it hundreds of times, from children running wild, to adults screaming at innocent waiters. Americans abroad as tourist need to go to tourist school before being loosed on the rest of the world.

Try this once. Sit near any import site in Paris during the month of August and watch people. The American stand out for many reasons. Most notably, we tend towards self centered behavior, loudness, lack of respect, and an overly friendly personal interaction. Americans equate talking with being friendly not realizing it puts people off.

Another way to tell an American, especially woman or middle aged men, is to take a normally sized European and add 30 pounds. They are normally American (or in some cases English) - btw - I'm fat so no flames please!

I chalk most of this up to cultural misunderstandings. The root of most of my own problems in France always came back to not understanding the culture I was privileged with visiting.
posted by mojoey at 4:02 PM on November 7, 2002


So we should listen to criticism, weight it, try to improve (as all people should), but keep in mind that the deck is stacked against us.

Another seeming constant is that Americans never cease to feel that they're picked on because they're, well, just so much better than everyone else.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:37 PM on November 7, 2002


i like american people, but absolutely don't like american government, corporations or culture

Hell, I'm American and I don't like American government, corporations or (most of our) culture.

And you guys in other countries who worship Michael Jackson? Just stop it. It has been very bad for him.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:15 PM on November 7, 2002


I still contend that it really isn't the responsibility of the stereotyped to disconfirm the ignorance of those who stereotype them. It's the responsibility of the stereotypers to open their minds and hearts

And how do you make them do that? By disconfirming the ignorance of those who stereotype you, generally...

Complaining about how much better the world would be if only someone else would do something is rarely as productive as doing something yourself. Yeah, by all rights everyone should stop stereotyping everyone else, but pragmatists will run rings around this kind of idealism. For an example, see the American civil rights movement...
posted by kindall at 9:28 PM on November 7, 2002


Devils Slide: I think its standard practice in the US to say thank you and please except in most of California, New York, and parts of Chicago.....so I've noticed.....

I personally get a nasty feeling if I don't say thank your or please and so on.
posted by Ron at 11:28 PM on November 7, 2002


I think the whole problems stems from the fact that people get their feelings hurt too easy. Be a MAN. Have a beer and some pretzels and nobody is going to read this.
posted by Ron at 11:34 PM on November 7, 2002


sir walsingham, the government is totalitarian.

Have you ever experienced a totalitarian government? Several members of my family were murdered by a totalitarian government many years ago.

mmmhh… maybe it was in the 60's & 70's in latin america? in that time the cia (us government agency) installed many totalitarian governments in latin america. i think it also did it in middle east. not because a government is not totalitarian in its own country means it didn't was in others, you should take that into account.

the current us government shows a bit of totalitarian. it's completely freaked out about terrorism and bacause of that many rights and liberties have been reduced. we can detect also totalitarian characteristics in us' attitude of not obeying un decision about the iraq fact, they want war to completely destroy it. maybe the bush administration thinks war is not so bad because they haven't had it in homeland.
posted by trismegisto at 5:47 AM on November 8, 2002


pragmatists will run rings around this kind of idealism.

...and idealists will run straight through mere pragmatism and condemn the ignorant for their lazy, narcissistic ignorance.

Welcome to Ye Olde Mexican Standoff :)
posted by UncleFes at 7:00 AM on November 8, 2002


moonbiter (aside: hope you're not still pissed about the comment I threw at you the other day about a certain word--apologies; no offense was intended!): this comment of yours seemed the best I read in this thread so far. All the exchange of opinion is very interesting, but you cut to the heart of it: whether the stereotypical views of Americans are valid is ultimately moot; they exist, in non-trivial profusion, and they not only lead to things like a faux pas over a cigarette at a restaurant, but to deep and abiding discontent that can manifest in violence. Another MeFi poster pointed out the original book review link to me while discussing Middle Eastern youth's perception of the US in a thread that's since been deleted, and while I don't agree on all points with Hertsgaard, I intend to buy and read his book. Will anyone else be reading?
posted by leahzero at 7:07 AM on November 8, 2002


leahzero: Let me know if it's good and I'll read it too.

Gravy: That was funny!
posted by languagehat at 8:01 AM on November 8, 2002


UncleFes (if you're still reading this): It's too bad this forum doesn't allow more in-depth discussion... I think I would really enjoy discussing this with you further.
You say it's the responsibility of the person holding the stereotype to learn the truth, but if the only evidence they ever see reinforces their wrong belief, what do you expect them to think? In broad terms, the world looks at Americans as arrogant. Your president declares he'll attack Iraq with or without anyone's consent, and anyone who doesn't back him will be considered an enemy. Are we supposed to hear that and think America isn't arrogant, that somehow the person elected to lead the country somehow does not represent the majority? (and let's not get into the whole election thing - it's simply not an interesting discussion outside your borders).

As for the issue of Iraq, I wasn't suggesting *not* going into Iraq, but *how*. Yes, there is significant support for ousting Saddam, but the problem most of the world has is, then what? What's the post-Saddam plan? If America doesn't realize this, that's just further evidence of the inability of the US to think outside its own borders. You're not listening to what the rest of us are saying, and assuming there can be no better viewpoint than your own is the height of ignorance and arrogance. We're listening to your concerns... we just want you to do the same in return.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 8:09 AM on November 8, 2002


leahzero: No, I am not pissed. Thank you for your concern that I might be, though.
posted by moonbiter at 10:04 AM on November 8, 2002


It's too bad this forum doesn't allow more in-depth discussion... I think I would really enjoy discussing this with you further.

My email's in my profile, brother. I'd love to discuss it further. But to address what you've said here...

only evidence they ever see reinforces their wrong belief, what do you expect them to think?

I expect them to think critically and reasonably! I expect them to realize that thinking of an entire people in "broad terms" is inherently in error.

Your president declares he'll attack Iraq with or without anyone's consent, and anyone who doesn't back him will be considered an enemy. Are we supposed to hear that and think America isn't arrogant, that somehow the person elected to lead the country somehow does not represent the majority?

Could be you are interpreting his statements incorrectly. One: We have yet to attack Iraq. One might consider that the words he says might not exactly represent the objectives he hopes to accomplish. But that's for another thread. The idea being (a) he obviously doesn't represent everyone, but even assuming that he does accurately represent the majority of American's interests and aims, he doesn't necessarily represent how Americans are. Bush is an individual, with individual personality features and quirks. It's foolish to infer that at least 150M people have the same personality aspects.

What's the post-Saddam plan? If America doesn't realize this, that's just further evidence of the inability of the US to think outside its own borders. You're not listening to what the rest of us are saying, and assuming there can be no better viewpoint than your own is the height of ignorance and arrogance. We're listening to your concerns... we just want you to do the same in return.

Honestly? I have no idea. Realize that there almost certainly is one,l however. It is convenient to think that any American operation in Iraq is just the son cleaning up the father's mess - but our government (and especially our military) doesn't work that way. Layers upon layers of contingency and planning go into EVERY operation.

As for assuming there is no better viewpoint than our own - well, that seems like yet another stereotype. Realistically speaking, we had carte blanche to kick ass 9/12/01 - and yet, we spent months building support at the UN and in Europe before beginning the Afghani campaign. We even now continue to seek out support from the UN (whose antipathy to the US and its concerns on the world stage is legendary) as well as amongst our reticent European allies. One thing Europe fails to acknowledge is that we are CONSTANTLY seeking it's support and backing. We seek the worlds approval slavishly. It's just so often that the concerns voiced by those whose approval we so desperately seek are damaging to us. Iraq, Kyoto... We want to be champions of the world, but we can't allow ourselves to be made whipping boys. to engage in a little stereotyping of my own, yes, we may be narcissists - but what narcissist wishes to be anything but loved? And we may be arbitrary, but it stems from pride in accomplishment and a desire to get things done, not from disdain for the rest of the world.
posted by UncleFes at 11:20 PM on November 9, 2002


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