Tuesday, September 26, 2006

"Ugly" Americans Abroad

I love these guidelines proposed by a pompous outfit called the Business for Diplomatic Action for Americans traveling abroad. Apparently, this group is "concerned by an apparent rise in what it calls 'negative stereotypes about our collective personality,' and 'is hoping to clean up the image of Americans abroad." The group has published a set of guidelines for travelers, the World Citizens Guide, that suggests proper ways of behaving when visiting countries outside of the U.S.

Among its tips:

Be humble. In many countries, boasting is considered very rude. … Assume resentment as a default and play down your wealth, power and status.

Refrain from lecturing. Nobody likes a know-it-all, and nobody likes a whole nation of them.

Be quiet. A loud voice is often perceived as a bragging voice. Casual profanity is almost always considered unacceptable.

Dress for respect. Jeans, T-shirts and sneakers work for many of us much of the time, but there are people in other countries who believe such casualness is a sign of disrespect to them and their beliefs.


Perhaps people from other countries should be given the proper code of etiquette when they come here to the United States. It seems that we are often told to be tolerant of other cultures, no matter how outrageous or unusual the behavior. Because I must say--that whenever I encounter unusual or odd behavior from visitors to America, I usually hear how I am supposed to be sensitive to cultural differences. Are there concerned groups elsewhere telling foreign visitors how to behave properly in the US or is it just politically correct to bad mouth Americans while holding others to a lower standard?

46 Comments:

Blogger Kirk Parker said...

Helen, are you certain you read the article right? I'd swear those tips were aimed at Germans...

1:40 PM, September 26, 2006  
Blogger Rizzo said...

Nobody likes a know-it-all, and nobody likes a whole nation of them.

Are they saying that nobody likes the French?

1:55 PM, September 26, 2006  
Blogger Cham said...

I disagree with you, helen. I travel in 3rd world countries, and a little advice goes a long way. If you aren't fluent in the language, you a pretty much dependent on the kindness of hoteliers, restauranteurs and the good citizens to help you with what you need. When I am in the US I know I can be loud and a little aggressive where nobody will be offended, but that is not the case elsewhere. You have to tweak your attitude when overseas. Someone on their first trip will be appreciative of the advice in the article. Each country even has its little quirks about etiquette, we have ours as well in the US.

Many Americans loathe to take international vacations though, so they rarely hve the opportunity to embarrass themselves. If they do go outside the US it is often in a group so the damage is minimal. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for some Germans and Australians who somehow never get the memo.

2:20 PM, September 26, 2006  
Blogger Rizzo said...

Actually, I think the advice is pretty good for anyone traveling to any country that is not their own.

Well, except for the attire thing. I'm not sure what difference that makes other than letting people know you're a tourist. At any rate, I'm not sure wearing a suit and tie everywhere you go is always a better idea.

For example, when I was in Quebec, I could have dressed like a homeless person and fit right in.

OK, sorry, cheap shot.

2:41 PM, September 26, 2006  
Blogger tyreea said...

I live a mile from Disneyland, and so, have met a large number of tourists over the years. Although their manners have been different ftom what I would consider normal, I have never had a bad experience. I would guess that is because they have always smiled and treated me with kindness. For my part, I have tried to do the same. When that happends, the differences vanish and only the similarities remain.

3:16 PM, September 26, 2006  
Anonymous Ed said...

Dr Helen:
At the end of "You don't mess around with Jim" you can hear "That's what you get for messing around with people strange to you" or something similar to that. If it is common enough knowledge to be in an old pop song, why is this such a surprize in this circumstance?
Though I can understand your taking offense at such things, I have to agree with the above comments in support of the suggestions.
Everyone of them is valid for working with anyone you don't know. I wish I could get this kind of behavior from the people in my neighborhood let alone people visiting another country. My mother used to say CON- Sider- Ation to me when I acted in similar fashions.
Finally I remember a novel and a movie called The Ugly American. It was generally admitted then and is probably still just as true now, that Americans were often guilty of boorish behavior. From the limited views I have of American society, I just cringe to think what happens with citizens like the ones I see, on vacation or business in foreign countries.

4:11 PM, September 26, 2006  
Anonymous Jack said...

I've seen the 'executive' version of this guide. The advice is pat and condescending. I was surprised at many of the assumptions regarding US business travellers that they were promoting and so looked into its provenance.

Upon further investigation it turned out that it was originally tailored to travelling students, BDA is a handful of advertising and PR execs, and the guide itself was put together by students at Southern Methodist. It was likely a school project of some sort.

Ironically US business people are actually more reknown for their excessive politeness and avoidance of conflict. It's a common complaint within international teams - that Americans won't disagree because they fear insulting people.

4:43 PM, September 26, 2006  
Anonymous Jack said...

I've seen the 'executive' version of this guide. The advice is pat and condescending. I was surprised at many of the assumptions regarding US business travellers that they were promoting and so looked into its provenance.

Upon further investigation it turned out that it was originally tailored to travelling students, BDA is a handful of advertising and PR execs, and the guide itself was put together by students at Southern Methodist. It was likely a school project of some sort.

Ironically US business people are actually more reknown for their excessive politeness and avoidance of conflict. It's a common complaint within international teams - that Americans won't disagree because they fear insulting people.

4:43 PM, September 26, 2006  
Anonymous jack said...

..ack, sorry about the duplicate post. Feel free to delete one.

5:21 PM, September 26, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to say, nothing beats the fun of telling a bunch of Germans that you voted for George W. Bush, and you will vote for him again. (it was in 2003) Absolute showstopper. They didn't know what to say. They were convinced that no one REALLY voted for him in the first place, and no one could POSSIBLY vote for him this time either.

As for being a good tourist, the "rules" are simple. Smile a lot. Thank people a lot. And admire something about their country. Whether they like it or not, Americans set the standards. When you show up in their country and make a point to admire something specific about them or their country, they will appreciate it. If I had a dollar for every time I got told "You're not what I expected an American to be," I'd get to go on a lot more trips.

6:50 PM, September 26, 2006  
Anonymous Jim_M said...

I totally agree with the previous post. We are held to a higher standard, and long may it wave.

I've been to France several times, loved it, and have learned enough French to communicate. It is obvious that the people we come in contact with appreciate it. In fact, I got out of paying for a ding I put in a fender of a rental car by praising the car to high heaven (it was a Peugeot 407) and saying I wished I could take it home. The Hertz guy in Marseille ate it up.

7:42 PM, September 26, 2006  
Blogger Pat Patterson said...

I always thought that wise thing to do when traveling was to follow the Golden Rule. Years ago, as a track coach, I escorted a small group of college women on the European B Circuit, track meets for good but not yet great athletes. On an off day we went to, we were told, one of the more popular German beaches on the Baltic. Several girls went in for a swim and soon came back red from the chill of the water and red from looking at the whales on the beach(I tended to believe them much to often). I went over for a look and discovered several large German ladies of advanced age and no modesty sunning themselves in scooped out areas on the beach. I tried to apologize and back away but could only stammer in German that I was only looking for the 'whales'. Only later did I discover that, in parts of Germany, was slang for very large people. Sometimes even when a huge effort is made to be a good guest you can unerringly say exactly the wrong thing.

9:06 PM, September 26, 2006  
Anonymous Mike Johnson said...

Perhaps people from other countries should be given the proper code of etiquette when they come here to the United States. It seems that we are often told to be tolerant of other cultures, no matter how outrageous or unusual the behavior. Because I must say--that whenever I encounter unusual or odd behavior from visitors to America, I usually hear how I am supposed to be sensitive to cultural differences.

I really get the feeling from posts like the one on family vacations that Glenn and Helen are genuinely nice people. Kindness begins at home. It's clear that Glenn and Helen make good relatives and good in-laws too.

But then, I also get the feeling from posts like this one that Glenn and Helen's good nature has been marred by their political views. Because these remarks that I quoted here are just a tantrum. There is nothing that makes my skin crawl than phrases like "we are told" and "I hear" and "I am supposed to". What is wrong with them is that they have left out who told you. The truth is that when you are an adult, your manners are in your own hands. There are no other people to hold you to any set standard. Any comments about how you should behave in other countries or how you should treat foreigners in America, for example, only amounts to advice. It is up to you to take that advice or disregard it. But advice from others is rarely 100% bad, especially advice to be polite to other people.

If the question is how to behave as a tourist, it is often said that Americans are both the best and the worst tourists. Americans are not one set type; the bad American tourists could just learn from the others. It's just unfortunate that America has had a lot of bad diplomacy in the past few years, and that bad diplomacy is also a bad example for tourists.

So no, it is not a good idea to tell Germans that you voted for Bush just to give them a rise. Bush irritates them. You can go to the polls and see that Bush's approval rating in Germany, and in fact in every Western European country, is in the basement. Now you could argue that Bush is doing the right thing and that it's their mistake to be irritated with him. Whether or not that is true, why go to Germany, or anywhere, just to piss off the locals? You should stay home if that is your attitude.

But you shouldn't think that they can't get along with any American tourists. Jim_M explained how you can. His advice is good, but I would say it a little differently. The single most important thing when you are in another country is to respect the people there and respect what they care about. You don't have to flatter them for every tiny little thing. Even a little praise goes a long way if you actually mean it. And, as Jim said, if you praise what they want praised.

"Be humble" is certainly first-rate advice. It is especially good advice in countries with well-educated people, like Germany or any country to the north of it. A friend of mine (an American) spent a year in Denmark and saw two American tourists on a bus who did the opposite. They started to bad-mouth Denmark in English, figuring that the Danes on the bus were not in the tourism industry and wouldn't understand them. "What a boring little country, the food is bad, Danes don't know much," that kind of thing. They didn't realize that everyone on the bus spoke English and understood every word. No one tipped them off. If you are rude in front of educated people, they might not even let you know.

11:43 PM, September 26, 2006  
Anonymous Anjali said...

"Ugly Americanism" has nothing to do with it. All tourists from any country have to do is remember to not be a jackass.

11:55 PM, September 26, 2006  
Blogger Graham Strouse said...

Helen,

If political correct wimps are the disease, I've got the cure. I live in (and grew up near) the suburbs surrounding it.

It's called Philadelphia.

I expect you've seen some of my posts.

By Philly standards, I'm mild-mannered and considerate.

We're rude to everybody as a matter of course. A lot of it comes from living in a lousy climate with air you could cut out in blocks and send to relatives abroad as souveniers. A lot comes from the lack of decent work for the hoi polloi and the haughty alike.

A lot comes from having to suffer through year after year of lousy sports teams.

Mostly, though, it's a sort of memtic social habit. People in the Philly area tend to call 'em as they see 'em, do so very loudly with great vigor, especially if the Eagles are losing.

We're rude to outsiders. We're rude to each other. We struggle to decide whether liberals are worse then conservatives, regardless of who we vote for. Just to play it safe, we tend to default to criticizing pols at both ends of the spectrum, even if we like them. We can be very generous, especially to those who embrace the boos and understand that it's just our way of saying what you do matters enough to us for us to take notice of your performance and actions. We cheer quite lustily when someone surprises us by doing something positive.

But we'll boo anyone who promises things & doesn't produce, including yesterday's hero. And we don't like being talked down to. Even if circumstances suggest that social conformity might be wise, we'll take the contrary (hostile) approach against anyone or anything that suggests that we might get along better in the world by getting along better with people.

Back in the '70s during an Eagles game Santa was brought on field at the half (it was near Christmas). It was also snowing. Icing, too, as I recall. The Eagles were losing. Santa was nearly stoned to death in Veteran's Stadium by a deluged of tightly packed iceballs.

But we don't generally hold grudges--except against the Dallas Cowboys--Bastards. And we can be very warm and generous, just not to people who feel like they're entitled to warmth and generosity and look down on us when we refuse to offer it in return for nothing.

Granted, this moral directness is diluted rather badly in the wealthier 'burbs, but there's always a trace of lawful belligerence amongst the native born. I think it's maybe something in the water (properly pronouned, "wudder", hereabouts, thank you much.)

Philadelphians & those of us who've been blooded (or marinated) for any length of time in the surrounding environs, possess, as an aggregate, a pretty massive inferiority complex. We hate living around here. We generally don't get along well with each other. We rather enjoy being rude, especially to Cowboys fans.

But more importantly we're the sort of folks who cling to whatever we can salvage that passes for self-respect and dignity & we REALLY take umbrage when anyone, and I mean ANYONE, tries to go to work on our collective comportment and demeanor.

And we go to work on them.

Creatively.

Especially if it's football season and the Eagles are in a bad way.

Send us the PC police. All of them. Please do. Jevon Kearse is out for the season. We're in a bad mood. We need someone to throw things at.

Figuratively speaking.

Most of the time.

12:39 AM, September 27, 2006  
Blogger Dr. Melissa said...

My sister and I took a vacation to Key West and went on an all-day "fun activity" that included water skiing, jet-skiing, kayaking, the works. On the boat were families from America, Denmark, South America, etc.

The foreign families ordered the boat captain around like a servant (by an American's standards, he was in charge of his boat and worthy of respect), cut in line, pushed to be first. The Anericans just watched in bemusement. The captain took all the kids on a "banana" ride and purposely dumped the uppity foreigners at the end of the day. They had earned it and then some.

The captain later confided that they hated seeing a group of foreigners coming.

Also, I remember some years back, two French girls riding to the top of the Twin Towers commenting quite descriptively about a boy's derriere who was also on the elevator. They never dreamed a stupid American might understand French. I did nothing to disabuse them of the notion. It was funny, anyway. At least they were complimentary!

1:08 AM, September 27, 2006  
Blogger Wickedpinto said...

If you travel to a foreign nation and are not different? then you shouldn't travel.

There is nothing you can learn, there is nothing you can put in context, there is nothing you can explain.

Travel, even tourist travel is trade, not just in terms of the exchange of money, but in exchange of realization that the norms of societies are not always the same. That is why foreigners in every country are interesting, that is why traveling is interesting, if it is your goal to travel, and not be yourself, then don't travel, becuase you won't enjoy it,and neither will anyone else.

What a RETARDED article (not yours, the referenced one) and by retarded, I mean that Dustin Hoffman would say "thats retarded, thats retard, wapner, thats retarded, who said that not wapner, retarded" Kind of retarded.

3:24 AM, September 27, 2006  
Blogger Wickedpinto said...

Graham?

I disagree with your "rude to everyone" thing. I'm SoChi, so I can relate to your philly thing. The difference is that we are rude to those who should know better, but the decent people who are from areas that DON't know better the ways of our local tribalistic actions, cuz the entirety of the US IS tribalistic based on geography, those from foreign nations who visit, and don't know better, CAN'T know better! So I believe, and in my experience that we Americans in general, actually gravitate towards them, we want to TEACH them what they should know better.

Sometimes it's proffiteering sometimes it is pride in the fact that "this japanese kid could have landed on the reflecting pool of the wasthington monument, but they are visiting Chicago, and I met them in FLOGGING DOLTON!" kid of respect.

When those who can't know better, don't know better, but are willing to learn better, I think that we as a people are INFINATELY more courteous than the eastern nations I've visited.

I was always treated as a threat from day one, in japan, korea, the phillipines, and Australia. I wasn't even given a chance to not know better, I was an enemy, especially in australia, because I was a man with an American accent.

The US? I would say? is most guilty of being TOO nice, so nice that none of the foreigners know who to trust, which is reasonable, after all, our nature of governance is structural chaos, as is our language. Foreigners mistake our actions, MOST of which are kind, and helpful and courteous are recieved as completely alien acts.

(random but applicable. I have said, since I started learning japanese as a language, that English, as a language, at least American English, is basicaly nothing more than "vocal telepathy")

Sorry for the length.

3:32 AM, September 27, 2006  
Blogger jw said...

I grew up ON the US/Canada border. Looking out my bedroom window I looked at the city of Buffalo NY's garbage dump (Yuck, I know ...)

Anyway, Fort Erie kids tend to pick up a lot of dumb American stories (which is probably true for ANY and ALL kids in tourist areas, regardless of the tourist type.)

I was once standing underneath a very large sign saying "Old Fort Erie: 1.2 miles." An American tourist yelled out "Hey kid. Where's this old fort I heard about."

I told that to my father and a few of his friends and Mr. Carr, a Customs officer, said "Happens all the time. Only last week I got a bunch with skis on top of their car planning to go have some fun on the snow." (It was July ...)

I think anyone who grows up in a tourist area or close to a border will have similar stories.

Learning to get along in another culture takes some practice. Being unfamiliar with things also takes getting used to.

Learning some manners and being polite is not hard and is clearly worth the effort. Also, everyone should learn to READ! That's always been my own pet peeve about tourists.

4:09 AM, September 27, 2006  
Blogger Graham Strouse said...

Donde es el banjo?

Dos cervezas, por favor.

Load the vache!

Como?

I don't know what keys to hit to make my computer to those upside down quotation marks you use in Spanish.

I had 5 years of Spanish & one semester of French and was pretty terrible at the languages, pretty brilliant at the lingusitics, read okay and can translate, crudely, at least, from most Latin-based and Germanic languages.

And I CAN find the bathroom in the Spanish speaking country of your choice. Politely.

Provided that whoever I am querying speaks very slow.

People do appreciate it when you try to speak their language when you're on their turf, except sometimes in France, of course.

Seriously, sometimes helps your presentation more if you're poor with the local tongue but are making the effort then if you're completely fluent and desultory in your use of language, at least if you're an American in Europe or South America.

People sort of appreciate it, I think, when an American displays respect for the local population by attempting their language, especially if they know that you know that they are much more fluent in your language then you are in theirs--American language training is pretty wretched at the scholastic level & English is pretty much the modern lingua franca.

Most people know this all.

So you blush a little, speaking in tongues (and might as well be if you're as clumsy with spoken foreign languages as I am) because you know so sound like a donkey...but you make more friends because a Yank willing to sound clumsy and foolish abroad might not be so arrogant and disrespectful as the natives are otherwise inclined to assume because that's what they've become inclined to believe about Yanks.

I think that's how the emotional reasoning goes. Anyway, taking a stab at speaking the local tongue, even badly, is, generally, as good a way as I know to show respect abroad. For an American, at least.

Er...Como se dice, "looks like a donkey", en espanol?

4:49 AM, September 27, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...

Mike Johnson:

You state:

"But then, I also get the feeling from posts like this one that Glenn and Helen's good nature has been marred by their political views. Because these remarks that I quoted here are just a tantrum. There is nothing that makes my skin crawl than phrases like "we are told" and "I hear" and "I am supposed to". What is wrong with them is that they have left out who told you. The truth is that when you are an adult, your manners are in your own hands. There are no other people to hold you to any set standard. Any comments about how you should behave in other countries or how you should treat foreigners in America, for example, only amounts to advice. It is up to you to take that advice or disregard it. But advice from others is rarely 100% bad, especially advice to be polite to other people."

Uhh, is my husband here? This is my blog--why drag him into it? His views are marred? Speak directly to me, not to him. My good nature has been marred by my political views? How do you know? Did I say I go to countries and act like a jackass? No, I do not, I try to act in a decent manner when I travel. What I was responding to in this post was the article by MSNBC that referred to Americans as "ugly" when they go abroad. Do they have other articles entitled, "Ugly French Abroad" that you know of? I just think it is derogatory that news outlets say anything negative about Americans they want, yet would not dare say the same about foreigners from other countries. Not that two wrongs make a right. How about all tourists trying to be respectful when they travel. Americans are not the only ones who can be rude.

7:18 AM, September 27, 2006  
Blogger ronin1516 said...

Whit all are beating up on Americans abroad, what about the foreigners living in the USA? I was a foreigner once, and I tried to learn how folks here do things, and what kinds of behavior is acceptable. However, if you live in a major University town like I do, foreign students, especially grad students from mainland China are the worse. first they cheat on the TOEFL tests, and rarely is one able to speak English. Then, most dont know how to beghave, and seems they have no desire to learn. However, they learn real fast to make accusations of "lacism", or accusations of "you lacist, because I chinese". Dumbasses spit all over the place, including, yesterday, right inside the inter-campus bus.
I'll end my rant here, just becasue, I am beginning to loose my temper. And BTW, before you lefties and the PC types rush to accuse me of "lacism" or call me a "lacist", remember, I am Asian too, just not of the Chinese variety.

8:17 AM, September 27, 2006  
Anonymous Ralph Phelan said...

"Nobody likes a know-it-all, and nobody likes a whole nation of them."
It's this little bit of snark that gives the piece an obnoxious tone.

Without it, it's actually o.k. advice for an inexperienced business traveler. When you're trying to make a deal, it's good to know how to avoid accidentally irritating the people you're trying to make a deal with. (Don't ever write notes on a Japanese person's business card, it's a serious diss. And no, I can't explain why in under 5 paragraphs.)

By world standards, Americans tend to dress more casually, interact less formally, be less deferential to authority, and stand further from others while speaking than people from most other cultures, so those are good things to watch out for almost anywhere.

And yes, businesspeople from other countries spend just as much time studying "how to deal with Americans."

When an American organization and a Japanenese organization succesfully cooperate, you can bet that quite a bit of effort on both sides went into studying the other side's culture.

9:33 AM, September 27, 2006  
Anonymous RWK said...

Upon rereading their examples of polite behaviour, I realized that those are the same rules we have at my family dinner table.

10:14 AM, September 27, 2006  
Anonymous Mike Johnson said...

Uhh, is my husband here? This is my blog--why drag him into it? His views are marred?

I read his blog too, and he is also "here" in the sense that the podcasts are joint. Both of you seem like nice people, especially in the podcasts. In fact, on the podcasts you seem like nice enough people no matter what you discuss, even when you discuss politics. (Except maybe when you talk about the Clintons, brr...) But on the blogs, you sometimes make a different impression. It's just so.

Another point is that the views of married people in general tend to converge over time.

Speak directly to me, not to him.

Okay, fair enough.

My good nature has been marred by my political views?

As I said, not really so much in person, but certainly there is too much bad-mouthing of others in this blog: liberals, feminists, foreigners, the media, etc. Given your comments, it's probably not the impression that you want to make.

Did I say I go to countries and act like a jackass?

I can believe that you don't. But this post makes you sound tempted.

What I was responding to in this post was the article by MSNBC that referred to Americans as "ugly" when they go abroad. Do they have other articles entitled, "Ugly French Abroad" that you know of?

This MSNBC article is in English and is addressed directly to Americans. Since it's an advice piece, the statement that you shouldn't be the ugly American is fair. You would have to look to foreign publications to see what they say to their own audiences. I'm sure that they do have advice for how the French should be polite when they visit America. Which is not to say that every French tourist will listen to that advice.

I know a lot of people who visit the US from France. Most of them are reasonably polite; some of them aren't. It's the same thing, really. (In fact, some of them can be incredibly warm and formally genteel at the same time, like a Renoir paiting. Those sorts of manners are relatively unusual in English-speaking countries.)

I just think it is derogatory that news outlets say anything negative about Americans they want, yet would not dare say the same about foreigners from other countries.

It's just basic manners not to openly badmouth third parties. Besides, if you want to accuse "news outlets" of always being polite to foreigners, it's certainly not true.

Not that two wrongs make a right.

That's true! It's the most important point of all. Although sometimes it seems like this principle has been thrown onto the liberal, politically correct trash heap of history.

10:32 AM, September 27, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...

Mike Johnson:

Thanks for your polite response.

11:44 AM, September 27, 2006  
Blogger Kent said...

My department went over a guide very much like this one prior to receiving some Russian visitors. We also had a briefing from one of the foremost Russian language and protocol experts in the country. She spent a good part of the briefing pointing out the mistakes in the guide.

I have a theory why American tourists are so despised abroad. When I visited France as a graduate student, I did my best to speak the language (and was usually invited to speak in English after my first few stumbling phrases) and generally tried to behave myself. I naturally took time to see some of the sights in Paris, and found myself touched by the [i]Nacht und Nebel[/i] memorial near Notre Dame. My reverie was interrupted by an elderly American snapping at his wife, "What the h***'s this place?"

I began to see a pattern. American tourists tended to be old, loud, grumpy, and ignorant. The less numerous young American tourists were indistinguishable from German tourists (who greatly outnumbered them) and did not stand out.

In other words, it's simply observational bias.

11:55 AM, September 27, 2006  
Anonymous Mike Johnson said...

There certainly some selection bias when Europeans see American tourists, but these days there is more going on than that. With a few exceptions, nationalism is not as popular in European countries as it is in the United States. Many of these countries are much smaller and, at least by themselves, have to be less influential than the US is. For example, the Dutch realize that the Netherlands only has 16 million people and that it would be absurd to think that their little country does everything better than everyone else. They have to cooperate with many other countries in order to get anything done, and they do not care all that much about waving Dutch flags on most occassions. (They may like to wave their flags at soccer matches and state ceremonies.)

Many Americans, including President Bush, don't have this perspective. They think of America as a place that does most things better than the rest of the world. In fact, they think of America as God's gift to the world, as the great protector and giver of democracy and capitalism. Now, most Western Europeans are in favor of democracy and capitalism, but this quasi-religious vision of American destiny really, really rubs them the wrong way. It is bad enough to be marginalized by actual American power and it would have been good diplomacy to sugarcoat it as much as possible. Instead, Western Europeans feel insulted by Bush's confidence that American say-so — his say-so — is God's plan. In many cases, they also Bush's version of it as dishonest and a failure.

This political backdrop is why it is an even better idea than usual to be humble if you (as an American) want to do good business in Europe. As a rule, the smaller and better-educated a European country is, the more offended their people will be by an attitude of American superiority, and the less they will share their disgust with you. They may just wait for you to go away. At the other end, nationalism is less out of fashion in France and Russia. So in those two countries, if you let slip some American chauvinism, you may get more arguments in return, but your hosts may actually be somewhat less offended.

The smaller Eastern European countries are a different case. The people there do have their own pride; they also aren't impressed by the American superior attitude. But that negative reaction is tempered by admiration and gratitude that the United States opposed the Soviet Union in the Cold War. For now the pool of gratitude in Eastern Europe is still sizable. But eventually those countries will also move on; or if American diplomacy is lousy enough, their gratitude will be squandered.

2:14 PM, September 27, 2006  
Blogger Graham Strouse said...

Helen,

Some editorial suggestions, offered with respect. You clearly have a natural grasp of the value of active voice, at least technically. My high school journalism instructor drilled this one into me something fierce and I shall forever be in his debt.

You have a subject, a verb & an object. It's nice to know who the subject is, what he did or said and what the effect was on the object of his actions.

Passive voice, which has its uses, admittedly, deletes the actor from the action. Something happens to someone but there's nobody around to claim responsibility for it or explain why what happened happened.

But sloppiness of thought and tricks can be just as damaging as passive voice.

The easiest way to do this is to substitute an aggregate actor ("liberals" or "conservatives" for instance) for the actual doer of the deed. Grammatically you still end up with active voice. In fact, you simply create a de facto passive construction by substituting a vague "-ism" for a genuine actor.

It's just another way of evading responsibility. It also tends to be counter-productive, especially if you're writing is politically, by and large, and yours, Helen, in this spave, is.

Hey, I don't care much for the democratic party and I'm a registered democrat. I get offended personally by the kind of lazy thought that leads to simplistic political divisions which do not reflect reality: X is liberal and this believes and does this. Y is conservative and this believes and does that.

It's sloppy & wrong-headed. I say that most people who call themselves liberals are basically self-satisfied yuppie jerks. I say that most people who openly cling to the conservative mantra are either rich or dumb or both.

And libertarians covet they neighbor's wife and hate to pay taxes.

I SAY THIS.

Take it up with me.

It took me all of 5 minutes to convince my deeply religious, 80-year-old grandmother, a woman who had been a Republican all her life that she was, in fact, a liberal.

A real liberal. Voting records aside, she's one of the most accepting, inquistive, engaged & forward-thinking people I know. She listens to what people say and is always interested in new things. She's tolerant.

I like to think that she & I are rather similar.

Most self-proclaimed liberals, IMHO, aren't. They're just shouting and waving a flag.

And most self-proclaimed conservatives are just the same.

They're not part of an ideology. They're just a gang with gang colors.

Don't buy the hype.

I pick on you, Helen, because I think you can take it, because I DO trust you, based on what I know of you, filtered, admittedly, though the virtual stream. And what I (think) I know is this.

In the end, you seem to see the person before the persona, if given half a chance. And you've got chutzpah. You're a contrarian. You're a Jewish woman born and raised in the American south, conservative, with an education split across Mason and Dixon.

My college sponsor, a great friend & a fellow Scot (my mother's side, although he comes from high-landers and we were low-landers) got his degrees at Duke and Princeton. He's a southern gentleman with a trace of Woody Allen (but just a trace, less then me) in his nature. He's 68 years old, has a wife who is not much older then me, is a quietly aggressive liberal living in a part of Florida which is still Real South. And he put in 20 years in the army reserve, retired as a Lt. Colonel. His specialty was artillery.

His thinking is very Yank. His gallantry, bless him, is very old, very southern, and is the best living proof I've ever encountered that chivalry & Jeffersonian impulses are worth a damn.

Mac is one of those men who doesn't stop and think when those he's chosen to protect might, if he protects them, indirectly inflict him with injury. He just sees people suffering and throws himself into the fray with southern courage and Yankee wit.

You're sort of the flipside, by my eye, Helen, but that's cool. I like you even after the fact when I want to scream in your face after your latesy libel of "liberal" intent.

It comes across worse in your posts (not so much at all in your appearances in your own comments threads, which are superb, honest, delicately reasoned and firm in a way that inspires approbation even when one disagrees).

You're just not so good with your footwork. Yet. Not in your posts. But you'll get there. Think on active voice not just in technical terms but as a tonal thing. Remember that your physical voice & body language are absent when you present a post to your audience. That limits your range of communication. You can't temper a critique with a laugh in your eyes or a half-smile or a wink. You can't use your superb command of diction and intonation, something, I've noticed, that southerners tend to be far more gifted at then us Yanks.

You have to anticpate mind-reaction. You have to be able to anticipate what your audience will do when presented with your naked words in an impulsive medium, a medium which limits communicative subtleties & presses on a need for facts, presentation, expectation & logical analysis.

You have to accept that who you are, publicly (readily accessible bio, presntation style, Google searches) will leave you pretty much naked to your readers, in some ways at least.

And you have to work it.

You've got most of the tricks down. You've got a weakness for political buzz-words which divide you from people who, given a chance, would readily and eagerly take your case and your side.

As for your association with Glenn...

It exists. The world exists. Sometimes it will help you. Sometimes it will hurt you. But think on a couple things. Your husband's blogs are almost invariably right-middle, politically speaking. He reserves a space for Eric Alterman, however. Likewise, Alterman, who has a significant list of links, nearly all left-middle to hard left, keeps a slot for "Instapundit."

There are worse people to be associated with than Glenn Reynolds. I disagree with him on many points but I have read him for a long time in large part because he places value in civility. And when he gets angry, as a public figure, it's usually, by my eye, for a good reason.

A couple years ago I sent one of my trademark rolling rants off to his MSNBC.com site. I was mostly agreeing with him--at length--except where I disagreed. I received, somewhat to my surprise, a short response to my email regarding one particular point.

I had been offended by Barbara Ehrenreich's exploitative (largely accurate, but exploitative, and frequently insulting in that way Yankee patricians manage when they discover what real work is like) breakthrough book, "Nickeled and Dimed."

I've lived it. Babs played a part, played a game, and didn't really grasp the difference. I agreed with her conclusions but wanted to kick her in the teeth all the same.

She was arrogant, clueless and too quick to typecast and dismiss. I didn't see how she was helping "the working class," which doesn't have much in the way of time to read her books at tea, in drawing rooms. I didn't see how her efforts changed policy. They just made her a lot of money for doing not much of anything. I was angry.

Glenn sent me a brief, mild-sounding email saying that he too felt her work was in fact exploitative.

It was maybe two sentences but I could read through them & see respect, quiet competence & proper outrage.

He's an easy man to like & respect, even if you disagree with his politics on many points. He doesn't seem to forget that he's a public writer, that he's trying to make people see his side & not just start a brawl for the sake of brawling.

He seems (you do give away a lot in your biography, Helen), like a pleasant, decent sort of man who runs the counter at a one-off artsy bookstore.

You're more polemical in your posts, a better presenter in your podcasts--give your educators some credit here.

You'll never escape the Glenn & Helen Show so long as there IS a Glenn & Helen Show. That's just how it is.

Conflation is inevitable. But you can make it work for you.

For my part, I say that there are far worse associations.

Yrs.,

Graham

7:34 PM, September 27, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...

Graham,

Thanks for your thoughts.

7:02 AM, September 28, 2006  
Blogger RightGirl said...

Having traveled with Brits, Aussies and the much-maligned Germans, I would beg for a Yank any day! Give me a nice polite American who says please and thank you and doesn't wind up with 500 unintentional pictures of me in his family photo album, and I am happy.

RG - stuck in Toronto, where we chased away all the American tourists

2:40 PM, September 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Graham, you have taught me the true meaning of humility. Brilliant work. I shall abandon Dr. Helen's blog and spend all my free time reading and re-reading the three (3) posts you have put on yours.

10:24 PM, September 28, 2006  
Blogger Mercurior said...

i am a brit, i have travelled to america a few times, and i have seen americans here (not my fiancee i hasten to add).. there is a type of american (or tourist) that expects the country your visiting to roll over and play dead for them. They say it would never happen in the good old.. wherever.. clue... you arent there. respect the culture your in, take a little of that back home with you, i dont like travelling, the worst people to travel with is usually people from your own country, who cant accept the differences..

4:50 AM, September 29, 2006  
Blogger Graham Strouse said...

anon 10:24,

Actually, I post here primarily because at my core I am someone who is trained to write to a public audience. I try to influence opinion as best I can with limited resources.

Posting at a well-trafficked site frequented by a surprisingly wide range of politically aware sites seems to me, for the moment, to be the sensible thing. I'm more likely to get read, and challenged, and have the opportunity to respond to the challenge.

Mostly, I tend to browse and post at blogs written by people with whom I respect and find engaging whose opinions often run contrary to my own. It makes me think & I hope it makes them think.

I still consider it somewhat remarkable and worth contemplating that one of the most aggressively left-wing opinion writers/bloggers on the Internet, Eric Alterman, links to exactly one conservative site:

Instapundit.

And last I checked, Glenn's sole left-of-center link was Altercation.

And if you check the idents on the registered bloggers at Dr. Helen, you'll find a remarkably wide cut across the political spectrum.

These are people who are doing something right. They're not just spouting off and screaming, "Yeah, right!" They're trying to facilitate communication between people who otherwise would just form into gangs.

I should post more at my own shop. Frankly, I find it a little intimidating, and a little pointless, even, without a wider audience, the ability to project power. I seem to get caught in the middle of a lot of fights because I am not comfortable supporting ideologies lock, stock & with two (2) smoking barrels.

It gets lonely. Then it gets real exciting.

10:35 PM, October 05, 2006  
Blogger Oligonicella said...

My daughter visited Europe two years ago. She said everyone was nice to the Americans. Only two groups were universally loathed -- the Parisians and Japanese. One Italian curio store keeper had her wait a few minutes until some Japanese tourists left so he could tell her the prices were for them, for her half.

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