Those Ugly Americans

The U.S. State Department plans to issue instructions to U.S. citizens on how to behave decently abroad, according to the Daily Telegraph:

Keith Reinhard, one of New York’s top advertising executives, who heads BDA [Business for Diplomatic Action, a business group], said: "Surveys consistently show that Americans are viewed as arrogant, insensitive, over-materialistic and ignorant about local values. That, in short, is the image of the Ugly American abroad and we want to change it."

The recommendations include:

  • Think as big as you like but talk and act smaller. (In many countries, any form of boasting is considered very rude. Talking about wealth, power or status – corporate or personal – can create resentment.)
  • Listen at least as much as you talk. (By all means, talk about America and your life in our country. But also ask people you’re visiting about themselves and their way of life.)
  • Save the lectures for your kids. (Whatever your subject of discussion, let it be a discussion not a lecture. Justified or not, the US is seen as imposing its will on the world.)
  • Think a little locally. (Try to find a few topics that are important in the local popular culture. Remember, most people in the world have little or no interest in the World Series or the Super Bowl. What we call "soccer" is football everywhere else. And it’s the most popular sport on the planet.)
  • Slow down. (We talk fast, eat fast, move fast, live fast. Many cultures do not.)
  • Speak lower and slower. (A loud voice is often perceived as bragging. A fast talker can be seen as aggressive and threatening.)
  • Your religion is your religion and not necessarily theirs. (Religion is usually considered deeply personal, not a subject for public discussions.)
  • If you talk politics, talk – don’t argue. (Steer clear of arguments about American politics, even if someone is attacking US politicians or policies. Agree to disagree.)

3 thoughts on “Those Ugly Americans

  1. I would add to that list, “Don’t get into an argument with the guy who runs your pensionne, with it being such a loud, hostile and prolonged fit that he feels the need to call in Venice’s finest to stop your screaming at him from the piazza in front of the place.”

    I’m sure this sounds like a hypothetical, but I actually witnessed some Ugly Americans engaged in this very drama the last time I was in Venice. As a fellow countryman, I was embarassed!


  2. OK, so this is not a completely bad idea. Existing anti-americanism aside (won’t get into whether it’s justified or not), some Americans are very culturally insensitive when they go abroad. That said, being from Spain, Brits, Swedes (and other norse barbarians) and Germans (!) aren’t a lot better when they come here to get the drunkest they’ve ever been. The thing is, what makes the State Department think those Americans culturally insensitive enough not to give a shit thus far are going to give a shit because of these instructions? Good luck though.


  3. “Think a little locally”…

    If at least the americans had problem with that we would never have wars anymore…

    TITLE: Touristen-Knigge: Speak lower and slower
    DATE: 04/19/2006 11:20:06 AM
    Deutsche Touristen im Ausland sind nicht immer ein pefektes Aushängeschild für ihr Heimatland. Bleiche Männerbeine in kurzen Hosen, weißen Socken und Sandalen sind nur einige der Indizien. Die Vorliebe einiger Urlauber für deutsches Essen und gro�…


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