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Americans Are the "Friendliest Nation"

While some newspapers and magazines run very critical or even Anti-American opinion pieces, some of them also write very pro-American commentaries: "America: The Misunderstood World Power" is the headline of an article in the travel section of arguably Germany's most influential newspaper. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ, in German) argued on November 18, 2006 that everybody who spends holidays in America, returns with an "image of the friendliest nation of the world," because:
In hotels visitors are treated as if they have left home for the first time; walk into any store and you are received like a family member; before ordering in a restaurant you are invited to be on a first name basis with the wait staff; and if you need to ask for directions at a gas station, you may find yourself exchanging life stories with the attendant. This combination of the pioneer spirit of helping your neighbor and the business practice of taking customer service seriously has developed into a type of openness which I would not hesitate to characterize as the realization of Kant's categorical imperative.
According to the FAZ, the only reason, why America has an image problem, is that there are still people who have not traveled somewhere between San Francisco and New York. Those people's image of America is shaped by Kyoto, Guantanamo, Iraq war and Abu Ghraib. A recent opinion poll in 17 countries concluded that Americans are considered materialistic, arrogant, loud, and lacking interest in other cultures. To change this perception, America should encourage more people to travel to the United States, says Keith Reinhard in the FAZ article. Reinhard has founded the Business for Diplomatic Action initiative. [Thanks to David for the translation]

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Don S on :

So FAZ advocates that more Europeans visit 'flyover country'? Good idea. I meet a helluva lot of Brits whose ideas of the US seem shaped more by [i]Dallas[/i] and [i]Sex in the City[/i] than by anything else.

Pinkerton on :

Thank you for this post, Joerg! I can't tell you how fed up I am with reading on other blogs how horrible Americans are. Many of those who seem to be so sure of what Americans are like, are those who have never visited or have only stopped once in a large city. It's not uncommon in any city in the US or other parts of the world, to find people who are rude or impatient. However, you can't compare the rest of the country to those few places. Americans are unfairly mistaken for being too loud, only because we are animated. Our body movements, such as quick walking pace, use of animated body language, and ability to smile or laugh easily is considered "loud" or "arrogant". I don't think we lack interest in other cultures. How could that be when we are a country whose beginnings are of immigrants from many cultures? We celebrate and are proud of the cultures of our families who have come from different parts of the world. In each big city you will find entire neighborhoods that cater to one particular culture, such as a "China Town", "Italian district", or "German Town". We carry with us the traditions of our heritage and pass them on from one generation to another. We don't need to travel the world, we have it all at our fingertips. I'm not saying, of course, that we shouldn't travel. I just feel that for those who can't travel don't have to go far to learn about the rest of the world. I'm so happy to finally see something positive about the US for a change. It doesn't happen often and it becomes so tiring trying to defend the country that I love so much. Thanks, Joerg, for this post!

Assistant Village Idiot on :

Thanks for mentioning this. In my travels in Eastern Europe, especially Romania, I am always amused by the image of America that everyone owns guns and "you can do what you want." Crime and adventure movies are watched frequently, which perhaps adds to the image that Americans are too ready to fight. Visitors from Europe would do well to pick almost anywhere other than New York and Washington to visit. Not that they aren't nice places, but they aren't representative. In response to this post of mine http://assistantvillageidiot.blogspot.com/2006/07/why-center-isnt.html (the second half is more germane to this discussion), I received this email: I am a regular visitor to your site, and I have a few comments on your post "Why the Center Isn't." First let me say that I have lived in Germany for 20 years and my husband is German. He is an academic, but his family is village working class. I think you are exactly right about the bubble world of journalists, and I would extend this to exchange students, visiting academics, and even many business people who spend a few years abroad. Aside from the fact that these people tend to associate with their career counterparts, they also meet these people in situations where one puts his best face forward. They meet people, but don't see them in the context of their relatives, school friends, and neighbors. One doesn't invite the black sheep of the family to a dinner party for a new colleague. Nor does one invite a guest to afternoon coffee with a group of mother's slightly dingy friends. It's very easy to assume that such people don't exist, that all Germans can quote Kant and have subscriptions to the theater. You also mentioned that what is conservative for us is not necessarily conservative elsewhere. Previously, when I talked to friends about women's rights, I assumed that the US and Germany had the same starting point. But I've come to believe that American women had a more free, egalitarian life than Germans, even before Betty Frieden. This may have something to do with the strict social norms within smaller communities. For instance, if you go to a village here, there is one old church: Catholic or Protestant. In America, a town of the same size might have 4 or 5. There was a level of church control here that was quite different. My husband attended a village grammar school in the 50s in which the Catholics and Protestants were in separate classes and didn't play with one another. I am doubtful that many journalists are aware of such things or that throwing around words like theocracy has a very different resonance here. I hope these random thoughts weren't too disjointed. Thanks for listening. Vickie

mbast on :

Two words: Servicewüste Deutschland ;-). It's quite a shock when you've been to the US and come back to Germany to see the complete and utter lack of service mentality in some (thankfully not all) businesses around here. Apart from that, you're right of course, Jörg. Americans are subject to prejudice and stereotypes just like the rest of us and that can't be right. First of all most people who have never visited the US don't seem to understand that a "typical American" just does not exist. There are many, many cultural differences between Americans and the stereotype of the loudmouthed, overbearing, uncultured and generally obnoxious American couldn't be more wrong in most places. Of course, there are exceptions, but nobody who has ever been to New York, the New England states, San Francisco or any of the big cities in the US will fall for that stereotype. Try arguing culture with somebody from Boston and you'll see what I mean. In fact, if you don't know you're talking to an American, in some cases you might even mistake him for a Brit ;-). Bottom line: stereotypes are stupid and dangerous, regardless of what nationality you apply them to.

Pinkerton on :

Well said mbast! I know that this is an argument that comes up often on SuperFrenchie...and as always, you are the voice of reason on that blog and this.

David on :

You can experience American hospitality - if you can get into the country. The trade organization Discover America warns about the awful process of admitting travelers in the US, which is turning away tourists (and $$$). "Travelers rate America’s entry process as the “world’s worst” by greater than a 2:1 margin over the next-worst destination area. The U.S. ranks with Africa and the Middle East when it comes to traveler-friendly paperwork and officials. 54 percent of international travelers say that immigration officials are rude. Travelers to the U.S. are more afraid of U.S. government officials than the threat of terrorism or crime. Two-thirds of travelers surveyed fear they will be detained at the border because of a simple mistake or misstatement." Read the Discover America report here: http://www.poweroftravel.org/release-11-20-06.aspx

joe on :

This should be a boom to Canada.

Avi Green on :

I rarely have time to comment on other blogs these days, but, I must agree, the United States is by far one of the friendliest nations today, and most definitely the citizens.

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