The New Ugly Americans: ‘Speak softly, don’t argue and slow down”

Philip Sherwell- Sunday Telegraph

(Filed: 16/04/2006)
Loud and brash, in gawdy garb and baseball caps, more than three
million of
them flock to our shores every year. Shuffling between tourist sites or
preparing to negotiate a business deal, they bemoan the failings of the
world outside the United States.
The reputation of the “Ugly American” abroad is not, however, just some
cruel stereotype, but – according to the American government itself –
worryingly accurate. Now, the State Department in Washington has joined
forces with American industry to plan an image make-over by issuing
guides
for Americans travelling overseas on how to behave.
Under a programme starting next month, several leading US companies
will
give employees heading abroad a “World Citizens Guide” featuring 16
etiquette tips on how they can help improve America’s battered
international image.
Business for Diplomatic Action (BDA), a non-profit group funded by big
American companies, has also met Karen Hughes, the head of public
diplomacy
at the State Department, to discuss issuing the guide with every new US
passport. The goal is to create an army of civilian ambassadors.
The guide offers a series of “simple suggestions” under the slogan,
“Help
your country while you travel for your company”. The advice targets a
series of common American traits and includes:
? 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.)
Keith Reinhard, one of New York’s top advertising executives, who heads
BDA, 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 guide also offers tips on the dangers of dressing too casually, the
pluses of learning a few words of the local language, use of hand
gestures
and even map-reading.
Of course, US foreign policy – and perceptions of it – currently has
the
biggest impact on the image of Americans abroad. President George W
Bush
recognised this when he appointed Ms Hughes, a close confidante, to
head
the country’s public diplomacy push. But Mr Reinhard and his colleagues
are
convinced that individual Americans can also make a difference.
They also want to highlight the positives in foreigners’ impression of
the
US as a land of opportunity, freedom, diversity and “can-do spirit” by
boosting business and domestic travel to America.
“In many parts of the world, America is not getting the benefit of the
doubt right now. People prefer to dump on us instead. But for many
people,
corporate America is their main point of contact, and that’s where we
come
in.”
Business for Diplomatic Action, which was formed in 2004, has already
distributed 200,000 -passport-sized guides tailored to college students
going abroad.
The group’s next target is to raise funding for a colourful pictorial
World
Citizen’s Guide For Kids for children on school or youth group trips.
However, a spokesman for the National Tourism Agency for Britain said
last
night: “Americans have a certain reputation which, for the majority, is
undeserved. These guidelines sound like good common sense but they’re
not
something the majority of our American visitors need. As tourists,
they’re
out to enjoy themselves and have a good time. We continue to welcome
them.”

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