How Americans Are Viewed Abroad

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Despite the title of the smash TV hit, it may surprise you to learn that American Idol had its genesis in the U.K. But when it comes to cultures crossing boundaries, it's America that rules the waves. So when you journey overseas, you're bound to confront strong opinions about the U.S.—our culture, our people and our government. Like it or not, an American abroad is a living symbol of his homeland, and is occasionally held to account for it, from the top of the Eiffel Tower to the base of Ayers Rock. In this series, we'll explore perspectives about Americans from a variety of countries around the world.

To start, here's a classic view of the U.S. traveler in Britain: "When I think of American tourists, I think of people in front of the British Museum, yelling across large spaces to each other about how to use their digital cameras," says Ian Hamilton, a university student in Glasgow. "Or complaining loudly in McDonald's about how the chips taste in London versus how they taste in America."

Fortunately, that unflattering view appears to be in the minority, at least among the British people I spoke with. When giving their opinions of American tourists, most were positive—as long as we were talking about an American, in the singular. "When abroad as individuals or couples, Americans are sociable, friendly and generous, but something seems to happen when Americans are abroad in groups," says Geoff Smith, a British tech worker. "A group of Yanks is loud, raucous, insular and appears to have no interest in the local culture."

Indeed, solitary travelers conjured up an entirely different reaction than a group of Americans, who were perceived as camera-wielding, Bush-supporting boors. "Universally idiotic; large Hawaiian shirts; large cameras; stupid questions," says Ian Clifford, a software developer from...
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