America's New Diplomatic Offensive
Madison Avenue takes on the delicate PR task of selling the U.S. abroad
April 27, 2006: Vol. 2, Issue No. 33
IN THE NEWS
'Speak softly, don't argue and slow down'
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.
—Philip Sherwell, NewsTelegraph.com (UK), April 16, 2006
This past December, my wife, Peggy, and I were at the outdoor Christmas Market in Munich's Marienplatz, wandering from booth to booth amidst the happy holiday crowds.
At one point we found ourselves standing beside a darling older gentleman decked out in traditional Hermann Göring-style lederhosen shorts with decorated suspenders. On his head was a gray Bavarian hat with a jaunty feather.
I said something to Peggy about the possibility of buying a colorful toy soldier nutcracker as a gift for her office's Christmas grab bag and this little man turned to me.
"You speak English," he said with a warm, impish smile. "Where are you from?"
"Ach! Philadelphia!" he spat. "Stupid Bush country."
We were shocked and hurt.
Peggy and I travel out of the country two or three times a year. We are easy-going, non-complainers who dress conservatively—no baseball hats or T-shirts with bold messages. We museum crawl, dine quietly, tip well, speak in conversational tones and are fascinated to learn about the lives and lifestyles of our counterparts overseas.