Jun 05 2008

Tales We Never Told: So what DO Europeans think of Americans?

Published by at 2:57 pm under Travel,Virginia

After the dozenth person told us we needed to attach a Canadian flag to our backpacks while traveling around Europe, I became curious. How bad would it be? Why do I have to pretend I’m not American? Do Europeans really hate us that much?

In short, no. Most people we met were able to separate any feelings they may have towards the American government from their perception of its people. That said, George W. is widely mocked. We rarely introduced ourselves as Americans without getting a comment or two about Dubya – to the point where I wanted to start every conversation with, “Hello, my name is Brittany, I’m from the United States, and I DID NOT VOTE FOR HIM, thankyouverymuch.” (Oh, there was also this guy).

We obstinately refused to wear maple leaves on our luggage, and we had no major problems. Sure, I encountered lots of people that were surprised I wasn’t a gun-toting, lawsuit-happy, Bible-thumping, socially-conservative cowboy. They can’t help it—their media depicts Americans that way. And I was more than happy to assure them that, no, I promise, we’re not all like that.

But there was ONE guy…

During our tour of Halong Bay, our group—a mix of Australians, Canadians, Irish, English, Malaysians and, of course, two awesome Americans—stopped on a beach to have a picnic lunch. The conversation was pleasant and fun, aside from an irritating British man at the other end of the table who would loudly state well-known facts as if he discovered them. “Did you know that the skin is the body’s largest organ?” he’d say proudly. “Yes, I read that in a science journal.”

We largely tuned him out, and talked to the cool Aussies and Canadians around us.

There was one moment, though, when there was a brief lull in conversation. Mr. Science Journal took advantage of this opportunity.

“I mean, I can understand voting Bush into office once, because how could they know?” he said, his voice heavy with condescension. “But the fact that they re-elected him really makes me call into question their intelligence and what kind of people they really are.”

No one said a word. Aware of the presence of two Americans (well, everyone but him, who hadn’t bothered to talk to us), everyone looked down nervously, avoiding our gaze. An awkward silence fell.

Eventually, Ben broke the silence:

“God, I hate Americans,” he said.

The table burst into laughter, with the exception of Mr. Science Journal. In Ben’s words, “I think I succeeded in making an ass out of THAT guy.”

There’s very little you can say about America that will offend me. I have enough of my own criticisms to appreciate that other people might be critical of government as well. But this guy’s personal remarks and unapologetic generalizations rubbed me the wrong way. It was the one instance during our trip that I had to suppress the urge to defend my country.

Before I end this, I want to tell one more anecdote that will leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy on the inside about Uncle Sam.

Back on Crete, we met a Danish dude named Nikolaus, who’d spent time in Florida, where he had family. His first impression of the States, he told us, was confusion over the extreme number of rules we have; rules that seemed silly to him. No, you can’t walk here! That would be trespassing. And God forbid you show a beer bottle in public!

“It’s like you fear all the time!” he said. “Americans are scared. What are you afraid of?”

This perception was accentuated when he visited the local Walmart to register for a fishing license. He’d brought his passport, his visa, and several other travel documents and forms of identification. However, because he didn’t specifically have an American driver’s license, the Walmart employee would not issue him a fishing license.

Irritated, Nikolaus argued with and questioned her, but she wouldn’t budge.

“She would not use her brain!” he said, getting annoyed as he remembered it. “She just followed the rules without thinking!”

As he was about to storm out angrily, Nikolaus noticed racks of guns lining the wall. “So I can’t get a fishing license,” he said. “But, if I wanted, could I buy a gun?”

“Well, yeah,” the employee said. “Of course.”

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7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Tales We Never Told: So what DO Europeans think of Americans?”

  1. Nomadic Matton 06 Jun 2008 at 9:35 am

    I never encountered any anti-americanism abroad. My experience was just like yours and when I tell people back home that they are shocked. Everyone thinks the whole world is out to get them but they’re not. They don’t care. They live their own lives. CNN and FOX are wrong- the world is ok.

    I only encountered anti-americanism once and it was by the 19 yr old british girl…but that’s a long story…

    The Danish story is sadly funny.

  2. Kirstyon 10 Jun 2008 at 9:53 am

    I’ve encountered it a bit here and there but it tends to be in groups of backpackers that aren’t from the States. Usually trading stories about awful Americans they’ve met on their travels. And then when an American breaks into the group the attitude seems to be ‘you’re cool, not like all the other Americans.’ I haven’t encountered this lately which is good… maybe things are changing for the better!

    I have to say… I love that ‘turd’ image up there.

  3. Dougon 11 Jun 2008 at 4:21 pm

    Oddly, the only foreign travel I’ve done is to India and the Philippines (I’m not counting Canada), and those were on business. I expected the people at the businesses I worked in to be nice to me, but the attitude of the people on the streets was pure curiosity. It may help you to know that I’m 6′ 4″ and not what anyone would call trim. Oh, I have red hair and roughly the same skin tone as milk. Skim milk.

    But as curious as they were, no one was ever disrespectful to me, and many expressed a desire to go to the US. They still see our country as the land of opportunity.

    I share your disdain for this president, Brittany, and I too shake my head that we elected him a second time, and I’m shocked when I see people with Bush/Cheney stickers on their cars. I guess they didn’t get the memo.

    But all in all, I think this last eight years will be seen as a blip, and with any luck we will be able to salvage our tattered relationships and reputation on the world stage. At least I hope so.

    Here’s hoping it’s not too late.


    P.S. Hi, Ben!

  4. Lisaon 12 Jun 2008 at 8:43 am

    As i was working as a receptionist at the hotel i met a lot of people from different cultures and nationalities. On the one side i have met very friendly people form the USA but on the other hand there were also some “some not so kind”. However, i think we couldn’t generalise so much it always depends on people you meet :-)

    I also have one remark a bit out of point: as we can read here a lot of articles about travelling and meeting new cultures and so, i would like to recommend you one website that is (at least according to me) very useful: http://www.flylowcostairlines.org – you can find here very cheap flights almost all over the world (and even in many languages) – I have found it about half a year ago and trust me there are some good bargains :-) so hope that this will be also useful for you! :-)

    Enjoy you trips and travelling, Lisa

  5. cheap flights europeon 23 Sep 2008 at 5:41 pm

    Another usefull website: http://en.airtraffic.eu

  6. Johnon 18 Dec 2008 at 7:10 am

    Your comments regarding the Brit may be perfectly valid. Having expressed your opinion, was it really necessary to humiliate the person concerned by publishing his photo and adding the graffiti?

    Are your opinions worth any more than his? Did he publish anything derogatory about you?

    It is perhaps this self-righteous, and apparently God-given right (as with GWB) that some Americans’ express that brings the scorn and dislike of the world on the American NATION, not the individuals.

  7. Lindsieon 11 Feb 2009 at 4:12 pm

    Your story about the Danish dude made me laugh out loud. So it would have been okay for him to shoot the fish? :)

    I wonder how different Europeans attitudes are now that Obama is President? We were in Madrid on election day and the coverage was everywhere! And we watched the inauguration on our laptops in Portugal….we’re Canadian, but we felt so proud, we had tears in our eyes. Even though we’re from Canada, a lot of people we have met think of us as Americans – because we’re all from North America.

    Good luck with the job search and the wedding!

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