OK, I'll admit it: Like two-thirds of Americans — and virtually the entire rest of the planet — I was no fan of George W. Bush. While my differences with him on various philosophical and policy points were matters of personal political opinion, there's no question that the Bush Administration's actions severely blemished the "Brand of America" — how the US is perceived overseas. People in Europe like Americans as much now as they ever did. But there's no doubt that, throughout the Bush years, their view of the United States as a political entity took a hit.
Americans — mindful of the now-dated "Ugly American" stereotype — tend to be conscientious ambassadors of their country when traveling to Europe. And, particularly because of the Iraq War — even in the post-Bush era — many are fearful that they might receive a negative welcome, especially in France (where anti-war sentiment seemed the most vociferous). Through my tour business, I take a thousand Americans to France annually. Each year, I survey them in an email, asking, "How were you respected by the local people?" Even in the most “anti-American” times, nobody complained. The French have always given American individuals a warm welcome. They just don't always like our foreign policy. In Europe, the mark of a friend is not someone who constantly fawns over your obvious strengths, but someone who tells you when you are off-base and disappointing them.
I have European friends six or eight years older than me, born in the late 1940s, named Frankie and Johnny because their parents were so inspired by the greatness of the Americans they met who came to liberate them from the Nazis. But Europeans no longer name their children after American GIs. The sad reality is that, in the first decade of the 21st century, if your job was marketing a product in Europe, one of your responsibilities was to comb any hint of America out of your promotional material. "California" used to sell in Europe. But in recent years, it's been the kiss of death.
The "Brand of America" changes with the attitude of whichever administration is setting the tone. With each new president, other nations wonder if there will be unilateralism or multilateralism, respect and collaboration or threats and hypocrisy. Travelers have the opportunity to take home a firsthand understanding of what the rest of the world thinks when it sees America. And if they don't like what they learn, they can come home and help repair that image problem.
About This Entry
You are reading "Reviving the Brand of America", an entry posted on 16 September 2009 by Rick Steves.