I wrote a hugely popular post on what Europeans think of each other, and we all know what Europeans think of Americans (that we’re fat and stupid – well, it’s a bit more complicated than that; I’ll delve into that in another post). In this post, I’ll write my experiences with my fellow Americans think about Europeans. Keep in mind, though, that the diversity of knowledge and opinion in the US is far greater than just about anywhere else in the world, so I’m not going to capture everyone’s sentiment.
At the outset, it’s important to understand this about Americans:
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- a lot of Americans live by the “if you can’t say anything nice about (something), then don’t say anything at all” adage. So most Americans, who generally have a vague positive feeling about Europe, will only say vaguely positive things about Europe, if anything at all. (“I hear it’s nice over there.”)
- Most Americans are profoundly ignorant of geography and don’t give much thought beyond their immediate frame of reference. Before you think that means Americans are chauvinist, keep in mind they don’t give a shit about the next state over, or even next city, much less another country. Americans may be brilliant when it comes to technology, innovation and business, but they fail when it comes to geography. They are simply not interested. (This is why, I think, America assimilates foreigners better than Europe. They don’t know where other people come from, and soon forget; their foreignness ceases to be a liability, unlike Europeans who always remember that China had the Tiananmen Square massacre, a Serb killed Archduke Ferdinand and Serbia gave the world Slobodan Milosevic, etc.)
- the last few years have seen politically-active Americans attuned to world affairs much more than they have traditionally been, because of the wars, antagonism towards US foreign policy, propaganda by the Bush administration, etc. Growing up, I can tell you that no one ever cared what was going on outside our borders, other than to think the Soviet Union was a miserable shithole, and everywhere else was OK (but not as great as the USA).
That said, let me get down to the specifics, country by country. Remember that I’ll only include those that the average American has heard of and actually knows is in Europe (you ask the average American where Albania is, and you might be surprised at the variety of answers; I expect fully a third would say “Antarctica”). I’m being a little harsh on my fellow Americans, but, as an American, this is something we tend to do:
- UK – This is the only European country (and, like the Brits, Americans don’t always consider it part of Europe, even though it clearly is) that Americans tend to have largely uncritical views of, regardless of whether they’re at the political right or left (actually, let me add the neighboring Irish to that list). Brits are considered “polite”, “dignified” and “cultured” by virtue of their speech, which Americans, through decades of inculcation through movies and television, have come to ascribe values to. The only negative is of those with posh, elite accents to be thought of as devious or cunning; many Hollywood thrillers aimed at a middle-class audience have some greedy British villain who’s just too smart for his own good (stupidity is equated with a lack of guile, which middle-class Americans admire). I don’t think most Americans, until recently, have known that there is a substantial, vociferously anti-American contingent in the UK; many on the far left think it’s all directed at Bush and his policies (it isn’t nearly that temporal nor partisan), so they tend to think of the Brits as being “on our side”.
There is a perception, poked fun of in popular media, that Brits have bad teeth, but it’s one of those stereotypes that is not really taken all that seriously, like that Poles are stupid or that Italians don’t bathe.
Among younger people, the UK is synonymous with London, where it’s imagined everything is cool, edgy, rock. For many young women, having a English rocker boyfriend has substantial cachet.
Other than that, I think most Americans are completely oblivious to the stereotypes that the English and Scots endure by Europeans (that they’re cheap, two-faced, etc.)
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