Lately, I’ve been feeling very British. For example, yesterday I was sitting on the tube reading the London Evening Standard newspaper and avoiding eye contact with everyone around me like only seasoned tube passengers know how to do, when some boisterous Americans disturbed my peaceful ride with unnecessarily loud talking and laughter.
I was irked until I remembered that I’m one of them. Just the other day I was doing the same thing with my American friends as Brits gave us some dirty looks on public transportation.
This realization got me thinking about the global perception of Americans. In a sea of British accents, I can’t help but feel like sometimes my voice is an alarm screeching, “Hey, over here! Look at me! I’m a loud, annoying American!” That American accent differentiates me from everyone else, whether I like it or not.
I might care a little too much about what others think, but personally I don’t enjoy the idea of being disliked by anyone, even if it is based on something as trivial as my nationality. Besides, the United States is the land of the free and the home of the brave. What’s not to like?
There’s no arguing with the United States’ world influence. Even on the other side of the Atlantic, the actions of U.S. politicians and celebrities still make headlines and talk of the United States is somehow always present in international classrooms. The Brits watch our movies, play our music, eat our food, use our technology — I could keep going.
Back home, however, it is a commonly accepted belief that Americans aren’t exactly the most well-liked group around the world. It’s stressful to think that the whole world might hate you without bothering to get to know you. I decided it was time I find out for myself if this assumption is true, and I’ve been paying close attention during my time overseas to get to the bottom of this mystery.
When asked about British peoples’ general attitude toward Americans, one of my professors here in London characterized us as “lovable, but loud,” a relatively accurate description, as far as I can tell, and a hopeful sign that any bad blood from the Revolution is all but gone.
I also spoke with a British guy I met at a restaurant who has traveled throughout Europe and Asia, but has never had a desire to go to the United States.
“Isn’t it all freeways and McDonald’s?” he asked me unironically.
So I guess our reputation still could use some work, but in my experience at least, British people are interested in the United States, somewhat amused by us and polite at all times except on their commute.
The real test, however, was this past weekend when I visited Paris for the first time. The relationship between the French and Americans has always seemed volatile to me. The animosity between these two nations’ citizens was a plot point in the seminal classic Rush Hour 3, and I remember a time when some patriots tried to convince the U.S. population to use the phrase “freedom fries” to take a stand against France via one of our most beloved side dishes.
I had no idea what to expect in France because I wasn’t sure if the rumors were true. At the first opportunity, I went to the source to find out the truth: my French tour guide. A very nice woman herself, the guide told me that the French do not hate Americans on sight. They do, however, really value manners, and the only reason they might be a little rude is if they feel like they have been disrespected first. Therefore, it’s possible that the U.S. culture is just more casual than France, and this whole rivalry is a giant misunderstanding. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Paris is a friendly place and all stereotypes are without merit.
Though I have yet to find myself in any dramatic encounters with angry Europeans, there is an undeniable reaction from people here when they learn my classmates and I are American. Everyone has an opinion, positive or negative, about the United States, undoubtedly because of the country’s immense reach.
Regardless of their opinion of our country, I don’t think that foreigners hold anything against us as citizens. If anything, we’re their connection to the source of much of their entertainment. Maybe we are a little louder or a little less refined, but they can’t say we don’t have a lot to offer the world.
Thus, I’ve concluded that the world’s hatred of Americans is grossly exaggerated, but their fascination with us couldn’t be emphasized enough. Mystery solved.
Chelsea Stone is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. She is currently studying abroad at City University London. Her column, “Traveling Trojan,” runs every other Friday.