Barack Obama and The Ugly American

By Bernd Debusmann
November 12, 2008

bernddebusmann3–Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own–

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Fifty years ago, a pair of American writers published a novel that trained a critical spotlight on U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. The book, by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick, became a bestseller and its title, “The Ugly American,” turned into an enduring label.

It’s been a dual-purpose label, first primarily pasted on inept American officials abroad and later on the kind of traveler who would irritate the natives with boorish manners and garish clothes, feeding anti-American sentiments around the globe.

Will they disappear, or fade, after the United States elected as its next president a black man who has described himself as a citizen of the world? The euphoric international reaction to Barack Obama‘s victory suggest that America’s star will shine more brightly, at least temporarily, than it has in decades.

As Obama put it in his victory speech: “A new dawn of American leadership is at hand.”

Within minutes of the results, American television viewers were treated to what have become rare images from abroad: large crowds happily waving – rather than burning – American flags.

Cheers for a charismatic young man who said his election showed that “America is a place where all things are possible” came from countries where a similar feat is a difficult to imagine. A French president of Algerian extraction? A Turk as German chancellor? A prime minister of Pakistani descent running Britain? A Moluccan in charge of the Netherlands?

“Everywhere I’ve been this year – from Jerusalem to Japan to Colombia to Italy and back again – I’ve heard people essentially say that America is an overweight white plutocrat who is not only out of touch with the world but also shows no signs of wanting to grow closer to it,” the British writer Pico Iyer said in an essay in Time magazine.

The image, he said, was unfair but potent.

What better antidote to the idea of an out-of-touch overweight white plutocrat than a rake-thin black president who says he wants to “build new bridges across the world” and is seen by many as the incarnation of “cool.”


There are already voices who say the global goodwill Obama now enjoys cannot last and that there are limits to what a president can do to change the United States’ image. True enough, but there is no better example than President George W. Bush of a U.S. leader’s tremendous power to affect perceptions.

The speed with which he managed to turn almost universal sympathy for the United States after September 11, 2001, into almost universal detestation was remarkable. By 2004, goodwill had evaporated so completely that a British mass circulation newspaper, the Daily Mirror, marked Bush’s re-election with a front page that showed a picture of the president over the headline “How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?”american_nov2008-w

No such rebukes for the American electorate in 2008. What was remarkable in 2008 was how quickly Americans abroad sensed a change of mood. On the night of November 4, American expatriates posted jubilant messages to social networking sites like Facebook saying it was cool to be American again.

Some expressed relief at no longer having to pretend to be Canadian, a long-time ruse to avoid being stereotyped. It is particularly popular among Americans of backpack-travel age and among those traveling in areas where anti-American sentiment runs particularly high.

Numerous opinion polls have tracked the steady decline of America’s image. One, in April 2008 by the BBC and the University of Maryland, found that people in 23 countries saw the United States’ influence in the world more negatively than that of North Korea. Hello, Washington, you have a problem!

Almost all the surveys point to foreign policy — the war in Iraq, the scandal of the Abu Ghraib prison, Guantanamo — as the principal reasons for disenchantment. While that front has been static, private organizations have launched various initiatives to tackle the image problem on a more personal level.

The non-profit organization Business for Diplomatic Action (BDA), for example, has distributed more than 200,000 copies of its “World Citizen’s Guide” to corporate travelers, with 16 tips that are a mirror image of the behavioral patterns that earned Americans a boorish reputation in the first place.

BDA’s founder, advertising executive Keith Reinhard, is convinced that “our collective personality is one of the causes of anti-Americanism. We are seen as loud, arrogant and completely self-absorbed.”

Fifty years later, that echoes a character in “The Ugly American”: “A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land…They are loud and ostentatious. Perhaps they are frightened and defensive; or maybe they are not properly trained and make mistakes out of ignorance.”

Another job on the president-elect’s long list of things to change.

(You can contact the author at

(Illustration by Brice Hall)

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I have been an expat American living overseas for almost 30 years. Part of that time in Europe, Asia, Canada and Australia. I speak several foreign languages fluently and when in various parts of the world for any extended time, I dress to the customs of the country I am visiting.

The operative word is “visiting”. Unlike many of my American associates who come to these various places either to see me or to come on business, I have often seen a required criteria of the host country’s people to adapt to the American’s way of doing anything.

This “Ugly American” attitude is pervasive and I believe it is the basis for much of the anger and resentment that has fomented around the world toward us Americans.

Well the election of Barack Obama chnage things? Here in Australia – among the everyday citizenry – I see a new found respect and hope. Will American’s no longer be “up themselves”?, i am asked. I have no idea – but we can only hope.

Most people and colleagues I talk to globally are in a wait and see holding pattern.

I am too. But I can hope that American’s will finally realise that the world owes them nothing and that they will join the rest of the global community as equals rather than feeling above it all.


Posted by MizuInOz | Report as abusive

I lived in Germany for three years, from 2003 to 2006 (coming home to the States 4 times a year for 2 weeks) doing contracting work for a company there. While doing laundry in the hotel I was at, a Fin asked me a question where I thought he said “do you speak English?”. But his accent was so bad I did not realize he asked me “are you English?”. When I responded “Yes”, he said “Good, thank God you are not an American”. He continued to rant about how horrible Americans are.

I saw him several times throughout the next month and I never admitted that I was American, because I found this to be a rare opportunity for me to get a perspective from a European about Americans without knowing they are talking to one. He continued to rant about Americans every time he saw me, or anyone else that would listen to him (that was not an American).

There was a time that my wife and I went to visit Italy. My wife is second generation American, but all her grandparents came from Italy. As long as she did not speak, people thought she was Italian. I have a lot of German characteristics, so people there thought I was German. It helped that the car I was driving had a German license plate and I knew more German than anyone that tried to speak German with me.

While touring a church in Milan, we saw an American family. They were dressed like a typical tourist, with the big hats, shorts, and blinding colored shirts. They were loud and acted like the whole country was an amusement park for them. If this is what the rest of the world sees of us, no wonder we have such a low approval rating.

Posted by Steven | Report as abusive

Hello.. Robert DiLallo here in New York City, where, arguably, we have a chance to see and sometimes interact with every nation’s citizens as they pass by our doorsteps, literally.

That lifelong experience has led me to make a relatively simple judgment: every country has its good and bad, polite and impolite, warm and wickedly frigid individuals. Humans give and they grasp; they are aggressive and they demure, etc.

As Americans, for fairly obvious reasons, we are held to unusually strict standards. If a Frenchman or a Nigerian or a Malaysian does something here in New York to offend me, I think simply, “Idiot,” not “Idiotic Frenchman, Nigerian,” etc. If I make a faux pas in Paris, I am thought of as exemplifying some sort of national trait. No matter that I am jet-lagged, beleaguered by my nattering children, and driven to distraction by things like different driving habits, different pace of life, and other such quotidian conventions. I am not a harried fellow human being. I am an American and I have done wrong because I am an American. But leadership has had its price always and will forever.

Most of the rest of the world is remarkably insular from the vantage point of a New Yorker, or any liberal-minded, educated American, for that matter.

I have to not just tolerate, but am expected to embrace, hundreds of cultures and sub-cultures and dozens of religions. (Not only of non-Americans, but of my own fellow citizens.) I have to be polite, if a tad brusque, to function in a crowded, busy, expensive city. But, honestly, if I were a stranger lost, bewildered, and looking for a friendly face, there is no other place I’d rather be than New York. Open a map on a busy street here, and you will have a half dozen helpful strangers offering advice and counter advice. Trip and fall, and a dozen hands will pick you up. Are there bad hats? Oh yes, like everywhere else pockets are picked, people are cheated. But, the open, friendly face and hand of New York is a tangible facet of everyday life. And, I think that as routinely as New York doesn’t seem much like the rest of America, it really embodies the American spirit.

All that brings me around to this: the rest of the world is not as open and progressive as we are. While it has been and will continue to be a long hard climb to racial, ethnic and gender equality in America, we make the climb. We had a terrible Civil War over the issue of slavery. I think there are a few other societies that fight the same fight as ardently. I think our neighbor Canada does. I think Brazil, Cuba, Peru, Venezuela and to some extent, Mexico are on the long, arduous road. An associated problem for Americans is that much of the world wants us to be even more progressive. We have set ourselves up as the light that illuminates the world – history has set us up – and when that light flickers, wavers and seems in danger of going out, the world shakes its collective finger and chastises us. And while many countries and cultures have found us wanting often enough, well, believe us when we say that we find shortcomings elsewhere likewise. We’re usually not quite so obstreperous about it.

I think you are right a hundred times over that it would be very difficult for a parallel of Barack Obama to be elected in most other countries. But that observation should be extended far beyond Europe, which I like to think has at least contemplated the idea. While it was remarkable but not bizarre that a man of Japanese descent should become president of Peru, how utterly earth-shattering would it be if a Peruvian became premier of Japan? And if the descendant of a white native of Louisiana should find himself born into India – could he possibly find himself governor of the Punjab, the way Bobby Jindal of Khanpura was elected governor of perhaps the deepest of the deep southern states of the U.S.? Of course, one can go on and on. A Catholic in Iran, a Bushman in Moscow, a Vietnamese in Argentina – running for anything except their lives?

America is always becoming. It is in our nature. It is in our frontier mentality. It is in the immigrant experience. It’s even written into our constitution: “…In order to form a more perfect union…” Not perfect. Not finished. But to aim for more perfect. Bad grammar, phenomenal political theory.

To judge us by our foibles, our not infrequent political missteps, and a touch of loud-mouthed irascibility while abroad is to forget that amazing light, flickering or not.

It is also to forget that the mighty stumble, but the truly great get up, dust off and vote for someone like Obama, correcting mistakes, improving life little by little.

Posted by Robert DiLallo | Report as abusive

There’s only so much a president, or American expatriates, or private public diplomacy groups can do to change anti-American feelings. It seems to me there’s a good bit of resentment and envy that simply stems from the fact the the U.S. is powerful and its citizens rich, by comparison to others. It’s the price to pay to be part of an empire. The Brits in their heyday were unpopular, too, as were the Romans. Not to speak of citizens of the late Soviet empire, compared with whom Americans were seen as free-spending angels, even clad in Hawaii shirts.

Posted by Jacques | Report as abusive

Being an inmigrant and having experience how america steps up to the plate everytime there is an international disaster, I got to say that there is no other place where I’d rather be. Foreigners who have never visit the US, specially those from western europe, have the wrong picture of this country. Go ask the poor peasant in Central America what they think of the Army Corps building schools and bridges. Or ask about the doctors that donate their time and money to heal the sick in these poor areas of the world.

Sometimes no matter what you do, good or bad, or how hard you try, there is always a group that will not be pleased by your actions. This country remains the beacon for oportunity.

Posted by Donald Galeano | Report as abusive

I think there is some confusion here. I don’t think American tourists, expatriates etc arouse much “anti-american” passion abroad. That loud, American family in big hats is more amusing than annoying. And good for business!
The problem is the US government. The assumption is also that it has been put in place by the American people, so foreigners feel perhaps, that they have a right to hold private citizens accountable.
A comment about the excitement over the fact that a “black” (his mother doesn’t count, of course) man has been elected president: People from Africa were in those British colonies almost from the beginning, and I doubt that the independent USA would have survived without them. This can not be compared to various immigrant groups in Europe, who showed up less than 50 years ago. Even so, were not Sarkozi’s parents Hungarian immigrants to France? I suspect you would find more immigrants in European parliaments and governments than you can find in the US House, Senate and government. I think even some ex American citizens are leaders of some east European countries.

Posted by Bengt Svensson | Report as abusive

I have seen many countries of the world, and some are pleasant enough for living some part of my life, but there nothing better place for prospetious and peaceful living then the United States of America, the Land of Endless Possibilities.

Posted by Richard Arlington | Report as abusive

Americans, along with the Chinese, are high on the “annoying tourist” list for most countries worldwide. But guess who tops the list? The French.

Posted by Sean | Report as abusive

That sobriquet wont go away as long as you have the “… kind of traveler who would irritate the natives with boorish manners …”. Most won’t care about the clothing, but you’ve got to respect the natives in their own lands. You shouldn’t arrogantly flaunt your ignorance in front of the locals of a foreign place as it’s not fair to your fellow travelers, who are mostly ok folk and aren’t ‘ugly Americans’. BTW: you can meet them flying Denver to Miami, you don’t need to fly overseas!

In a more general sense it won’t go away as long as we act out our imperialist tendencies. Things like Iraq and our historic interference in other countries contributes to it. Nobody is going to complain about things done in self-defense, but country destabilization is remembered and we have to watch out which strongman or regime we wind up supporting for strategic reasons. Look where it has got us…

Don’t expect miracles from Mr. Obama. He’s the next POTUS, not the next Messiah…

I give Obama’s honeymoon with the world (or much of it) about six months. And then it will come to the foreign policy issues that haven’t changed – Washington’s love affair with Israel; violations of other countries’ sovereignty in the pursuit of “the war on terror”; protectionist policies favouring American farmers etc.pp. The double standards of U.S. foreign policy won’t change with Obama, though he will enjoy the benefit of the doubt for a while. That said, there’s a need to define “anti-Americanism.”

Does it mean the kind of sentiment that propels people to decapitate Americans, such as Daniel Pearl? Does it mean people demonstrating in front of the World Bank against “the Washington consensus”? Does it mean people telling telephone pollsters that the U.S. is more menacing than North Korea? Does it mean people pointing out that the U.S. health care system is inferior to that of Cuba?

I always wondered what would happen if a U.S. official confronted with a crowd of tens of thousands chanting “Down with America” opened a large trunk filled with Green Cards and said “if anyone wants a Green Card, stop shouting and step forward.”

It’s odd but true that the most pro-American people (not governments) in the Western Hemisphere are Cubans and Venezuelans. Anyone has an explanation for that?

Posted by Pedro Pan | Report as abusive

First, a disclaimer: I voted for McCain. I didn’t believe Obama has what it takes to be the President of the greatest power on Earth. I still don’t.
Yet I wish Obama all the success and all the luck he can possibly get, including, but not limited to, in foreign relations. His success is our success, and his failure would have really bad consequences for all of us in the US and the whole world. It’s evident that now, when the US economy is sneezing, the economies around the world are down with a bad fever. It’s also evident that now that very few allies are enthusiastic about helping the US to police the world, protect, and when necessary impose the law and order (one can argue if the US should, or even has the right to do so, but the fact is – that’s how it was done ever since WWI), the world became less orderly and more dangerous place. Yes, Bush Jr. was not exactly successful at improving the perception of America and Americans around the world. Hope Obama will be better at that. But the perception is still secondary or even tertiary to security and economy. If he will manage to succeed at THAT (and I am quite doubtful, but still hope) I might vote for him in 4 years – even though I never voted for Dems.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

Hey Jacques
Powerful – how? Rich – again how? Any country can have military might that does not make them powerful in any real sense of the word. Yup you’re all rich with consumer goods, how about richness of spirit?? Want to know why there is so much anti american feeling
1. you started an illegal war for bogus reasons
2. Guantanemo – since when was torture OK or is that the powerful you’re talking about!!
3. You prop up Israel and thier again illegal occupation of the West Bank
4. You think that you’re the most powerful country on Earth!
5. You want everybody else to play by the rules but you don’t – might aint right!
The world is sick up your self absorbed ways and you know what – we in our little country in the South Pacific don’t want or need any of your power or riches.

Posted by Jordyn | Report as abusive

Having been raised in a multi-cultural environment like Hawaii, Obama understands that humility and humbleness are traits that other cultures appreciate. In Hawaii, almost everyone is a minority. The dominate races are the caucasians and the Japanese. Race and culture are a topic of daily life, undeniably in the food. It is respectful to be humble, to be a good listener, and to accept another’s culture and to be ready to share one’s culture. This is taught from the elementary school level. So, even here, in the 50th state, an “Ugly American” sticks out like a sore thumb and Obama understands this. Many who come to live, have an open, welcoming attitude, an appreciation of our differences. Those who do not have this kind of attitude, often find it difficult to assimilate,

Posted by Hawaiian | Report as abusive

Jordyn: You obviously have not traveled much and/or are completely out of touch with who constitutes the average American citizen. The election of Obama proves this.

1) I did not support the war, and I am American, therefore using “you” as an all encompassing term is incorrect.
2) I do not agree with the unconstitutional things that have occurred in Guantanamo.
3) Many Americans (millions) are concerned with the propping up of Israel.
4) I do not think most Americans view themselves as the most “powerful” country on Earth. It is all relative. Many Americans do not think that power and military might are the same thing. Please educate yourself about our charities, the selfless work of millions, and other things we have done to help our brothers and sisters around the world out of compassion (nothing more).
5) Again, many, many Americans (a full half to 3/4) have been *continuously* unhappy with the failed policies of Bush. Not just in the past month or two.

I am an American. Re-read the above. Your gross generalizations are as narrow minded as this imaginary American archetype you have created. I hope it makes you feel better about yourself by making hateful statements that are completely void of logic.

Posted by Lev | Report as abusive

Response to Jordyn:
You use ‘you’ 6 times and ‘your’ twice. Do I embody America? Because I am American do I agree with everything the government has ever done or will do? I take it as a personal insult. I did not start an illegal war or open Guantanamo. These are the policies of one administration and we as American are lucky to be able to change administrations and participate in a democracy. You need to learn the basic ability of differentiation. Have you agreed with everything your country has done?

This ‘ugly American’ is the result of one more prejudice like Blacks have experienced in the US. I have lived abroad for the past year – there are uneducated people who think that although there are 300 million Americans I am Bush’s protege – and the smart ones who don’t see me as American, but see me as me. This was the case during Bush and it will be with Obama.

Posted by Chantal | Report as abusive

First of all, Obama is not black, he is mulatto (half and half). His mother was white. The U.S. is changing its face, from white Anglo-saxon to Afro-American, now. And wait till the Hispanics get into power. It would be the reverse of the Mexican saying ” Poor U.S., so close to Mexico and full of Hispanics”.

Posted by Richard | Report as abusive

Bravo to the comment from Robert DiLallo! I agree we hold ourselves to be the illuminating light to the rest of the world. I have not lived in the USA for 5 years, and unfortunately, I have at times been guilty of saying I was Canadian, just to make my own life easier. In the days leading up to the election I was terribly ashamed at the depths to which the Republican candidate was sinking, the hatred some of the American people seemed to have against one of their own. America wouldn’t be America without diversity and integration. I now am living in Italy, and every Italian I have spoken to is overjoyed at the election of Obama. The Americans are providing an example in unity.

I do hope, however that when we travel outside the country, we can respect the cultures of the countries we visit, and try to conform a bit and not disrespect their natures. One of the habits I have most noticed abroad, is the unwillingness of the American tourist to speak another language, even a single phrase in another country. A simple please or thank you in the native tongue goes a long way.

Posted by Abbegail Eason | Report as abusive

Being a US citizen in Europe is not a liability as long as US citizens don’t view their citizenship as an asset that place the holders of US passport above the rest of the world.
For a start, please recall that there two Americas – North and South and US citizens have no more right to call themselves Americans than citizens of Peru, Canada, or Belize.

Posted by ira waxmann | Report as abusive

The “Ugly American” of novelistic infamy was not, in fact a “bad guy.” Homer Atkins was none of the things brought to mind when the revised stereotype is called upon.

He looked bad. Maybe we should seek less to look good, and more to *be* good.

And to listen less to the lawyers, and more to the engineers!

Posted by Cortland Richmond | Report as abusive

Jordyn: there’s no need to be jealous. Whether you like it or not, the US is the most powerful and richest country on earth. The fact that your country is not is no reason to hate.

Posted by Josh | Report as abusive

Let us not confuse any American with his government policy just as we should not confuse any other nation of people with the choice or non-choice of their leaders.

I think the importance here is to realize that a little over half the people who voted for Obama are not going to change the mindset of the other half who did not vote Obama. The Ugly American will still be around at home and abroad.

However, there is too much concern on the part of Americans about their image rather than the substance that they bring to the world. Therein lies the misunderstanding between what Americans think of themselves and what the rest of the world thinks of Americans.

Posted by Tamzin | Report as abusive

For Abbegail Eason:
A few weeks ago, my family visited Naples. A woman in a pastry shop didn’t speak Italian, so the employee was overjoyed when my 16-year-old son offered to translate (he is quad-lingual). The woman asked all kinds of ridiculous questions like, “What does the custard taste like?” When she left, she didn’t even have the courtesy to say “grazie.” The nationalities? We’re American. The woman was French.
To Ira Waxmann, who bless his heart is still fighting the two-Americas fight: You should know that when people ask my nationality, I always say, “I’m from the United States.” “Ah,” the foreigners always say, “You’re American.” Sorry, Ira. In the absence of a term like “Unitedstatsian,” I’m afraid this one is a lost cause.
I have lived 17 years outside the United States, and frankly the Ugly American thing doesn’t bother me. I get a big kick out of the intricate plots that foreigners think the CIA has cooked up in a bunker somewhere. Foreigners usually have such a potted view of what it means to be American.
The problem with Bush II is that I began to wonder what it meant to be American. Wars of aggression? Torture? Refusal to tackle environmental issues? The list goes on. Barack Obama is not only president-elect; he was a lecturer on Constitutional law. He might not change the perception of the Ugly American. But he will, I have no doubt, restore America to the principles that have been absent for too long.

Posted by Barbara | Report as abusive

OK. I, like Robert DiLallo, live in New York. But please don’t lump me into this self-important moniker Mr. DiLallo entitles “New Yorker, or any liberal-minded, educated American.” I guess I’m liberal and I have advanced degrees, but I think adopting the tone that says “I’m so enlightened and brilliant” is exactly part of what people outside the US – and even outside our little island of Manhattan – find arrogant. So, Mr. DiLallo has “to be polite, if a tad brusque, to function in a crowded, busy, expensive city”? If he’s so busy, where does he ever find the time to write his rambling diatribe?

Posted by Fred | Report as abusive

“It seems to me there’s a good bit of resentment and envy that simply stems from the fact the the U.S. is powerful and its citizens rich”…
What a stupid idea!!! why would i envy a country whith the weakest healthcare system of all developped countries, a country sending his children to death for illegal wars, a country with no real democracy, with death penalty, the highest crime rates, with almost no paid vacations, a country where the retired people have to work till their death, where going to school can be as dangerous as walking in kabul streets…
Yes, all the world envy this…

Posted by rodrigo | Report as abusive

oh pish posh. the rest of the world celebrates Obama’s election because they see him as an inexperienced politician and hope to take advantage of his seious naivete.

President-Elect Obama will need to be reminded — frequently — that his job (his ONLY job) is to protect and promote the interests of the United States and not to engender warm, fuzzy, kumbaya feelings in the rest of the world. If that happens while he does his primary job, fine; it is not and should not be an overriding or principle concern and “will the rest of the world like us” should not even cross his mind! I and most other Americans feel no obligation to apologize for our standing in the world. As I recall, that were and are many countries who are happier than pigs in it when they need us to fight their fights and save their citizens. WE are the greatest nation on the Earth and the rest of the world just wants to be. Mr. Obama would be wise to remember that.

Posted by Carla | Report as abusive

“Americans have many fine qualities. A capacity to see ourselves as others see us is not high among them.” From a column by Patrick Buchanan

Posted by Scott | Report as abusive

It’s no way about individual citizens (you’re as nice as all the others!), it’s about the nation. How comes that a rich nation as the US is not willing to accept Kyoto contracts even having California doing well with some of the strictest environmental laws? Why can the US complain about human rights in China and have Guantanamo not controlled at all? Why does the US not accept the International Court of Justice and has zero contribute to the International Criminal Court but has no problems with extraterritorial impacts of its own law system? Why had the US strict anti apartheid rules but nothing done for their own rural black underclass? It’s like the US has a white image of it’s nation and a black one of the rest of the world. But if the US does want the others to improve then it should do its homework first. Only then it will be the model it once was. And in the fantastic case that customs officials will become as nice as in China, even traveling to the US would become more attractive again.

Posted by Urs E. | Report as abusive

In response to Carla…Bullocks! We cannot act like a spoiled star athelete with no regard for the position we stand in as a role model, by default, and expect our “star-persona” to last. If we have learned nothing from the pitfalls of the last eight years let us learn emphatically that pride will most certainly come before the fall. (Rome was probably the best example of the lesson unlearned.)

Posted by John | Report as abusive

It’s hard to feel as much a part of the world as Europeans claim to be when America is clear on the other side of the world. I’m sure all of the states in the USA feel as close to each other as the countries in the European Union, if not closer.

It’s easy to feel close to regions to which you can drive or take a train. Less so if getting there requires 20 hours on an airplane.

America has a bad image because of its arrogance.

I live in Canada. Their embassy in my capital is built like a fortress, defacing our downtown. That would be something I could live with, except that following 9/11 they coerced (bullied) our local government to shut down the lanes in some of our busiest roads. It was entirely unnecessary, even without the road blocks the embassy already had a fifteen foot fence, a spacer, and a perimeter of car-stopping pilons.

Of course, that’s a little thing. On the national level, Americans are bullying us to push through their policies in our federal government. If we don’t, we are threatened with visa-only entry to the US. It’s a silly threat, but this is how we are dealt with.

It doesn’t help that Americans are seen as ignorant. I used to work in the travel industry. Some didn’t even know the countries in North America! They thought Quebec was *another* country. Jesus. And the amount of people who asked me what church our Parliament was. It was always exclusively the Americans who were this bad, regardless of the mixture of people I dealt with.

I don’t know any Canadian who would envy the Americans. Sure it’s a great country to live in if you’re rich. I would never want to give up the notion of universal healthcare (which despite American propaganda – works!) or cheap education. Or a slightly more balanced media. Or an aversion to violence, guns, and killing. Or equal rights for all, whether you’re black or gay.

Posted by Julien | Report as abusive

To Roddrigo. Here is your quote:

“A country with no real democracy, with death penalty, the highest crime rates, with almost no paid vacations, a country where the retired people have to work till their death, where going to school can be as dangerous as walking in kabul streets…
Yes, all the world envy this…”

You don’t say in which country you live and my question to you is: Are there long lines in your capital, of people queueing up to get visas? Is there a long wait time on the telephone for people who want to make visa appointments?

How do you explain that more people want to visit, or work in, the United States than any other country on the globe? Is it just because salaries tend to be higher? Is it because people actually LIKE such stuff us Disneyland? Is it because America-bashers are just as hypocritical as those who say America is that shining city on the hill?

Posted by Fecundo | Report as abusive

Much of what is associated with and disliked about the American people is at least symbolically countered by the recent election of Obama, but is this really a long-lasting phenomenon ?

Anti-Americanism is an expression of the arguably justified frustration of non-American states that has its natural roots in power games( the dominated both disliking and admiring the dominator – frustration) and it’s justifiability in the Texan jack-ass, “let’s make the world a better place in our own image” behavior America has, politically to culturally to many other “-ally”. Obama’s election expresses a common will within the American people to cut down on the “justifiable” side of the anti-American causes. Or does it ?

Why did Americans vote for Obama ? Was it because of the same reasons people around the world appreciate the deed ? Was it simply because Americans felt the need to once more feel proud and confident in a president that seems to have more skill and natural ability than a fifth grader at a spelling-bee contest ?

It seemed to me that the general excitement about Obama was somewhere in the lines of “finally we can show we’re not that awful, that we can vote for a non-white, non-republican”, apart from the policy debates, or Obama’s charisma. Maybe it’s because he was taller than any other candidate, as a friend suggested. But how much of the voter’s choice is a promise to the world that things will “change” ? The input of American people has much to do with the “say” they have in the running of their state, and “say” is something many can do, and will do, sufficient to cause contradiction, on which governments thrive, being offered the opportunity to choose whatever convenient and blame it on the :)) other side of the debate. People in US can do very little about the running of the country, especially because they live the illusion of being able to do much/more etc.

So while the world is celebrating the symbolism( and not the policies) of the newly-elected, all that really matters is what the new guy is going to do. How does this affect anti-Americanism ?

Ironically, it does depend on Obama, although whatever he does do to solve the incredible mess his country is in, anti-Americanism will still sustain itself from the memories of the past or from any acute fact of the present.

People need to know that what they intensely but pointlessly desire is tainted.

“Raising the issue above the issue”, I would say that the story of states is no longer about states, no longer about institutions or the people for which they stand, but it is about people who are in control, the ones feeding the axioms of America, defining its mechanisms, to the best of their interest.

Posted by Dante | Report as abusive

With all due respect, Mr. Debusmann, the only “Ugly American” are columnists as yourself! So eager to identify the citizens of the USA who travel abroad as arrogant, loud-mouth, ignorant scum. We have travelled overseas and we believe in the “Golden Rule.” We respect all peoples and even try to learn their langugage, tip well and try to learn from them about their beloved countries. However, sometimes, no matter how hard you want to please the folks across the seas, there will be some that will continue to dislike and are jealous of the “American Way”. We are truly happy and proud we are Americans and have the opportunity to state “Our Say”! Thanks for allowing us to comment!

Posted by Bob, Maria Elena Friskel | Report as abusive

I often read people’s comments on topics like this one and, invariably, someone harps on our “hijacking” of the use of the term “American.” I think we should hold some sort of global poll to determine, once and for all, what should be considered an appropriate title for citizens of that middle country in North America. I’ll vote for “Staties.”

Posted by Justin | Report as abusive

“WE are the greatest nation on the Earth and the rest of the world just wants to be” Carla
I rest my case….arrogance thy name is America.

Posted by jordyn | Report as abusive

“I rest my case….arrogance thy name is America.”


America is the greatest nation on Earth Jordyn. That is why people wait for years to come here. Calling America arrogant doesn’t change that fact. Maybe you have a slight case of envy? Or if in fact you live in America, a case of self loathing induced by 4 years of leftist indoctrination at our fine universities? In any case you don’t have to be like us. We won’t force you to. We just recommend it.

Posted by Churchill | Report as abusive

I’d like to point out that although Europeans love to criticize the “arrogant self-absorbed American” traveling abroad, Europeans themselves are quite arrogant and insensitive when they travel abroad as well. I’m an American who grew up in Thailand and Italy. As a child and teen living in Thailand, I was very aware of how modesty is central to Thai culture (and most Asian cultures in general), yet hordes of Europeans came to Thailand walking around half-naked in the city and went topless on the beaches. Since I spoke Thai, I would hear from Thais all the time complaining about how rude and vulgar Europeans were.

I’m not a prude, but whenever I travel to Asian & Middle Eastern countries, I always make an effort to dress modestly so that I respect their culture. However, many Europeans do not. If they want to criticize Americans for being insensitive when in foreign countries, then I’d suggest Europeans try being more sensitive when they visit countries like Thailand where wearing bikinis, much less going topless, is frowned upon.

Posted by laurel nyc | Report as abusive

I’m an Australian and I wanted to state my belief that the “Ugly American” myth is just that – a myth. It never existed in the first place, except in the minds of fervent anti-Americans.

Americans abroad, on the whole, are far more respectful and courteous to their hosts and their host’s culture than the hosts are, should they visit the United States. Much more so than Australians and Brits, that much is for certain.

As for those people from developing countries, they make little or no effort to respect locals when traveling abroad. If you don’t know that, I suggest that you haven’t traveled very far.

Posted by Michael MacConnell | Report as abusive

I am a hedge fund manager. What is an American?

Posted by John Blodbrett | Report as abusive

I spend 200 days out of the year traveling to different parts of the world as a public speaker. Once in a while I will run into a “rude American” who is raising their voice in a hotel lobby while they are discussing business on their cell phone or I might find a “rude American” voicing their opinion in an airport after their bags have been lost. But, I must say that while these individuals are not our best ambassadors, most Americans I run into have a genuine respect for the people they meet and the countries they visit. It is unfortunate that the world looks at the obnoxious few and believes that this is typical. Before you express your own opinions of the “Ugly American” let me ask you this. Out of all the nations in the world, which country would you say spends more money each year, decade after decade, towards helping their starving, homeless, thirsty and helpless neighbors? Not only that, but this country offers these generous gifts not as a loan but a sign of good faith while the rest of the world returns to us not food, water or aide, but harsh criticisms of behaviors that are as unfair as the media who reports it.

well said, Robert. Just like a true American.

Posted by Linda in Ohio | Report as abusive

Dear Fecundo,
I have the chance to live in Switzerland. Here, the “anti-american” feeling is really strong, and I can assure you it’s not cause by the envy of a richer country, because our country is one of the richest in the world and our life level is much more higher than in USA. The feeling is coming from the disgust we can have when we see how USA is interacting with the world, and how arrogant US citizens can be sometimes.
I know that the situation is different in almost all countries in the world, and a lot of people everywhere dream of a life in the USA, specially if they come from poor countries. But it’s normal, USA is a big country with 300millions of habitants, who welcomes every year a lot of immigrants, and for anybody who wants to emigrate for a better life, USA will be a logical choice because it’s relatively easy to go there (I mean, even if you don’t have a work permit or green card) , much more easy than emigrating to Switzerland for example (as we are a little country and we cannot receive a lot of immigrants each year). Moreover, people coming from poor countries doesn’t have a real, or good knowledge of what is the real situation in USA, as they might have a relatively limited access to medias and there’s still a lot of mythology about the famous “american dream”, so I think it’s normal that so many people wants to live in USA. Life level and standards in USA are still interesting for most of the people in the world because unfortunately life is harder in their country.
But I am sure that if you have, let’s say 100 candidates for emigration from third world, and you give them complete information about life in USA and life in Switzerland, and you give them the right to chose between the 2 countries, more than 80 of these people will chose Switzerland (or another european country)
On my first comment I wrote that it was really stupid to think it’s the envy who motivates anti-US feelings and this is exactly this complex of superiority who fuels these feelings: US citizens believe that their country is soooo better than the others countries, though most of them didn’t visit any foreign country.
I worked 3 years for an US company, with a lot of American colleagues and managers, and these people were treating local employees like shit, they were absolutely not interessed about the culture and langages of the country they were living in: some of them were even not able to speak one word of french or german after years passed in the country. They were all saying that USA is the best place in the world, but all of them also where enchanted of the contitions of working in my country and didn’t want to go back to US;-)) I know it’s not the behaviour of all of them, but of most or Americans citizen abroad.
I think there’s actually an enormous difference of point of view about how US citizens see themselves, and how they are seen by the rest of the world. For example, when we think about the first image coming to our mind about Irak war, most of the US citizens will remember the fall of Saddam Hussein Statue and the “liberation” of Irak, but most of the people in the rest of the world will remember the pictures of Abu Ghraib prisonners…
I am not an America-basher, I admit that USA can produce admirable things and can always surprise the world positively, but I think that still too many US citizens are completely ignorant about the rest of the world and arrogant, and in that case a littlebit more humility would be really a good thing for everybody…

Posted by rodrigo | Report as abusive

I am proud to be an American. I am proud of all that is good in this Country. Every Country has it’s faults. Every Country has citizens that do not represent the Country well. I consider myself to be a good person. When I travel I immerse myself in the Country I am inand do my best to learn their language and experince their culture. I thinkit is unfair to label an etire Country as ugly when only a small percentage of it’s citizens are truly ugly. People always criticize America for some of their foreign policy decisions, but what about the good side of that? Americans donate a lot of money to world charities or in response to disasters. American relief groups respond worldwide to disasters, even in Countries such as Iran. Americans contribute so much in the areas of medicine, science, technology, and yes even environmental concerns. America is a large place with many people from may Countries. Do not paint us with such a broad brush. In doing this you are doing the exact thing you say Americans are guilty of… that is saying you are better than us. We are all mbers of the human race. We are all imperfect. We all need to try a little bit harder to make this world a better place. Saying Americans are ugly is not a good start.

Posted by Tim | Report as abusive

Here’s an idea since everyone hates us anyway. Let’s take our $ and our troops and our attitudes and go home. Let the rest of the world fend for itself. One of the main reasons our economy is a wreck is that for 70 years we have been doling out cash to the rest of the world. I didn’t see anyone jump in to help us after 9/11. Oh I forgot that was our fault too. The only place I want to see in the world outside of the US is the American Cemetary in Normandy that is of course unless they hate the fact that we spilled so much blood on their soil.

Posted by Bill | Report as abusive

Arrogant? Maybe a little. But, then again, we twice kept Western Europe from becoming part of the German Empire during the last century. Oh, and then there was that pesky Cold War thingy where the USA managed to keep the USSR from overtaking Western Europe. The Western Europeans may think we’re arrogant, and maybe we are. But, anyone can see that they are ungrateful for what the USA has done for them over the last century. Don’t you find it amazing how Europeans revel in their history and keep alive the memories of centuries-old wrongs, yet they gloss over the fact that their lives would be TOTALLY different if not for the USA choosing not to be an isolationist state. Hey, France! You’ve got (at the most) 40 years before you’re an Islamic state. Check your birthrate data. Then all of your art museums and wine regions will be shut down due to Sharia law. Wake up!

Posted by John | Report as abusive

I think Americans are ignorant. The ignorant on how bd their foreign policy really is. For the example of Iraq to understate its negative effects on the world is racist. A million iraqis are dead, two million refugees and 5,000 brave US soldiers. Yet Americans dont even get to see US soldiers pictures on tv of funerals. Bottom line is that most Americans have no idea whats going on in the world or even their country. Mexicans and blacks are living in third world conditions and many in jail. Americans need to wake up because thats not democracy. They are frankly a militarized nation that fights for oil and not humanitarian causes. Its a farce.

Posted by SUNNY | Report as abusive

“Some [American expatriates] expressed relief at no longer having to pretend to be Canadian, a long-time ruse to avoid being stereotyped.”

We Canadians are also expressing relief at that. In all my years of traveling, I have never met a Canadian masquerading as an American – only the reverse. It makes me angry when I meet an American who, on the one hand, espouses how great it is to be from the USA, while on the other hand is ready to hide behind my flag while traveling in certain parts of the world. These bogus Canucks are easy to expose, of course – just ask them who the Prime Minister is. (What is a loonie? Who is the lead singer of Tragically Hip?

I am proud and happy and VERY thankful to be a Canadian, and will gladly remain one for the rest of my life. And yes, I have a Canadian flag sewn onto my backpack.

Posted by Heather | Report as abusive

This idea of the “Ugly American” is blatantly ludicrous and perpetuated by very ignorant people of all sorts. There are Ugly Americans, Ugly Germans, Ugly French and yes Ugly Swiss people (UBS CEOs come to mind).. as far as I know Debusmann can also be characterized as an Ugly Reuters Columnist..

What we need in this world is to refrain from judgment.. look in the mirror before you call someone “ugly”

Posted by Michael | Report as abusive

Mr. Debusmann should get out more. Having visited more
than 70 countries and lived in 5, I can say that genuine
anti-Americanism is relatively rare on the street. Of course many countries such as the Philippines have their reliable cluster if anti-American protestors providing photo-opportunities for media types. To be sure however, there are quite a few traveling Americans willing to feed stereotypes of the ugly American, and there seems to be little “national resentment’ towards traveling Europeans, no matter how much resentment is felt towards them personally.

Posted by Nate McDaniel | Report as abusive

Generally, I find Americans are well-meaning but a bit ignorant as they tend not to be very curious about the world outside their borders. I can’t blame them. If I lived in a country that offered everything I could possibly want or need I wouldn’t feel the need to look elsewhere either. A typical American reaction to this statement would be “You’re just jealous”, but I am not. My quality of life is not defined by what I own, it’s a materialistic mentality that I have never aspired to. Most Americans can’t get their head around that.

Posted by John Mack | Report as abusive