And the world’s favorite country is … Germany?
Germany, it appears, is the most respected country in the world. According to the Nation Brands Index, Germany deposed the hitherto reigning champion, the Unites States. The home of Audi, Mercedes, Siemens, Bosch and Co. now tops the charts.
Now before I discuss the ranking process, in which over 20,000 people in 20 countries were asked to rank 50 developed and emerging countries according to 23 categories, I have to say that I’m amazed that the United States was number one up until now. Anti-Americanism is rampant and I would have guessed that Switzerland or Sweden or some other rich but harmless country would top the list instead.
As a German of the baby boomer generation, I can remember a time when many Germans my age would speak English when abroad so as to hide their nationality. German children might find themselves ostracized on a Danish beach. German teens on a pilgrimage to Swinging London might be confronted by people giving them the Nazi salute. And it wasn’t any better when over Guinness in a Dublin pub an Irishman congratulated you for what the German Luftwaffe did to the British, or, far, far worse, when a charming Arab lady in Washington said that “you Germans” had been right about the Jews. I’ve witnessed all this and more. So to advance from pariahs to pop stars, and for the right reasons, is quite something.
So how did we do it?
There were six dimensions that were addressed by the questionnaire: exports (the quality of products); governance (including the commitment to solving global problems); culture and heritage; people (their perceived competence, friendliness, openness); tourism; investment and immigration.
Germany received top marks for honest and competent government, for social equality and a good investment climate. The strong showing of Germany’s economy, its leading role in Europe, and its perceived responsibility in international affairs were also important factors. Finally, as 2014’s soccer world champion, Germany scored big in the sports section – part of the “culture and heritage” dimension, in case you were wondering.
No surprises here.The world sees us rather as we see ourselves: competent, hardworking, successful, responsible, and good on the football field. But otherwise rather dull. As far as creativity, contemporary culture and the quality of education is concerned, the United States outperforms us in the eyes of the world. And in our own eyes, too. We love U.S. television series, books and music, and if we could afford to, we’d send our kids to American universities.
The trials and tribulations of President Barack Obama have also contributed to Germany’s image gain – or rather, to the U.S.’ loss. In the governance dimension, America lost points for competence and also for its commitment to peace and security worldwide. This does make one wonder how the questions were framed. After all, 2014 saw Obama finally commit to fighting the terrorists of Islamic State. Germany, on the other hand, has done relatively little. So what if one of the questions had been framed something like this: “If push comes to shove, who is actually going to put their money and troops where their mouth is?” Or: “If your country were threatened by a neighbor, who would you like to have on your side?” Putting it that way just might have changed the ranking.
But wouldn’t it also be fair to say that many people judge countries by categories that questionnaires rarely ask about? For example, what weight would you give to a country’s religiosity or its moral standards? To people in Europe, this is not an important consideration. If anything, religiosity is negative, especially if it enforces a strict moral code. But people elsewhere might see this rather differently.
And what about “German women, German faithfulness, German wine and German song”? I cite these things, because the second verse of our national anthem sings their praises, adding: “May they always keep their good name in the world.”
Well, they haven’t, it seems. It’s more German cars, efficiency, good intentions and sports. A pity, perhaps?
PHOTO: Visitors enjoy a beer during the opening day of the 181st Oktoberfest in Munich September 20, 2014. REUTERS/Lukas Barth