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Do They Really Hate US?
As I traveled throughout various countries in both Eastern and Western Europe in the past year, I could not help but notice that admitting to being an American provokes a very predictable response: distaste. But do all Europeans really hate us? It must be more multifaceted than that…
There is no question that we have lost touch with Europe politically. Approval ratings for the U.S. government have declined even more rapidly abroad than here at home. European support for American leadership is now said to hover in the low thirties (down drastically from 64 percent in 2002). About a third of the Europeans polled in 2004 cited our ineptitude in managing the situation in Iraq as the primary reason why they dislike America, but other problems mentioned have been America’s hunger for oil, disregard for the environment, and of course, our oh-so-popular President Bush.
Curiously, though many of our causes are very similar – many Americans are just as concerned about the oil issue and global warming as any Frenchman or German citizen – it has not brought us any closer together. As journalist Ann Applebaum put it, “We all worry about everything else – international terrorism, a nuclear Iran, global epidemics – in almost equal measure.” European countries are united in their apparent dislike of all things American; nobody even wants to consider allying politically with us.
There are those that say that Europe’s main problem with America is deeper rooted than recent politics; they are openly criticizing the image that the United States still has of itself as the Big Brother. I have come across so many people that refer to America’s stubbornness as the source of all the tension. It has earned us the reputation of giving for the sake of demanding something back, claiming to listen to others while ensuring our own voice is still the loudest one heard, and doing it our way even when everyone is firmly against us. Even the poorer countries in Europe (Poland, the Czech Republic) do not want America’s aid if it comes with the burden of supporting American policies. Contrary to popular opinion, very few people resent our wealth. Granted, they want some money for themselves, but they want to earn it their own way and on their own terms.
The entire “you’re with us or against us” method has hurt us more than it ever could have hurt Europe. The day after Bush gave that speech, his statement was on the front page of Le Monde three times. In many American newspapers, it did not even make the front cover. Europe could see the warning signs well before many Americans, and our alliance with them has since paid the price for that.
Still others argue that they are tired of American culture being forced upon them. A few years ago, the BBC reported that “the British sometimes seem more like strayed Americans, islanders who speak American, watch American, eat American, and increasingly think American, too….Looking at the United States, a visiting anthropologist from Mars might conclude that we must be a tribe of migrants from Pennsylvania who ended up, for obscure reasons, squatting off France.”
Perhaps that is the root of the problem: Europe now proudly defines its culture as the “anti-America.” Yet how does all this criticism manifest itself? For all of Germany’s talk about avoiding our products and despising our food, Germans sure are snapping American items up off the shelves pretty quickly. When the great debate about whether or not to enter Iraq was going on, one of the heavily cited reasons opposing the war was that Europe did not support it. And believe us, critics said, losing our good standing with Europe is a big price to pay.
But just how big a price? People were worried about us losing our prestige, our reputation, but mostly, they were worried about our economy, which is so heavily linked to European consumers and goods. What if some of the world’s wealthiest countries – Germany, France, Italy – decided to stop buying our merchandise? (Think Freedom Fries except in reverse). As Slate writer Daniel Gross once put it, “If they hate our invasion of Iraq and our president, the reasoning goes, they'll hate Starbucks lattes, Levi's jeans, and Ford sedans.”
What we now know is that that is simply not the case. The co-authors of Anti-Americanism in World Politics, Peter Katzenstein and Robert Keohane, proved this point in their study of European sales figures of three major American brands: Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Nike. They compared the 2000-2004 sales figures of the three companies to those of similar European brands (Cadbury Schweppes, Nestlé, and adidas-Salomon).
While the European sales of all six companies rose, the American companies’ sales grew more rapidly: Coke rose 37 percent, McDonald’s 31, and Nike 40, as compared with Cadbury Schweppes’ 28 percent, Nestlé’s 2, and adidas-Salomon’s 8. Clearly, while Europe may be protesting our position in the Middle East and threatening to boycott our products, they were actually buying more of them. The only natural conclusion we can draw is that consumers are hypocritical, or at the very least, they do not put their money where their mouth is.
So they don’t really hate us after all. It seems that the problem may not be Americans, but rather America. Europe does not detest our people: they buy our products, adore our TV shows, and occasionally even use our slang. Maybe some are bothered by our arrogance or our ethnocentrism, but that it a relatively easy fix. By and large, they find fault with our government and the people they think we will become under such incapable leadership. Like so many Americans, Europeans contemplate how the incompetence of our administration may have dire consequences long term. Even though pro-American leaders (specifically Sarkozy and Merkel) have promised to “cooperate more closely” with the United States, it will take more than a few promises to cajole them into taking our side in the international arena. This, along with human lives, may be the highest price we pay for the war in Iraq.