All Nonfiction Bullying Books Academic Author Interviews Celebrity interviews College Articles College Essays Educator of the Year Heroes Interviews Memoir Personal Experience Sports Travel & CultureAll Opinions Bullying Current Events / Politics Discrimination Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking Entertainment / Celebrities Environment Love / Relationships Movies / Music / TV Pop Culture / Trends School / College Social Issues / Civics Spirituality / Religion Sports / Hobbies
- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
America's Global Standing – How Well Liked Are We? MAG
It's a common idea that Americans aren't very well liked by the rest of the world. Of course, there are exceptions, but generally we are given that impression, mainly through jokes. But is this more than a joke? Are Americans disliked by the rest of the world?
To tell the truth, as an American, I do feel guilty. For instance, a lot of Americans think ours is an incredibly generous country, but this idea is based purely on dollar contributions. When I researched foreign aid by industrialized countries, I found that the amount we give as a percentage of what we make (i.e. Gross National Product) is almost the lowest in the industrialized world, according to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development.
It seems that we also have an intense desire to spread our way of life to the rest of the world, regardless of the damage done to other cultures. In the past decade, our foreign policy has caused a lot of controversy.
I wanted to find out what the rest of the world thinks of what Americans do, so I asked someone who has a lot of knowledge on the subject. As a college teacher, Mr. Sager lived for many years in Europe and worked on various ships, which took him just about everywhere. I sat with him one day and asked what he thought the general global consensus is of Americans.
“Fifty-fifty,” he said. “Overall the attitude is that we're insincere.” I suppose that won't come as a shock to many. Even I could call myself and fellow Americans insincere. Mr. Sager also said that things can get blown out of proportion; everyone is not completely against America. Still, 50/50 is not the best assessment. If positive world opinion were a test, we'd be getting an F.
Mr. Sager ended up not being far off. Today, the world average for a favorable opinion of the U.S. is 60 percent, according to the PEW Research Center – but that's still 20 percent better than in 2007. What caused such a sharp increase? Our change in leadership, of course. In fact, world opinion on whether Barack Obama would do the right thing as president jumped from 37 percent in 2008 to 65 percent today, according to PEW. So it seems that politics has a huge effect on world opinion – more than, say, our culture. However, that said, I still wanted to see how much other countries like American culture.
I started at the foundation of American culture – Americans – and what I found was quite surprising. Only 55 percent of Americans have a favorable view of American culture, according to WorldPublicOpinion.org. That's a majority, sure, but not by much. I guess that's why America can be such a battleground sometimes.
However, Americans' opinion on whether our culture is harming others was pretty conclusive. Forty-one percent don't consider our culture a threat to others, while 33 percent listed it as only a minor threat, according to WorldPublicOpinion.org. Now, it's very hard to say whether our culture is actually a threat to other cultures, but some countries think it is. France, for instance, has restrictions on showing foreign films based on cultural grounds. It is true that historically we have damaged or destroyed some cultures, for example, the Native American people, the Japanese, and the populations of the Gulf of Mexico islands. Of course, sadly we aren't alone in this, but I think we must proceed with caution as globalization spreads.
Finally, I wanted to see whether our country's wealth had something to do with world opinion. In “Think Again: America's Image,” authors Peter Katzenstein and Jeffery Legro write that our good standing is “fast declining in Europe and the Middle East, declining in Latin America and South Eastern Asia; and … [the decline is] less pronounced in Africa and South and East Asia.” African and South and East Asian countries are predominantly poor. Poorer countries are the ones we're not helping as much as we should be, and European nations are supposed to be our allies, right? So who are our enemies, really, and who are our friends?
According to the PEW Research Center, the U.S.'s top five supporters are Kenya (94 percent), Nigeria (81 percent), South Korea (79 percent), Poland (74 percent), and France (73 percent). That means that two very poor African countries are our biggest fans. Kenya even likes America more than Americans, who have a 85 percent favorable opinion of themselves, according to PEW. Mr. Sager said that poorer countries like Christian African nations have a much more positive opinion of America than, say, Europeans. Those results are not what I expected and were reassuring in a way.
When I asked friends who had toured Europe who they thought disliked Americans the most, they were quick to point to the French. Surprisingly the polls show that France is our biggest admirer in Europe, with even our most trusted ally – England – lagging behind at 65 percent, according to PEW.
I think this could be simply a cultural misunderstanding. According to Mr. Sager, Europeans think they can do a better job than us environmentally and consider Americans to be very temperamental. While this may be true in some cases, Europeans chopped down their forests roughly a thousand years ago and don't have much to work with.
Now that I understood who our real friends are, I wanted to check out the other end of the spectrum. The top five countries with the lowest ratings of America are Turkey, Egypt, and Pakistan (all with only 17 percent in favor), Jordan (21 percent), and Argentina (42 percent), according to PEW. For those of you who remember President Bush declaring Egypt to be our greatest ally in the Middle East, those numbers may come as a surprise. But, after watching a movie called “Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?” I understood why.
Morgan Spurlock, the creator of “Super Size Me,” discovered similar results when interviewing Egyptians on the streets. He found that Egyptians don't like us very much because of our government's support of Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for 30 years and was forced out of office by a popular uprising this February. Needless to say, he was not the most popular person in Egypt.
In the last decade we gave Egypt billions in foreign aid while turning our backs on reports of government corruption and executions or imprisonment of people who didn't support Mubarak. You see, since the Cold War our leaders decided to do whatever it took to “preserve freedom,” even if that meant propping up violent, criminal dictators or bringing them to power. It's something we're pretty used to and talented at doing. I guess the thought is, “He may be a violent and cruel dictator, but he's our violent and cruel dictator.” This long-standing foreign policy is a big reason why there is animosity and mistrust toward the U.S. in certain places.
Spurlock traveled all over the Middle East interviewing people. Some said things like, “They hate us. They hate our country.” And “the Americans are known to be fighting the Egyptians, Palestinians, and Iraqis.” The movie covered other topics too but, after watching, it was clear that the dislike directed at America in the Middle East is based largely on misconceptions about us and disapproval of our foreign policy.
As I thought about the people in that movie – ordinary people with families to provide for – I realized that we probably have a lot of misconceptions about Middle Easterners too. I was left with the impression that Middle Easterners hate our foreign policy more than they actually hate Americans.
So where else does this dislike of Americans originate besides our controversial foreign policy? Well, Aby the Liberal, a well-known nonprofit internationalist site, pins it on our tourists. One articles says that our tourists are responsible for confirming to foreigners the stereotype that Americans are stupid. As I think about my trips to Thailand, Chile, and Mexico, I can easily see where this perception came from. American tourists seem to expect everyone to speak English and use U.S. dollars, and they are usually fairly ignorant of foreign customs and laws. Since most people in other countries only meet tourists, I can also see how easily sustained the “stupid American” stereotype could be.
Besides foreign policy, I think that the greatest cause of dislike toward Americans is that Americans seem apathetic. Overall we don't care enough to take the time to try to understand other cultures. We build Americanized resorts and tourist traps to make ourselves feel more comfortable abroad, without worrying what others think.
Somebody asked me how important world opinion really was. In his article “Hatred of America Unites the World,” Niall Ferguson, writes that “few people hate being hated more than Americans.” While this is a generalization, I think for the most part it's true. We don't like to be disliked. But those who say that world opinion isn't that important are clearly not thinking how much we need the rest of the world. We want other countries to give us the benefit of the doubt, and we want them to trust us. Not only does this prevent wars, but it helps with trade of both goods and information, lower tariffs, and less threat to our national security.
I believe that world opinion of America is trending up. Sixty percent is not terrible, and it is a marked improvement from a few years ago. I would like to see our country get more involved in foreign aid and less in foreign wars – send more ambulances and fewer tanks – and I think we'd see opinion on American foreign policy improve a lot. The rest of the world is not a bad place, and if we invest more time and effort in understanding other cultures, I think most countries will show us the same courtesy as you would a guest in your home.