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America's Global Standing – How Well Liked Are We? This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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This article has 15 comments. Post your own!

freedomfighter said...
Jun. 4, 2012 at 5:54 pm:
The article is well written, but i think the best way to make the global view of America better is to stay out of other sovereign countries business completely. This is also what the founding fathers would have wanted for out country. Foreign aid will end up hurting the country it is given to in the end because it doesn't give them a reason to fix the problems that previously existed in their economy.
 
Ron_Burgundy replied...
Jun. 4, 2012 at 9:50 pm :
Thank you for liking this article which I wrote over a year ago. Your ideological view on foriegn policy demands attention however. First I must mention that I'm sure the U.N., Those dying of Malaria and AIDs in 3rd world nations, the 1 billion plus who do not have clean water or sanitation, the 900 plus million who go hungry everyday, and the 2 billion who live on less than 2 dollars a day would probably disagree with you. Please, enlighten me as to how a 3rd world country, crippled by historic... (more »)
 
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Life Long Learner said...
Feb. 4, 2012 at 12:30 pm:
Very well written, objective and informative article. Your research was driven by your own curiosity about a compelling and important question, which makes the piece very powerful. I hope you keep writing because you are very talented. This teacher gives you an A+.
 
Trevor_EakesThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Feb. 4, 2012 at 1:07 pm :
Why thank you. I wish you had been my teacher. Interestingly, this article only received a B plus.
 
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CarrieAnn13 said...
Jul. 10, 2011 at 10:38 pm:

As a Canadian in a tourist town, I have seen both stereotypes of Americans.  Some Americans are perfectly wonderful, intelligent and polite people.  But others...well, they're the stereotype.  This is true for all countries, not just America. 

America certainly hasn't given itself a very good reputation, though.  While they do give a lot of foreign aid (congratulations on that!), they do tend to jump into wars, thinking they should police the world.  I thi... (more »)

 
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TimmothyMark said...
Mar. 8, 2011 at 2:40 pm:
Many people don't sit down and wonder what the world would be like today if America did not exist, ever. For starters, WW1 would not have ended when it did, Nazi Germany would have been (very) technologicly superior to all of the Allies, and probably would have one WW2. The USSR would still exist, and Berlin would still be split. the list of atrocities goes on and on.
 
TimmothyMark replied...
Mar. 8, 2011 at 2:45 pm :
Some other things include that China would have never got out of the Spheres of Influence when it did. All of Korea would be Communitst, and it would be under the control of the infamous Kim Jong regime. And I'd like to see another country who would liberate Afgahnitstan from a radicalist group (twice, the 2nd was more...hands-on for us) and try to spread freedom and power throughout the country.
 
VoiceofReason replied...
Jul. 17, 2011 at 2:53 am :
All points somewhat debatable but assumably true. However if America didn't exist millions of slaves would not have been in slavery and millions more would not have been born into slavery and a culture of discrimination. 10's of thousands of Native Americans would not have been masacred and many many thousands more not forced from their homes into poverty and corruption. Pinochet would never have had enough support to run his rigeme, Suharto of Indonesia would never have taken power and therefor... (more »)
 
ConstanceContraireThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. replied...
Mar. 30, 2012 at 4:50 pm :
THANK YOU VoiceofReason :D
 
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. said...
Mar. 3, 2011 at 6:09 pm:
I really agree with you, i wish i could say im proud to be an american but truthfull the things that are american now are not what im proud to be
 
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TheLegacyLives said...
Mar. 2, 2011 at 7:15 pm:
This was very well written, I hope it gets seen more on this website. It's funny I see this article now, recently I've been researching about American stereotypes, anti-Americanism and world opinions of the U.S. This is really good nonfiction writing. I find that on this website (and with teen writing in general) nonfiction writing tends to be overtly formal or much too casual. Very refreshing.
 
Ron_BurgundyThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Mar. 3, 2011 at 4:59 pm :
Sweet. Finding a middle ground between too easy or too stiff can be difficult which is why i chose to use the personal I to add more of a balance to the work. I was a little worried it might be too dry but I'm glad you think I succeeded there. 
 
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DreamsAreBroken said...
Dec. 29, 2010 at 2:34 pm:
This is terribly intriguing. I did of course disagree with you in a few parts, but only a few they were increasinly minimal
 
Ron_BurgundyThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Dec. 29, 2010 at 9:28 pm :
Yes, I had hoped that people might find it interesting. Of course everyone can't see eye to eye on everything but I did the best research I had time for and tried to be as thorough and well informed as possible. I'm still learning more and more on the subject. 
 
DreamsAreBroken replied...
Dec. 30, 2010 at 7:04 am :
Well I think its verly intriguing and not just that it is incredibly well written. You can tell that you put large amounts of not just thought, but research into this piece. I was very impressed
 
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