The rest of the world may think Americans eat a lot of burgers, have huge shopping malls and are ruled by an arrogant government. And yet the “Ugly American,” it would seem, isn’t all bad. Americans are also seen from afar as generous tippers, friendly, uncomplicated, rich and the standard bearers of freedom, equality, creativity and technological power.
While many Americans feel their nation is divided as never before, a sampling of the rest of the world reflects a more charitable view.
Generations in Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America have grown up under the influence of the superpower U.S. and have felt awe and envy. America permeated their lives — through comics and Coke, through Hollywood and Neil Armstrong, and via the internet, iPhone and Facebook. It has been seen as the land of plenty, freedom and equality where Indian migrants could head behemoths like Google, Microsoft and Pepsi, and a South African could capture the imagination with an electric car. And after 9/11, the world grieved with America.
Yet, America’s admirers have felt betrayed by other shades of the American character: the military interventions in Vietnam, Iraq and elsewhere; the gun violence; the right (inexplicable to many) to carry weapons; the deep and angry racial divisions; and, lately, a presidential nominee calling for harsh restrictions on Muslims and Mexicans.
The Associated Press sent reporters across the world to ask ordinary people about their views of America. And in the opinions that came back, some clear threads emerge, anecdotal yet illuminating.
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What is the first thought that comes to mind when you hear the word “America”? Describe the country as you see it:
— “The first word that comes to mind when I hear the word America is ‘Arrogance.’ They are big and loud and they are in charge of everything.” – Christopher Darroch, 39, actor, Toronto.
— “Capitalism. Money rules everything. Overweight people, Donald Trump, elections, shootings.” – Ingerlise Kristensen, 68, retired bank employee, Copenhagen, Denmark.
— “America is food … fast food and (Coca) Cola. It’s cars. It’s the many electronics we have … the bridge in San Francisco.” – Ksenia Smertova, 21, student, Moscow.
— “America? Uhh, that’s a huge country. Burgers, the American dream, choppers, … Elvis, cowboys. We dream of America and they dream about Europe. But one thing for sure, they cannot make beer.” – Knut Braaten, 43, handyman, Oslo, Norway.
— “Everything in America is high tech!” – B.S. Mehta, 34, health insurance agent, New Delhi.
— “Has a very liberal culture, great people and a country that drives innovation.” – Shitij, 26, sales and marketing worker, New Delhi.
— “A lot of (consumer) products. A lot of dresses, and cars, and all that. A society that has more things than our society.” – Antara Rao, 18, economics student, New Delhi.
— “(America) welcomes all different races.” – Marren Cahilig, 21, bartender, Manila, Philippines.
— “It is powerful.” – Gennelyn Escopete, 33, DVD street vendor, Manila, Philippines
— “Probably capitalism, but I see it more as freedom … that every person can do what he wants, when he wants — true freedom, but it costs a lot I think, and sometimes it brings you lower than takes you higher.” – Karin Cohen, 25, bookshop worker, Jerusalem.
— “The first thing I think when I hear United States is a world power.” – Pedro Ivan Gonzalez, 35, juice seller, Havana.
— “It is a world imperialist power country. Obviously (the people) don’t have much to do with the government’s political decisions but I do think that it is a big, powerful country that has always tried to dominate countries it doesn’t favor.” – Rosa Moscoso, 42, Havana.
— “A country of freedom, particularly freedom of thought. And it’s a country with quite advanced technology industries. You see, I even have two iPhones.” – Liu Xiaodan, 30, hotel manager, Beijing.
— “America is a country that produces a massive amount of cultural output such as Hollywood movies, music and many other (forms of) entertainment.” – Sam Wang, 20, university student, Beijing.
— “My image of America is a country that goes to war anywhere in the world,” – Susumu Inoue, 82, retired agricultural lab technician, Tokyo.
— “I think of Major League Baseball,” – Ayumi Takeoka, 41, housewife, Tokyo.
Talk about one experience you’ve had with America or an American:
— “I have been in the States a few times … It is a great country and would love to live there. People are nice but superficial. Not sure whether I actually am ready to move there because it must be a tough country to live in. I prefer it here. It is more cozy (laughing), less restrictive …(made drinking gesture).” – Knut Braaten, 43, handyman, Oslo, Norway.
— “When I was driving to North Carolina I stopped at McDonald’s. I was wearing a T-shirt that said, ‘You Can’t Get This In The States.’ The fellow in line asked me in a very American accent, ‘Y’all can’t get what in the States?’ I explained it was a joke, I was from Canada. And he said, ‘Oh Canada! Y’all get snow up there.'” – Christopher Darroch, 39, actor, Toronto.
— “I was stunned to see how big everything is over there. Shopping malls, meals, people, cars. We in Europe have smaller things … What I liked when I was over there was the service level, it was very high. But people expect to be tipped so that is why they are so services-minded. Their approach is different from ours … we do it because we care about others, they do it because they get tips … they were raised that way.” – Ingerlise Kristensen, 68, retired bank employee, Copenhagen, Denmark.
— “I had a roommate … a Californian, when I was in Korea as a college exchange student. She was a happy person, better than my Chinese roommate … there were three of us in the room. The American was easy to talk with and we had a lot of things in common. (She believed) that the people’s voice should be heard.” – Marren Cahilig, 21, bartender, Manila, Philippines.
— “A friend had an American friend over and he was surprised to see how laid back we are. He also emptied my friend’s fridge, saying he’s used to eating and drinking whenever he feels hungry or thirsty. And he drank tap water … oh no!” – Kenni Friis, 28, computer technology student, Copenhagen, Denmark.
— “They’re generous. If we ask for a high price, they don’t bargain. They’re calm and kind and friendly and they like to smile.” – Gennelyn Escopete, 33, DVD street vendor, Manila, Philippines
— “There is a lot of misconception about their politics. I’ve seen that many times they are very charismatic, friendly but that does not mean that they share the political thinking of the United States (government).” – Pedro Ivan Gonzalez, 35, Havana.
— “I think the way they are talking and dealing with personal relations is quite direct. They just like speaking their mind, which is a reason that I don’t feel quite comfortable going around with Americans.” – Liu Xiaodan, 30, hotel manager, Beijing.
— “My impression of Americans is that they uncomplicated. Interpersonal relations among Americans are much more practical, in contrast to the complicated way that we Chinese people treat each other.” – Men Xuezhi, 54, doctor, Beijing.
— “I don’t like American guys who always pursue their own personal interests. I prefer hanging out with Canadians or students from Europe, because at least they are quite polite.” – Li Jiaqi, 23, college student in U.S., renewing his visa in Beijing.
— “An American friend visiting … came with the idea that he is going to find another America here … I believe they should understand the values that we have as Arabs, embrace them and try to go to a more local level to comprehend why we think and why we live the way we live.” – Summer Abu Ltaif, outside the American University of Beirut.
— “I think everyone is very tolerant there, in a way that there are all kinds of people, whether from different ethnicities, different countries, different religions. People are mostly not concerned with what another (person) is doing. There was a bit of a culture shock when I first went there because the way people dress there is very much different from the way we dress here. All of them wear shorts.” – Antara Rao, 18, student, New Delhi.
— “I have traveled all over the United States in Greyhound buses as a tourist. I did not find any discrimination. I found the people … very hospitable, nice and very cordial.” – Kanti, 74, travel agency owner, New Delhi.
What makes Americans American? What identifies as American to you?
— “A black-and-white look at the world. They miss nuances.” – Knut Braaten, 43, handyman, Oslo, Norway.
— “I think there obviously is the American dream, the idea that unifies them all. They are also unified in the sense that the dream isn’t really a real thing anymore. The reality doesn’t match the ideal. What identifies an American? Loudness. All of the Trump stuff in the U.S. has been depressing … you would like to think people are smarter than that … but definitely surprising and depressing to see how much support he has and how much support his ideas have.” – Christopher Darroch, 39, actor, Toronto.
— “Americans are American because they feel (they are) better than the rest of the world but in reality we are as good as they are. They simply don’t see us as their equal … but we are. Sometimes we are even better than them, but don’t tell them (laughing).” – Kenni Friis, 28, computer technology student, Copenhagen, Denmark.
— “You can easily distinguish an American like here in the restaurant. The Americans are more of a tipper, good tippers. Americans are gallant.” – Marren Cahilig, 21, bartender, Manila, Philippines.
— “Many things … their arrogant ideology of a powerful country and above all they have a language that is practically universal and almost everyone depends on that language. And they are a people that like having a lot of fun … and their brands: McDonald’s, all of that, makes the American identity … or North American … we call them North Americans rather than Americans, because we all are Americans.” – Pedro Ivan Gonzalez, 35, Havana.
— “Technology makes Americans American.” – B.S. Mehta, 34, health insurance worker, New Delhi.
— “America is a land of opportunities. I think that anybody with good ideas, if they want to make a mark, it gives you an equal opportunity in that country. America stands out because people recognize merit out there.” – Shitij, 26, sales and marketing worker, New Delhi.
— “They believe in democracy, in freedom; they are willing to die, kill, et cetera, for that. They believe in the right to have a good life and to help others to have a good life, and I think that’s part of what makes them Americans.” – Ziva Meizels, retiree, Jerusalem.
— “I think their patriotism, you know, God bless America. And it is a great country; I have visited it. It’s a wonderful country and there is high security, standard of living is very high. So yes, they are fortunate, and it is God bless America — that’s what makes America, America.” – Summer Abu Ltaif, outside the American University of Beirut.
—”I think that they are formed by an ideology. There are no Americans as such. Because there is no such ethnicity. But there is an ideology that unites them all.” – Zhila Gudzueva, university lecturer, Moscow.
— “My definition of Americans is those who are cheerful, friendly and willing to communicate.” – Ayumi Takeoka, 41, housewife, Tokyo.
Text from the AP news story, America seen from abroad: arrogant, nice, tech-savvy, free.
Associated Press journalists Charmaine Noronha in Toronto, Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, Mauricio Cuevas and Ariel Fernandez in Havana, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, Dong Tongjian in Beijing, Thomas Cytrynowicz in New Delhi, Moshe Edri in Jerusalem, Mohammad Aouti in Beirut, Alexander Roslyakov in Moscow and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.
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