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Behavior guide aims at demise of “the ugly American”

May 9, 2006

By Bernd Debusmann, Special Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Alarmed by the relentless rise of
anti-Americanism around the world, a business-backed group is
trying to change the behavior that spawned an enduring
stereotype of Americans abroad — loud, arrogant, ill-dressed,
ill-mannered and lacking respect for other cultures.

For many years, much of the rest of the world distinguished
between the United States and the American people. Americans
tended to get better ratings than their country and its
policies. But recent surveys show that favorable perceptions of
Americans have been shrinking while views on the world’s only
superpower grow increasingly hostile.

Enter Business for Diplomatic Action Inc. (BDA), a
non-profit organization founded by advertising executive Keith
Reinhard after a worldwide survey of attitudes toward Americans
convinced him that “our collective personality is one of the
root causes of anti-Americanism.”

“We are seen as loud, arrogant and completely
self-absorbed,” said Reinhard, chairman emeritus of the
advertising agency DDB Worldwide. “People see in us the
ultimate arrogance — assuming that everybody wants to be like
us.”

TIPS FOR TRAVELERS

This month, San Francisco-based BDA — whose board includes
executives from Exxon and McDonald’s — began distributing a
“World Citizen’s Guide” to corporate travelers. Its 16 points
are a mirror image of the behavioral patterns that earned
Americans a boorish reputation in the first place. Here’s a
sampler from the guide.

*** Think as big as you like but talk and act smaller. In
many countries, any form of boasting is considered rude.
Talking about wealth, power or status — corporate or personal
– can create resentment.

*** Speak lower and slower. In conversation, match your
voice level and tonality to the environment and other people. A
loud voice is often perceived as bragging. A fast talker can be
seen as aggressive and threatening

*** Dress up. You can always dress down. In some countries,
casual dress is a sign of disrespect. Check out what is
expected and when in doubt, err on the side of the more formal
and less casual attire. You can remove a jacket and tie if you
are overdressed. But you can’t make up for being too casual.

***Listen at least as much as you talk. By all means, talk
about America and your life in the country. But also ask people
you’re visiting about themselves and their way of life. Listen,
and show your interest in how they compare their experiences to
yours.

NOT GOOD AT LISTENING

“We Americans just don’t listen,” said BDA’s executive
director Cari Eggspuehler. “Listening is not an American
trait.” Eggspuehler traveled the world when she worked for the
U.S. Department of State before joining BDA.

More than 400 companies have expressed interest in the
World Citizens Guide. Ten thousand copies have already been
distributed and 30,000 more are now being printed under
sponsorship from the National Business Travelers Association
which works with BDA to push the initiative.

A proposal to the State Department to issue the guide along
with every new or renewed U.S. passport is still under review,
according to Eggspuehler.

The new guide for corporate executives follows similar but
more detailed tips for U.S. students traveling abroad. Compiled
by BDA and students at Southern Methodist University in Dallas,
that guide was sponsored by Pepsico and handed out to more than
200,000 students.

An estimated 60 million Americans travel abroad each year
and BDA’s Reinhard sees all of them as potential ambassadors
who might win the hearts and minds of their host countries, no
matter how much people there might hate U.S. policies.

When word of the new guide first filtered onto Internet
discussion groups, some participants were quick to point out
that American travelers have no monopoly on boorish behavior.

BDA’s campaign follows several unsuccessful attempts by the
government to “sell America,” including a branding effort led
by a high-powered advertising executive, Charlotte Beers. Under
her leadership, the State Department’s Office for Public
Diplomacy produced a series of videos about Moslems thriving in
the United States.

They were meant to show that the Moslem world had a
mistaken image of the United States, but several Arab
governments refused to air the videos, branding them
propaganda.

Before Beers resigned in frustration, two years after
taking the job, she told a congressional committee: “The gap
between who we are and how we wish to be seen, and how we are
in fact seen, is frighteningly wide.”

This is not a new phenomenon, historians say. The term
“Ugly American” became part of the popular language with a
best-selling 1968 novel of that title. It criticized the
blundering behavior of Americans in Southeast Asia and prompted
then-president Dwight Eisenhower to reform U.S. aid programs in
the region.

Beers resigned unexpectedly two weeks before the United
States went to war on Iraq — an act which further tarnished
America’s image in large parts of the world — and was replaced
by Karen Hughes, a close confidante of President George W.
Bush.

Hughes’ guiding principles for the job are what she calls
“The Four Es” — engage, exchange, execute and empower. She has
visited several Moslem countries and won largely negative
reviews at home and abroad.

The Office of Management and Budget, part of the White
House, recently rated the public diplomacy program as “not
performing.” “There is no broad overarching US government
public diplomacy strategy,” the OMB said. “Because of this lack
of a plan, programs such as this one may not be the most
effective both in the long and the short term.

(USA-UGLY, editing by Cynthia Osterman;
e-mail:bernd.debusmann@reuters.com)


Source: reuters



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