It’s OK to be American

The idea of being perceived as the “ugly American” —  boisterous, overweight and uncultured — has deterred many U.S. travelers from identifying with their homeland while trekking abroad in other countries.

Canadians, disgruntled at often being mistaken for Americans, have taken up sewing their national flag onto their backpacks as a way of distinguishing themselves from their southern neighbors.

A 2004 MSNBC article noted that American tourists are taking advantage of this practice and have started sporting the Canadian flag as well, throwing in the occasional “Eh?” to create further confusion as to their true identity.

But in recent years, stereotypes about the American people seem to have dissipated substantially, and the world has adopted a more positive view of the U.S.

The Pew Research Center’s most recent annual survey indicated that the percent of people who hold a favorable view of America increased since 2007 by 34 percent in France and by 14 percent in Britain.

Much of this can be attributed to the election of then-Sen. Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008, as it made the celebrated cultural diversity in the U.S. more evident.

Americans no longer maintain such a narrow worldview since they now encounter such a complex, dynamic group of people hailing from various countries, cultures and backgrounds in their own homeland.

Gregory Rodriguez, the executive director of the Center for Social Cohesion at ASU, wrote in a Los Angeles Times column last month that, “I've spent the past three weeks in Britain, Germany and here in Spain, and I've been struck by how unexceptional the American has become in Europe, as well as how the perception of us as a people is shifting.”

Especially with the decline of the U.S. as a sole superpower and the decreasing strength of the dollar, Americans have had to come to terms with the fact that they are not given superiority over the world by mere virtue of their nationality.

Increased exposure of America, or rather, Americans, to the world and vice versa has allowed both parties to realize that, ultimately, they are not that different.

Rodriguez noted this cultural convergence when he added, “In the 1980s, I lived in Madrid for a year, and I can attest to the fact that since then the cultural distance between Spain and the U.S. has clearly narrowed. The Spanish are more like us and we are more like them — in the clothes we wear, the way we spend our leisure time and the size of the cars we drive.”

Even so, the disparities between countries and cultures are still prevalent and can be a definite source of tension. However, no one should have to apologize for being born in a particular country. Americans, and anyone else for that matter, should be able to travel abroad without having to choose between lying and ostracizing themselves.

Send your travel tips to Julie at julianna.roberts@asu.edu


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