In his book, Attractive Unattractive Americans: How the World Sees America, author Rene Zografos spoke with thousands of people from around the world to get their take on the best and the worst of Americans, their country, their habits, beliefs and culture. But just what are some of the top reasons Americans are beloved or scorned? We chatted with Zografos to learn more about what he discovered about the proud– maybe too proud–American.
Attractive Unattractive Americans
Author Rene Zografos says it took more than seven years of interviewing 2,000-plus people across seven continents to try to answer the question of what non-Americans around the world think of America and its citizens. The Norwegian-Greek journalist, photographer, author and musician, took up the question after writing a somewhat similar book about Norwegians in which comparisons and contrasts with Americans were continually raised.
But he’d started the project when President George W. Bush was in power and couldn’t overlook the fairly high anti-American political sentiment he kept hearing, making him want to find out more. He’s compiled his findings in the book Attractive Unattractive Americans.
“It seemed popular to say that America was bad, and Americans were bad, but I didn’t believe these answers,” Zografos says. As he traveled to different continents, he queried individuals, learning the many ways people view Americans and the culture both attractive and unattractive.
As someone who loves to travel, especially internationally, I have experienced some cringe-worthy incidents through the years in which I found myself apologizing on behalf of my American brethren.
Here were some of the most common complaints associated with the unattractive American according to Zografos —and I feel encouraged to take them to heart and learn from them myself when traveling.
Tone it Down
Americans are often perceived as loud, noisy or too boisterous. (Um, the “Don’t Mess with Texas” is one motto example that kind of says it all, eh?)
Learn to Relax
Americans appear stressed—even when they are on holiday. Regardless of where they are traveling, they are constantly looking ahead to the next place they are going instead of truly enjoying what they are experiencing right then and there. They don’t really know how to relax.
Eat Some Humble Pie
Americans are often thought of as not humble enough. While American pride is great, Americans need to realize when they’re not the main focus of what’s going on in the room.
Americans too often come off as superficial—saying only what they think others want to hear. Their friendliness is questioned as genuine because they always appear “on” or too friendly.
People outside of America are often concerned about American companies (fast food providers) that are everywhere in the world taking away jobs and changing the local economy. If you’re traveling in another place, try eating the local fare, not the same fast food that you can get anywhere in America.
And here’s one that surprised me a bit:
Turn it Off
Teens and young adults spend too much time on technology when they’re traveling. Outside of America, these teens are seen as angry, disassociating themselves from the events and people around them. The world watches more broadly as our citizens spew bigoted views on the web—this despite the fact that America was founded as a place people came to escape persecution over religious beliefs. Also, there’s a concept that Americans are too quick to write negative reviews of just about anything via that same technology—instead of trying to work towards better resolutions in the situation.
What’s Attractive About Americans
All is not lost! There were plenty of things that Zografos discovered others loved about Americans including:
A Lending Hand
Many acknowledged that in a crisis, Americans are often the first outsiders to come in and give help and aid to those in need. They said other countries should learn by example. “They do give a big thank you from the world about that,” Zografos says.
That Work Ethic
“Americans’ hardworking goals are totally admired,” and people find the hard work done impressive, Zografos says. (Just be careful not to work so much that you don’t have any time to enjoy life, they also said.)
That work ethic goes hand in hand with the confidence Americans have that allows them the attitude that they can do anything they set their mind to—because America is a place where you can make your dreams come true.
Pop for Some Culture:
OK, so people were evidently embarrassed to admit out loud in groups that they like American pop culture—but once questioned one-on-one they readily admitted they do like it. From music, to products (think Nike) to t-shirts with American slogans, to Hollywood movies and stars—they love American pop culture!
Try This While Traveling
And finally, here are some tips Zografos passes along to help further enjoy your time traveling:
“I never stay at just one place… I move around and talk to people and ask the locals where I should go and explore…I learn from the locals and go from there.”
Be the Real You
“Use your ability to learn and let people see the real you. Bring people into your American life—try talking about your daily life and let people see how much we are all actually alike across the world. People love to hear about the good and bad in your daily life. Don’t act like a movie star.”
Find Good People
“You can travel all over the world to find good scenery. But you can also find good people all over the world. Try to speak to people but also listen to them.”