Americans Abroad

Abbey Road- London, United Kingdom

As you meet people outside of the United States, you will begin to discover that other people’s view of Americans is not always positive. The foreign policy of the United States does not always sit well with citizens of foreign countries and stereotypes about Americans portray us as loud, arrogant, greedy, promiscuous, and ignorant. To avoid reinforcing such stereotypes, remember you are like an ambassador of the United States and its culture, and as an ambassador, it is your job to respect others and to act responsibly.

You should prepare for possible confrontation or judgment based not on who you are as an individual, but rather a collective body of people who live south of Canada and north of Mexico. You may be faced with many forms of confrontation or criticism, and it may feel as though you are being attacked personally as an American. You may be expected to answer questions about American politics, geography, values, and other issues as if you were the primary expert on the subject. At other times, disapproval will simply be yelled in your face. There is no one right or wrong way to respond to attacks made against the United States or yourself for being American. You will have your method for dealing with confrontation based on your experiences, your way of dealing with conflict, and your opinions. Try to use the following strategies to help you as you live and travel abroad.

Try to Understand the Criticism

Try and talk to your "accuser" and ask questions that may help illuminate this person's opinion about the United States and the reasons why they might hold them. Does this person get ideas from the media? Movies? Television? Is this something being taught in school? Has this person experienced some form of harassment from an American? If you understand the critic's motives, or from where their information comes, perhaps you can find some common ground and a more tolerant way to respond.

Draw Upon Personal Experiences and Observations

When someone asks you a question like, "Why are Americans so wasteful of natural resources?” Your first response might be to say: "Oh, not me." Whether or not the question is based on fact, one way to respond might be to draw on your own experiences and observations. In this case, you can say that while you cannot speak for the rest of the American population, you have your own personal practices, such as recycling, water conservation or use of public transportation.

Avoid Becoming Defensive

You sometimes can't help becoming defensive when you are feeling attacked, but try avoiding getting it as much as possible. Keep an open mind, and remember to try and understand your critic's motives.

BECOME MORE FAMILIAR WITH COMMON U.S. FACTS AND POLICIES.

People in other countries will probably ask you a lot of questions about the United States, on such varied topics as geography, politics, pop culture, etc. They may be questions from, '"Who decides whether a person is guilty of a crime?" to, "Does every American wear cowboy boots and ride a horse?" However, it is not uncommon to find that people overseas know a great deal about U.S. politics and policies. You should familiarize yourself with basic U.S. facts and policies because you do not want to be uneducated or ignorant of basic facts.

Some areas of suggestion are:

  • U.S. geography (e.g., differences in regions)
  • U.S. political system (e.g., how does Congress differ from the Senate)
  • U.S. judicial system (e.g., how does the jury system work "in theory")
  • U.S. foreign policy (especially how it applies to your host country)