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thedrifter
11-18-06, 05:26 PM
The ugly truth: A guide for Americans

By Joe Burris
Tribune Newspapers: Baltimore Sun
Published November 12, 2006


A New Zealand man asked that if we Americans can't learn to shut up and listen more often, "Could you at least lower your volume?"

Reports out of the United Kingdom say many of its citizens believe our policies and culture are making the world a more dangerous place to live. Some Australians think we're dumb, obese and arrogant; they use the phrase, "Oh, that's so American" as a put-down.

These are a sampling of sentiments that Keith Reinhard gathered from across the world while probing the depth of anti-American sentiment.

Reinhard, a former international marketing executive, is convinced such perceptions are widespread and growing.

He worries that such attitudes could usher in behavior that would give Americans who travel abroad another cause for concern--along with the threat of being targets for terrorism.

Problem is, he says, American travelers are often at fault for such sweeping stereotypes; too many have scarce knowledge of and little regard for the cultures and norms they encounter. All too often, they talk down to their hosts.

To overcome such perceptions, Reinhard founded the Business for Diplomatic Action, a group of educators, executives and citizens working to combat the spread of anti-American sentiment.

Although its primary focus has been business travelers, the BDA recently extended its efforts to all Americans traveling abroad--its World Citizens Guide, booklets and pamphlets offer a crash course in other nations' histories, religions, traditions, peoples and languages (www.worldcitizensguide.org).

"The rise in anti-Americanism is a threat to our national security," Reinhard says. "The more people dislike us, the more easily they can be recruited by our enemies. In this global world, we need all the friends we can get."

The World Citizens Guide is colorfully illustrated and includes images of nations' flags, facts about each country and common-sense tips that would benefit any traveler.

The 60-page, passport-sized booklet was created for students who study abroad. Its success ushered in the pamphlet, an abridged version, for business travelers.

The booklet, which also includes an interactive mini-CD, includes the 50 most useful words in Arabic, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

It suggests that Americans should learn the norms of the countries where they travel and follow them to prevent someone from unintentionally sending the wrong message.

For example, the book says: "In most European countries, the correct way to wave hello and goodbye is palm out, hand and arm stationary, fingers wagging up and down. Common American waving hand moving side to side means no--except in Greece, where it is an insult."

The pamphlet begins "In other countries, you are more than just an American. You are America."

"The guide really talks about how we might have a more enriching experience abroad if we are able to open ourselves up and embrace other cultures more," says Patricia Alvey, a Southern Methodist University professor who oversaw the creation of the guides.

The guides have been distributed to 300 colleges and universities as well as to more than 20,000 businesspeople in 800 companies.

The Marines use them, and the federal government is considering distributing the guide with every U.S. passport.

Ellie