Thursday, December 25, 2014

Avoid ugliness in word and deed

It's getting ugly out there for Americans.

Across the globe, anti-U.S. sentiment has grown in recent years, according to government studies, surveys and reports from travelers.

A group from Southern Methodist University is trying to change that, one backpacking student and laptop-toting executive at a time.

Their tool? A pocket-size book called World Citizens Guide, written by advertising students and their professor and published with the nonprofit group Business for Diplomatic Action.

More than 150,000 copies have been distributed to college students, missionary groups, business travelers, and Peace Corps volunteers. A Web site where you can download an abbreviated version, WorldCitizens Guide.org, has gotten a quarter-million hits. The U.S. State Department is considering distributing it with every passport.

The book grew from a survey of international executives that asked what advice they would give to someone traveling abroad.

Patricia Alvey, director of SMU's Temerlin Advertising Institute, says she and her students discovered that four factors fuel anti-Americanism. Three of them - public policy, globalization, and American popular culture - can't be changed by individuals.

But the fourth, the perception of us when we travel, is in our hands.

"We need to understand we are not the center of the planet," she says.

"If we become the receptor for culture when we travel, instead of a projector, then we have a possibility of becoming a mini-ambassador."

Her tips offer a crash course in how not to be an ugly American:

Lower your voice. "Less is more," the World Citizens Guide says. "In conversation, match your voice level to the environment and other speakers. A loud voice is often perceived as a bragging voice. Casual profanity is almost always considered unacceptable."

Think about what you're wearing. "Americans are fundamentally a casual people. Jeans, T-shirts and sneakers work for many of us much of the time, but there are people in other countries that believe such casualness is a sign of disrespect to them and their beliefs. Check out what is expected, and bring scarves, headwear or whatever might be required."

Be patient. "We talk fast. Eat fast. Move fast. Live fast," the guide notes. "Many cultures do not. In fact, time is understood very differently around the world. In the short term, speed and instant satisfaction are less important than enjoying a new culture."

Smile. Genuinely. "It's a universal equalizer."

Keep your religion and politics to yourself if you can. "Globally speaking, religion is not something you wear on your sleeve. Often, it is considered deeply personal - not public." As for politics, make yourself aware of regional issues, but don't offer a view unless pressed.

Avoid lectures. "Nobody likes a know-it-all, and nobody likes a whole nation of them. Rightly or wrongly, the U.S. is seen as appointing itself as policeman, judge and jury to the world. Be aware of this perception and try to understand other viewpoints."


Free Guide

The guide cannot yet be bought online, but you can download a free, abridged version at www.worldcitizensguide.org.

You also can give your e-mail address so you can be notified when the online purchase system

is available.

Larry Bleiberg DALLAS MORNING NEWS
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