h, the British love Americans. Or they love to hate them." I was at lunch with a British tour operator and was asking how well Brits and Yanks are mixing these days on tours that have guests from both countries.

Since the publication of controversial photos of prisoners detained at Camp X-Ray was followed by President Bush's identification of the "Axis of Evil," there have been a plethora of news stories about negative European reaction to America's recent behavior and announcements.

In particular, there's concern that the U.S. may be laying the groundwork for unilateral action against Iraq. The attitude of "you're either with us or against us" is sounding increasingly arrogant to foreign ears.

Our period of self-examination is appearing to be a period of self-absorption, and our patriotic flourishes are sometimes coming across as strident jingoism.

The official foreign government responses to U.S. pronouncements are couched in diplomatic turns of phrase, but worrisome to anyone in the travel industry are the interviews with people on the streets of European capitals.

Sympathy for America after Sept. 11 and admiration for the American-led forces' quick success in Afghanistan are being replaced by a sense that the U.S. is not listening to input from its allies.

If this attitude gains momentum, the predictable result will be a rise in anti-Americanism displayed by ordinary citizens abroad.

Of course, a rise in anti-Americanism wouldn't exactly be an incentive for already skittish Americans to begin traveling again.

One foreign national who is understanding of the position America finds itself in is writer Salman Rushdie. The author of "The Satanic Verses" knows all too well the dangers presented by regimes that practice a narrow and rigid interpretation of Islam.

He wrote an article finding fault with the U.S.'s critics in the New York Times earlier this month. He recounts listening "night after night" to Londoners' diatribes against Americans, diatribes focused in part on our patriotism, "emotionality" and "self-centeredness."

Rushdie concludes that America "did what had to be done ... and did it well," but also suggests that we're at a crossroads of sorts, and "this is not the time to ignore the rest of the world."

My British tour operator friend simply joked about any potential culture clash. He said the biggest problem in hosting Americans is making sure there's enough coffee and ice on hand, and in finding accommodations with showers.

He talked about how Americans change the atmosphere on a tour for the better: "They're far more noisy, exuberant and add energy -- the British get caught up and love it."

I think the reality for most Americans traveling abroad lies somewhere between Rushdie's British antagonists and the tour operator's rosy picture of harmony. I don't think travel agents or tour operators need to prepare clients to face anti-Americanism ... yet.

But I do hope that our government, while working to protect our national interests, bears in mind that it's in our national interest -- to say nothing of the interest of the travel industry -- to win two wars: the war against terrorism and the battle for the hearts and minds of people on foreign streets.

We're making progress on the first front, but we may be in retreat on the second.


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