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
If this attitude gains momentum, the predictable result will be
a rise in anti-Americanism displayed by ordinary citizens
Of course, a rise in anti-Americanism wouldn't exactly be an
incentive for already skittish Americans to begin traveling
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
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
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
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 ...
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.