Continental Drifter -- Put A Sock In It

Sept. 29, 2005
An inside look at the world of manufacturing: A new thought-provoking bimonthly column that delves into the social, cultural and economic conditions of manufacturing across the world.

Good news. You're not paranoid after all. The rest of the world really does hate your guts.

Not you as an individual, perhaps, but certainly you as an American.

For this encouraging verdict on the way Americans are perceived overseas we can thank the friendly pollsters at the Pew Research Center, who every year publish a 16-nation study of global attitudes.

This year's report confirms something that most of us who travel beyond America's shores on a regular basis have known for some time: As a country, we are universally despised.

The usual suspects are high on the list of those who see Americans in an unfavorable light. Pakistan, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Indonesia have the lowest opinions of us. But not far behind are Spain, Germany, France and the Netherlands. And even Canada is on the cusp, offering a favorable rating of just 59%.

You know you have a problem when Canadians -- the most decent and level-headed people on the planet -- think you're rubbish.

This overridingly negative view of America and Americans can have disastrous consequences for U.S. manufacturers attempting to do business overseas. Whether it's dealing with foreign suppliers, investing in the operations of foreign companies or attempting to establish an offshore operation, the perception of Americans as loud, crude, overbearing and obnoxious apes can undermine what could have been a mutually advantageous relationship.

There is, however, an extremely simple remedy for this ongoing problem. It is a practice that I recommend without reservation, and which I sum up thus:

Few encounters in life cannot be improved by applying the simple expedient of silence.

In other words: Keep your big trap shut.

Time and again I have been asked the same question by managers and executives of companies from London to Tokyo. Why, they want to know, do Americans talk so much? Why do they speak so loudly? Why do they complain so relentlessly about the differences between our practices, customs, cultures, hotel rooms -- you name it -- and theirs? And why -- no matter what the subject being discussed -- do they always assume that their approach is the best approach, that their ideas carry more weight than anyone else's, that the American way is by definition the best way?

Why, in short, don't they ever shut up?

Want to have a trouble-free business association with people elsewhere in the world? Want to impress a foreign business associate and make a new friend rather than another nemesis? Then open your ears and close your yap.

Listen. Listen to what these people have to say. Let them explain their points of view. Learn something about their culture. Learn a few words of their language. Show them the same degree of respect that you expect them to show you.

Do it right, even once, and you'll receive the highest compliment that a foreign national can bestow upon a citizen of the United States:

"You," they will say, "are not like most Americans."

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