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Anti-Americanism in Europe

Photo - man with Danish Flag face paint

ABOVE: If you're self-conscious about your American identity, try disguising yourself as another country's flag.

A few years ago, the U.S. media began running stories about foreign hostility toward American tourists. Oh, the horrors! We were told that visitors from the United States have been forced to discuss politics with French taxi drivers, endure sneers from Italian streetcleaners, and maintain their composure while German jukebox users have followed the tourists' choice of "Proud to Be an American" with "Give Peace a Chance." For some Americans, being a U.S. tourist in Europe became almost as scary as wearing a Mets cap in the Bronx.

If you're an American, should you avoid traveling Europe? Absolutely not. But to keep hostilities to a minimum, follow our tips for American travelers abroad:

Maintain your perspective.

Do you really care if a Parisian taxi driver is rude to you? (And how do you know he isn't rude to everyone?)

Also, don't believe everything you read about anti-Americanism in Europe. Robert Bestor of the travel newsletter Gemütlichkeit writes: "I've seen a lot more anti-German Americans than anti-American Germans."

Don't assume that Europeans are mad at you.

Many Europeans have negative feelings about George Bush, but that doesn't mean they hold you accountable for the ex-U.S. president's actions. A March 19, 2003 New York Times article described the results of a European opinion poll:

"Most noticeably anti-Bush were the French, three-fourths of whom said the problems created by America were 'mostly Bush,' while only a fraction--15 percent--faulted America in general. Russia and Turkey were the only nations that were inclined to blame America in general rather than the president."

Try to think about war from a European point of view.

To the people of Europe, war isn't just something that occurs in the movies, on TV, or in faraway places. An estimated 20 million European civilians were killed during World War II. Some 360,000 died in France alone. Europeans have good reason to be skeptical about using war as a solution for the world's problems.

Dress appropriately.

Wearing a stars-and-stripes baseball cap or an "Our missiles are bigger than Eurs" t-shirt may win friends back in Springfield or Shelbyville, but it's likely to be regarded as a sign of arrogance in Paris or Stockholm.

Pretend to be Canadian.

This is easy: Just wear a Maple Leaf pin, sprinkle your speech with "Eh!," "hoose," and "aboot," and try to be more self-deprecating than Woody Allen. To really get into your new role, find a tourist from Winnipeg or Ottawa and exchange your U.S. money for Canadian dollars.

Pretend to be British.

Wear a Union Jack t-shirt and affect an English accent. Instead of being blamed for former President George W. Bush's sins, you'll be blamed for former Prime Minister Tony Blair's.

Speak in tongues.

Europeans will think you're crazy, especially if you're juggling rattlesnakes, and they'll leave you alone.

Carry a handful of religious tracts.

Europeans will assume you hope to convert them, and they'll avoid you at all costs.

Rent or borrow a dog.

This works especially well in France and Germany, where people love dogs and take them everywhere. In France, wire-haired fox terriers are the breed of choice; in Germany, a dachshund offers a nice blend of cuteness and portability. Still, if you want to be sure of avoiding insults, try a Doberman or a Rottweiler--preferably with a spiked collar, an unfastened muzzle, and a canine vest that warns: "U.S. Army guard dog--stay 100 feet back."