Tips for Taming the 'Ugly American'

They're commonly referred to as the "ugly American." You know, the businessman overseas who is always complaining about the food, the drink and the customs of the country he's visiting. A nonprofit organization that focuses on foreign perceptions of Americans has a few tips.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Loud? Obnoxious? Stupid? No, we're not talking about your boss. Those are some of the adjectives foreign business people have used to describe their American counterparts.

The organization Business for Diplomatic Action is setting out to change those perceptions. It's created a pamphlet, small enough to keep in your jacket pocket or purse, to remind American executives of appropriate etiquette abroad.

NPR's John Ydstie delves into this matter of manners.

JOHN YDSTIE reporting:

Advertising executive Keith Reinhardt knows a thing or two about pitching a product. But when it comes to pitching American business, his motto is, it's not about ads: it's about actions.

Reinhardt is chairman of one of the largest advertising agencies in the world, DDB Worldwide, and president of the non profit, Business for Diplomatic Action. He founded the group to mobilize U.S. businesses to take on, what he calls, our miserable standing in the world.

Mr. KEITH REINHARDT (Chairman, DDB Worldwide; Founder, Business for Diplomatic Action): We took a survey of people in more than 100 countries, and we asked them what suggestions they would have for Americans working or traveling abroad. And while there were many positives about America and Americans, they like our youthful enthusiasm and they like our can-do spirit, the negatives were quite consistent across regions. And we were seen as loud, arrogant, and totally self-absorbed.

YDSTIE: Among other consistent complaints: the lack of listening skills among American executives.

Mr. REINHARDT: A man from New Zealand said, if you can't stop talking and learn to listen, could you please dial down the volume?

YDSTIE: So how not to be an ugly American? Reinhardt, and Business for Diplomatic Action, offers these tips in their world citizen's guide.

Mr. REINHARDT: First of all, learn something about the country you're about to visit. Learn something about their local sports teams, their local sports heroes. Learn something about their music. Get a map. Learn something about the geography.

And then, of course, there's the language thing. If you can learn a phrase in their language, even if you don't pronounce it correctly, it's amazing how much that is appreciated.

YDSTIE: Reinhardt says he does occasionally hear complaints from American business executives about their international counterparts. But he reminds them…

Mr. REINHARDT: When they come here they're speaking English. They've already learned our language.

YDSTIE: And, Reinhardt says, that's a giant step toward understanding our culture and doing business in America.

John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington.

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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