Found this fascinating New Yorker article by Simon Schama about the history of the European perception of the ugly American linked at The American Scene. It's a terrific article, but the author, of whom I know nothing, seems to reach the conclusion that the Europeans who see the US as uneducated, uncouth, and dictatorial on a global scale are correct, quoting the waspish Mrs. Trollope (whose disappointment in proving unable to make her fortune here he chronicles in the article) in his conclusion:
“If the citizens of the United States were indeed the devoted patriots they call themselves, they would surely not thus encrust themselves in the hard, dry, stubborn persuasion, that they are the first and best of the human race, that nothing is to be learnt, but what they are able to teach, and that nothing is worth having, which they do not possess.”That statement ignores the fact that Americans spring from (or were kicked out of), and have learned from, every other culture, that what has made the US so successful is the amalgamation of all those disparate cultures into a uniquely strong and self-reliant whole. We have made mistakes, of course, but we acknowledge them and we try to do better. I dispute that the US sees itself as the font of all goodness (and God knows there are enough Americans out there who seem to see the US as Evil Incarnate but for some reason won't move to Europe where they'd feel better about themselves), but neither are we about to grovel at the feet of the Old Country in mortified gratitude for being allowed to exist. And the idea that maybe we should strikes me as absurd.
Or maybe I've just got a big ol' chip on my shoulder today. Whatever.