Recently I went to see a gig by Irish comedian Dara Oâ€™Briain and I had a damn fine evening as he strutted his stuff for a solid two hours. Oâ€™Briain involved the audience for a fair chunk of the show by asking how we perceived different nationalities, pointing out that we Brits have incorrectly perceived the Irish as feckinâ€™ eejits for hundreds of years, or at least I think thatâ€™s how he put it, but I may have misheard.
He told us that most of his audiences perceived the French as arrogant while the Americans are generally considered to be stupid. I appreciate Iâ€™m treading a fine line here as none of us wants to delve too deeply into race or politics but America has the worldâ€™s largest economy (over $10 Trillion GDP), yet it has a population one quarter of China or India and its territory is half that of Russia. Put it another way, America earns seven times as much money as the UK each year with a population that is four times bigger. It may well be the case that San Francisco, Seattle, New York and Washington are exclusively populated by geniuses while the flyover states in the centre are full of morons, but I seriously doubt that this is the case.
Instead I feel that we have used the label â€˜stupidâ€™ incorrectly when it would be more accurate to call the Americans â€˜insensitiveâ€™ or â€˜self-interestedâ€™. Only the Americans would call their baseball championship the World Series when the game is barely played outside of the USA, while the Champ Car World Series barely sets foot outside North America and has a far smaller international presence than Formula 1 (and F1 gave such a good account of itself in the US last year! Ed.), and we all know that itâ€™s a poor idea for a foreigner to fight in a boxing match in New York or Las Vegas as the points decisions always go in the favour of the Stars and Stripes.
But is it such a bad thing to be patriotic? Is it so bad to think that your country is the best in the world? I don't think so. Unfortunately the only thing that really spurs us Brits into a patriotic fever is football, and even though American sports may be somewhat introvert, that's not to say that they can't play with the rest of the world. Just take a look at the world rankings going into this summer's World Cup Finals - the USA is ranked fourth and England 10th!
Americaâ€™s introspection has served it well but you could hardly call it isolationist. America trades with the world, buys a great deal of oil from the Middle East and stocks Walmartâ€™s and Dellâ€™s shelves with Chinese goods, but it also exports a huge amount too. Across the planet youâ€™ll find that the biggest brands are American even in countries that hate America, although you may not be sure that Syrian Levis are 100 per cent legitimate, and the same is true of the Coca Cola and Marlboro cigarettes.
It causes the French no end of anguish that its citizens prefer to watch Hollywood movies and listen to English language Rock â€˜n Roll, but itâ€™s something else to watch Anti-capitalist protestors at Davos who get caught on camera wearing Nike trainers. You see, itâ€™s almost as if itâ€™s fashionable to dislike America, but those same â€œconscientious objectorsâ€ are probably listening to an iPod while on their way home from the latest big budget blockbuster â€“ hypocrisy is never a pretty site, yet so many of us dabble in it.
In fact, half of these "America haters" have probably never been to the country, and certainly never travelled to Small Town America, where the locals make you feel like royalty simply for visiting their home. Too many of us Europeans confuse disliking American foreign policy, with disliking Americans themselves. Ultimately, the US doesn't do its foreign image much good when it throws its weight around internationally.