I was contacted to do a review for Attractive Unattractive Americans: How the World Sees America, a book written by René Zografos, an award-winning Norwegian-Greek journalist. It is published under his own imprint, Renessanse Publishing.
I don’t do many book reviews, but this one’s subject matter caught my eye. “Almost every human being on the planet today knows something – and feels something – about America…But what does a world that contains seven billion people really think about the most talked about – and controversial – nation on earth?” reads the press materials, and frankly, I’m a sucker for every article I come across that tries to answer that question. Even in our modern connected world, we live such a myopic experience in the USA, tangled up in our own affairs in part because of how large of a country we are geographically and in part because rugged individualism is in the American DNA. We think we know how foreigners see America—the use of ‘Murrica! is now common parlance as is the notion we’re supposed to be world saviors yet are viewed as world manipulators. But are these conundrums what most people outside the USA ponder about us on the whole?
Zografos tackled that question through seven years of collecting anecdotes from and interviewing travelers and locals throughout the world, from Malaysia to the United Arab Emirates to Costa Rica. He has a direct, honest, and contemplative writing style.
The book is organized as a series of essays, some by Zografos and others by invited writers, on different topics related to the American identity. Interspersed with the essays are short quotes from interviewees in different geographical locales. Through this structural backbone, common themes arise that sometimes seem in direct conflict with each other. For instance, an admiration for American manners and our optimistic, you-can-do-it! attitudes comes through just as strongly as a disdain for American superficiality and lack of authenticity in our friendships. I found the comments about superficiality especially intriguing being as I come from the region of the USA that Americans themselves have deemed the most superficial: Southern California. So it was especially interesting to see so many travelers say Americans in general don’t have genuine friendships or make real connections with other people. I’m still chewing the cud on that one. Do people in other countries use that expression?