DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have had the good fortune to both go to the U.S. and have American visitors here in Sweden many times. I love the U.S., the American hospitality and the positive attitude that most seem to have, except regarding one thing that I don't know how to address:
So many have a negative attitude about their own country, calling themselves ignorant, lacking any form of refinement or culture and, even worse, presuming that I, as a European, should share their negativity about the U.S.
I tell them that I go there because I love the country, that I think American novelists, playwrights, directors and so on may be the most influential of all, and that I am happy to learn about historical landmarks and so on.
Yet I very often get things like, "This is the oldest building in this town, but I guess it is nothing to you." (I have three 1,000-year-old churches within walking distance, but am still just as impressed by what I get to see in the U.S.)
I am happy to talk about American politics -- in general and with a positive attitude -- but often get to hear how bad it is, and how embarrassing it is that they don't know anything about our government, even though I say it is natural, since American politics affect the whole world, whereas we are a very small country in the outskirts of Europe.
Sometimes it seems that the only way to get out of it is to say, "Yes, I guess you are right, the U.S. sucks." Then they would surely change their tune, but I refuse to go there.
GENTLE READER: Wouldn't you think that there is enough lamentable anti-Americanism in the world that Americans wouldn't want to add to it?
But what you describe, and Miss Manners deplores, is a peculiarly old sense of inferiority, echoing the sneers of Europeans two centuries ago, when the United States, as a "young country," was denigrated as rough, ignorant, uncultured and ill-behaved.
Considering that America was then represented abroad by such people as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, it was not an observant assumption. It is even less so now that the American arts are world-class.
Jingoism is also offensive, Miss Manners hastens to add. Those who boastingly claim that everything is perfect in their country, whatever it is, are as unpleasant as they are unbelievable.
But Miss Manners asks you to consider that people who air specific complaints, political or otherwise, may not be guilty of either extreme. Feeling free to dissent -- and to grouse -- is actually a point of pride in America. It is the generalized dismissal of the country that Miss Manners finds offensive, as you do.
She hopes that when you hear such talk, you will gently counter it with your own more informed views.