May 18, 2010

Do people in other counties find Americans polite?

Q. I am a widely traveled person and I believe that the USA and its people are one of the most polite/courteous people/nationsin the world. Is this view widely shared in other countries?

We have indeed gathered other countries’ opinions on the typical characteristics of Americans, most recently in the 2005 Pew Global Attitudes survey. And while the survey did not ask directly about politeness, it did query respondents about the prevalence of the opposing characteristic: rudeness.

As you can see in the accompanying chart, majorities in most Western countries, at least do not view average Americans as rude, despite their perceived tendency toward greed and violence.

Only, in neighboring Canada does a 53%-majority describe Americans as rude. Interestingly, Americans themselves are more likely to assign that negative characteristic to their fellow countrymen (35% do so) than are the residents of Great Britain (29%), the Netherlands (26%) and Poland (21%). And a scant 12% of Germans find Americans lacking in politeness.

Looking farther around the globe, however, one finds other countries that share Canada’s reservations with regard to American gentility. (See chart below). In Turkey, an identical 53% see Americans as rude. This view is shared by larger majorities in Indonesia (56%) and Jordan (64%).

Overall views of the United States as a nation have improved considerably since the 2005 survey was conducted. (For example, from 2003 to 2008, relatively few in Indonesia had a favorable opinion of the U.S.; now a 63%-majority does.)

Whether this improvement has carried over into views of individual traits of Americans is something that we can’t know absent a new survey.

Jodie T. Allen, Senior Editor, Pew Research Center