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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Guide Aims to Tidy Up Americans Overseas

WASHINGTON -- Alarmed by the relentless rise of anti-Americanism around the world, a business-backed group is trying to change the behavior that spawned an enduring stereotype of Americans abroad -- loud, arrogant, badly dressed, ill-mannered and lacking respect for other cultures.

For many years, much of the rest of the world distinguished between the United States and the American people. Americans tended to get better ratings than their country and its policies. But recent surveys show that favorable perceptions of Americans have been shrinking as views on the world's only superpower grow increasingly hostile.

Enter Business for Diplomatic Action, a nonprofit organization founded by advertising executive Keith Reinhard after a worldwide survey of attitudes toward Americans convinced him that "our collective personality is one of the root causes of anti-Americanism."

"We are seen as loud, arrogant and completely self-absorbed," said Reinhard, chairman emeritus of the advertising agency DDB Worldwide. "People see in us the ultimate arrogance: assuming that everybody wants to be like us."

This month, San Francisco-based BDA -- whose board includes executives from ExxonMobil and McDonald's -- began distributing a "World Citizen's Guide" to corporate travelers. Its 16 points are a mirror image of the behavioral patterns that earned Americans a boorish reputation in the first place. Here is a sampler from the guide.

"Think as big as you like but talk and act smaller. In many countries ... boasting is considered rude. Talking about wealth, power or status -- corporate or personal -- can create resentment.

"Speak lower and slower. In conversation, match your voice level and tonality to the environment and other people. A loud voice is often perceived as bragging. A fast talker can be seen as aggressive and threatening.

"Dress up. You can always dress down. In some countries, casual dress is a sign of disrespect. Check out what is expected and when in doubt, err on the side of the more formal and less casual attire. You can remove a jacket and tie if you are overdressed. But you can't make up for being too casual.

"Listen at least as much as you talk. By all means, talk about America and your life ... but also ask people you're visiting about themselves and their way of life. Listen, and show your interest in ... their experiences."

More than 400 companies have expressed interest in the World Citizens Guide. Ten thousand copies have already been distributed and 30,000 more are now being printed under sponsorship from the National Business Travelers Association, which is working with BDA to push the initiative.

A proposal to the U.S. State Department to issue the guide along with every new or renewed U.S. passport is still under review, BDA's executive director, Cari Eggspuehler, said.

BDA's campaign follows several unsuccessful attempts by the government to "sell America," including a branding effort led by advertising executive Charlotte Beers.

Before Beers resigned in frustration two years after taking a job at the State Department's Office for Public Diplomacy, she told a congressional committee: "The gap between who we are and how we wish to be seen, and how we are in fact seen, is frighteningly wide."