'Why does the rest of the world hate us?' Americans ask, with large, moist, puppy-dog eyes. (Well, it's really more distrust and suspicion than hate).
Many Americans prefer to blame it solely on resentment and anti-American manipulation. There's some of that around, of course, but that's not the whole story. I recently read Anatol Lieven's blistering, largely on-target America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism, which details plenty of rational reasons why non-Americans might distrust or resent the United States (hint: it's the policies and the hypocrisy, stupid!).
Before I get to that, thought, I thought I'd address a more mundane reason why people don't fancy Americans: Americans are renowned worldwide as being unusually ignorant and judgmental of other cultures. We don't understand other cultures, and what's more, we don't want to understand them, and what's even more, we show that openly. When we encounter some cultural practice that is different from what's done in the United States, we tend to immediately call attention to it -- and often by suggesting, more or less openly, that it be scrapped and replaced with the "right" American way of doing things.
Americans climb into our cultural (or rather, acultural) Hummers, you could say, and blithely drive them through other nations' minefields, completely oblivious to the explosions we cause along the way. A recent example: During a recent dinner I attended, an American new to Germany blurted out to a German guest "Hey, you're a German, maybe you can answer this. What the hell was Hitler thinking?!"
Trust me, it's one of just dozens of indiscretions I've either observed or committed. You could defend this tendency to openly criticize other cultures as refreshing frankness, but people from other nations have much less complimentary words for it. Let me quote from a fine little book called Americans at Work: A Guide to the Can-Do People, written by intercultural consultant Craig Storti. Storti himself is from the Unites States, but has spent over two decades working all over the world:
"[N]ot believing in culture [in the sense of ingrained, traditional ways of doing things] means that Americans have a hard time accepting that there is any legitimate reason -- any "excuse" for the odd way foreigners sometimes behave, and they conclude, therefore, that all such behavior is simply arbitrary. The strange things foreigners do may be deliberate or accidental, conscious or unconscious, but the point is they don't have to act that way...
Americans are much more likely than other nationalities to be unprepared for and therefore to have a strong reaction to "different" behavior, more likely, in other words, to be surprised, confused, or irritated by some of the "odd" things you [i.e., a non-American] may do. They may also be less able to see things from your point of view and less willing, as a result, to listen to your explanation of things or to understand why you don't agree with them. They are more likely than colleagues from other countries to see you as stubborn and unreasonable.
I can't exempt myself from this accusation. Although I like to think I've become much more polished in the meantime, I still have episodes in which foreign habits and practices strike me as "wrong." Now let me say that some things -- like honor killings, puking all over the city center, or mixing beer with cola -- are wrong, in some cosmic, transcendental sense. But among many Americans I know who live abroad, there is embarrassingly little curiosity about foreign cultures, and much superficial, chauvinistic criticism. I know this because I occasionally hang around with expatriates, whose primary form of recreation seems to be bitching endlessly about their host countries whenever they can be sure no natives are around (and sometimes, when natives are around). My experience has taught me there really is a difference -- the difference Storti identifies -- between Americans and people from other nations.