As Germany's Hannover Fair kicks off next month, its organizers will have spent the previous year encouraging attendance from the U.S.
I've been to Hannover and can attest that the show hosts some interesting technology. And though disagreements in European and U.S. politics sometimes make headlines, they seldom come up in conversations at Hannover.
But outside the gates of the show, things can be quite different. So-called Americanism gets blamed for a variety of woes in Europe. Most American visitors are blissfully unaware of this mind-set because they can't read periodicals written in German or French. If they could, they'd see the term "American conditions" applied judgmentally to most social problems or trends Europeans have decided they don't like.
It seems that most things we do irritate the Europeans. To see what I mean, consider the zany European whining about American soccer.
You can get a good feel for this carping from Andrei Markovits, a University of Michigan professor who has analyzed the differences between sports culture in the U.S. and Europe. He points out there were a lot of sour grapes in Europe when the U.S. hosted the World Cup in 1994.
You may recall that the Games drew big crowds, even when some of the teams weren't particularly good. One might think high attendance was a good thing, but not to the Europeans. The fact that a game between Saudi Arabia and Morocco drew 60,000 people to Giants Stadium, says Markovits, was attributed to the ignorance of American fans. Europeans proudly pointed to similar games that drew only 20,000 people in Italy four years before. By European logic, then, if 20,000 fans are better than 60,000, perhaps zero attendance for some games is ideal.
The same sort of slams accompanied the opening ceremony in the U.S. Games. It was "inauthentic kitsch" according to the Europeans, though similar festivities in later World Cups held in Japan and South Korea were dubbed artistic and innovative.
Europeans put U.S. soccer teams in the same kind of no-win straightjacket. Going into the 2002 Games, for example, the American team was "first ridiculed as an incompetent group of players who barely deserved to be in the tournament," says Markovits. The U.S. did well that year, finally getting knocked out of the quarterfinals by the Germans. Did the wins change any attitudes in Europe? Fat chance. "When they (U.S. teams) play well, they are disliked because they have become threatening by joining the game," says Markovits.
Even the popularity of women's soccer in the U.S. bugs the Europeans. British soccer nations look at women's soccer as something "only Americans in their perversion of all good things might have conceived," says Markovits. An article in the German news magazine Der Spiegel even went so far as to claim women's soccer has nothing to do with sports.
You might ask if any of this has any bearing on Europeans doing business with U.S. companies or citizens. None at all in my experience. But I wouldn't bring up soccer in conversations at Hannover.