I had lunch yesterday with a new friend who used to manage a rock group in the 80's and 90's. We were talking about the subject of cultural intelligence and how it can make a difference in the way we as Americans are accepted when traveling abroad. He shared with me that, on a concert tour of multiple European countries, the band determined to learn at least one phrase in the language of each country they visited:
"Excuse me, but I'm a stupid American. Can you help me?"
These guys were clearly not stupid -- on the contrary, they were wise enough to put themselves in a position of humility vis-à-vis their hosts. As you can imagine, that opening line was nearly always met with a chuckle, followed by a willingness to engage the visitors and provide information that would help them find their way or understand something about local culture.
This is one example of how we can slowly but surely turn the tide of how we are viewed by the rest of the world -- one disarming chuckle at a time.