More than 50 percent of Britons believe that polygamy is legal in the United States; in fact, it is illegal in all 50 states. Almost one-third of Britons believe that Americans who have not paid their hospital fees or insurance premiums are not entitled to emergency medical care; in fact, such treatment must be provided by law.
Seventy percent of Britons think the United States has done a worse job than the European Union in reducing carbon emissions since 2000; in fact, America's rate of growth of carbon emissions has decreased by almost ten percent since 2000, while that of the EU has increased by 2.3 percent.
Eighty percent of Britons believe that "from 1973 to 1990, the United States sold Saddam Hussein more than a quarter of his weapons." In fact, the United States sold just 0.46 percent of Saddam's arsenal to him; Russia, France, and China supplied 57 percent, 13 percent, and 12 percent, respectively.
The majority of Britons believe that since the Second World War, the United States has more often sided with non-Muslims than with Muslims. In fact, in 11 out of 12 major conflicts between Muslims and non-Muslims, Muslims and secular forces, or Arabs and non-Arabs, the United States has sided with Muslims and/or Arabs.
Indeed, a new opinion poll finds that British attitudes towards the United States are governed by ignorance of the facts on key issues such as crime, health care, and foreign policy. The survey was commissioned by America in the World, a London-based group that hopes to push back against rampant anti-Americanism in the United Kingdom by dispelling widely held myths about the United States.
But Britons are not the only Europeans who hold unbalanced views of the United States.
Take Germans, for example. The majority of them believe that America poses a greater threat to world peace than does Iran. This after the United States helped Germans rebuild their country after World War Two and then provided for their defense during five decades of the Cold War.
Meanwhile, six years after 9/11, growing numbers of Germans think the U.S. government is responsible for the destruction of the World Trade Center. As for the next generation of Germans, according to a recent poll of Berlin youth, only one-third of the city's 15- to 17-year-old students know who built the Berlin Wall. Almost 14 percent think it was built by the Allies; two percent believe it was built by the United States.
The French, of course, are famous for heaping scorn on American fast food. But France's dirty little culinary secret is that one out of every two French people visit McDonald's at least once a year. In fact, McDonald's is so popular in France that the country is now McDonald's second-biggest moneymaker in the world after the United States. (McDonald's success is spreading throughout the rest of Europe, too, where sales growth is outpacing that in America. McDonald's is now one of the biggest private-sector employers on the continent, with a workforce of some 300,000.)
Among Spaniards, 80 percent of whom claim to be cultural Roman Catholics, a common stereotype is that Americans are individualistic and lack family values. But Spain now has the highest divorce rate in Europe; in 2007, Spain registered one divorce for every 2.3 marriages, or 44 percent. By contrast, the divorce rate in the United States has never exceeded 41 percent and in any case is on the decline.
Spaniards are also the most prolific users of cocaine in the world. According to the United Nations, three percent of Spain's adult population consumes cocaine; that's a bigger percentage than the erstwhile leader, the United States, with 2.3 percent. Among younger age groups, the number of Spanish users has quadrupled during the last decade.
Spaniards also love to ridicule Americans as overwhelmingly fat. Indeed, a recent study finds that some two-thirds of Americans are overweight. However, Spain has more overweight people than any other country in Europe except for Italy and Greece. Almost 40 percent of Spanish adults are overweight and the Spanish Health Ministry says Spain in on track to overtake the United States in the obesity department in less than ten years.
But if there is one issue over which Europeans as a whole are more consistently ignorant about the United States, then it must be the death penalty. Europeans elites love to portray the EU as morally superior to America because postmodern Europe does not execute its killers. And true to form, every time there is an execution in America — capital punishment in China and Iran is, of course, conveniently ignored — European elites do their level best to cast the United States as a wasteland of bloodthirsty barbarians.
Imagine, then, the chagrin felt by self-righteous European elites when a Novatris/Harris poll conducted for the French daily Le Monde found that a majority of respondents in Britain (69 percent), France (58 percent), Germany (53 percent), and Spain (51 percent) said they were in favor of executing Saddam Hussein. In a truly shocking moment of introspection, Germany's left-wing Spiegel magazine admitted that the poll results were, well, "surprising." Wow. Ordinary Europeans, when presented with the facts, are not all that different from ordinary Americans after all.
What explains such gaping ignorance on the part of Europeans, who famously pride themselves on being vastly more sophisticated than their mentally challenged American counterparts?
Much ink has been spilled in recent years in an effort to answer these questions.
For one thing, Europe's unaccountable left-wing media spoon-feeds the European masses with a daily diet of sensationalist anti-American propaganda, so much so that ordinary Europeans have developed a thoroughly skewed perception of American reality.
For another thing, statistics show that Europeans are not nearly as well traveled in America as Americans are in Europe. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, some 11.4 million Europeans visited the United States in 2007, which is roughly 2.5 percent of the European population. (By contrast, a record 13.3 million Americans visited Europe in 2007, or roughly 5 percent of the U.S. population.) The lack of firsthand knowledge of the United States is arguably the biggest reason why ordinary Europeans cannot discern fact from fiction when it comes to America.
Nevertheless, this trend may be changing. Due in large part to the strong euro, the number of European visitors to the United States increased by 16 percent in the first half of 2008 alone. And Britons, Frenchmen, Germans, Italians, Spaniards, and many other Europeans visiting the United States for the first time are beginning to realize that the consistently negative images of America so meticulously constructed by Europe's left-wing elites do not jibe with reality.
In the words of Mark Twain, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." Indeed it is.