Possibly the most sensitive issue Europeans have to deal with when they meet Americans has to do with the image of America and Americans in the eyes of foreigners. There’s no hiding that many Euros still hold the prejudice of lack of culture, brutality, rudeness as the most salient traits of Americans whereas said Americans very often suspect some haughtiness and superiority complex from Europeans.
At a time when Europe meant names like Wagner, Rimbaud, Dickens, Rossini, Dostoiyevsky and thousands similar landmarks, America was the land where Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy, Calamity Jane, the Dalton brothers etc. were the most famous characters of the Nation. To the point that they now belong to “the legend of the West”, so to speak, with innumerable books and films that have been written and directed in order to tell their stories. They seem to have attained some sort of hero’s status in the History of America.
Of course there were also F. Cooper, E. Poe, H.W. Longfellow but their popularity certainly didn’t compare with that of the aforementioned outlaws.
Other names come to mind such as Buffalo Bill who came touring in Europe as well as P.T. Barnum whose name, in France at least, has nearly become synonymous with Capernaum.
And this apparent American fascination for criminals has endured long into the XXth century. Think Al Capone or Bonnie and Clyde for example…
All these characters are still very famous in Europe and Americans may be surprised to learn it but the Dalton brothers in particular have been immensely popular since the 50s due to a comic strip which started publishing their (fake) adventures in 1957.
Now, when the XIXth American century is associated in the mind of all Europeans to criminals and cow-boys before philosophers and musicians, no wonder the memory lingers on and recalls on souvenirs dating back to the time when to all European children, America was the land of adventures and reckless characters.
Memories die hard indeed and although America after the XXth century is now at par with Europe when it comes to arts and culture, the souvenir of America in the making still weighs heavy in the image of the USA abroad.