Nations, like movie stars, have their moments. The crumbling of the Berlin wall in 1989 marked the beginning of America's ascendancy to a new level of world domination. No traveler can miss the evidence abroad. In music, television and movies, America's influence is approaching what advertising people call ''market saturation.'' The emblems of American mass culture have infiltrated the remotest outposts: the Coca-Cola logo is on street corners from Kazakhstan to Bora-Bora; CNN emanates from television sets in more than 200 countries; there are more 7-Eleven stores in Japan than in the United States. Our technology -- computerized weapons systems, medical scanners, the Internet -- sets the standard to which developing countries aspire. Even our teeth, gleaming, beveled, orthodontized into orderly white rows, are the envy of the world.
But even so: does the world like it? A generation ago, many foreigners recoiled from America's crude cultural arrogance, let alone its readiness to send foreign legions abroad to prosecute unpopular wars in a preoccupied contest with world Communism. With the cold war over, the climate is warmer, and foreign reaction is more complicated. It's also more interesting, as The New York Times Magazine learned when it invited the views of correspondents from 18 countries. This issue presents the responses, from three Nobelists; leaders from the worlds of finance, advertising and media; chefs; journalists and gurus, and ordinary citizens.
To the German political analyst Josef Joffe, the primacy of the United States arises from triumphs of scientific innovation and shrewd statesmanship. ''America has the world's most open culture,'' he writes in the article that introduces this issue, ''and therefore the world is most open to it.'' No longer just a world power, we're the world power, a model of free-market capitalism.
Some other contributors are more grudging. They acknowledge that the world is following America's example -- but lament that example as vulgar and materialist. We spoil our children, indulge ourselves, consume in a wasteful manner. Even a sympathetic witness, like the German-born photographer Bastienne Schmidt, whose evocative portfolio illustrates this issue, sees us as oversize and violence-prone.
Our requests elicited recurrent cliches and stereotypes: Americans are given to confession. ... Americans are puritanical. ... Americans are obsessed with work. But there were also plenty of surprises, things we take for granted that others find novel: Kenzaburo Oe's observation that our newspapers contain life stories; Martin Amis's recognition that writers matter in our country. The tone of most of the contributors is kindly, generous -- and mildly condescending.
If there is a consensus view, it probably lies somewhere between acknowledging America's global reach and acquiescing in it. America's will to consume, a booster would argue, is America's drive. Our obsession with the politically correct can also be construed as a reflection of the democratic spirit; our collective narcissism can also be seen as a celebration of the individual. Yes, Americans have homogenized the world, but they have also modernized it. The marriage of America and the rest of the world is just that -- a marriage. For better and for worse.