We all have preconceptions about other countries, and let’s face it: America doesn’t have the greatest reputation overseas.
Let me be clear here: when I say “Americans” I’m talking about North Americans. Down under in little New Zealand we tend to generalize and North Americans are usually just “Americans”, and if you’re from say Brazil then you’re a “South American.”
When I first told people I was moving to the States, the most common response was: “Why would you want to go there for?” and “America’s great…except for the Americans.”
This was frustrating because most of the people hating on Americans hadn’t even stepped foot in America. Most of the people who had visited had just done the typical LA, Vegas, San Francisco trip, or worse-had only been to LA. LA is not North America people!
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot that annoys me about Americans, but that’s for another post. In the last fifteen months, I’ve been constantly, pleasantly surprised by them.
Here are some myths and stereotypes about Americans:
Americans are Huge
I’ve traveled through fourteen states so far, and can say with certainty that this is false. Most people over here are actually very slim and healthy; especially in California. I’ve definitely put on weight, but let’s face it; I don’t have much willpower, and the portion sizes are massive. I’m continually surprised that people can stay as thin as they do in the states considering all the crap in the food here.
I lived in Auckland for a year and I actually saw more overweight people in South Auckland than I have in my entire time in the states. Don’t get me wrong, there are some extremely overweight people over here, but the obesity epidemic is also hitting the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Better watch out for your glass houses guys.
Americans are Ignorant
Ok. To be honest this is one I’ve struggled with. The main reason a lot of the world thinks Americans are ignorant is because they don’t really know a lot about well…the rest of the world. Kids aren’t really taught much about other countries in school, and this continues into adulthood when the news is simply focused on America.
I used to have a chip on my shoulder about this-it still irritates me when I say I’m from New Zealand and I hear “Oh I have a cousin in Sydney”, but living in the States has shown me how tiny New Zealand really is. We’re a country of four million people in the armpit of the world, so should we really be mad when Americans get confused?
New Zealanders and Australians can definitely hear the difference between our accents, but the Americans simply can’t, unless they’ve actually traveled over that side of the world. While it used to annoy me, I have a good friend from Canada and we talk on the phone for hours. I hate to admit it, but I still can’t tell the difference between her accent and an American one.
When I do say I’m from New Zealand, most Americans seem genuinely interested in learning more about it. If they’ve mixed it up with Australia they are a little embarrassed and usually apologise, before asking me what part of New Zealand I’m from, and if I watch Flight of The Concords.
While I do believe Americans should learn a bit for about the rest of the world, I would challenge any fifteen year old in New Zealand to point out Israel on a map. Italy?… Indonesia? What’s going on in the middle east at the moment?
You get my point.
Americans don’t Travel
We’ve all heard the statistic-only around 30% of Americans have passports, and the only reason this number increased is because they now need a passport to visit Canada and Mexico. So yes, the majority of Americans don’t travel overseas, but they do travel inside the United States. I don’t think you can understand just how big this country is until you get here-it can take twelve hours to drive somewhere in the same state, and with every state being so different, I can kind of (almost) understand why we don’t see that many Americans overseas.
While it does annoy me when I hear Americans say they are too far away from other countries, (New Zealand is one of the most remote countries in the world), Americans just aren’t encouraged to travel like we are. In Australia, New Zealand and England, it’s considered weird if you don’t ever travel, but in America it’s taken for granted that straight after high school comes college, and straight after college comes a job. Americans have different priorities-they are focused on accumulating as much money as possible, and while I don’t agree with that, it’s just the way they’ve been raised.
Americans are Rude
I used to work for a campervan company in New Zealand and I’ve seen a number of Americans behaving badly overseas, and of course I’ve heard the horror stories of Americans in non-English speaking countries. So I get where people are coming from with this. Americans seem to travel in large packs abroad, and even when they don’t, you’ll always know they’re there.
My mum took a tour around Europe a few years ago, and there was one American on her bus who was really rude to everyone, and kept asking her where her husband was. On the last day he asked her why she had been wearing a New Zealand hat for most of the tour. “Well,” she replied, “I didn’t want to be mistaken for an American”.
Americans are very direct and have no problem complaining when they are unsatisfied. I think a lot of this is because you have to tip so much in America so they are used to excellent service. They are also fine talking about money, which is something I felt uncomfortable with when I first arrived here-I couldn’t even remind my host dad if he’d forgotten to pay me (not that this happened often).
If anything, most Americans go out of their way to be polite-even when they’ve had a bad day. In California I’ve noticed that it comes accross as being a little fake but maybe I’m just cynical.
Stereotypes suck. When we allow these stereotypes to change the way we think about countries or people, we’re robbing ourselves of the chance to make our own judgments. Of course I still have preconceptions about other countries, but every time I travel somewhere new I discover that we all have more similarities than differences, no matter where we’re from.