Saturday, March 05, 2011

5 Misconceptions About Americans

Every time the subject of 'Americans' comes up around the British dinner table, invariably the conversation suddenly becomes laden with judgement, national stereotyping and, dare I say it, light-hearted disapproval. Accusations that "Americans are loud" are frequently made (often with equal loudness) by those drunkards down at the pub, while many who insist that "Americans are ignorant" have, themselves, never actually interacted with one first hand.

I'm generalising, of course, but these generalisations are based on my own experiences, having socialised and worked with many individuals who tend to be quite partial to the aforementioned assertions.


Growing up in England, I was lucky enough to interact with many Americans - most of whom I met at university. However, it was not until I relocated to the US myself that I fully came to realise that many of the judgements we Europeans make about Americans are slightly (in some cases, vastly) wide of the mark. Listed below are 5 of these misconceptions.

1. "All Americans are fat." While it is certainly true that Americans virtually lead the way in global obesity rates, a 2008 study by the World Health Organisation found that only 66.7% of Americans were in any way obese. Now while this figure may still sound high, my own countrymen might want to consider that the United Kingdom is not that far behind, with a rate of 61%. Sounds like both countries could do with less of that corn syrup.

2. "Americans know nothing about the rest of the world." Sure; America - like everywhere else on the planet - does have its fair share of geographically challenged and globally unaware citizens (and politicians!). But, for each of these, I have encountered at least one American who knows, for example, just as much about my own country as I do. A man from Tennessee - who was a customer at a place I used to work - once broke down the entire history of the British Royal family for me in fifteen minutes. I would not have been able to accomplish this in 15 days (without Wikipedia).

3. "Americans are loud." I'm not sure why this has become such a permeating stereotype. Sure; the country's showbiz side may be a little brash at times and certain talk show hosts might raise the decibel bar a bit, but the majority of Americans I've met tend to create no more volume than your average Englishman. What I would say is that Americans do have a tendency to talk more than the British (unless alcohol is thrown into the mix; then all bets are off). This may itself, for better or worse, be described as raucous discourse, but, unless I'm just missing something, your average hardworking America could hardly be called "loud."

4. "All Americans are confident." Again, I can only think that this common belief is gently propped up by the world of cinema, which has been known to show Americans as go-getting opportunists (well isn't that what capitalism is all about?). But while this depiction is true to some extent, a plethora of my American friends often present themselves as quite the opposite; expressing a lack of self-esteem and harbouring a great sense of apprehension about the world they are living in. Of course, being human nature, this only makes sense. Just ask Charlie Sheen (sorry; couldn't help myself).

5. "All Americans have perfect, white teeth." I suppose it's easy to get Tom Cruise and the entire population of the United States mixed up, so I'll give my compatriots the benefit of the doubt on this one. But just a quick gander around Anderson, Indiana (or indeed anywhere in the US), and one will see that American teeth come in all shapes, sizes, colours and degrees of completeness and are no different in this respect from England (which receives a harshly unflattering dental appraisal from many Americans).

Of course, a lot of our perceptions of American people are heavily influenced by what we see on the television and cinema - mediums that, by their very nature, aim to distort reality. Without trying to take a "holier than thou" attitude toward these issues, I must say that living in the United States and interacting with its people on a daily basis has made me consider "Yanks" in a more normalised way. As the Native American proverb states: "Do not judge your neighbour until you walk two moons in his moccasins."

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Agreed on all points. I am a Canadian who is mildly disturbed at how myth all too often becomes legend and soon everyone in the modern world has an opinion about "it"; however ill-informed that opinion may be.

"I'm sorry aboot that. I hope I didn't offend you by sharing my thoughts out loud, eh? Excuse me please but I can't stay for any more chit chat. I have busy afternoon lined up: a hockey practice, followed by my weekly curling club game and then I have to stop by Tim Horton's to pick up a double/double and some timbits on my way home to the log cabin."

Given that your blog is about the particular living experience you have had among the "Americans", the list is simply focused on them. If you were in Russia the list would be particular to Russia but nonetheless inaccurate relative to the individuals you would meet and engage with in that country.

The common theme is get out there and live long enough with someone and ... you not only may get to know them but you just might learn a few things about yourself! *lol*

Have a great day, eh.

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