The United States often draws a lot of flak from the rest of the world for everything from its foreign policy to the way it runs its domestic affairs. In fact, it seems like there are few things that can divide the world more evenly and more strongly than asking people what their opinion is of the United States. It seems like there is no middle ground. Everyone has an opinion. Even in the same city, you’ll meet people who fall on the extreme sides of the spectrum.
Typically, it goes something like this – either they will respond with, “America is messed up. I would never go there, not even to visit.” Or, they will respond with something along the lines of, “I love America. Its government can do some whacky things, but the people are great, and it’s a beautiful country!”
Take your pick. It’s one or the other. But, what exactly is it that causes America to be so “messed up?” Even America’s own politicians can’t seem to stop talking about how messed up things are. Well, today we’re going to take a deeper look. Are things really as bad as everyone seems to think they are? These are 25 common misconceptions about the United States that simply aren’t true!
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Americans are ignorant about the world.
We complain that Americans don’t even know that Czechoslovakia doesn’t exist anymore. But neither does half of the United Kingdom…and they’re on the same continent! It turns out that all of us are pretty bad at geography.
America spies on everybody.
America is racist.
When cops shoot black people in most of our own countries, it won’t even make the back page. Once you’ve traveled around Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and South America, then we can decide who is the most racist.
Americans don’t use public transport.
America does/has/is *fill in the blank*
America is far from being a unified entity. Each state has its own laws, cultures, and quirks. Some states have the death penalty, some don’t. Some have strict gun laws, some don’t. Some have free college, some don’t. Some have tax, some don’t. So just like you can’t say that Europe is so-and-so, you can’t say the same about the US.
Note: States are far more independent than many of us realize. In fact, every state even has its own military (known as the Guard). Furthermore, some states pass legislation that directly contradicts the federal government. This is because in the US, the federal government is not the highest authority…the states are.
Here in Europe, our central governments were formed by limiting the highest powers (usually monarchies), while in the US the federal government was formed out of nothing. The states decided to give it very limited power, and anything that wasn’t explicitly specified in the constitution was left to the states. In Europe, those sorts of things would typically fall into the domain of the central government.
Americans only speak 1 language.
America’s military does *fill in the blank*
Nobody is naive enough to think that the US doesn’t have selfish interests in mind when it invades a country. There isn’t a nation on Earth that would do that selflessly.
But whenever some bad ish goes down, why do we always complain that America should do something? Maybe us Europeans should start taking responsibility for our own military defense.
Translation – For those of us living in Canada, Europe, or Australia, America is our military. Rather than bashing it, why don’t we get our own?
Americans are fat.
America is worse than other developed nations in so-and-so
There are many statistics (child mortality, literacy, etc) where the US falls behind countries like Norway and Iceland. But those statistics are based on averages. In Norway, most of the 5 million inhabitants are rich, white, and Norwegian.
If you took a similar sample of rich, white, Americans in the US, you would find that the statistics are almost exactly the same. The fact is that the US is hugely diverse, and the “American experience” is completely different with and without money.
Translation – the problem isn’t healthcare or education. It’s economic inequality, almost exclusively.
America isn’t safe.
This is usually what we say until we actually go there. By this same logic Paris, Brussels, London, Madrid, and almost every other city in Europe is unsafe as well. Yes there are guns, but most of your American friends have never seen or heard a gun being fired. In fact, most of your Swiss friends are much more familiar with gunfire than the Amis.
Americans are overly patriotic.
Here’s an honest question – Have you ever met a Russian? The point is, Americans are definitely patriotic, but so are all of us.
Are you interested in busting some other misconceptions? Here are 25 Misconceptions Everyone Wants You To Believe.
When abroad, Americans only complain and boast about America.
To the surprise of most Europeans, this sentiment will surprise most Americans. Why? Because this is largely anecdotal. In America, Americans like to complain, just like the rest of us. Only a few of them ever even leave the country, so you are meeting an unrepresentative sample. But, in their defense, many times they are right. As a European this can hit hard in the pride spot, but maybe we could stand to smile a bit more…right? No? Ok fine…back to the apathetic-leave-me-alone face.
Statistics show that the US is lagging behind.
Similar to topics we have already discussed, there is another factor that we have to take into account – reporting. Every nation reports it’s own statistics. This means that making statistical comparisons between two developed nations (like the US and the UK) is an exercise in futility. The data is just too close and won’t reveal much except that the US counts people one way and the UK counts them another.
Americans are fake.
Here’s the thing – In Europe we’re almost proud of the fact that we’re really standoffish, but once you get to know us, we’re your friend for life. Well here’s a newsflash, once you get to know an American, they’ll also be your friend for life. The thing is though, they don’t use that as an excuse to be a jerk in the beginning.
Americans call it soccer.
Actually, a lot of the world calls it soccer. Even parts of Ireland still call it soccer. Wait, what do you mean, “still?” Well, we’re glad you asked. It was actually the British who coined the term “soccer.” The word soccer is an abbreviation of association (from assoc.) and first appeared in universities in the 1880’s (sometimes using the variant spelling “socker”). The word is sometimes credited to Charles Wreford Brown, an Oxford University student said to have been fond of shortened forms such as brekkers for breakfast and rugger for rugby football. Britain actually started using the word “football” in the late 20th century, possibly because people incorrectly saw it as an “americanism.”
Americans use air conditioning
To the Americans: Yes, people in Europe make fun of you for using air conditioning. (Why do they need it? Why don’t they just leave the window open?) But here’s why we’ll be joining you soon: during the 2003 European Heatwave, 70,000 people died. This was in large part due to the fact that European homes and buildings are not typically equipped with air conditioning. While we laugh at the Americans for this, hotter summers are going to force us to take appropriate measures. Especially since children and the elderly are very susceptible.
America accounts for 25% of the world’s carbon emissions.
It also accounts for 25% of the world’s economic activity. The truth is that several nations (including countries like Canada) have higher per capita emissions than the US.
Americans are ruining English.
Actually, both British English and American English have diverged from a common 16th century ancestral standard, and in some ways, American English is closer to the original than British English. For example, American English has for the most part retained the language’s rhoticity (pronunciation of the “r” in words like “hard”) while British English has for the most part dropped it. Furthermore, this shift in British English happened around the time of the American Revolution when wealthier Londoners wanted to distinguish themselves from the lower classes. This is only one example, but it goes to show that British English is not an unchanging standard anymore than American English.
American’s all live in suburbs.
Nope, not true. The fact is that in America, you have plenty of people that live in cities like New York, Washington DC, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and the list goes on. In fact, several regions of the United States are very “European,” like the Northeast Corridor for example. The difference between the US and Europe is that if you want to live in the suburbs in the US, you can. But you don’t have to.
Americans are dumb rednecks.
While there are certainly Americans who fit this stereotype, the vast majority don’t. Most Americans live in cities near the coasts. Most of them are educated, and most of them are not very different from Europeans in any significant way. Every country has a less-educated populace that they themselves make fun of, even “sophisticated” nations like Sweden and Switzerland.
America is imperialistic.
Dear Americans, In many parts of Europe, the United States is seen as an aggressive imperial power (even more so than Russia or China). This is largely because of your military presence both in Europe and elsewhere.
Dear Europeans, Americans never forced us to watch their movies, quarter their soldiers, obey their laws, or get permission to leave our own countries. It was the Russians that did that (and much more). Food for thought: after WWII, the Americans liberated and left. The Russians “liberated” and stayed.
Americans all walk around with guns.
Not true. Except for a few places, the only people you will ever see carrying guns in America are the police. In fact, you’ll see more people walking around with guns in Switzerland than you ever would in America.
Americans are all crazy Christian right wingers.
Yes, there are lots of Christians in America, and while some of them are crazy right wingers, most of them aren’t. In fact, if you ever get a chance to go and stay with one of those “crazy Christian families,” you’ll see that most of them are just genuinely sweet people that go to church on Sundays. And they’re definitely a lot friendlier and more welcoming than we are over here in Europe.
If you get injured and can’t pay for it you’ll just die in the street.
Yes, many people in Europe think this is what happens in America. As with most things that concern America, they are wrong. You cannot be denied emergency medical care in the United States. That would go against the Hippocratic Oath. The difference is that you get a bill in the mail a few months later. Of course, debt is another issue, but lets go into that right now…
Americans are all in debt.
Actually, European citizens carry more debt than Americans. The average household debt in the US (OECD) is 113% of the household’s income. In the UK, it is 156%. In Sweden, it’s 173%, and in Denmark, it’s a whopping 305%. In fact, as Europeans, both individually and collectively, we are in a much bigger financial hole than the United States.
Are you a movie-buff? Have you ever noticed how movies change our perception of the world? Check out 25 Misconceptions Hollywood Has Taught Us.