Sticks and Stones: Countering the Stereotypes of Americans

Ah, yes, stereotyping Americans has become the pastime the world over. From politics to food consumption to consumerism to fashion, Americans have been pigeonholed by so much by bloggers that sometimes it’s painful and embarrassing to be an American and travel internationally.

I lived in Paris for 30 years, worked in the hospitality industry for over 10 years, and witnessed the common stereotypes of American vacationers in Europe. After immigrating to the USA, becoming a naturalized citizen, and traveling overseas as an American, I’ve become familiar with living these as well.

Of course, it’s easy to hop on the bandwagon, casting stereotypes left, right, and center, but not every citizen in the country falls under every category. Americans are as diverse as the land they live in, yet they share commonalities too.

american TourismLet’s, however, bring a breath of fresh air on the subject by providing insight into some of the stereotypes so many love to cast upon Americans.

We’re here, we’re loud, get used to it

This is probably the biggest stereotype known throughout the world, from Asia to Europe and even in the Americas themselves. Yes, okay, we’re loud. What’s the reason? One: America is a big country—the land of wide open spaces—and, thus, we have more personal space. We don’t sit or stand close to one another, and some walk at arm’s length from one another. It’s just a part of our culture, and Americans actually feel nervous when their personal space becomes less than what they’re comfortable with. As a result, there’s a natural rise of the voice so that the other person can hear you clearly from outside that circle of personal space. And when others nearby are doing the same, because we’re all accustomed to it, it’s going to be a little loud.

screamingA rise in our voices is also a way of showing excitement, letting those around us know that we like and appreciate what we’re experiencing at that moment. So, being loud isn’t meant as a form of disrespect, it’s a sign of enthusiasm.

Clothes and fanny packs do not make the man

Yes, there was a time when fanny packs (bum bags in the UK) were all the rage in the 80s and 90s. Some even went as far as bedazzling them with rhinestones to make a statement, whatever that happened to be. Let me be the first to say, however, that I loved me a fanny pack or two back in the day. They hold all your personal items safely while leaving your hands free. Although they still haven’t made a final exit, most people today are afraid to use them for vanity reasons. Yet, you have to admit that it’s a convenience to have when traveling.

fanny packssAs for footwear, Americans love to travel in comfortable and supportive shoes, despite the fact that some fashionistas will faint at the sight. Many don’t go on a trip for style, per se, they go sightseeing, which involves a lot of walking. If someone chooses ugly but comfortable shoes, then that’s just being smart, which is always cool.

Americans love dressing casually too. We even coined the phrase “casual Fridays” at the workplace. So, of course, this is going to carry over on vacation. Although some bloggers write as if all Americans board a plane in stained T-shirts and raggedy sweat pants, it’s not true. Americans can take casual wear to a new level sometimes, but to say we roll out of bed and put on whatever was laying on the bedroom floor is unfair. Dressing casually on vacation applies to many people, regardless of their passport.

With all due respect

One of the complaints we get as US tourists is the notion that we don’t respect cultures and habits in other lands. I haven’t heard of an American traveling overseas to undermine cultural events. Some uninformed tourists heading to countries without much knowledge, despite their place of origin, will experience culture shock and resist the local customs. Yet, these type of travelers are dwindling at a rapid pace, and for that matter rarely travel abroad. Everyone who travels takes a part of their own culture with them, because that’s human nature. It’s never meant to hurt or disrespect others.

Say cheese!

In general, Americans are obsessed with their teeth. Millions of dollars are invested every year on braces to straighten them and chemicals to whiten them. And if that’s not enough, we spend even more money putting veneers over them—perfect and white they enter the room before the person does. On the flip side, however, Americans wonder why people in other countries don’t care about their teeth like they do. Yet, various toothpastes and whitening substances can be found on many store shelves around the world. Last but not least, people will remember us for our smile, be it with nice-looking teeth or not. Which would you prefer?smiles

The language of love

Many say that Americans naturally expect people to speak English when traveling to a non-English-speaking country. Well, that’s true, but the same can also be said about other native-English speakers who travel overseas. However, it’s not in the way most presume. Most Americans only get one or two weeks off a year, and they’ll probably take a trip to a place like Paris once in their lifetime. Although saying “please,” “thank you,” “goodbye,” and other easy-to-learn words and phrases go a long way, few Americans are going to spend a year or two getting in-depth knowledge of a whole new language just for a week’s vacation to a place they’ll visit once.

Besides, English is an official language in many countries and certainly the lingua franca in most places of the world. If travelers from Europe spend their vacation in Asia, what language will they speak with the locals to get by? Most likely English.

I hate to eat and run, but…

eatingIt’s common to see Americans eating while they’re on the way to work in the morning or on a lunch break. I’m guilty of having done this several times. Again, it’s part of the culture. We’re busy people, much to our own fault, and we want to maximize our day. Hence, eating while on the go.

However, food is an integral part of our society, as it is in many others places around the world. All sorts of food options abound on street corners in any given city and small town, catering to the business woman on a thirty-minute lunch break, or the university student who has to grab a bite on the way to class—it’s a convenience for busy lives.

As for obesity, it’s a big issue in the US, as it is many countries, but there are Americans who do have healthy diets, regularly exercise, and count calories—just to give you some food for thought.

Let the water floweth

Serving Water is natural, Credit Nytimes.com

credit Nytimes.com

No restaurant in the US will charge its customers for a glass of tap water, or think twice about offering a re-fill. Why? Because it’s water. The average adult is 60-70% water, and we should drink at least one liter of it every day. Of course, Americans know they can buy a fancy bottle of it at a restaurant if they prefer it over what flows from the tap, but why do that when you can get it for free?

A tip of the hat

Americans tip for almost everything, as this is ingrained in our culture. We don’t see tips as part of the meal, we see it as part of the service and are aware that it’s a main factor of a waitstaff’s income. American servers work hard knowing that they’ll be rewarded with a good tip for a pleasant dining experience. Though we understand that this isn’t the norm in every country, it’s still a token of appreciation. So, instead of complaining about it, just put the money in your pocket and smile, delighting in the fact that someone enjoyed your service.

Now you’re talking!

talkingIt’s okay to talk to strangers, because we’re human beings with the ability to speak. As travelers, we look for connections, and to experience local life means talking to the locals. Who better else to ask for insider tips or directions? I’m an avid proponent of chatting with strangers and getting to know them. I’ve made great connections and even some friends along the way from doing so.

Being a good sport

More than 70% of Americans watch American football.  Do Americans particularly care about European soccer, er football? Not so much. Americans love American sports, and Europeans love European sports. Does the average European know the ins and outs of major league baseball? Probably not and is most likely not interested. Is that okay? Of course it is. However, there are sports that Americans and Europeans do share: basketball, ice hockey, tennis, and golf. Although men’s pro soccer doesn’t rank as popular as American football, Team America doesn’t do half bad in the World Cup and COPA America, and the women’s team has won three world cups. That’s something to appreciate.

Put your hands together

Americans love giving a round of applause, and why not? When your flight lands smoothly on the runway and not on water, then let the pilot and co-pilot know you appreciate arriving safe and sound at your destination. Plus, who wouldn’t like to hear an applause every now and then? Life is short, so be cheerful, and enjoy it.

The naked truth

liar-jim-carrel, credit dailywire.com

In the US, bare breasts, or nudity for that matter, mean ‘sex.’ When we see naked breasts, which is a perfectly natural part of the body, many stop, stare, or look away from being uncomfortable at the sight. Again, it’s a cultural thing. If you don’t grow up with seeing topless women on the beach, then it comes as a shock at first sight. However, there are many Americans who have no issues baring their skin to the wind and spending their vacations at nudist camps and beaches au naturel.

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Good insights, Mark. I have a couple of other thoughts to add.

    Americans are in the habit of smiling at people, whether in a store or on the street. They consider it to be a sign of friendliness and good will. In places like Russia however, you won’t be greeted with a smile because smiling people are considered to be simple-minded.

    Americans are also very conscious of hygiene and body odors. Unlike Europeans, they will bathe or shower every day even if they don’t think they need it, merely out of consideration for others’ sensibilities. Same with mouthwash and deodorant.

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