Photo: Supavadee Butradee/Shutterstock

12 Things People Abroad Would Be Shocked to Learn About the US

United States
by Matt Hershberger Mar 18, 2015

LIKE WITH EVERY COUNTRY, PEOPLE tend to have misconceptions about the United States. Whether it’s because of the country’s political history or because of its portrayal in movies and the media, people abroad may not have that strong of a grasp on what it’s really like here. Antonin Januska, a user of the “Ask me anything” website Quora, put the question to the rest of the site: “What are some things the outside world would be shocked to learn about the United States?”

Here’s some of what he got in response.

We’re really diverse.

Michael Liberty pointed out that, “As of 2011, the majority of children born in the United States are not white (non-hispanic).”

Yeah, we love our oil, but…

Michael Liberty: “The US is actually a net exporter of petroleum products.”

Yes, we have a lot of guns, but they tend to belong to a minority of us.

An anonymous user wrote, “Somewhere between 35%-45% of American households own one or more guns, perhaps a lot less than some people think.”

At the same time, Michael Liberty pointed out that, “The combined deer hunters of Wisconsin, Michigan, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania alone would comprise the largest military in the world.”

It’s a really big country.

JD Davidson says:

Most people don’t understand just how large the United States is. There are 2,732 miles (straight line) from Seattle and Miami and those are two major cities, not the backcountry. You could travel the same distance from Paris and end up in Bamako, the capital of Mali, an entirely different continent and culture.

Yes, we’re pretty religious, but it isn’t just the religions you think.

We’re not just Puritans: Jim Ryan mentions that “America has between 500 and 600 Buddhist meditation centers.”

On top of this, an anonymous user pointed out, “In addition to Mormonism (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), several other religions have been founded in the United States, including the Church of Scientology, Church of Christ, Scientist and Unitarian Univeralism.”

We waste an obscene amount of food.

JD Davidson mentions that “Americans… waste up to 40% of their food.” Anne Comfort says, “We throw in the garbage each year the amount of food that would feed the world twice over.”

…But we like good food more than our reputation would suggest.

Matthew Kane breaks a huge misconception:

When I travel oversees the biggest misconception I find about American culture is that people think all Americans eat at Mcdonalds every day and Mcdonalds is the extent of American cuisine…

Most of us only eat at Mcdonalds for one of three reasons (excluding those who love a good Big Mac..I am not hating on Mcdonalds):

1. We are 10 years old and want a chicken mcnugget happy meal and to play in the balls at the playland
2. We are at a rest stop on the turnpike and are starving
3. We have 5 bucks in our pocket and want something fast with tons of calories to get us through the day

The South is made up of (at least) two very distinct regions.

Burke Miller writes:

People from the US Southeast are NOT cowboys.

It’s funny how many times I’ve heard this. It’s probably just a geographical misconception. Maybe thinking that the South is homogenous?

Anyway, the South is split roughly into two halves the Southwest and the Southeast (once you hit Texas you’re more or less in the Southwest).
We may be a lot of things in the Southeast, but cowboys are more of a southwestern US folk.

We drive a lot.

JD Davidson breaks it down:

With poor public transportation (and by that I mean practically non-existent) and all this wide open space, driving long distances is nothing to Americans. 2 hours? The max for a drive to work. 6 hours? Average to drive to see family for holidays. 8 hours by car? Acceptable to go to the beach.

The “American Dream” isn’t quite roofs thatched with gold.

This is probably a dying misconception, but our past wealth has made many think that we’re all living large. Fajrian Yunus, a tourist visiting the U.S. for the first time, said:

It’s not difficult to find sign of poverty in USA. Walk around during midnight, you will see homeless people sleeping in public place (park, sidewalk, train, etc). What is the most shocking to me is that, at that time I walked around Washington DC during midnight, and I saw a group of homeless people sleeping in a park and nearby sidewalk, within walking distance from the White House and US Capitol.

At the same time, Michael Liberty points out, “The average income of the poorest 5% in the US is higher than the income of 68% of the world.”

Our language has its quirks.

Anne Comfort points out something that I, an American, had never thought of before:

“Hey man” can be said to a woman or a man.”


The best answer came from user Phil Darnowsky, who wrote:

Let me make a bold, blanket statement that may shock a number of people from the outside world: if you aren’t an American, and you haven’t spent a substantial amount of time here (on the order of ten years, say), your mental picture of the USA is dead wrong…

It is a freaking huge country with a vast and heterogeneous population… Is America the skyscrapers of New York City? Is it the endless sprawl of suburbia outside Chicago? Is it the Iowa cornfields? The ruins of Detroit and the farms that are spring up amongst them? is it Silicon Valley? Or maybe Hollywood? The small cities of the Pennsylvania coal district that are hurting but refuse to die? Route 50 through Nevada where you can drive for an hour and never see another car?

The answer is yes. All of these things and more. Come see for yourself.

Read more of the answers at the question’s page Quora. 

Discover Matador

Save Bookmark

We use cookies for analytics tracking and advertising from our partners.

For more information read our privacy policy.