Most Brits have this image of what they think is a typical American: a flag-waving patriot with a burger in one hand and a gun in the other. It’s not far off to say that Homer Simpson and Stan Smith are our stereotypes of the ‘typical American.’
Here’s one British expat’s perspective on the reality of America, in comparison to the common stereotypes:
All Americans love McDonald’s.
Reality: We Brits mostly think of America as fast-food-centric. It’s true that chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s line most streets, but I’ve found American cuisine to be some of the most diverse and delicious around. From glammed-up gourmet burgers, to Mexican, Cuban, Lebanese, Thai, and many more, America offers wonderful foods from all over the globe.
That’s not even to mention the diversity of traditional ‘American’ foods, which differ in each and every state. From gumbo and jambalaya in the South, to seafood and chowder in the North, and many other specialties in between, American cuisine goes far beyond McDonald’s. Besides, doesn’t England have a McDonald’s on every corner too?
Those lazy Americans drive EVERYWHERE.
Reality: The image of Americans in their huge 4-wheel-drives powering down expansive highways is pretty accurate. Driving is considered a necessity in America, and people don’t like to walk far for anything. I’ve even had people apologize to me for parking in a spot that isn’t directly next to a store, because they thought walking 200 metres might upset me.
But the reality is a bit more complex than the stereotypes of Americans being too lazy to walk. Compared to the UK, America is huge! More often than not, there’s no option to take public transport, and many towns aren’t set up to be pedestrian- or bike-friendly. Driving is pretty much a mandatory skill if you ever want to go anywhere in the US outside of a big city, and I guess that conditions many people to drive even when they can walk.
Far from being lazy, though, just like in the UK, many physical activities are hugely popular in the United States. People go to gyms, do yoga, jog, and play baseball, American football, and more.
Americans are all super patriotic.
Reality: One thing I know I expected before moving to America was a high level of patriotism, possibly to the extent that other countries weren’t on the radar for many. Americans seemed to take so much pride in being American, especially compared to British apathy towards the royal family and our prime minister. The media would also have us think that ignorance of other countries is rife in the US.
I wasn’t surprised to find that many people are proud of their country — and why not? But if I was expecting each and every person to think a map of the world held only one continent, I was mistaken. I’ve met many American who love to travel and admire many other nations. Most Americans, contrary to popular belief, aren’t blindly patriotic, but are well-rounded and knowledgeable about the rest of the world. I do know for a fact, though, that my husband’s high school made them salute the flag every morning. Now we certainly don’t do that in England!
Every American owns a gun.
Reality: As a Brit, gun ownership in America unsettles me. I’ve read about shootings in areas close to where I live, and most people I’ve asked have at least fired a gun even if they don’t own one.
Far from what most Brits think, though, not all Americans are pro-firearms. None of my friends own guns, and many support restrictions on gun ownership, though none think gun ownership should be banned as it is in the UK — which is definitely a big difference.
The general impression when I’ve asked seems to be that in smaller towns gun ownership is more common, but in cities, fewer people feel the need to keep a gun in the house.
New York and LA are the ONLY cities (the rest is Hicksville).
Reality: OK, nobody really thinks that America consists solely of high-powered New Yorkers, Hollywood stars, and laid-back country folk on their ranches, but TV and movies might have implied these stereotypes just a little. States other than New York and California tend to get sidelined in British media, and many people assume everywhere else is just backward and boring.
The reality is that there are lots of amazing cities, national parks, and great places to live and visit here in America. People are, in general, just regular people, and not that many identify with Carrie Bradshaw.
People are really friendly, talkative, and LOUD.
Reality: Aside from the image of New Yorkers as too busy to care, most Brits see Americans either as very relaxed, open, and friendly people, or as loud, grating, and rude. Maybe that plays off the English stereotype of the uptight, unfriendly Brit. Either way, I was expecting everyone to be much chattier in America than they are in England.
To some extent, the reality is just that for someone from the UK. Waitresses will chat to you, people will make remarks in queues, and talking to strangers is less of a taboo. Everyone is really friendly, at least compared to people in England.
But apart from service jobs, where it pays to be friendly if you want a good tip, I wouldn’t say people are any friendlier or ruder than Brits. Get chatting to most Americans or most Brits, and you won’t see the difference.