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The basics
Study abroad : Once you arrive

5 misconceptions about Americans

A list of five of the most common American stereotypes held by residents of other countries

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We have all heard of the “ugly American.” Heck, we might even know one (or ten) of them! But, chances are, you yourself do not fit into this category. However, some people in other countries view Americans through a lens of negative stereotypes, and you should know what they are before you go abroad. Here is a list of five of the most common misconceptions about Americans, along with reasons why they are not necessarily true.


1. Americans know absolutely nothing about the rest of the world


Most people in other countries, in Europe especially, assume that the farthest that the average American has traveled is down the street to the local burger joint. They see Americans as unrefined, and as people who are not well-traveled or well-versed in geography or foreign culture. Many think that we do not know all of the states in our own country, let alone the capitals of others. They think that we are content to be in a state of blissful naïveté, and that the only time we learn any news from abroad is when a catastrophe happens.


This, though, is simply not true. Many Americans are very well-traveled, and even if they are not, they are very interested in other countries’ history and culture. Each year, close to 300,000 students travel abroad to study, and bring back knowledge and experiences that they share with others, making their community even more cultured. Countless students major in international studies or languages in college, and most Americans are at least relatively concerned with international affairs. America is an amalgamation of many different cultures… so why wouldn’t we be interested in other countries?


4. Everyone in America carries a gun


With all of the media coverage about the Second Amendment and the debate over gun control, it is easy to see why someone on the outside of the situation would assume that Americans are overly interested in firearms. It is true that there are many people who are very interested in them, and there are many people who have permits to carry concealed weapons. But, according to several news articles, “the number of people who say they have a gun in their home is at an all time low.”


So, if someone assumes you are carrying a gun to class while you’re studying abroad, tell them to check the statistics. Or, if you’re feeling feisty, tell them that the airline wouldn’t let you bring your gun on the plane so you had to leave it at home.


3. Americans don’t try to learn other languages


Everyone has seen (on television or in real life) the guy who tries to communicate with foreign people by just shouting at them in English instead of trying to speak to them in their own language. He seems to think that speaking loudly somehow makes his incomprehensible words more comprehensible to non-English speakers. He is wrong, of course. But so is everyone who thinks that he is a good representation of American behavior and linguistic interest.


In school, most American students are required to take at least two years of a foreign language, such as Spanish or French. However, a large number of students go on to take at least three or four more years of a language—in some cases more than one. Foreign Language is an extremely popular major in college, and many students become fluent in at least one foreign language before they graduate. And even if they don’t, this does not mean that they are not willing to try to learn another language, especially while they are abroad. No one assumes that everyone in a foreign country would suddenly change their native language to English just to accommodate them. That would be stupido.


4. Americans are lazy

You have seen the news reports about obesity and the general lack of interest in physical activity in America. Guess what? People in other countries have seen them too. In fact, since that is one of the media’s main focuses at the moment, that might be one of the only portrayals of Americans they see abroad—and it is not accurate.


It is true that obesity is a real issue, but it is also true that an extraordinarily high number of Americans go to the gym at least three times a week, or walk or jog for miles every morning. Sure, we enjoy our couch time as much as anyone else, but many Americans still find it very important to stay fit. And even the ones who don’t would not be opposed to walking long distances to take in the sights while abroad (as opposed to the stereotype).


5. Americans are rude and/or arrogant


A lot of people (foreign or otherwise) are certain that all the average American is interested in is him- or herself. They think that all Americans want to promote, not just themselves, but America, and rub its awesomeness in the face of everyone else. They say that Americans think that other countries should be jealous of America, and should try to be like them. And they are not shy about saying so.


It’s true, America is pretty awesome. But that doesn’t mean that we all go around boasting about it all the time. And we are not all rude or crude or unrefined, especially if we are in a new place. In most cases, Americans (just like everyone else), try to be polite and kind when interacting with people in unfamiliar places, and try to learn new things from the people they meet. It is not in our best interest to imply that America is somehow better than any other country, and it is not true anyway.


So, just because a stereotype exists does not mean it is true. And just because someone might assume one of these things about you does not mean that you have to be upset. Just laugh it off—maybe you’ll change their minds and create a whole new stereotype. The “Amazing American,” perhaps? Why not try it out by looking at the study abroad options available to you.

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