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Common cultural misconceptions about the USA

Our guide to cultural misconceptions, differences and myths about the USA

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A global business and cultural powerhouse, America is a key international hub for visitors, professionals and students alike. The USA has not only been hugely influential of global pop culture, but continues to significantly impact international trends of economic growth and technological innovation. Unfortunately, the nation is also subject a number of damaging stereotypes. We’ve laid out some of the key, and perhaps most distasteful misconceptions about US culture and ways of life to help set things straight.



One of the most commonly held views of America is that its people are ignorant, and lack the capacity to perceive a world outside US bounds. This isn’t helped when news clips from ultra-conservative news anchormen go viral on YouTube. Unfortunately, there are a number of statistics and facts that support this idea: for example, an alarming 11% of Americans could not identify America on a world map in a survey by America’s National Geographic Society!

What many fail to gauge is the sheer size of America—not just in geographical distance, but in cultural spaces between states. There are over 310 million people in the US, and cultural attitudes and awareness differs hugely from one side of the country to the other. Most US citizens don’t even have a passport and don’t leave their own state in their lifetime. Therefore, it is understandable why some cross-sections of Americans aren’t so well-versed in what happens outside of their state or country, even with the internet a click away. America is also geographically isolated from most of the world, making it easy for others to imagine that its people’s mentality is just as removed from ‘everyone else’ and operate in a kind of cultural sceptic tank.


Everyone is obese

Again, this misconception is sadly supported by a body of statistics. It’s true that there are over 160,000 fast-food restaurants in the States, and true that the nation consumes more fast food than any other worldwide. Whilst America indeed held the title of the world’s fattest nation in the past, it now belongs to Mexico, with a cool 32.8% of its population considered obese. Sun-kissed nations Australia and New Zealand have now grown to become two of the fattest countries in the developed world, whilst the number of obese people in France has doubled in the past 15 years.

So, why is it Americans then that are still teased for being fat? America is the birthplace of many global fast food chains such as McDonalds and Burger King. The bright, iconic logos of these brands are recognizable in cultures all over the world, and with the knowledge that they are American, many just assume the food served there must be ‘American food is like.’ But America is an incredibly vast space with many different regional specialties, local types of produce and unique cuisine readily discoverable for those who care to look.



Anyone who has had a meal in America will be well aware of the infamous American tipping culture. Tipping is not technically mandatory in all service environments but is expected: in fact, if you fail to leave a tip, it’s not unusual for a staff member to come out and ask you if there’s something wrong. Some establishments even include the service charge within the final bill itself. It’s also common practice to tip staff such as luggage porters or taxi drivers. For the most part, a tip should be about 15-20% of the final bill.

It’s easy to understand how this additional expense is vexing to many: ‘they want me to pay them how much extra, to do their job?’ The minimum wage of wait staff in America is US$ 7.25 per hour, and so tips are considered as part of the wage of wait staff in America. It’s understood nation-wide that staff are not being greedy or self-important; their means of income are just divided over two sources instead of one.


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