False Stereotypes You May Have Heard About Americans While Traveling Abroad

As someone who has traveled throughout Europe, the Middle East, the Caucasus, and the Caribbean, I have heard loads of stereotypes about North Americans that I would like to address as half truths, exaggerations, or just downright false.

We’re Not Bilingual

There’s a joke that goes something along the lines of, “What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual. What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call someone who can only speak one language? American.” 

The first time I heard this joke was in the city of Bethlehem, and I what I had failed to point out to my Arab host was that we were accompanied by many Americans who could speak Arabic.

There is this notion that Americans are not fluent in other languages. But the United States was, and still is, a nation of immigrants. Go on a walk in Los Angeles and I can guarantee if you listen closely you will hear Spanish, Vietnamese, Arabic, Farsi, Russian, Armenian, and Mandarin – and you will still be able to converse with these people in English. 

We Don’t Travel 

We don’t travel abroad, but we sure get out and see this big country of ours. Also, many outsiders do not understand how big the United States truly is. To put things in perspective: It took me 9 hours to travel from Lithuania to Finland last spring, which means that I was able to pass through four countries. If I took the same northern route in Southern California, I would end up in Central California. That’s one state alone, and it’s not even our biggest. Which leads me to bring up the next stereotype. 

We’re Ignorant About World Events

I vividly remember my professor at Queens University, Belfast say that he doesn’t blame Americans for “not knowing about events that go on in Europe because America is a great, big place. And don’t even get me started on California, which might as well be another planet.” There are two things I want to address about this. The first one is, he’s right. The United States is a huge country and we have a lot of things going on in our towns, cities, states, and country as a whole. Naturally, as with anyone, I am more concerned about what is happening in my home than abroad. But that is not to say that I am ignorant of world affairs. Social media continues to let U.S. citizens what is going on in the world, and I am starting to see more Americans posting and tweeting about it.

We All Sound like John Wayne 

There is no distinctive American accent. Someone from Louisiana is going to sound entirely different than someone from New York, and even residents of Northern California use lingo that is alien to Southern Californians. Yet every time I’ve heard someone impersonate an “American accent” to me I’ve felt like they were trying to sound like the late American actor John Wayne. We don’t all sound like cowboys, and we don’t all say “y’all.” If you’re trying to impersonate me, you’d have a higher chance of getting by using surfer slang (i.e. dude, gnarly, killer) than you would impersonating a loan cowboy or seasoned rancher. 

We’re Obnoxious

The obnoxious American traveler is one that I’ve heard about, read about, and seen portrayed in films. Here’s what I’ve discovered: all travelers, regardless of nationality, have the potential to be loud, obnoxious, or rude. I have met plenty of people from all over the world who have visited California, and if they are obnoxious I normally attribute it to their excitement of being in a new country, their age, how much alcohol they have consumed, or a combination of all three, but I do not attribute it to their culture. Additionally, I have met plenty of “locals” in my travels that have acted obnoxiously.

Unfortunately, even I am guilty of participating in some stereotypes about North Americans. But I hope this post provided more insight into the people, the landscape, and culture of the place that is called the United States of America.

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