So you’re thinking of a holiday in the USA? You may be surprised to find how socially different the USA is from your home country. Given our size and multicultural population, we have a diverse mix of ideals which can sometimes be confusing for foreign visitors. Despite the cultural norms if you understand the basic mentality of Americans you’ll be just fine. Here are a few things you need to know about Americans before visiting the USA.
Americans Love America
OHHHHH YEAH we do. And proud of it. Let me rephrase that. Historically speaking, America has achieved quite a bit globally. Regardless of how you spin it, the U.S.A is the only superpower left in the world. With the ability to project power and influence globally, the U.S. has maintained this position since the end of the Cold War. Let’s call this the Jock syndrome. The idea we can do anything we want through intimidation. With great power comes great responsibility, but we all know that’s not always the case in politics.
The largest entertainment exports in the world come from the U.S. From Baywatch and The Avengers too Michael Jackson and Lebron. Everyone around the world consumes American media and fast food. Globalization at its worse/best. Fact is, people across the globe like to have fun with us. Let’s call this the Dumb Blond Syndrome. The idea we’re fun to play with but not very bright.
These two syndromes alone can breed a sense of superiority and entitlement, as is clear with the actual Jock and Dumb Blond. The stereotypes are constantly reinforced by media representation and to a certain extent, the countries that tuck tail and bend to American will. Now I’m not trying to excuse the arrogance. But trying to explain it. When someone constantly tells you you’re beautiful, shows you’re beautiful, and treats you like you’re beautiful that’s what you’ll come to believe. You have to remember, the U.S. is the most desired place in the world to immigrate to (165 million according to Gallup Poll with Canada second at 45 million). The U.S. has done some great things globally (and some pretty shit things) contrary to popular belief. I don’t need to list those things but we surely aren’t in a position to be down on ourselves too much. With that said, we need to tone down the superiority rhetoric.
Times are changing and the world is becoming more connected. Many Americans are starting to see that. I don’t believe in this superiority complex some American’s have. We have our flaws like everyone else. But I would warn that we definitely aren’t the only country with this issue. This used to be the same argument against the Brits, and any other power, during their peak of global power. When visiting the U.S. its best to avoid this “conversation” all together with people you don’t know. Furthermore, it’s just bad form to criticize a country while you’re a guest (and yes, you’re a guest. you have no “right” to visit other countries.). This ALSO goes for you American’s abroad.
The Dark Ages of Sexuality
Sexuality has been repressed and stigmatized in the U.S. since our founding. Although this has been the case in many other religious based countries (Chile and Egypt come to mind) the U.S. has carved out a niche as the most prudish country in the world for me. It still boggles my mind that the home of the world’s largest and most profitable porn industry also has some of the most ridiculous sex education practices. It’s the side effects of this ridiculously narrow view that annoy me and visitors will notice.
Gay rights- I was in Barcelona for my first Gay Pride Parade when it was announced that Gay Marriage was legalized in the US. Couldn’t be happier. But the battle isn’t won. You see, the reason gay marriage wasn’t legalized sooner (or illegal in the first place) is because of ignorant religious nuts that force their own sexual perception on others. What two people do in the privacy of their bedroom is their business. Many Americans feel it’s their “right” to dictate what happens in that bedroom (or relationship in general regarding marriage). This has led to the marginalization of an entire community of amazing people that fully contribute to society not being treated fairly by the U.S. government. It’s a shame and stain on the American identity on par with racism. But like racism, homophobia may not be legal but it’s still prevalent. If you come to the U.S. and are openly gay don’t worry about being attacked or blatantly discriminated against. You may get strange looks in some parts of the country but you’re largely fine. But times are changing for the better.
Women’s equality- Now I’m no feminist (in the traditional extreme connotation). Like extreme right wingers, extreme feminist annoy me to no end. BUT I do firmly believe in equality and women have been systemically oppressed in the U.S. both legally and socially. Legally, it’s vastly changing but socially not so much. The lack of sexual education has led to men turning to alternative sources for guidance on how to treat women. Media, porn, and my best friends brother help to fill that void for many young men. Not the best sources to say the least. Battle of the Sexes has been a long standing “debate” with women being perceived as the weaker sex. Men (and women for that matter) not understanding the basic physiological make up of women. And vast waves of male politicians deciding what’s best for female populations. As a visitor to the U.S. these things may not affect you but they do affect women globally as the U.S. exports these “ideals” with our media and globalization tactics. The U.S. isn’t the most openly misogynistic country in the world (that distinction can go to a few South American countries) but you’ll get the cat calls I assure you.
A person’s sexuality is to be understood and embraced. Not marginalized and feared. Many countries such as Switzerland, Germany, Brazil, and Spain have far more liberal stances on sexuality and have superior records on the issues above. As a visitor to the U.S. you may feel that we aren’t as open and affectionate as South America and Europe. This is true. But that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy sex. Quite the contrary. Ask most of our “upstanding” politicians and their mistresses.
What You Say About My Momma?!?!?!
American’s are largely sensitive people. From criticism about looks to education, we tend to bitch and moan about mostly everything. Someone is always offended. Although I hate this aspect of our national psyche, let me explain why it exist.
The U.S. has a history of racism, sexism, and marginalization of minority groups. From women to the handicap, the U.S. has always been a nation of the voiceless. Things are changing thanks to the internet and with this change comes some growing pains. Hypersensitivity is one of them. People are more conscious and aware. The civil rights movement was barely forty five years ago (officially) with legislation regarding equality still being debated today. Offense is largely perceptive based in the U.S. Personally I like blunt honesty. Many people don’t so be aware.
It drives me up the wall when people complain about being offended by a comedians joke or a certain commercial……..well so? This has led to something I like to call American Offense Entitlement. Where people believe their opinion/them being offended should change the behavior of others. Please don’t feed this disease but be aware of it. If you’re an open and honest person continue to be that way. Many American’s don’t hear blunt honesty but need to. This isn’t unique to Americans but if you come from Europe or South America you’ll notice this very quickly.
This bleeds into the extreme positivity we have in the U.S. We like to pretend everything is happy and good even when it’s not. Smile and push forward. I’m not sure if this is a good or a bad thing yet. Still trying to decide.
TIP: I’m sure you’re smart enough to know that 315 million people likely won’t agree on everything. Asking one American what he thinks about abortion, gun control, Obama, or a slew of other things doesn’t even come close to national consensus. Because someone doesn’t like Obama doesn’t mean they are a racist. Because they don’t like Bush doesn’t mean they are a tree hugging hippie. Take all opinions (including mine) with a grain of salt.
What Other Countries?
We are willfully ignorant (because the information is there if you look) and sheltered from the world. The level of censorship in the U.S. is deplorable and education is worse. Our media system has created a nice cozy bubble where people are force fed scenes of American superiority. The only “negative” we see about ourselves are when it’s about the opposing political party. The negatives about the rest of the world include rape, famine, beheading’s, and political corruption. The media is quick to run a story about rape in India but not a story about Indian scientist discovering the youngest Supernova remnant.
Only 31% of us have passports and the only exposure many have is media OR the immigrants that have come to the U.S. This has led us to embrace many stereotypes as truth. Stereotypes of other cultures in the U.S. aren’t meant to be malicious. They are simply a result of isolation. Unlike Europe, Asia, and South America, we have very limited access to other cultures geographically. Canada and Mexico. That’s it. The only truly “different” culture we have in the states is Mexican and even they have largely assimilated into our culture which is why our second language is Spanish.
Be prepared for some questions about your country that may seem silly and ignorant. Please correct these on the spot if you hear them or are asked. The person engaging you likely means no harm and is simply unaware of their ignorance. This is a chance to bond and educate. People are really curious to know about you and where you’re from. If someone asks you if you’re Chinese but you are actually Korean, tell them. And tell them the differences because we largely don’t know.
TURN DOWN FOR WHAT?!?!?!
Americans are positive people in general. Simply because we don’t have anything to truly worry about here. No war on our soil, no true poverty, clean water, delicious food. We are happily placated. Anything we want we can have. Why wouldn’t we be happy all the time? That’s why many Americans are smiling. Because we are truly happy (or believe we are).
Also, smiling means you are approachable. I’ve heard this criticism of Americans by non-Americans, “Americans always smile and it seems fake”. This is brought up regarding retail and food service quite frequently.
I have no idea if you’ve ever gone to a bar or restaurant in NYC, Miami, or San Francisco but I assure you, everyone isn’t smiling. Why? Because in the U.S. a smile means I’m approachable and non-threatening. Why in the world would you want to be around people looking angry and unapproachable all day? It’s depressing as hell i.e. London. Positivity in the US is more of a social convention rather than an individual state of being. We don’t like being around negative people.
Get ready for how loud and energetic we are. We love a good party and will often start one where there isn’t one. Everything is over the top (both good and bad).Especially with alcohol involved. If you’re Italian, Australian, Chilean, Brazilian, Mexican, Colombian, or Spanish you’ll feel right at home. High energy is the name of the game. Sometimes we can get out of control and go way overboard but that’s what you came to see right? lol
Americans appreciate Speed and Efficiency
I can’t describe how ANNOYING it is when I’m visiting another country and my friends are constantly late. Not 5 or 10 minutes. 45 minutes to an hour and they think it’s fine. In America it’s considered largely rude and disrespectful. Especially if you don’t call/email/text to inform the party you’re going to be late. It says my time isn’t valuable to you. Many of my friends have attributed this to American’s always hurrying. I can’t entirely disagree with that. I find that it largely says the importance of said relationship. If you’re late for work you’ll get fired. Why not be on time for something you decided to do? Moral of the story, in the U.S., be on time.
This is also in regards to restaurant service. Many friends have complained about constantly being “bothered” by wait staff. If American’s aren’t constantly waited on we tend to raise hell. In France food takes FOREVER to arrive for example. We spent hours in restaurants. I hated it. Let’s go, eat, and leave. Also keep in mind the U.S. has a ridiculous “tipping” system. Combine that with many employees not receiving the minimum wage salaries (which they are entitled to by law) and you have a recipe for overzealous service in the eyes of those not used to it. I can see the benefit of the much slower dining experience though. Just not really an American trait. We are the pioneers of fast food after all.
In the US you’ll be some great people but we do have our nut jobs. You may not experience anything I’ve written here which is part of the beauty. Coast to coast Americans love, hate, and live with each other. Largely harmoniously. You would be hard pressed to find a more welcoming people in the world. However, it’s important to be aware of cultural and social norms when visiting. This will not only allow you to experience the U.S. in its fullest but prevent situations that may reflect negatively on both your culture and ours. The USA is truly the worlds greatest travel destination.