So this is my first post on the Durham Students Abroad page, and I thought I’d mark the occasion by writing about something which I’m sure at lot of people think about when they think about America – STEREOTYPES!
Let’s face it, America is a country which seems to splashed its culture across the face of the rest of the world, and particularly Britain, with remarkable success. Everyone in Britain watches TV programs and films made in the US, and our charts are about 80% compromised of songs written and performed by American musicians. Given this widespread influence of the US on the rest of the world, it comes as no surprise that the rest of the world has quite a strong idea in its collective imagination about what Americans are like. I want to address this idea, from the point of view of Past Me – what did I think Americans would be like before I arrived in America, and was my vaguely constructed conception of the American anything like the truth?
[For a bit of background – I have now lived in Boston for the past 5 months, so whilst I am by no means an expert on the subject, I feel like I have enough experience now, and have met enough Americans, to present a relatively informed viewpoint on the subject]
So, without further ado, here is: The Stereotype VS The Reality!
STEREOTYPE 1 – AMERICANS ARE FAT AND UNHEALTHY
This is actually quite a funny one for me personally – we all have the image of the overweight American, fueled by McDonalds (and I’m talking about both the image and the American), and, whilst I knew that not all Americans are overweight, I did expect the Americans I met to eat more unhealthily and be more unfit than people from Britain. Imagine my surprise therefore when I discover that Boston College (where I am studying this year), is filled almost 99% entirely with ridiculously healthy people who exercise all the time. Seriously, it’s kind of ridiculous. To illustrate this point, I told one of my friends that I had gone to the gym three times in one week, and was concerned that I was spending too much time there. My friend responded, “Is it possible to spend to much time in the gym??” This really seems to be an adequate representation of the Boston College fitness mindset – their exercise regimes know no boundaries. It must importantly be added that this is definitely not the case for America as a wider country, but I think it is important to emphasise that sometimes our cultural stereotypes can be completely off – BC really is all about that gym and salad life.
STEREOTYPE 2 – AMERICANS DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE REST OF THE WORLD
So after a stereotype which turned out to be surprisingly unfounded, here’s one with a bit more basis in truth. I was waiting at a bus stop to go back to campus one day, and started talking to the girl sitting next to me. I mentioned the fact that I am from England, and said something about London, at which point she looked confused. When I asked why, she said, “Wait, I thought London was in France…?” This is definitely an extreme case, but yeah it’s true – Americans generally don’t know as much about the rest of the world. Whilst this is an easy thing to mock, I feel like the more I’ve spent time in America, the more I understand it. The way I see things is thus – if someone in England wants to go somewhere really sunny, they might go on holiday to Greece or Spain, and if we want to go skiiing or somewhere with a lot of snow, we’ll go to Austria or Switzerland. Due the spectacular blandness of the British environment, it is necessary for us to leave if we want to experience all these different things. However, for an American, every different possible climate and environment can be found with your country – you can go to California or Florida for a sunny holiday, Vermont for skiing and you’ve even got deserts lurking around somewhere at the bottom. There is no need for Americans to leave their country in such of cool and interesting stuff, in the same way that the English are compelled to do so. Sure, they might not have the fascinating depth of history that Europe does, but when you have guns and Chipotle that kind of thing pales in comparison.
STEREOTYPE 3 – THE ENGLISH ACCENT
Having just come back from a weekend-long trip in which I have been asked to say “Harry Potter” approximately 517 times, I feel like this is an issue close to my heart. We’ve all seen Love Actually, and when before I came over to America I was advised by everyone, including, weirdly, my barber, that “Americans love the English Accent!”. Having now living in America for 5 months, I can confirm that this is the case. Although I think I should perhaps clarify further, and describe the pros and cons of this interesting situation…
Pro: Everyone thinks your accent is cool, which makes it a lot easier to meet and talk to people in a strange and foreign land.
Con: Every single drunk person you meet will attempt their very best impression of a posh-cockney, with varying degrees of success.
Pro: The English accent actually makes you sound cleverer to Americans, which is really useful when answering questions in class.
Con: Your teachers may tell you that your answers to questions in class are “too fancy”, leading to much confusion about what you actually said in the first place.
Pro: American girls find the English accent attractive, exactly as Love Actually predicted.
Con: The request from said girls who you have just met to “just keep talking, just say anything” brings about its own unique challenges, despite these positives.
In conclusion, I’ve touched upon three elements of the American stereotype here and addressed them from my experiences. My overriding experience, which is actually very obvious if you think about it, is that America is a truly massive country with many different people who can’t really be categorised under the singular stereotype of “Americans”. The reason why I have loved being in this country so much, in the time that I’ve spent here, is because it really is so diverse, and because being an “American” can mean so many different things. I’ll hopefully talk more about this in my coming posts, but in the mean time I’d like to express my gratitude at getting the incredible opportunity to spend time in this country – it is an amazing place, even in the short time that I’ve spent here.
Thanks for reading, hopefully I didn’t bore you if you got this far!