How do people view Americans?
Writer: Amanda Barr
In light of the summer Olympics, national pride is at a premium, but when I went to London for a four week summer study abroad program, all I could think about was trying not to appear to be a typical American- or whatever that was.
We cracked up at our orientation when Phillip, a program coordinator, said that Americans were ok in small groups, “but when there are a bunch of you together you get obnoxious.” Despite the humorous tone to that comment, I felt there was some truth in it and as I was getting ready to meet with a local family two train stops away from the residence hall I was staying at, I anxiously questioned everything from when I should show up at their doorstep, to my choice in shoes. I had no idea what their preconceived notions were about Americans and it was then that I decided to investigate, informally, how people perceive Americans and the United States in general. I became curious about the stereotypes that people have about us, and if they were accurate. In my quest for stereotypes, sometimes I just listened to people’s comments, other times, when I felt comfortable, I just asked how they viewed Americans, I being an exception, of course!
I didn’t have to wait too long for my first insight. At a bus stop near Oxford Street in London, my group and I were being peppered with questions about the U.S. by a loquacious Hungarian bus stop attendant who complimented me on my shoes. He asked if the United States was as materialistic as everyone made it out to be. Embarrassed and at a loss as to how to explain how vast the ideals were in our country, we settled on an answer that satisfied him. As a culture, yes, we are pretty materialistic, but as individuals our values were varied.
Later in the week, I went with my newfound German friend, Catherine, to see a German comedian who will remain unnamed. After jabbing at the United Kingdom for awhile, he went on to talk about his visit to America. He said that he “really enjoyed coming to America because Americans are very friendly”. He was, however, very concerned about the things that we sue companies for here. After a hilarious account of a woman who sued Walmart because she tripped over an unruly child that was rumored to be her own, he stated “Pretty soon they’re going to have to put a sign by the Grand Canyon that says ‘When the ground disappears, STOP F--- WALKING!’”.
At a potluck at that aforementioned local family’s home, we were all gathered around the table, and I decided to just ask them what they all thought about Americans. There was an overall fluster of reactions to this question — a cough, a giggle, a little arranging of napkins and sideways glances. It was quite comical, to be sure.
“I don’t know if you can answer that question…” Alice, started hesitantly. I encouraged them to just tell me what they thought of Americans in general. Camden, the family’s 10 year old son, stated without hesitancy, “They’re all kind of fat, aren’t they?” the table roared, but at his father’s warning glance he amended his answer, “well, most of them, anyway.” John, a retired man who is very knowledgeable about history of the United Kingdom said that one of his friends told him that “if you live in America long enough to wear out a pair of boots, you’ll never leave,” and apparently that’s true for Johns friend, because he still lives in Texas. Alice said that before she went to America, she thought it was country of “leisure and relaxation” but when they lived in Texas for a few months she saw neighborhoods that looked like developing countries. The conversation eventually slipped into politics, and I was left mulling over their comments.
On the last day of my Literature of London class, we had a class discussion about what we thought about different aspects of London. I stated my anxiety over the British security not having any kind of firearms, and my professor stated that the American’s second amendment, declaring our right to bear arms, “terrifies us Brits”. One of the students in the program who was initially from Darjeeling, India, but for the last four years has been living in Boston, expressed his frustrations at people’s disbelief when he tells them he is from the U.S. He wants to consider himself American, and he feels that Americans have been very helpful, “if it weren’t for some people, I wouldn’t still be here”, but he also said Americans can be very rude. We laughed and agreed that was true for most places.
In conclusion, we are to the few people I talked to, fat, friendly, obnoxious, materialistic gun bearers that can be quite rude sometimes. I guess our sue-happy culture falls under obnoxious and rude. At the end of my four week program, I was sad to leave, but at that point I didn’t really care how people viewed Americans; after eating baked beans and mushrooms for breakfast for four weeks, I was ready for a good old American breakfast with pancakes and eggs!
To learn more about study abroad opportunities at Leeward, visit www.leeward.hawaii.edu/studyabroad
Image — David Beckham attends First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" in London on July 27. Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images.