Open Forum - American Stereotypes

Part of the Open Forum series. 
Moderated by Simon N.
American culture is wildly popular overseas. A recent survey found that most foreigners learn about American culture through watching Hollywood movies. There is a huge downside to this however. People tend to stereotype Americans based on what they see in films. Case in point, I was once asked by an exchange student from Russia why I wasn’t wearing my cowboy boots and hat. I guess he got that impression from watching our old western movies. What stereotypes of Americans (or of your region) have you encountered? 

Tennessee, U.S.

Whenever I tell people I’m from Tennessee, I am getting a response like this: “Were you born there? You read so well!” It’s like everyone expects us to only have three teeth, own only one shoe, and keep opossums on leashes.


The allusion to cowboy hats actually puts the matter in a lighter tone. The influence of Hollywood is much more serious. In India, for instance, almost everybody is under the impression that white people (Americans specially) were born to screw around. Try telling them that white people are as human as we are & their moral standards are stricter than those shown in American Pie, and you will come across lots of bewildered faces.

New York, U.S.

When working at Disney one day, I was stunned to hear two international representatives mention that they were expecting all Americans to be similar to people featured so garishly on the talk shows. I wanted to cry.

Colorado, U.S.

I can understand how the Hollywood stereotypes prevail outside the U.S. The reverse is also true. Most of us are probably not wealthy enough to spend a lot of time abroad, so without a lot of digging on the Internet, we’re left with the TV and movie depictions. Russia= solid snow crossed via horse-drawn sleighs (unless you’re in a submarine with Tom Clancy). England= tea-sipping stiff-upper-lip types attending parades outside Buckingham Palace. Australia= nothing but kangaroos. Nepal= a population employed entirely as sherpas for Mount Everest expeditions. Antarctica= a few crazy scientists and a lot of penguins.

When I lived in the northeastern U.S. 30-40 years ago, a lot of people seriously thought that I, being from Oklahoma, had an oil well in my backyard and Indians in teepees just over the hill. They were surprised I wasn’t wearing cowboy boots. They also thought that tornados were as common as birds in the sky. (In my entire 50+ years in Oklahoma, I saw only one tiny little funnel.)

Chicago, U.S.

I’m from Chicago and when I’ve traveled internationally, people know Chicago for one of two things–either Al Capone or the Chicago Bulls. I guess my fair city could be remembered for lots worse, though.

California, U.S.

I especially worry about the violence we seed the world with in the content of our violence filled ‘Rambo’ genre movies. Impressionable and naive people around the world think we go about with bullets strapped around our bodies and use a machine gun to settle the score. What is worse, some emulate what they see, absorbing it into their own culture. This is one of the reasons I do not watch movies anymore. I do not want to support that industry in any manner.


The stereotypes about Swedes is that we are promiscuous (at least the women) and suicidal. But statistics show that suicide is more common in Eastern Europe, as are STDs in the Mediterranean countries.


What, no cowboys walkin’ “n” shootin’ down town? And Melrose Place is not true? Does this mean that Desperate Housewives is not based on facts? Sometimes people from America ask me if we Australians have a pet kangaroo! And trust me – there ain't no Crocodile Dundee within a cooee from me.


So Americans are not the war mongers and greedy carpetbaggers depicted in foreign press?

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