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Misperceptions foreigners have about the US
Old 06-26-2012, 07:39 AM   #1
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Misperceptions foreigners have about the US

One of the really great things about early retirement is having time for the simple pleasures, such as browsing. There is so much to be found on the internet. For example

The United States of America: What facts about the United States do foreigners not believe until they come to America? - Quora

In the episode "True Urban Legends" of This American Life, Mary Wiltenburg asks refugees to share the rumors they'd heard about America but didn't think were true, only to discover on arrival that they were. Examples include homelessness and Christmas lights.

A few highlights

Quote:
Almost nobody has a passport and how so many people have never even been outside their own State
Quote:
All you can eat buffets. My relatives from India found the very concept unimaginable. How could anyone stay in business selling unlimited food?
Quote:
Food portion sizes.
Quote:
That kids are expected to leave house at 18 or so, and that in old age parents need to fend for themselves.
Quote:
I had a graduate school teacher who grew up in Tamil Nadu (South India). He was astonished to see the great public libraries (New York, Boston) with stacks open to everyone.
Quote:
Many Indians are very surprised to find out that there are large numbers of Americans who actually love their parents and siblings and wives and children and have normal, healthy relationships with them. Our media has them convinced that all Americans are very self-centered people who throw their kids out of their homes after high school, don't care for their parents, and divorce their spouses. And, I swear, it is literally true that many Indians do not believe that this is not true until they have been to the US and seen examples of good healthy family relationships themselves. I have had heated arguments with people who've never been to the US, but can give lectures on how screwed up family values in the US are.
Quote:
How big and wasteful everything is. Big cars driven by 1 person, big roads and no significant public transport, big portions of food, big shops like Wal-mart that promote wasteful consumerism, throwing away everything, water that is always heated rather than when required.
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Old 06-26-2012, 08:09 AM   #2
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So very true MichaelB. We travel a bit out of country and I have gotten to where I carry pics to show off because they just do not believe me when I tell them what it is really like in the U.S.

A few things that need to be added to your list - everyone in America has a job, a nice big car, a nice house, plenty of money for high tech living, free medical, free food even if they do not work, etc... I take pics of homeless, mole people, clunkers, shacks, etc.
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Old 06-26-2012, 08:11 AM   #3
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Our media has them convinced that all Americans are very self-centered people who throw their kids out of their homes after high school, don't care for their parents, and divorce their spouses.
People who don't consider the source of their information will usually get the facts wrong about nearly anything, IMO. I would be surprised if those who rely simply on the media instead of information directly from those who have been here, thought any differently. It is probably easier for people (inside or outside the country, whether foreign or not) to just diss the U.S. than to use critical thinking skills.

Still, luckily people abroad are not all alike IME.
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Old 06-26-2012, 09:04 AM   #4
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Interesting, though relative to most other countries aren't Americans often more self-centered, materialistic and wasteful? I can see how foreigners might have misperceptions if they've been exposed to our television, movies and other media forms. And I suspect our perceptions of foreigners and other cultures are as distorted if not more than ours of them...at least that seemed to be the case having had working relationships with many from other cultures over the years. I don't claim to know, but I lived in Europe for 4 years and have traveled much of Europe and Asia. We could both stand to learn more about one another maybe...
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Old 06-26-2012, 10:47 AM   #5
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They only see the pics in magazines, in movies, or when a relative visits and wants to show off. I explain it this way - Nobody takes pictures of the bad to show off - just the pretty to impress you...
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Old 06-26-2012, 10:56 AM   #6
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If I lived in India and watched Jerry Springer shows about Americans I just might have a distorted view also.


I agree with the following quote even though I live here.

Quote:
How big and wasteful everything is. Big cars driven by 1 person, big roads and no significant public transport, big portions of food, big shops like Wal-mart that promote wasteful consumerism, throwing away everything, water that is always heated rather than when required.
They have a real point regarding the self-centered Americans who don't help their parents and divorce all too often etc. There's way too much truth there.
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Old 06-26-2012, 11:16 AM   #7
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Umm... Pardon me, but I think the title of the thread is a bit misleading.

It says "Misconceptions foreigners have about the US".

Yet, the linked article is about facts about the US that these foreigners initially thought incredulous, but when they came here, found out that these were true.

Are we saying that what they now see with their own eyes are still not true? Yes, what one sees in clear daylight is never 100% fact, and what one does not see is often more important than the visible scenes. That is not the point of the linked article though.
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Old 06-26-2012, 11:17 AM   #8
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One of the things that I found out when living overseas that people did not believe was how easy it was to buy a gun...

I had to bring ads from the sports store before they would believe me that they could even advertise....


The people from the UK also could not believe that you could kill someone that broke into your house or car (at night I think) and not be charged with a crime... at the time there was a man who was on trial in the UK for killing people who had broken into his house and I believe were attacking him...
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Old 06-26-2012, 11:22 AM   #9
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Interesting points. It has been my experience (as a Canadian spending a fair bit of time in the US) that non Americans know a lot more about the US than Americans know about the rest of the world. I think that generally Americans travel less outside their country than Canadians, Europeans, or Australians. I know I know a lot more about the US than most of you know about Canada. This is not surprising given the role that the US plays in the world, but it does make you a little insular.
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Old 06-26-2012, 11:24 AM   #10
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How about this new misconception: "That kids are not expected to leave house at 26 or so, and that in old age parents need to fend for themselves."?
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Old 06-26-2012, 11:26 AM   #11
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Interesting points. It has been my experience (as a Canadian spending a fair bit of time in the US) that non Americans know a lot more about the US than Americans know about the rest of the world. I think that generally Americans travel less outside their country than Canadians, Europeans, or Australians. I know I know a lot more about the US than most of you know about Canada. This is not surprising given the role that the US plays in the world, but it does make you a little insular.
Americans know that only barbarians live outside the borders. And who wants to know what barbarians are up to.
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Old 06-26-2012, 11:42 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by Danmar View Post
Interesting points. It has been my experience (as a Canadian spending a fair bit of time in the US) that non Americans know a lot more about the US than Americans know about the rest of the world. I think that generally Americans travel less outside their country than Canadians, Europeans, or Australians. I know I know a lot more about the US than most of you know about Canada. This is not surprising given the role that the US plays in the world, but it does make you a little insular.
That's possible. OTOH, US folk may travel domestically a great deal more than residents of other countries, given the size and diversity of the US.

As for who know more about whom, my limited experience is well educated folk around the world know a great deal about many countries and cultures while less well educated know little about life beyond their own regions, regardless of where they live.
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Old 06-26-2012, 11:51 AM   #13
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Yes, foreigners know more about the US than Americans know about them. But perhaps these foreigners should not care so much, oui?

One afternoon while we were wandering in Sorrento streets, a store had a radio turned on loud. My Italian vocabulary does not extend much beyond the names of the culinary dishes, so of course I did not pay attention to what the newscaster was saying. But I could catch two words: "Dow Jones" and "NASDAQ".

In Venice, in our hotel lobby, an elderly Italian gentleman spent an hour or two watching CNBC on the TV.

Driving through Saanich Peninsula at a time during the last US presidential election, I saw a big sign - and I mean BIG - proclaiming support for one of the two candidates. I let you figure out which one (Too easy, eh?).

Several years ago, while walking through Quebec City streets, glancing at the headline of newspapers displayed on newsstands, I saw that the top story was about Schwarzenegger running for California governor post.

In Tel Aviv, the taxi driver wanted to know which presidential candidate I voted for.
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Old 06-26-2012, 12:34 PM   #14
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Some more stories...

In an Auckland hotel, the bar tender asked me what state of the US I was from. Upon hearing it, he said, "Oh, the Southwest, where it does not rain much, but when it does, it floods." I didn't think to ask if he was referring to the "100-year flood" we suffered a few years back.

In a seaside restaurant in Barcelona, a stray cat approached our table. In some places in Europe, animals wandering inside a restaurant are no big deals. Being cat lovers, we did not mind anyway. We were traveling with a friend of my wife. She was a US citizen, but German born, and spoke English with an accent. So do I, being also a naturalized US citizen. We conversed in English. Our friend also knew Castilian, but not Catalan, which the waiters used between themselves.

Back about the stray cat. One waiter told another waiter to chase the cat away, lest it bother the "Americans". How did they know we were living in the US?
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Old 06-26-2012, 12:47 PM   #15
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The people from the UK also could not believe that you could kill someone that broke into your house or car (at night I think) and not be charged with a crime... at the time there was a man who was on trial in the UK for killing people who had broken into his house and I believe were attacking him...
I think you're referring to to the Tony Martin case. The burglars were fleeing when shot. Never was the phrase "a plague on both their houses" more apposite.

More generally, I think that one needs to distinguish between things that people everywhere - even Canada, for example - don't believe about the US till they get there, and things which are more "stuff I didn't believe about the West until I got there". Several of the points in the OP are almost as true of the UK or Germany as they are of the US.
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Old 06-26-2012, 01:05 PM   #16
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Maybe we should all promise not to believe what movies and tv tell us--I won't believe everyone in Russia is in the Russian mob and everyone in India dances frenetically in dirty streets and everyone in England has a polished accent, and "foreigners" can stop believing the Kardashians are the epitome of American culture.
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Old 06-26-2012, 01:44 PM   #17
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Again, the article was about what the foreigners could not believe until they got to the US and saw that it was true!

It was not about misperceptions as much as what sounded incredulous turning out to be real.

Anyway, here's one more interesting story I have to tell.

My mom, when she was in her 50s, decided to take some time off work to spend a summer at a French university in Lille, enrolling in an intensive class to refresh her French (yes, she was a fan of Edith Piaf ). While she was there, a producer of a French movie came to the school to ask for some Americans to serve as extras.

My mother got picked, though she was of course a naturalized American and not native, and was happy to make a few bucks. Her role was very short, and was simply that of one in a crowd in an airport waiting to pick up relatives. Perhaps they wanted to stage an American scene without having to go to the US.

My mother asked the producer why he could not use French extras to pretend to be Americans. He said that "no, the Americans act and walk differently". I must note here that my mother was not obese. My mom laughed and said that she was not even a "genuine American". Perhaps we have been here long enough to become one.
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Old 06-26-2012, 02:00 PM   #18
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Again, the article was about what the foreigners could not believe until they got to the US and saw that it was true!

It was not about misperceptions as much as what sounded incredulous turning out to be real.
Wait, you want us to stay on topic?

The comments to the article (I only see the comments, not an article) actually do include some misperceptions that changed.
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Old 06-26-2012, 02:02 PM   #19
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I think you're referring to to the Tony Martin case. The burglars were fleeing when shot. Never was the phrase "a plague on both their houses" more apposite.

More generally, I think that one needs to distinguish between things that people everywhere - even Canada, for example - don't believe about the US till they get there, and things which are more "stuff I didn't believe about the West until I got there". Several of the points in the OP are almost as true of the UK or Germany as they are of the US.

Yes, I think that is the case... it is at the correct time.... interesting to read more about it... the news at the time seemed to support Tony...


Also interesting is that if he were in Texas I do not think he would have been charged with any crime.... see this link.... (we can move this to another thread if people want to discuss)...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Hor...ng_controversy
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Old 06-26-2012, 02:09 PM   #20
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People who don't consider the source of their information will usually get the facts wrong about nearly anything, IMO. I would be surprised if those who rely simply on the media instead of information directly from those who have been here, thought any differently.
Maybe I can learn everything I need to know about India by watching Bollywood films.

I'm pretty sure I can learn everything I need to know about Hong Kong by watching anything with Jackie Chan in it.

And, of course, who needs to go to Canada when you can just watch old Mackenzie Brothers clips?
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