Global sentiments towards American citizens are often reflections of how certain countries judge the U.S. government and its foreign policy. Having lived in Europe for nearly a year now, I’ve taken notice of ubiquitous American stereotypes:
America = Land of the Ignorant
The notion that Americans are ignorant is pervasive in most countries. While this is true, we’re not completely oblivious. Americans can be quite aware of global news and occurrences. We tend to keep current with events and take interest in oversea affairs. Most American households are faithful to a certain newsgroup, be it CNN, Fox, or MSNBC. However, when it comes to our geography skills we’re far from the top of the list, self-admittedly so. This, in some ways, is due to a lack of enthusiasm for geography, and also a product of our own isolated location (also our educational system, which is another matter entirely). Whenever we study a U.S. map, we always view the majority of the Americas, giving us greater familiarity with Central and South America. The same principle applies in Europe, Asia, and anywhere else. Excuses aside, Americans are not the most geographically inclined people.
In addition to our global ignorance, we have now fallen behind the rest of the world in literacy and basic math proficiency. Recently, the Program for International Assessment of Adult Competencies conducted a study involving 166,000 American teens and adults. The study reads:
Respondents were tested in basic reading and math as well as “activities such as calculating mileage reimbursement due to a salesman, sorting email and comparing food expiration dates on grocery store tags,” according to The Associated Press. (npr.org)
In each of the main areas, adults in more than a dozen countries, including Japan, Finland, Australia and Canada, consistently scored higher than the United States, which ranked below or near the bottom in almost every category. (npr.org)
Ouch. This might be why countries consider Americans ignorant, and rightfully so. At least we scored higher than France.
Americans: Strangers to the Indoor Voice
Yes, it’s true. We tend to be loud and obnoxious in public settings, but it’s not out of arrogance or a sense of entitlement. Americans are comfortable in most social situations as a product of our culture. We’re also pretty good at making fun of ourselves. We have little shame and even less reservation, (I’m not sure if this is good or bad) which is one reason why we’ve gained a reputation for being boisterous. Although nobody enjoys embarrassment, we’re not so fearful of being judged by others. Due to our forwardness and sometimes overly-comfortable demeanor, we are instinctively noisier than most others.
Most Americans have a love for their country (not always for their government) and a pride for its cultural output. The U.S. also plays a significant role in global politics and is often strongly influential. There is no dispute, the U.S. is not the greatest country and certainly not a sole beacon for democracy. Various countries have equally exceptional models of government and some are much more progressive when it comes to social issues. However, due to America’s media production and heavy-hand in international affairs, Americans have a general pride. Of course, we are not proud of every decision our government makes. We are well aware of our country’s many shortcomings, especially with regards to social issues and obstinately backwards political partisans. Nevertheless, we love our nation and have good faith it will improve. Such attitudes can easily be mistaken for arrogance by others. But really, who doesn’t love their homeland?
The U.S. Department of State conducts annual surveys of favorable U.S. opinion in foreign countries. Favorable opinion varies in Europe. Countries such as the UK, France, and Germany are often split. The least favorable opinions are found in countries such as Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Jordan, etc. On average, 10-15% of the said countries’ populations have a favorable opinion of the U.S. On closer examination of American foreign aid, we see that these countries are also the largest recipients. Pakistan and Afghanistan each receive over 2 billion annually. Egypt receives around 1.5 billion and Jordan collects some $700 million. Decreasing opinions of the U.S. are understandable and in many cases justifiable. Although the U.S. offers financial assistance, we have also contributed to the civil unrest of many countries, due to being overly-involved politically and unnecessarily present militarily.
There is a sad truth to each American stereotype. Notwithstanding, we do have some very positive and defining qualities; the foremost being our friendliness. Our friendliness can come as an ironic realization to many. Although our government’s foreign policy seems brazen and cutthroat, Americans are extremely cordial and amicable. One would think with our copious social problems and political quandaries that American character would reflect accordingly. Yet, many are surprised at how helpful and hospitable we can be. You can’t walk into a store without being bombarded by an excess of welcome and assistance. No matter where you are, whether at the gym, grocery store, or simply taking a walk, you can always expect to be acknowledged by others with a friendly nod. We regularly engage in smalltalk, even with complete strangers. This is especially true in southern states whereupon visiting, one discovers the true meaning of southern hospitality. American friendliness shouldn’t be mistaken for gullibility, we’re just neighborly folk.
Works Cited and Consulted:
Neuman, Scott. Study: U.S. Adults Below Average Literacy, Basic Math. 8. October 2013. a. npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/10/08/230462954/study-u-s-adults-below-average-in-literacy-basic-math.
ABC News. U.S. Foreign Aid. 2012. abcnews.go.com/Politics/OTUS/fullpage/top-10-us-foreign-aid-recipients-17534761.