Travel Trend We Don’t Like: U.S. Travelers Bad-Mouthing Their Own Country

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We’ve all heard the stereotypes. Americans are fat, lazy, ignorant, materialistic, money hungry – pretty much any negative adjective you can conjure up. It’s gotten to the point where people who dislike Americans don’t even try to hide their disgust. In fact, I’ll often be sitting with other backpackers on a trip, listening to them bad-mouth travelers from the United States, not caring a bit that I can hear everything they’re saying.

Dealing With American Stereotypes

I’ve had my fair share of rude comments made to my face. While in Peru, a local and I were going out for a drink with some other travelers from my hostel when we passed by a McDonald’s.

“Jessie, I’m sure you want to stop in there,” he laughed, pointing to the eatery. When I continued to stare blankly, wondering when I mentioned I liked McDonald’s he continued,  “Americans are fat and obsessed with fast food.”

Ouch.

Another time in a hostel in Brazil, I asked an Australian traveler if she knew what time it was. Rolling her eyes, she pointed to a large clock on the wall and retorted, “Can’t you see the giant clock on the wall? Wow, you really are American.”

Excuse me?

Often times, I’ll actually get a backhanded compliment like, “You’re from America? You don’t seem like it. You’re actually cool.”

While the people making these statements may think they’ll receive a “why, thank you!” from me, my usual reply is something like, “I actually do seem like I’m from America. My friends and family are just as nice and down-to-Earth as I am.”

Bad-Mouthing Your Own Country

What’s even worse to me than having foreigners hate on Americans, is having Americans hate on Americans. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve sat and listened to travelers from the United States talk about how terrible Americans are. They backup the stereotype by talking about how fat and disgusting we are, how we’re stupid and don’t know anything, how our president sucks and how nobody cares about anything but power and money. While some of this may be true about certain people in America, I’m sure I can also find some rude, ignorant, overweight and money-hungry people in other parts of the world, as well.

As Americans traveling, we are given a very important opportunity to dispel these stereotypes. Travelers, for the most part, are naturally curious, open-minded people who love learning about different cultures and ways of doing things. We also get to meet many different people from all walks of life, and showing them how not all Americans fit the unfavorable stereotype is something we should be taking advantage of. While the world may never be able to live in complete unity, we can still strive to make progress to get rid of hate and negativity where we can.

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image via joshjanssen

Where Does The Hate Come From?

I think there are a few reasons this negative stereotype exists. For one, many people hate individual Americans for our country’s foreign policies. While it’s okay to not agree with all the laws of the U.S., you also need to remember the country is a system and the laws we have in place are usually there for a reason. And, it’s the government putting these rules in place, not specific individuals. For example, when I was in Brazil, I was complaining about how I had to pay $180 for a visa. One backpacker from Amsterdam turned to me angrily and said, “How can you complain? You charge other nationalities money to get into your country!”

Another reason I think this stereotype exists is because it has become pretty trendy to talk badly about American culture. When you badmouth Americans, you fit in. Everyone’s doing it. It’s the new black. However, instead of jumping on the bandwagon, these people should be thinking for themselves. If you dislike a specific person and they are American, that’s fine. But, you can’t possibly hate an entire nation of people you haven’t met, can you?

And in the hopes of not sounding conceited, I think it sometimes stems from resentment. As much as people like to hate on the U.S., they are a global superpower. Sure, we aren’t perfect, and there are many other countries doing certain things better than we are. However, on the whole, America is one of the top.

This point can be exemplified by an encounter I had at a language exchange in Mendoza. The program meets once a week and brings together English speakers and Spanish speakers to help them exchange language knowledge. When the host announced we would be speaking English for the first hour, one Argentine scoffed and said (in Spanish), “I will not speak English. I hate Americans. They want to take over the world.” Now, I’m not quite sure why someone with this outlook would attend an English-Spanish language exchange, but for the rest of the session he sat there in angry silence.

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image via brittanylynae

The Truth About Americans

Sure, there are some rude, ignorant, materialistic Americans out there. But, how rude are the other travelers badmouthing people from the U.S. right in front of me? And, how ignorant to make such a blanket statement about the 311, 591,917 people living in the United States.

The truth is, there are many Americans doing great things to help the world. Smart, funny, caring people with morals and goals making a positive impact on the world. We’ve got people starting charities, volunteering abroad, raising money for communities in need, implementing programming to save the Earth and rallying for equal rights around the world. Making blanket statements like the ones mentioned above really do nothing more than show how ignorant some people are about the American culture and people.

9 Comments

  1. Not American, but hear-hear! The distinction between the stereotype and the reality is so important but rarely recognised. As for griping about your own country based on stereotypes you surely know are false – WTF?! Haha, that just seems insane to me (but familiar). I wonder if they really believed that or if they were just in a foul mood?

    I’ve been guilty of bad-mouthing Brits abroad before too. The stereotype, spread INSIDE the UK, has been historically that we are all pigs when abroad, and that the locals sit there in stunned bewilderment at our antics. I knew better but I still parroted the sentiment. Why? Who knows. but I do know that I don’t do it any more – older and wiser now…

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I feel as though most of the time it really is kind of a “jump on the bandwagon” mentality. I don’t mind when people have problems with certain policies or figures, but to make blanket statements is just hard for me to agree with. It’s great that you can look back and pinpoint that you may have done something similar, but learned from it. Life and travel are both growing experiences, after all 🙂

  2. you’re my hero. seriously…i couldnt have put this into better words if i had even given an attempt. every word spoken is the truth and i am glad im not the only one who feels this way.

    living as an expat, i deal w/ shit talking about americans all the time. from foreigners AND from americans. it disgusts me.

    and yes, america has flaws, but it was a pretty damn good country to be raised in. 🙂

  3. Thanks so much 🙂 I’ve wanted to write it for awhile because it’s something that really bothers me when traveling. I know nobody is perfect, but the blanket statements constantly made are just uncalled for.

  4. There are rude people from every country on the planet. Britons can be exceptionally rude as can people from Australia, France, Saudi Arabia and India. I’ve even met Canadians who are not only rude but very two faced.

  5. I’m usually one to go along with the backhanded compliments in the hopes of continuing the conversation and changing others’ perceptions on Americans.

    1. @Turner- Yea. I always love when people say, “Wow, you’re not like most Americans!” I’m like, “Actually, I really am!” ha

  6. Jenn,

    I am not sure if you will read my response because this article was written two years ago, but WOW, you really hit the nail on the head! I personally think that those stereotypes are bogus, especially the ones about being rude and stupid. The truth is that in 2015, everyone has the ability to google themselves to a college education if they wanted, and so being stupid can’t be blamed on the country you live in anyways. I have been to Europe three times including living in Spain for a year and England six months, and while Spanish people were exceptionally warm and the British exceptionally polite, there are plenty of Americans who also embody both of those qualities. The funny thing is that while the USA is the country that everyone tries to stereotype, if there ever was a country that was IMPOSSIBLE to stereotype it would probably be the USA!!! This is because we are a brand new country full of immigrants from all over the world, will no original population still here. We are a complex, multi faceted country full of ideals that collide and there is no one type of “American.” We do not, in any way, have a homogenous population such as, for example, Japan.

    For obvious reasons, it is probably inappropriate to perpetuate stereotypes abroad simply because they are not true, but what do you think about agreeing with Europeans or people from other countries about a specific political issue in the USA that you don’t like? For example, when it comes to gun-control I have a very European mindset (I think the USA needs stricter gun control). And yes, I know that violence happens everywhere, but the truth is that the USA leads the developed world in gun violence. Guns kill over 30,000 americans each year, which is more that all of the other developed countries combined. We also have a murder rate that is between 5-7 times higher than other developed nations (this is adjusted to population). Part of the reason for this is simply we have so MANY guns, which, obviously enough, contributes to higher murder rate and gun crimes. While I never bring up the issue, when someone abroad brings up the gun problem in the USA I quickly agree with them- the USA needs more gun control. Period. What do you think about this? Am I wrong to voice my opinion? Like I said, I never bring it up, but both England and Spain have strict gun control and it was brought up to me multiple times. Each time, I agreed with the people about our problem with guns and that it is serious and that we needed to change our second amendment. However, I also mention to them that america is really not like super violent or anything, and that I felt very safe growing up there, and am sure to promote our positive qualities as much as possible. I remind them that gun violence isn’t something that most americans see if their day to day lives, but it is a problem. What do you think?

    1. @Staci: Thank you for the thoughtful comment. It’s so true our country was founded on immigrants. I’m actually a certified NYC tour guide and run a tour about how NYC specifically was founded on immigrants. It’s such an interesting part of our history. I think that it’s okay to disagree with certain policies of your home country/the USA — for me my BIG BIG BIG rant would be about healthcare; however, there’s a difference between voicing an opinion and bashing. I hope our peer travelers come to know the difference!

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