“Americans will put up with anything provided it doesn’t block traffic.”—Dan Rather
The United States America is one of the most unique and beloved countries in the history of the world. In addition to representing freedom and being home to the globally influential film and television industries, America has come to be known for a few other things around the world as well. To some people in other countries who have never actually visited the USA, America is the land of some bizarre rituals. But when these people finally do decide to visit, they may be shocked at what they find.
As many of us are aware, stereotypes seldom provide the full picture. Nevertheless, they can still be fun to listen to, especially when they’re way off from reality. And, let’s admit it, sometimes there’s even a grain of truth in some of them… In that spirit, let’s take a look at some of the hilarious, ridiculous, and just plain weird misconceptions that people from other countries have had about the United States, and how those ideas held up against what they actually ended up seeing.
42. Sorry to Disappoint!
I thought you Americans ate pizza every friday, that’s why I wanted to go to the USA in the first place.
41. Laying Down the Law
I thought sheriffs aren’t real for some reason, at least not anymore.
40. Size Matters
Also, people are a lot less fat than we’re led to believe. Yep, some obesity but no more than I see here in the UK.
39. See You Later, Alligator
I was wrong when I thought alligators just lived in the Everglades. Those critters are EVERYWHERE in Florida….
38. Prepare for All Kinds of Weather
How surprisingly cold some parts of Arizona can get. I visited it after spending a year in northern Ohio, and basically went there naked, as I didn’t expect anything could be worse than Cleveland’s winter. Nope, I almost froze to death when I went to see the Grand Canyon and it was snowing.
37. Looks Can Be Deceiving
My friend’s wife is from Costa Rica. She was shocked to find out that Americans take regular showers when she moved here… I guess most of the Americans she was exposed to growing up were the Backpack-Costa-Rica-Hippie-Types who didn’t clean themselves much…
36. Americans Are Serious About Food
Thought the food was gonna be bad for some reason. Then discovered that the quality is way better than what I’m used to. Also thought everyone was gonna be morbidly obese. Came to Colorado, 90% of people are extremely fit.
35. The Good Old Second Amendment
My German friends wanted to shoot all my guns. When I told them I didn’t have any they looked at me like I was lying.
34. Getting Where You Need to Get
Well I recently learned that New York is a state as well as a city and that Washington isn’t in Washington.
33. Word Choice Matters
Being English, I didn’t even think about a language barrier. At a football game, took me about five minutes to get a bottle of water. The girl just couldn’t understand how I said water, I had to point to one someone else had in the end.
32. With a Little Help From My Friends
Honestly, you guys were a lot friendlier than I expected. Even in New York, which seems to pride itself on not giving a f***, I found people to be extremely friendly, polite and helpful.
31. One Man’s Ordinary Is Another Man’s Extraordinary
I didn’t realise those red cups were actually real and used by everyone in the US at parties. I thought it was just like, a movie thing.
My friend’s Mum went to the US and brought us back a stack while we were at uni. We felt like we were in a teen film, we even washed them up when we were done so we could use them again.
30. That Actually Sounds Pretty Good…
When my parents and I moved from Poland to Texas in 1997, we had no idea Daisy sour cream wasn’t a cheese spread… Still have it on sandwiches!
29. Truer Words Were Never Spoken
Thought Walmart was gonna suck. Ended up loving Walmart.
28. Movies Versus Reality
My grandmother was an impressionable small town teenager in the UK during WW2, and fell in love with her fair share of American GI’s as there were hundreds stationed in her hometown.
They took her to dances, swept her off her feet and left her with a hugely romantic view of life in the USA. Bolstered over the years by movies!!
In 2003 my family took her to Florida on holiday and she was devastated that everyone lived normal lives!
27. The Nation’s Capital
I thought Washington DC was the most serious place in the States, but when I went there (for a tour at the White House) about three years ago, most of the city smelled like pot. I was very confused.
26. I Think You Just Need to Read the Newspaper…
Not really a misconception but I was pretty young when I moved to the US from mainland Europe. My parents mentioned that the US was at war (this was in 2003) and I wondered to myself why we were moving to a war zone. I thought that there would be air raids and bombings all the time.
25. A Nation of Supermodels
That everyone is as good looking as the people on TV.
24. Getting Used to the Team Spirit
Here in Holland the Yankees hat is one of the more popular ones just because of its design. It actually means something there [in the US]. It took a while, walking through Baltimore, to realize that.
23. Rubbing Elbows With the Stars
Hollywood. I believed it was wall to wall famous people, walking on red carpets dressed in golden gowns and everything was possible if you just walked on that beautiful Blvd. WRONG…..big time….
22. The Devil’s in the Details
I had an exchange student from Europe recently, and he said his mom said she’d be happy as long as he ended up anywhere in the US except Texas. I live in New Orleans. Like in the city. His mom was still happy it wasn’t Texas. He said he would fill her in on the actual danger to him in New Orleans versus Texas when he went home.
21. Geography Lesson
A while back I was dating this girl from India who was shocked to discover that Seattle was nowhere near DC.
20. We Aim to Please
My brother in Connecticut deals with people in China and other countries for work all the time, and he started greeting everyone with “Howdy!” specifically in order to perpetuate the stereotype.
19. America Is Big, People
I work with a bunch of people in India. The other day one of them asked me if where I live (Austin, TX) was very close to LA. He was shocked when I told him it was a three hour flight or a twenty hour car ride.
18. Football Means Something Different Over Here…
My British cousin thought that soccer was way bigger than it was. He came and saw a Revs game with us and it wasn’t that full. He was shocked needless to say.
17. Don’t Mess With Texas
I got an admit to a school in Texas. I was worried about the gun slinging cowboys. Four years in and I am yet to see any of those guys here. I did get to play with guns in a range last year though.
16. We’ve All Got Time On Our Hands
I was stunned and fascinated by different time zones in the same country.
15. Life Is But a Dream
This one is a bit off topic but hear me out. I grew up watching American movies, American media, American everything, and it became this very familiar place that I had never been to, and it almost seemed like it was fake, like it was all just one big movie set, and people spoke a made up language I understood but never heard from native speakers in real life. At that point my view on America was almost disconnected from reality.
When I finally visited America it was completely surreal, like I was taking part in those fictional movies I had seen as a kid. I saw landmarks in cities that I had only ever seen on a screen. It was a crazy experience.
14. Don’t Worry, There Are Many Places to Shop
That every shop is like Costco. Big, in bulk, and relatively cheap.
13. Something Positive for a Change
I don’t know if it is a misconception, but I expected Grand Canyon national park to be less well-maintained. Frankly it’s amazing for the amount of visitors, visited last year. 10/10. You people have an amazing national parks service (this year we decided to come back and tackle Yellowstone…next weekend actually).
Hats off to the national parks, that is some public sector—I hope you people decide to keep investing. For me, more than cities, they are the crown jewels of the US.
12. 50 Little Countries Rolled Into One
I thought there was only one government for all states where all decisions were made. Turns out each state makes a lot of important decisions for itself. In general, power is a lot more distributed than I expected.
11. Safety First
I felt massively safer driving in the US than I do in the UK. People seem to drive with a lot more patience and there is a lot less under or overtaking. In the UK at any given moment, someone is planning to cut you up or is actively swearing at you a car away for being either too fast or too slow, or not pulling away from a red light the instant it turns amber…
10. A Little Friendliness Goes A Long Way
I visited NYC and had the expectation that everyone would be rushing about and keeping to themselves, but people were so friendly! Like several times a day girls stopped me in the street simply to say something nice about my hair/outfit. I just found it really strange (but nice!). I’m from London (UK) and I guess I’m just used to people avoiding eye contact or talking to strangers. The only downside was the cat calling was heavy and more aggressive than I’ve experienced anywhere else.
I’ve only been to NYC, LA, Vegas and Florida but I’ve generally always found Americans to be really pleasant and polite.
9. Subtle Differences
I thought Canadian and American accents were the same. Surprised me every time someone asked me if I was Canadian after speaking just a few sentences.
8. Life Is a Highway
It’s insanely vast… stupidly vast, beyond anything I can compare it to. Returning to the UK after a trip to the US, it feels like I’m visiting toytown and everything is just so cute… and I’m English and feel like this after a week or two away.
7. The Real Hollywood Is Slightly Different Than in the Movies…
If you’re into art the LACMA, MOCA, Broad are great, the Getty is free with a reservation (only the Getty Villa requires a reservation in advance!) and has beautiful gardens and views. Not to mention the Petersen Auto Museum if you’re into cars.
If you’re into food there are a thousand amazing restaurants but I’d recommend checking out Daikokuya or Shin Sen Gumi for some ramen, Sugarfish or Sushi Gen for some good sushi, Animal, Bestia, Republique, and The Bazaar for finer dining. Do NOT miss out on good Mexican food. Every city has their top taqueria so just ask around and go, don’t overthink it, the best ones are dingy little hole in the walls. If they look modern or hip just don’t bother. Get in-n-out once to try because it’s a Cali staple. There is an infinite amount of good restaurants here and if there’s a particular thing you’re looking for we’ll have it if you look around enough.
Go to one of the many beautiful beaches. I prefer anything south or north of LA, so malibu is great, or laguna beach. Both are a little snooty but beautiful nonetheless.
Check out the Griffith observatory, I believe it’s still free and the views are to die for. Hiking around there in the hills is great too.
The farmer’s market on Fairfax is cool, Olvera street is a nice stroll, check out the grand central market, go see a live taping of a show like Conan (you gotta get tickets online but they’re free), take scenic drive down Mulholland, walk the Venice canals (avoid the beach), stroll down Abbot Kinney…I could go on and on and on. Basically there is so much better, more fun stuff to do than get mired in traffic and people on Hollywood Blvd! These are all the things I force my relatives to do when they visit and they typically end up leaving very happy.
Forgot to mention Silver Lake and Echo Park! Those two neighborhoods have become gentrified but are still super quaint and fun to visit on a nice day. Lots of boutiques and little book shops, etc.
6. What in the World Gave You That Idea?
I was under the impression that there were no cats in America, obviously that wasn’t the case!
5. Be Careful What You Wish For
I thought people would say “Yeeehaaaw” a lot more.
4. Come On, Guys, Read an Atlas!
There are 50 states not 52. Almost everyone who isn’t American (that I know) thinks or at some point thought that there are 52 states. I still don’t know why but I suspect that Hawaii and Alaska might be involved.
3. Now That’s a New One…
Once hosted a guest from Africa. He was here on a church-sponsored event in my neighborhood. A friend asked if I could host him in my spare bedroom. On the last day I asked him what surprised him about America. He said his church people in Africa warned him that all Americans have orgies on Fridays and that’s why they all have AIDS.
2. That is One Successful Chain
On a solo road trip up Route 66, I picked up an 18 year old Dutch kid on his first trip out of his country. He thought all American diners were owned by one company called “Diner.” That was pretty adorable.
1. Happy Holidays
I thought that Wrestlemania was a huge deal for Americans, I was hoping that it would be like a national holiday.
Wrestlemania and NASA are my two favorite things about America, so this was very sad for me.