American Culture and Stereotypes: Part 1

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For those who don’t know, a stereotype is a fixed and generalized belief about a particular group or class of people. Maybe you’ve seen a TV report or heard someone saying that Americans are patriots, hard-workers, or workaholics, that they basically eat fast food, that they are consumerists, etc. These are some examples of stereotypes that people in other countries have seen about Americans.

The use of stereotypes simplifies our social world as they reduce the number of thoughts we must have when we meet a new person. The advantage of stereotypes is that it allows us to respond quickly to situations because we may have had a similar experience before. The downside is that it makes us ignore differences between individuals, and even leads us to think things that may not be true.

There are positive and negative stereotypes, and their adoption depends on the behavior of the group and who is observing. For example, Americans have more working hours than many other countries. That is a fact. Because of this, some people might attribute to Americans the positive stereotype that they are hard-working, while people from other cultures might think that Americans are workaholics. And that depends on the pace of work of each person. People who have a more leisurely pace will likely believe that Americans are workaholics, while people who have a faster pace of work will believe that Americans are hardworking. In other words, our awareness of the positive or negative characteristics of another culture will depend on our own cultural perspective and experience.

I have a personal example of this. In Brazil, people have a less accelerated and intense work pace than Americans, in addition to more holidays and longer vacation time. But when I arrived in the United States and realized the American work pace, I was surprised and thought that Americans were workaholics. After developing a bit of cultural awareness, I realized that Americans have a mindset that they need to work hard to grow professionally. I was able to understand the way they think and respect them over time.

After developing a bit of cultural awareness, I realized that Americans have a mindset that they need to work hard to grow professionally. I was able to understand the way they think and respect them over time.

The cultural knowledge of a particular group or cultural class is very important before adopting stereotypes. If we understand the motivations for certain behavior, it will help us to avoid making mistakes, as not all people in a group are the same.

Explanations aside, I assume you’re curious about American stereotypes. I did some research on the main generalizations made about Americans and the why (the motivations) behind them. Here are some positive stereotypes I found:

“Americans are positive and optimistic”

Americans have many examples of people who have prospered in their lives through dedication and hard work. This is the famous “American Dream”. In this sense, Americans tend to believe they can accomplish their dreams if they work hard enough. This belief generates positivity and optimism.

“Americans are generous”

The data shows that 72% of Americans financially help countries devastated by natural disasters or involved in some type of conflict, and 42% of Americans are involved in some type of volunteerism.

My friends organized everything and paid out of their own pockets.

I have a personal experience with American generosity when I got pregnant. I had two baby showers. My friends organized everything and paid out of their own pockets. They still asked me how I would like every detail and were even ready to prepare typical foods for me to feel at home. In my country, parents usually provide the baby shower. I have never seen such generosity and love.

“Americans are creative and innovative”

Americans are creative and innovative because they believe they can do many things if they work hard enough. A proof of this is that the USA has a history of being ahead of other countries when it comes to advancements in the world. The country ushered in the industrial age, shifting production from manual labor to automated factories, built the first car, made modern skyscrapers a norm in giant cities, landed on the moon, was at the forefront of the technology boom, and developed some of the most advanced software in use today, including social media.

Today I know that if I’m struggling to use an item, it’s probably because I don’t know how to use it.

In particular, I was amazed when I got to the USA.  Americans have machines and equipment to facilitate every day-to-day activity. There were situations where I had no idea how to use certain equipment. Today I know that if I’m struggling to use an item, it’s probably because I don’t know how to use it. Things here were made to make my life easier, not harder.

“Americans are patriotic”

Americans are taught from childhood to be proud of their country. At school children sing the oath of allegiance every morning before the school day, at games people sing the anthem. The biggest symbol of American patriotism is the American flag that you often find flying everywhere. On the 4th of July, which commemorates the independence of the United States from British rule, Americans dress in the colors of the American flag and join in parades, celebrations and watch fireworks.

Many Americans defend and believe in the excellence of their country with the utmost fidelity and have great respect for the history, struggles, achievements, and national heritage of the USA. On the other hand, honoring the country so highly makes some people (even some Americans) say that Americans tend toward arrogance because they think the USA is the best country in the world. While this may be true of some people, there are many other Americans who realize that America is not perfect and pride in one’s country should always be expressed in a way that also honors the cultures and experiences of people different from one’s self.

Final Thoughts

What did you think of the stereotypes I brought? Did you already know any of them? Were you able to think about the differences between Americans and your culture? How do you define positivity, generosity, creativity and patriotism in your country? Feel free to share in the comments. I would very much like to know about your culture.

Well, I have a lot more stereotypes to talk about, but I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much reading. Another post will be published with the rest of the stereotypes. Stay tuned and see you in the next post for part 2!

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Abadi, Mark. “I’ve been to 25 counties, and these are the 7 worst stereotypes I’ve heard about Americans”. Insider, 23rd June 2018. https://www.businessinsider.com/stereotypes-of-americans-usa-2018-6#and-they-dont-even-understand-soccer-7.

Balderas, Christopher. “15 USA stereotypes that are totally inaccurate (10 that are 100% true). The Travel, 29th Nov. 2018. https://www.thetravel.com/usa-stereotypes-inaccurate-true/.

“Common stereotypes about Americans”. YouTube, uploaded by The Infographics Show. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCTTc_2W7rA.

McLeod, Saul. “Stereotypes”. SimplyPhsychology, 2017. https://www.simplypsychology.org/katz-braly.html.

“9 American stereotypes: true or false?” YouTube, uploaded by Speak English with Vanessa. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofrryYmOBqQ.

Pandey, Erica. “America the generous: U.S. leads globe in giving”. Axios, 12th Mar. 2022. https://www.axios.com/2022/03/09/america-charitable-giving-stats-ukraine.

“Stereotypes of Americans”. Wikipedia, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereotypes_of_Americans.

“Truth or myth: Americans react to stereotypes”. YouTube, uploaded by Dating Beyond Borders. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjFhKNQs-Ls&t=63s.

“Why Americans work so much”. Humanities Unveiled, 19th Apr. 2019. https://medium.com/humanities-unveiled/why-americans-work-6fa09bb93d48#:~:text=The%20explanation%20is%20quite%20simple,Americans%20have%20not.

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