For the simple fact that I talk a lot about living in Europe and what Americans think of Germans or other Europeans, I think it only fair to bust out a lighthearted, “This is what America thinks of itself” piece. Ultimately, I am working toward a much more academic and critical look at this for now though, this is just for fun. Stereotypes are everywhere, which is why I talk about them all the time. If they weren’t so much a part of my life here in Germany, I could probably put my head back in the sand and go throughout my day blissfully. Okay, that really isn’t true because I am the sort of person who is always curious. I am constantly learning new things reshaping old, sometimes long-held ideas, and it isn’t always easy, but I do hope the day that I stop doing such things is the day that I happen to pass from this world.
Stereotypes are everywhere, here is a list of some of the more common stereotypes of American citizens according to eduPASS, a website devoted to students who want to study in the United States:
- Boastful and arrogant.
- Disrespectful of authority.
- Extravagant and wasteful.
- Ignorant of other countries and cultures.
- Loud and obnoxious.
- Rich and wealthy.
- Rude and immature.
- Think they know everything.
- Thinks every country should imitate the US.
- Uninformed about politics.
Some or all of these are true, depending on which Americans you talk to. Just like much of the same can be said for people of other nations, depending on who you talk to. While I am sure that my culture studies students could come up with a similar, yet far more entertaining list (and perhaps I will update this blog when they do), today I think it is better to discuss how Americans see themselves:
This image, of the US as seen by a New Yorker is a little limiting. Not because of the stereotypes it perpetuates within the picture, but rather because it assumes that only New Yorkers see the US in this way. In my personal experience, it isn’t just New Yorkers that see the US, or even just parts of it this way. These are ideas that spread by media and popular culture that become mixed with stories from people we know who have been to these places, even if it was fifty years ago. That is how stereotypes are established and perpetuated. The same goes for this image:
And then again, there is this image, originally from “The World as Seen From 9th Avenue” by Saul Steinberg, in the New Yorker, 1976. From (http://bigthink.com/ideas/21121). This image claims that from 9th Avenue in New York the rest of the US is inconsequential or secondary to a New Yorkers surroundings, however, that same idea can be said about Kansas City, Houston, Seattle or Los Angeles. Just as much as the same idea can apply to the people of Germany, Poland or anywhere else. If that’s all you know or have time in your world for, then it really is your world! Really, it’s all a matter of perspective.
Many of the people who move from New York to Oregon that I have met are very similar to Oregonians; dressing, talking and politically similarly minded. Never mind that some, that likely never leave New York or if they do, hold on to the stereotypes they grew up with, with an iron fist see the west coast as full of hippies and lay-abouts, “Oh, your so west coast.” I disregard those few like this that I met because, luckily for them, I have met less of their kind and more New Yorkers and East Coasters that are surprisingly similar to us West Coasters.
Then there is how “Californians see the US” and while I am not the biggest fan of California. I don’t hate it, but if I had to move their I would move to Northern California versus southern California because of my own stereotypes. I would like to add here that, because of my own stereotypes, the West Coast is the best coast.
I also found a nice little map of “How Ronald Reagan Sees the World.” which places emphasis on California and the west coast. While the course blog, ME222: Design for Sustainability, in this particular post, explains why Portland is cool (thank you), but doesn’t much go into explaining the map, perhaps they do in another blog.
According to Joel Garreau (1981), in his book The Nine Nations of North America, North America should be divided up into 9 nations or regions:
Garreau makes some bold claims about these regions, but keep in mind his book was written in 1981, over thirty years ago. Today, I would argue that “Ecotopia” should be more in line with the idea of “Cascadia” or even more in line with Callenbach’s modern vision of Ecotopia (1975) and Mexamerica should go farther north into Nevada, Utah and Colorado.
In my mind, an even better way to describe the stereotypes that Americans see among themselves is “The United States of Television” because Americans love their televisions and the shows that they get to watch on them!If an outsider wants to learn about the United States and how it see’s itself in all its parts, just look up a television show from a specific state or region. Growing up, Angela Lansbury and Murder She Wrote along with Bob Newhart helped me shape the ideas I had about New England long before I went their for work. I am sure that, at least in American modern popular culture, from the last thirty years, if you asked Americans what television shows they would use to describe certain states, their list would look similar to this one, with Frasier representing Seattle, Seinfeld representing New York City, Northern Exposure representing Alaska (even though it was filmed in Washington State), Golden Girls representing the retirement communities in Florida and Baywatch representing Malibu. I am not kidding! If it is one thing I know for sure it is random pop culture trivia, which impresses my husband to no end, but won’t help me outside of cocktail parties.
To drive home this point even more and make it more internationally friendly, here is a list of the fifty states as interpreted by the movies that were either actually or supposedly set within their borders. For the international audience I offer you, “The United States of Movies” and the same point apply here. Ask any American to name a film associated with Oregon, and they will most likely say The Goonies, especially if they are from the Pacific Northwest. A second option might be Kindergarden Cop or Mr Holland’s Opus, but these were no where near as popular (or still as popular) as The Goonies:
8 thoughts on “How Americans See Americans…”
very interesting post.
No kidding! Using maps to interpret how Americans see American is just brilliant! Be back and read more later…
Thanks Amy. I am a visual learner, so I love love love me some pictures. They do have a tendency to over-simplify, but sometimes that is the point.
Thanks for the support. Glad I could help inspire you to write and reflect!