5 Things They’ll Tell You About the U.S. … That Aren’t True

Ah, I get it. You are returning to the United States, and you are preparing for the much-feared reverse culture shock. What to expect?

You should expect to find it weird when people address you in English, that the grocery store has about three hundred different types of cereal, and people want to talk to you while standing in line. Yeah, okay, I feel ya. I see how that could seem weird or odd for a while after you return home.

But let me tell you something, sometimes I wonder if I grew up in an alternate universe, if perhaps my experience of the US has been different from many expats who write on the Internet, because some things I just don’t see. Some stereotypes just don’t fit my experience. I write this to see if I am alone.

1. Americans are always in a hurry

I live in Madrid, so everyone seems to be in a hurry, especially on my morning commute. But my experiences in Madrid aren’t extended to the rest of Spain. Thus, I find it hard to believe Americans are always in a hurry, because most of my family and friends don’t ever seem to be in a hurry. Where are all these hurrying people you’re talking about? New York City? Where?

2. America is all about the rat race

This is a favorite of mine. Again, are we talking about corporate lawyers living in Chicago or just your average, small-town person? There’s a world of difference there. I don’t know any of my friends who are all about the rat race, and my parents certainly aren’t. In fact, my Spanish husband works twice the amount of time my parents do, and even he isn’t “all about the rat race.” My mother and father are generally off work by 5 p.m., free to live their “rat race” lives.

3. Americans will ask you how you are, but they really don’t care

Sometimes. But don’t people do this in Spain, too? “¿Qué tal?” they ask, but sometimes they care, sometimes they don’t. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this. Who do I talk to when I want to tell someone how I really am? My friends, my true friends, not my coworkers or people I’m hanging out with for tapas.

I want to find a culture where they ask you “How’s it going?” and people always answer 100% honestly. Help a girl out.

4. Americans are loud

Yeah, sometimes. I know that we have this reputation. But Spaniards can be loud too! In fact, I used to wonder if some of the people I knew here were actually angry with each other, but no—that was just the way they talked. If there are a lot of people talking, just talk louder and louder until you are almost shouting. When I go back to the U.S., I don’t feel that most people are louder than they are in Spain. Also, there is way less noise pollution in my town, but that’s because in Spain I live in a city, and home is small-town Indiana.

5. Americans are ignorant

Sometimes, yes. But there are ignorant people everywhere, in every country. Just today, a high school student informed that they would have had guns in the year 650. (We were reading about King Arthur.) He actually tried to argue this point with me! It was fun to see him try in English. Then all his friends started making fun of him in Spanish, so the short “argument” was over too soon. Do I think this kid is ignorant? Nope. I just think he was a bit addled. (Just kidding.)

Americans can be ignorant, but then again, so an Spaniards. (And I assume the same is true for anyone, anywhere.)

Do you think ones’s nationality has something do with one’s ignorance?

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18 comments

  1. I certainly feel the “prisa” when I only get 30 minutes to eat my lunch and no time to finish all the required documentation at my job. I often lament the loss of my 3 hour lunch break. ;) I don’t know if Americans are always in a hurry but I certainly saw in the Spanish a little more focus on the pleasure of living rather than the constant pressure of working. It’s a generalization, there are certainly exceptions.

    1. It is true for SOME Spaniards, but nowadays the culture is like: let’s hire one person to do a two-person job and give them (theoretically) two hours for lunch, but they can’t go home and they certainly can’t relax too much. Then Mario has to stay at the office until 9:30 p.m. almost every night, and he’d rather have a 30-minute break and MAYBE leave at 8. But no …. :-/

  2. Ah, I hate Spanish schedules…I know that the Spanish definitely know how to have more fun on a day-to-day basis (rather than a binge-fun basis), but getting out at work at 7, 8, or 9pm is just ridiculous. Even at home, I’d aim to be done by 4pm, because 5pm seemed too late!

    Also, I definitely think people take the “Spanish people REALLY care” thing too far, as well. Spanish people are friendlier on a surface level, but I haven’t really felt like they care any more than North Americans do. I have felt that way in countries like Cuba, but definitely not ANYWHERE in Europe yet.

    1. See, I don’t even find Spaniards friendlier on a surface level. May be that I’ve lived in more conservative areas (Castilla y Leon and such), but I find people from the Midwest to be friendlier. However, if I were from the Northeast, maybe I’d find Spaniards friendlier. (Especially Andalusians! They’re a different story altogether.)

      Spanish schedules SUCK. Mario normally gets home at 10 p.m. :(

    1. I know. It’s like they’re primed to do it, too—all our bad stories are featured on their news, while almost any story about Spain is placed on the fifth page of our newspapers, so it’s like we don’t even have the knowledge to stereotype them at all. The most offensive thing we do is think they’re Mexican! (Ugh.)

  3. I definitely find Americans to be so loud, particularly in comparison with the Germans. I thankfully have toned down my voice several levels after living here awhile, but anytime an American friend visits or something I am always so conscious of how loud they are.

    1. Oh that reminds me! A friend of mine (Spanish) is giving “intercultural training” to a German couple living here in Spain. It’s so funny to hear what sorts of things she has to tell them about—not being too direct, not being too “happy” (Spaniards have a thing about envy), etc. Apparently since they’re both tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed, wealthy, successful Germans with a baby and another on the way … it makes Spaniards envious/angry!

  4. I think it’s very easy to generalise a nationality – no matter which one this is. It’s true that some Spaniards may consider Americans to be always in a rush and desperate for climbing the corporate ladder (that’s what all those New York-based movies and series have taught us!). But then – not all Spaniards are lazy, put more focus on their free time than work or whatever other general thought might be about them anywhere else in the World. I certainly know Spaniards that don’t fit that definition!

    Anyway, I think overall it’s a matter of being open and accepting of other cultures and their differences, as well as understanding that there isn’t “one rule for all” (I’ve even met Swiss and Norwegians that don’t know how to ski – what about that?).

  5. New Yorkers are in a hurry, and that reason is called Midtown Manhattan. It’s where a lot of people work/go to school so yes, we are in a hurry to get to work. And when once work is over, we are all in a hurry to leave! I don’t want to stick around Midtown longer than I have to–it is a hellhole. I work between Penn Station and Times Square and it is awful. Penn Station is where a lot of people commute in and out of (the LIRR, NJ Transit, and Amtrak) along with multiple subway lines. Once you get out of Midtown, people tend to be less rushed and not as frantic. But again, everybody is generalizing NYC based on its most famous section.

    And well some of my Spanish students were more ignorant than me and would say I was English. When I would correct them and say I was from a completely different country, they would insist it was the same thing. So I would turn the tables and tell them it was fine to say they were Mexican since they also spoke Spanish there. They learned real fast never to mistake England and the USA ever again.

  6. I’ve been preparing a similar post with all the crazy stereotypes I’ve heard while living in Australia! For example (you may have seen on my Twitter), last night my Korean roommate told me she’d heard every girl in the U.S. gets a boob job as a gift from their parents when they graduate from high school. Where does that even come from?

    #1 and #2 definitely depend on the city, and 3, 4, and 5 are silly over-generalizations that aren’t specific to Americans!

  7. Honestly I think for me, the first 2 are more or less true…I find Americans are much more focused on work and rushing around than Spaniards are. I’m a Midwesterner too, but I always feel rushed when I go home. “Hurry! The movie starts in 5 minutes and it’s a 10 minute drive!!” Maybe it’s just my family though…but I feel like people in the States don’t know how to sit down and enjoy, for example, a meal and a nice conversation. It’s a rush to get onto the next thing. And you have to be focused on work when you only get 14 days of vacation a year!

    #4, I think only seems true to me because I understand everything Americans are saying without having to think…so when I’m in Spain and I hear an American speaking on the metro, they seem super LOUD, because I’m catching every word without wanting to. I can tune out the loud Spaniards better.

    And #5 is maybe not true JUST of Americans, but I always find it super embarrassing to meet ignorant Americans because I know the stereotype exists, and I know they’re just perpetuating it…and I know lots of people probably assume that about me because I’m American too.

    1. Well, like I said, it depends on the family/people. I just think it’s silly and narrow to say that “Americans are just about the rat race.” Maybe the Americans you know.

      The Spaniards may not be loud on the metro, but I tend to think it’s because they’re not on vacation, usually. I mean, if you’re like me, when you’re commuting you’re not exactly jubilant and with all your friends/family, having a great time. I don’t know if that makes sense. But I base my “Spaniards are loud” theory on my Spanish family dinners. Loud! Not in a bad way though.

      Well, it’s always embarrassing to have your fellow countrymen fulfill a negative stereotype, haha.

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