*This article was originally featured on my personal blog*
After arriving in Europe, I was expecting more of a culture shock than I had received. Sure the roads looked smaller, and the people spoke French, but in my eyes, there was not too much more to figure out. A month later, I discovered that despite the similarities, Europe is a completely different world altogether – and that is exactly what the Europeans think of America as well. Over the course of my stay, I was asked countless questions by European natives, but these 21 well encompass the general attitudes and curiosity Europeans have about America – be forewarned, the majority come from Hollywood stereotypes.
1. “Why are Americans so friendly?”
Honestly, because we want to be your friend. This is less indicative of big cities, and more so of suburbs or rural areas, but honestly we’re relatively welcoming people. In Europe (as a whole – generalizing here) people are more reserved – polite, yet very cautious not to get too personal too fast with somebody they just met – it’s quite alarming to them.
- “Why are Americans so obsessed with guns?”
This one I wish I could intelligently and confidently answer. Truth is – I don’t know. Its out of a historically rooted fear of government and desire for power. Personally, I agree with Europe on this one… I can’t give an answer from personal experience. In most of Europe, guns are outright banned, including for the majority of police officers who carry batons and other types of defense tools – the result? The U.S. has more gun deaths than any other country in the world, and Americans are literally x20 more likely to die from gun violence than a European.
- “Why don’t Americans want to learn new languages?”
To be honest – we don’t feel as much of a pressing need to learn another language. In Europe, as well as many other parts of the world – the proximity to other countries, cultures and languages creates an obligation to citizens to learn other languages so be able to communicate with others on a day to day basis. Children are brought up in school learning English, but also languages like French or Dutch or German – not as an elective, or as a small part of their school day, but as an integrated part of their education. In the United States, we’re isolated except for Canada and Mexico, creating much less of a need to learn another language. It’s sink or swim here if you don’t know English.
- “Why are Americans so loud in public? We see you… calm down.”
This question is one that I asked myself on so many occasions while in Europe – it is also one that I find many Americans get defensive about when in reality it is an observable phenomena. Nearly every tourist destination I visited had a loud, obnoxious American speaking at a megaphone volume and taking a “selfie” next to everything. My personal opinion? A sense of entitlement, and lack of adjustment to personal space. Americans abroad, myself included, generally have little background on the mannerisms and perceptions of others. We go abroad and have the mentality that the place we are in is just another extension of America, when in reality there are people who inhabit the places that we travel to. Americans also have a skewed perception of personal space, and we value the idea of having a personal space “bubble”, consequently, we feel possessive over our space and are loud – our space, not yours.
- Why do we love big cars (or cars in general) so much?
Because we need them! With the exception of very few metro areas – to put it quite frankly- if you do not have a car in America- you’re screwed. Nearly every European city has a metro, buses, trams, railways, high speed trains – you name it. Getting around without a car is not only possible, it is preferred – especially because gas in Europe is the equivalent to $5.00 or more per gallon. Americans, who are experiencing gas prices at a record low in years, are not only dependant on their cars, but have the open space to have their big cars out on the road – with our 5-6 lane roads versus Europe’s 1-2 lane roads, it is no wonder why Americans are constantly on the road, especially with their big cars.
- Whats your favorite American takeout?
This was an interesting question for me, especially with the amount of food options that I found in Europe. To Europeans, America is like a food Mecca, with the numerous destinations to feed not only their stomachs, but their desire for instant gratification. In Europe, you go into a restaurant and wait about 20 minutes either in line or at a table to get your food. In America – this transaction takes about 10 minutes -max – and that is a beautiful concept to those abroad. By the way – I said Chipotle.
- Why is the drinking age there 21? Thats absurd.
Long story short – because we don’t trust our young people like Europe trusts theirs. Drinking culture in Europe is a world apart from drinking culture in America. In Europe, children drink from 8 or 9 years old, and are taught moderation and self-control. In America, drinking has become such a taboo topic that we are only taught about its dangers and counterintuitively this creates a glorified drinking culture that is based around getting hammered instead of “having one drink or two.”
8. Why do you people work so hard? Don’t you know how to have fun?
While this post may have a lot of seemingly negative things to say about the good ol’ USA – there are a few undeniably good traits about the US – including the American work ethic. In Europe, businesses close at 2p.m. and reopen at 5 p.m. and this is considered a lunch break. In the U.S.A, employees rush to the break room for 15 minutes and scarf down their lunch – quickly returning to the needs of the customer. We work hard, but that doesn’t mean we don’t play hard too!
9. Your bathrooms are free? That’s pretty cool!
Yes! We don’t have to stand in to purchase tickets for the bathroom like its an amusement park. We don’t have to pay .5 Euros (56 cents) to satisfy an obligatory bodily function. On the other hand, we also don’t have bathroom attendants in most places, and the soap dispensers and toilet paper rolls are often empty. You pick and choose.
10. Have you ever seen an American celebrity in person?
Have you ever seen One Direction, Mumford and Sons, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones or Coldplay in person? The odds are pretty much the same.
11. I’ve been to New York before… is there really more in America to see?
Yes. Undeniably yes. But in their defense, we say the same thing about European countries. “I’ve been to London, is there really more in England to see? I’ve been to Paris, is there really more in France to see?”
12. Why do you guys only have 2 political parties… is it really that black and white?
Because we have a winner take all system. There is no room for compromise. We vote for people more so than issues… Just saying it like it is.
13. Why are Americans scared of socialism?
It’s no secret Americans are big on capitalism, but I wonder myself too: why? Why are we so afraid of having a system that emulates that of Finland, Denmark or the Netherlands? Some of the most successful and happy countries in the world?
14. Why are the police so crazy in America?
The idea of police brutality has become almost synonymous with America these days, so its natural for a European to see this happening in the media and then inquire about it. But going back to the gun thing, in Europe the only distinction between a police and a regular civilian is a badge and a baton.
15. How come you guys have free refills?
LAND OF THE FREE. In Europe, you pay €2 for a glass of water, and that’s it. One glass. Of water – and don’t be mistaken, the same applies to soda. In the USA, obviously, in most places your refills are free – it’s a matter of convenience and the “customer is always right” attitude that Americans have. Try explaining this to a European? Their response: Free healthcare > free refills.
16 .Why are stores open 24 hours? Don’t the workers have to go to sleep?
Same thing as #15. It’s a matter of convenience and living the “American standard of living” – night shifts my friend – a totally foreign concept.
Not sure why or how the American stereotype of loving bacon came about, but it definitely does not go unnoticed in Europe, as I was asked this at least four times throughout my stay.
18. How much does *xxxxxxx* cost in America?
Yes, Europe is notoriously more expensive than America, and America notoriously cheaper than Europe – but just as I was curious of how much I was getting ripped off, so were the Europeans. Yep, your iPhone does in fact cost $200 more than my iPhone.
Pledge of Allegiance? Yes, I did – but speaking for myself, I never really put much thought into it. We learn it when we’re in kindergarten and we said it every day after morning announcements. I moved from abroad during kindergarten and it was startling to say the least when 30 children are putting their hand on their heart and reciting some kind of chant. Why do we do it? I don’t really know – to build a sense of patriotism, I guess?
- Why is your football called “football” if it’s mostly played with hands?
This one I had to look up, because it has admittedly puzzled me for years. Apparently, like soccer, it can be traced back to rugby football where you use your feet to kick a ball at a goal or successfully carry a ball over a goal line. Over time, some rules were adapted to create American “football.”
- Would you ever move to Europe?
Before this trip, I would wholeheartedly say no. Why would I ever want to move from the USA? But that’s just the beauty of travelling, experiencing new cultures, understanding new people. After this amazing experience the answer to this question is: anything is possible. We often put inexplicable boundaries on ourselves which hinder our ability to move forward and progress as people. Who knows? Europe definitely hasn’t seen the last of me yet.