Sunday, November 15, 2009

Smashing Stereotypes

(In the UK that would be an adjective and in the US it’s a verb.) Let’s take a look at a few well known stereotypes and see what we make of them.


Well, they all wear white trainers/sneakers over here so that’s one stereotype I can’t smash but there are a few that just don’t stand up to close inspection.

Stereotype #1: Americans are seen as these crazy, out there, far out people, always into this new fad and that kooky religion. Here in the mid-west at least, Americans are, I would venture to say, more conservative than even us Brits. (Now please note, before anyone has a complete conniption, I’m not saying “reserved” or “uptight”). Anyway, here’s why:

- They back off from really political discussions, even when it’s election time. Obviously town hall meetings and political rallies bring out the passions, but around a dinner table or at a party, you just don’t hear people really getting into it about politics. It’s as if it’s decided that you’ll just agree to disagree and say no more about it in case someone’s feelings get hurt.

- Ditto their personal lives. If you ask someone how they’re doing, you’ll get a very positive answer. This is in part because Americans generally aren’t as misery-prone as us Brits, but it’s also because they’re not going to stop and tell you that their cat just died or they’re sick of their kids. Obviously some will confide in a good friend or close next door neighbor, but not the world and his wife.

Stereotype #2: Americans think this is the greatest place in the world and no other country comes even a close second.

- Yes, most Americans do think this is the greatest country in the world, but most I’ve met are also very curious about other countries, would love to go to a few and some have even traveled a lot.

- And yes, there are the ignorant few who really do think that nothing outside the US could possibly be worth knowing about but aren’t they everywhere? They’re certainly not representative of anyone I’ve ever met in my 20 years here.

Stereotype #3: Americans are party animals

- Most Americans I know go out far less than my British friends and they don’t stay out late. Here in the mid west, if you go out at all during the week, things start winding down about 10pm. I have even been in restaurants where they’ve started closing up shop at that time, ignoring our requests for another bottle of wine and generally indicating that they really would like us to leave. Even events at the weekend (charity fund-raising balls for example) will finish at 11, and midnight at the very latest.

- They don’t even drink that much (or at least not when anyone’s looking.)

- There are large parts of the country that are “dry”, that is, where you can’t buy alcohol at all. In many states you can’t buy booze at supermarkets, and some states such as Utah say that if you have a drink before your meal in a restaurant, you have to finish it before they can begin serving your meal. (Or something like that.) Quite a lot of party-pooping anyway!


Most Americans think the British are a nation of fish-and-chip eating, binge-drinking football-hooligans with bad teeth who talk like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. And they’re all homosexuals. Except for Hugh Grant, and we’re not really sure about him.

I’m happy to report that, after seven years of research, I can dispel all of these (strike that) most of the (no, not that, either) some of those myths (yeah, that's it).

- Bad Teeth: Sorry to let the team down, but Brits, when compared to Americans, are a step or two down on the dental-health ladder. This, however, is a subjective comparison; not everyone wants a picture-perfect, dazzling white, Tom Cruise smile. Well, not everyone over here, anyway.

- Fish-and-Chip Eaters: This, too, is a sort of true stereotype. Fish and Chips are still wildly popular with certain segments of the population (of which I am an enthusiastic member). However, thanks to globalization, I often see a longer lines coming out of KFC and McDonald’s on Friday night. I don’t mind; it makes it easier for me to get my fish-and-chips (with mushy peas).

- Binge Drinkers: Sad to say, there are some Brits who look upon drinking as a competitive sport, but for the most part they are sane and responsible drinkers. The sane and responsible ones don’t make very good footage on the “Cops Without Guns” programs, however, so we hardly ever see them.

- Football Hooligans: This behavior has been a problem in the past but the football clubs have worked hard to eradicate it. The hooliganism is (mostly) gone now, but the stereotype remains.

- They have all met the Queen and/or Paul McCartney: No, they have not.

- They all talk like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins: The only Brits I hear talking like that are ones who are imitating Americans trying to talk like Brits.

- They are all Homosexuals: Well, of course they are. Except maybe Hugh Grant

Are there any stereotypes you would like to dispel?

Got something you want us to address? E-mail your suggestion to us or just pop it into the comment box.


  1. That was really interesting.
    I think we tend to think of Americans as extremely confident and louder than we are. Some people are afraid of the Police in the USA and at airports.
    I cringe when I see the way some British act in other countries so it is easy to see what they must think of us.
    Of course all this is stereotyping!
    I used to see lots of American visitors around the Bristol and Bath. Not anymore. It is Europeans now from the continent. Have they all been put off or is it the credit squeeze and the pound/ dollar. exchange rate?

  2. I think the pound/dollar rates in recent years have made it very expensive for Americans to come over to the UK. I don't buy half as much as I used to when I'm home and I try not to eat out in London if I can avoid it. We had lunch at one of the little cafes opposite Windsor Castle this past summer and I almost had to call the bank to clear it with them first!!

  3. @Maggie May - "Some people are afraid of the Police in the USA and at airports." My American visitors were a little taken aback (to say the least) to find police carrying submachine guns at Manchester airport in the UK!

  4. Great post Lady and Gent. I have a popular misconceptions post scheduled of my own and you have given me more motivation and food for thought.

    Toni- for the most part you are still correct about the white trainers (she says as she types with white trainers on her feet), but I do think that we are getting more European looking styles and young people like my son scoff at white sneakers. They are usually black or gray. Sketchers have done a good job of bringing more stylish looking trainers to the U.S.

    Conservative - I was listening to an interview with Marsha Moore (24 Hours:London) and I heard her say that the most striking thing to her when she moved to London was how conservative people are. No saying hello to strangers, or holding doors, conversations normally limited to moaning about the weather or the government. When I heard Marsha say this I thought to myself how much it sounds like the north east where I live. Everything she said you could apply to my area. No saying hello on the street or in the shops. Sometimes people in shops don't even talk to you.

    I think where we differ is that we are much more willing to open up (once we feel comfortable with you, which is after about five minutes) and tell you everything about ourselves and some people sound as if they are boasting ( esp. to the Englishman). But we are taught from birth that we can do anything we want and to be successful (whatever that is) is something to be proud of, so talking about it comes naturally. At the same time, we are equally happy to hear about your success. Also, some people have no problem telling you what they do for a living, how much they paid for their house and all about their family and children within one hour of meeting. Ha,ha!

    I have an English friend that I met two months ago online. Even though we have chatted for hours I don't know what this person does for a living. All I know is where he lives. The English just don't seem to be so eager to divulge this kind of information, so I respect his space.

    Socializing and drinking - You are spot on Toni and this is one of the things I miss most about British culture. Once a couple has children here the social life is over (unless it revolves around their church or their children). My husband and I struggle with this because we only have one child who is grown and we really miss having friends who want to go out and have a drink and a dance.

  5. They are definitely not party animals, as far as I can see. When my husband goes out for work functions, he says hardly anyone drinks and it's all over by 10pm. Whereas in the UK, a similar occasion would have ended up with everyone completely wrecked and heading out to some dodgy club.

    As for being conservative, they are in some ways. They are quite deferential. For example I notice all the teachers at kids' music lessons are called 'Miss Linda' and suchlike. In the UK it would be much more informal. And our landlady addressed my husband as 'Dr XXX' the other day, even though we are on very friendly terms with her and she calls me by my Christian name.

  6. Some Americans I've spoken to think that Scottish people walk around wearing kilts all the time. As far as I can tell, kilts are only worn for formal occasions/national sporting matches.

  7. npg, you are right about Americans being formal and deferential.

    With all our boasting of equality this trait in Americans might come as something of a surprise to Brits.

    Example: I had a fellow call our shop the other day, not a regular customer, seeking information about the value of a book he owned and wanted to sell.

    Now, first of all we charge for appraisals, and secondly there's no way we can give an accurate value of anything without actually seeing it.

    But he was from North Carolina, couldn't get up to the shop here in Virginia (obviously) and besides which he had that darling NC accent and sweet NC attitude, I just had to help him, as flawed as my best estimate would be.

    At the end of our rather lengthy and friendly conversation he said, very formally, "I want to thank you for your kindness to me today, ma'am, it's been a pleasure speaking with you."

    How nice.


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