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For better or for worse, American culture – from TV and movies to politics – has spread to some of the most far-flung corners of the globe.
That means that if you’re an American traveling abroad, you’re going to be confronted with a lot of stereotypes about the United States pretty much anywhere you go. I heard them everywhere I traveled, whether in Paris, Mumbai, Tierra del Fuego, or rural Malaysia.
Some of these stereotypes are way off-base: Not all Americans drink and party around the clock, for example, despite what people in other countries may have heard.
Here are some of the most common stereotypes about Americans I’ve heard around the world:
All Americans are rich.
One of the most common misconceptions I encountered abroad is that all Americans are wealthy – and everyone has multiple cars and a big house.
That misconception comes in part from America’s powerful global economic standing, I learned. But as plenty of Americans know, not all of that wealth makes its way into the hands of every citizen, and there are millions of Americans living in poverty.
Americans don’t do anything but drink, party, and have sex.
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For many non-Americans, the only exposure they get to the United States is through Hollywood cinema.
That often leads to a warped perception of American life in which young people are wholly devoted to drinking, partying, and having sex.
I must have let them down when I told them most young Americans I know are focused on work, paying rent, and getting enough sleep.
Americans are loud, arrogant, and entitled.
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We can thank the scores of American tourists who flout local cultural norms for giving us a bad rap in many countries.
By simply being respectful of other cultures and remembering to follow local customs, you can help defy this stereotype many people hold of Americans.
Americans don’t know any other language but English.
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Americans are perhaps the most notoriously monolingual people on the planet.
In reality, the stereotype doesn’t hold up: Americans, and especially young ones, are becoming increasingly able to communicate in languages besides English. (Part of the reason Americans are known as monolingual is because the government isn’t asking the right questions about our language use.)
But even if you don’t speak the local language where you’re traveling, learning a few basic phrases can go a long way to building relationships and gaining trust.
Americans don’t know how to dress.
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For whatever reason, the iconic image of visor-wearing, fanny pack-wielding, socks-and-sandals-combining American tourist will never die.