American Stereotypes Abroad

American Stereotypes Abroad [Discussion]

In Living Abroad, Travel by Tom @ Abroad American10 Comments

Warning: This post is about American stereotypes abroad. As such, vast amounts of over-generalization are ahead! Please, know that I don’t believe that all Germans or all peoples believe in these stereotypes of Americans. I’m just repeating what I’ve encountered naturally, and the responses people here have given when asked what they think the typical American is like. 

American Stereotypes Abroad

Yes, this is what everyone back home is like. I swear guys, it’s totally true. Image Credit: 2010, Pokketmowse Imgur (I tried to track down the original, no luck.)

Anyone from the States who’s traveled to Europe has likely come into contact with some American stereotypes. The American stereotypes in Germany are pretty much the same as I’ve found elsewhere in Europe. The overarching theme seems to be that the people of the United States are a self-centered, superficial, arrogant, and inconsiderate bunch of idiots.

They seem to think that every American goes off to patriotic target practice every evening and eats 3 Big Macs afterward. This all is before the nightly homicidal shootout with our trigger-happy police, of course. They think we hate poor people, black people, and generally those different from us. Germans tend to believe that Americans are “uncultured” and that we rarely travel outside our borders or experience other places. They think we all drive Hummers and love to road trip on Route 66 singing along to Country Road whilst drinking piss-poor beer.

If I ever encountered anyone who believed all those things, I would simply say “Cheers!” and pretend to be English. There’s no convincing some people, and they’re just not worth your effort. Luckily most Germans don’t actually believe these things about individual people. I’m sure their minds conjure up these stereotypes when thinking of the country as a whole. Naturally, I don’t agree with them, however, some are more true than others. Some of these stereotypes have merit, and some do not. Most are exaggerated, though.

Positive American Stereotypes in Germany

Let’s not get all down and out – there are some positive American stereotypes too! Many people could also believe (possibly with some cognitive dissonance) that Americans are generous, hard working, and informal people. After visiting the States, many come back surprised that people will simply talk to you in the store or at the bus stop (if you’re in a metropolitan area…). Many Germans I’ve met have also noted that they think Americans are pretty optimistic, too.

Discussion: American Stereotypes Abroad

I won’t be going through each of these stereotypes here. Instead, I want to open up a discussion with my fellow abroad Americans about they stereotyping they have faced while here in Germany, Europe, or anywhere else in the world. So.

What type of American stereotypes have you encountered while traveling or living abroad?

How did people reveal these stereotypes to you?

How has seeing their view of Americans affected you?

OR, if you’re not American:

What are some of your stereotypes of Americans, and why do you think you have them?

What do you think Americans think of your country?

I’m looking forward to your input, and discussing your experiences with American Stereotypes abroad!


  1. The last time I was in Montreal, what I noticed most was that first I’d get subtly checked out as to my political views, and when the person (often a cabby) found out I wasn’t a Trump supporter, what I heard was feeling sorry. It was as if people were embarrassed for us. So there was some acknowledgement that there are different groups, each stereotyped a little differently.

    1. Author

      I’ve gotten that too, Les. People seem to be kind of beating around the bush and probing to find what your political beliefs are. Here, they more openly mock Trump and are simply just surprised he could get the Republican nomination. I guess you’re onto something there – others are realizing that the country isn’t so uniform. Hell, it’s over 300 million people!

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. I’ve been to Ireland and most of the U.k. and the response is always the same when somebody finds out I’m from Chicago (Ok, I’m actually from Naperville but that’s not the point). ‘Like Al Capone, gangland Chicago.’ To which I have to explain that it’s not actually that bad. Always makes me giggle a bit though.

    1. Author

      Justin – yea, I’ve gotten the same. I’m from the suburbs as well, though I lived in Lakeview for a couple years before leaving the country. Lots of people seem to be familiar with Al Capone and that era, for some reason. Maybe movies or they all learn about it in history class or something. The worst reaction I ever got was from one of my old roommate’s dad (probably over 60 years old). When I mentioned that I’m from Chicago, he just made a finger gun and went “boom, boom!” … Obviously, I just laughed and mentally said “yea, totally, it’s amazing I’m still alive!” Externally, I just smiled and laughed and walked upstairs.

  3. I find that more than not, most Europeans are shocked that I can speak Spanish and German. It’s usually a bit of a backhanded compliment when they ask me “Why do you know another language?”

    I’ve also found that many Europeans assume that because the Imperial System is based on nonsense (which it is), that it doesn’t work. I’m asked questions like, “If you use pounds, how do you figure out how much you weigh?” or “If you use Fahrenheit, how do you know what temperature it is in your house?” To which I usually respond, “I step on a scale,” and “I look at the thermostat.”

    Lots of people here are more than happy to poke jokes at Americans whenever they can for an easy laugh until they find out you’re an American. At that point, you become their ‘best friend’ and they have 500 questions for you.

    1. Author

      So, so, so true. It’s a weird relationship. It’s as if they have this hysterical image of the uber-American in their head that they like to make the butt of their jokes…but in reality, they love Americans. They watch American TV, listen to our music, and everyone I’ve encountered has expressed that they want to visit. That’s a source of those 500 questions. Lots of conversations devolve to Trump these days, but hey, it’s big news.

      With the Imperial System, yea, people seem to not understand that you adjust to the system and it becomes a part of your natural understanding over time – even if it’s pretty arbitrary and weird. I don’t need to understand that 1 Calorie (kCal) = the amount of energy required to heat one kilo of water 1 degree C at atm. pressure in order to understand how many Calories I should eat every day. I have Michelle Obama for that.

  4. My interaction with Americans has predominantly been here in Australia, where Anericans have been on holiday. The stereotype that sends to have been perpetuated is one of loudness. Like really LOUD! Loud in private conversation, loud when ordering at a shop, loud when everyone else is quiet… maybe its just really noisy in America? Great post- I think every nationality battles it’s stereotypes in an abroad setting!

    1. Author

      Ha. Yea, I’ve noticed the loud thing, too. I’m not sure why exactly it exists, I’m sure confirmation bias is acting here too – where you have this idea that Americans are loud, so that every loud American sticks out in your mind, while you don’t even notice the quieter ones. This bias can be applied to lots of other circumstances, too. Thanks for the comment!

      Great point about people really coming up against their stereotypes once they’re abroad. Very true!

  5. Only rarely have I met americans in Europe that WEREN’T loud, stupid and self-obsessed.

    1. Author

      Oh look! Someone generalizing Americans on the internet as opposed to engaging in the more reflective and intelligent conversation – something they are literally complaining about. I’m shocked, – shocked, I tell ya!

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