Here are some of common negative perceptions about America that you’ll become familiar with if you live abroad:
- The USA is a nation of morbidly obese fatties who eat only junk food, with processed cheese that comes out of a spray bottle often being cited as a favourite.
- Racial injustice and prejudice in America are far worse than in the UK, which is by comparison a bastion of tolerance and equality.
- Americans are proponents of spectacle and appearance, rather than depth of understanding, and this leads us to have vulgar tastes, an unsophisticated sense of humour and a love of low culture. As a result, we have idiotic television programmes, loud, one-dimensional films and we worship talentless celebrities.
- Americans are royal-obsessed. Interestingly Britons believe that Yanks are far more obsessed with the royal family than they are, and I’ve heard countless times in the UK the sentiment: “we only keep them around for the tourists.”
- America is filled with clueless white people who have no understanding of the outside world. When we do travel, you will know us by our loud voices and our unwillingness to adapt to the local culture or to learn how to pronounce things properly.
- The USA is a nation of aggressive bullies- overeager to invade and bomb any perceived problem into submission, while the British often favour a “softly, softly” approach of cooperation and persuasion.
Of course most of this is xenophobic and ignorant nonsense, and perhaps I will refute some of these clichés in a future blog. But there are some other critiques that hit a little closer to home, and the longer you live abroad, the more you realise that perhaps “the greatest country on earth” might be slightly flawed in some departments. Okay, maybe more than slightly… in fact, there are some issues where we Americans have to face the fact that our country actually kind of, er, sucks… here’s some examples:
- American police are quasi-fascist overlords who are to be feared.
Police in the UK, while far from perfect and subject to their fair share of scandals, are overall far more approachable and civil while also being far less militaristic and violent than their American counterparts. Patrol cars here are more likely to carry teddy bears than shotguns, in case officers need to console a child in the course of their duties. In 2013, British officers only fired their weapons three times. That’s three gun shots for an country of 64 million people for an entire year. That number would be a below-average weekend for police just in Cincinnati. If you live in America, you are far more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist.
- Our health care system is an international laughingstock.
America has the world’s most expensive health care, but also among the least effective, ranked as low as 38th in quality. Health care costs are the number one cause of bankruptcies in the USA, even among those with insurance. A recent study ranked the UK as having the best healthcare system in the developed world and trust me – they feel mighty superior about this. I once saw a news programme here in the UK do a story about a temporary, free health care clinic in the USA that was swamped by uninsured patients, desperate for medical help. The piece had exactly the same pitying and slightly patronising tone that you see in news stories about food drops in famine-stricken sub-Saharan Africa: “oh those poor people- but I suppose whatever help they get is just a drop in the bucket as they never seem to do any better for themselves.”
- Guns and gun massacres as part of everyday life.
There are nearly as many guns in America as citizens, and a central tenet of life in many parts of the country is that the more guns there are in circulation, the safer people are. This is despite the nation suffering a gun massacre virtually every week or two, events that are very rare everywhere else in the world. The answer to all this gun violence, according to the National Rifle Association (the most powerful political lobby in the country) is that people should have more guns: They even want schoolteachers to have handguns in classrooms. In fact, the NRA points to the UK as an example of the dangers of gun control: they distribute talking points about the high level of violence in the UK, strategically omitting the fact that you are about five times more likely to be a murder victim in the US than in the UK. They wouldn’t want people to realise that murders are easier to commit with guns!
- Americans work themselves to death for no reason.
Americans believe themselves to be the hardest-working people on earth. They work more hours, with fewer benefits and days off than nearly anywhere else in the western world. In the UK, most people receive a minimum of five weeks paid holiday each year- compare that to the average two in the USA. In France and Germany, it’s often six or seven weeks. But all those extra hours Americans work don’t pay off in more productivity, only more work. Germany and France score higher worker on most measures of worker productivity than Americans. More work and less play apparently doesn’t make for the best work environment, a fact well-known throughout Europe, but stubbornly ignored in the U.S.
- Our sports chants really suck.
Last but not least, for a country as obsessed with sports as the USA, we are really terrible at creating or delivering sports songs or chants. Click here to get a taste of the inventiveness and diversity of British football chants. I’ve been to about a dozen NBA games in my life and the most interesting chant I ever heard was “Let’s go Knicks!” At international events like the World Cup, Americans have essentially nothing to say except to repeat the letters “U-S-A” over and over again. Come on lads, we can do better !