The year of (North) America

Last week on Twitter I forwarded this article on how the UK sees Americans.

@nocrowds, @andrewghayes and @LEHedges all forwarded the article with the comment:

“A Brit defending Americans. I’m speechless”

That made me think. It’s probably true that in the UK (and maybe the rest of Europe too) we hear more about the negative aspects of American culture than the positive ones.

Like the article’s author, when I visited the USA I was not prepared for the friendly, open nature of the Americans I met. Eating a sandwich on a park bench, complete strangers sat down next to me and began chatting. I’m used to this living in Turkey, but in the UK? That doesn’t happen very often.

When I’m in the UK, I’m far more likely to hear reports of bad American junk food than the friendliness of American people, or the many other good things about life in the USA.

And Americans online (so it seems from here) are more likely to be talking about travelling the world than writing about life in their own country. In our Food of the World photo group PocketCultures readers have shared photos of food from over 30 different countries, but apart from the fantastic contributions of Marfa Food Shark, we don’t have any examples of food from the USA.

In the rest of the world we think we know US culture. American brands, films, fast food chains are everywhere right?

But just like watching Four Weddings and a Funeral won’t tell you anything about life outside a small subsection of English society, I’m guessing that eating in McDonald’s doesn’t help you make any generalisations about America either.

Sean Oliver of Language and Culture says: “the thing to always remember about the US is how big and varied it is”

“When Americans travel around the country, fast food/Gap blue jeans/popular movies are something familiar to eat/buy/watch… They’re certainly not the best of, or representative of, what many of us eat/wear/watch on a daily basis”.

Julie Schweitert Collazo wrote on her blog Collazo Projects that for her 2010 will be the year of America. I’m looking forward to 2010 being a year of opportunities to learn more about America’s many other sides.

Read more:
PocketCultures is looking for regional contributors
A tale of 50 states: around the USA in photos
Food of the world: PocketCultures readers share their food

About the author

Lucy (Liz) Chatburn
Lucy is English and first ventured out of the UK she was 19. Since then she has lived in 4 different countries and tried to see as much of the world as possible. She loves learning languages, learning about different cultures and hearing different points of view.
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  • “Sean Oliver of Language and Culture says: “the thing to always remember about the US is how big and varied it is.”


    And that observation has so many important implications. Americans forget this themselves (or never knew it in the first place). When I heard people say “Oh, Obama will sweep New York” during the elections, I thought, “You’ve never been north of New York City!” In many ways, NY State is much more akin to my home state, South Carolina, than NYC. And going west– well, that’s a whole other kettle of fish! Different accents, different foods, different traditions.

    I think the diversity is true of any country, though. We just forget that so frequently.

    Great post, Liz!

  • As a person who has lived in several different countries for long periods of time – two of them being the US and the UK – and having a place I call “home” a different place than my nationality, I can very much empathise with this concept.

    Every country has more than one side, and yes, the more mundane and often unseen parts of a country are also the most intriguing.

  • Thanks Julie! I’m looking forward to hearing more about whatever it is you’ve got planned for this year :)

    Of course diversity is true of any country (and absolutely agree it’s too easy to forget that), but I guess in the USA it’s on a much bigger scale. From their size and diversity each state of the US could almost be a country of its own, right? It’s definitely something that’s difficult to appreciate from over here. In Europe we’d find it strange if someone mixed up London and Paris, but I can’t even name the capitals of North and South Carolina, for example. Never mind knowing anything about their culture and customs.

  • You know both sides of this story then Andy. I think it’s fascinating (and sometimes unfortunate, too) how the image of some countries from outside can be so different to what you see when you get to know them better.

    Thanks for commenting.

  • Liz,
    You’ve started a really interesting discussion. I love the idea of “the year of America”. As an American who has lived in Europe for almost 20 years, I’ve seen lots of twists and turns to the story of how America and Americans are perceived “over here”. Some of the views deserved – some not -but I’ve never met a European who has visited the US who regretted making the effort to come and see the country for themselves. And most come back again and again for the reasons you so correctly emphasize in your post.

  • Thanks for commenting Kate. And thanks for sparking the idea too! We’re all about challenging stereotypes – the US might not be the first place that comes to mind when listing misrepresented countries, but I think this shows that it’s not immune to the problem.