Friday, 18 November 2011

Trans-Atlantic Stereotype Battling

As an ex-Londoner now living in America I find myself in the unique position of being an Ambassador for this much misunderstood country. There is much misinformation about America still flying about but luckily I’m willing to take the bull by the horns and separate fact from fiction.

Do Americans have no sense of irony?
In my experience, I think it’s safe to say many of them don’t – not really. They definitely have a keen sense of humour, it’s just not one that is based on ‘taking the mickey’ and ‘trying to mask our repressed emotions by using humour as a defence’ as we Brits are want to do.
For example on the day Ricky Martin came out as gay I adopted a deadpan voice as I told an American friend the news. While shaking my head as if I’d been winded by the announcement I muttered, “Wow! I never saw that coming.”
In response my friend wrinkled her forehead and said, “I don’t know, he always seemed a bit camp to me. I wasn’t that surprised.”
Which immediately led to me bursting out, “I was joking! Of course I knew he was gay!”
Yes indeed, there is definitely something ‘lost in translation’ between the American and British sense of humour. They just don’t have the same desire to pick something to pieces for its humour value before tossing the carcass aside. But that probably makes them nicer people.

Do Americans all have freakishly white teeth?
For an American, straight white teeth are very important while for Brits it’s more a case of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’ As long as you have some teeth why sweat it and put yourself at the hands of a maniac with a big drill who will leave you with a large bill? Let’s face it dental perfection is very low on most British people’s list of priorities. Achieving freakishly straight not to mention white teeth is part of the American dream and if you need to take out a second mortgage on your house to afford dental care then hey just do it!

Are Americans are extremely superficial?
The vast majority are not. However, look at America via TV and what do you see? A huge growth in the breast implant industry (pun intended) as well as a focus on chiselled noses, abs and pecs. For these Hollywood stars the pursuit of perfection is a full time job. Americans have a very strong work ethic which has rubbed off on these celebs: but rather than going to work they are having work done on them. It’s more about looking the part of a celebrity than trying to look younger or firmer. As for the ordinary folk, generally US culture is less focused on looking sexy than in the UK.

So, there are some cultural myths busted, that’s it for now but do let me know if there are any other myths about Americans you’d like my insight into.

by Emma Kaufmann at


  1. I have the biggest problem with everyone thinking we eat terrible food, and that is why we are fat. Firstly, not everyone is fat! Second, I gained lots of weight living abroad. Third, they claim we eat tons of burgers and fried chicken and that's it! Ironically I've met loads more people here that go to Kentucky Friend Chicken every weekend or think nothing of eating a burger for a snack. Not to mention lots more bread and rice here (I live in Peru)!

    It's frustrating to have to constantly explain that we're not all fat and that most of us don't eat like that. Many of the North Americans I spend time with avoid fast food at all cost, and eat very healthily. We may have invented fast food, but they're all eating it!

  2. I agree Katie--I've been in the UK for over 16 months and have gained about ten pounds, which is very annoying as I watch what I eat, work out, and walk a lot. I think it's down to not having found work and spending some of my days (like today) at home on the computer.

    Thanks Katy for this post. And I know what you mean about being an Ambassador. I feel like I'm one for the US, which is not a role I would ever seek as I'm told I'm not that typically American.

    The irony thing drives me nuts. Do you watch Saturday Night Live, read The Onion, ever read Mad magazine, or watch the Colbert report? David Sedaris? A bit of irony there.... I think there is an earnest quality to many Americans, but if you find the right crowd, you'll find all the deadpan jokes you can find. *I* would have gotten your Ricky Martin remark, as would all of my friends! :) I think you're right that Americans don't want to rip people to shreds though, and humor also differs wildly from region to region, etc. For example, where I'm from around Chicago, the humor might be darker, more outrageous, and maybe a bit more teasing. More outgoing. But that kind of joking didn't always go over when I lived in Virginia. I learned to be more careful.

    I'm wondering if you find that people stereotype you at all...perhaps that's on another post. Am just discovering your blog today.

    I found that people treated my British husband like a celebrity when he visited the US.



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