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What are Europeans told when visiting America?

When an European is planning a trip to the United States, I wonder what he's told about the people there. Rick Steves is very frank and open about the many people he's met. Are there any similarly honest guidebooks (in English) for people visiting America? I couldn't find any on Amazon!

Posted by
8293 posts

I would think any such books, if they exist at all, must be in the language of the European country, unless written by and for the British.

Posted by
3313 posts

If there were something similar, I think it would begin with cautioning to not expect to find TIs, don't expect signage in any languages other than English and Spanish, be prepared to converse exclusively in English.

Posted by
576 posts

Laura, I would LOVE to read an honest opinions guidebook about Americans by Europeans! Our Spanish exchange daughter shared some of her expectaions with us. Among the things she was told in her lectures preparing students for living in America were: we don't iron anything (we wear lots of polyester), use only butter for cooking (never olive oil), are most likely to be overweight (eating fast food all the time), and almost every family has guns in the home. She was very relieved to see that we didn't fit a single one of those stereotypes. It's no wonder that there's no Rick Steves type of book about America in Europe...they don't seem to know about his types of books on Europe. Last summer my daughter brought her "Rick Steves Spain" to Spain with her and the Spanish family used it and after awhile started referring to it as "the bible". So if any Europeans want to fill a void in the travel literature sector, write a good, funny, opinion filled guidebook for your fellow Euro kind about America! I'm sure it would be a fun read.

Posted by
13097 posts

Having dealt with many foreigners visiting the U.S., I was shocked to hear some of the ideas they had.

Many got their impression of American and Americans from our exported TV shows and news.

Some of the things i heard:

--we are all overweight

--we all own guns

--we shoot at each other from our cars

--we only eat fast-food.

--we work all the time

And remember, the number one deistination for foreigners to the U.S. is .......Disney World.

Posted by
2815 posts

"And remember, the number one destination for foreigners to the U.S. is .......Disney World." That's a shame.


Posted by
9060 posts

How's is that a shame? Most Americans who travel overseas head to resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean, and spend most all of their time on the beach. Is that much different? Not all travel is about sightseeing. Some people like to relax and do nothing for a week, and just enjoy a warmer climate and the sun. Other travelers like to spend a week riding on roller coasters, enjoying wave pools, or throwing their money down slot machines. Travel isn't always about art museums, and cathedrals; one type isn't any more "valid" then the other.

Posted by
135 posts

Well, in my experience the first thing they are told is to buy health insurance for the trip because if they get sick it's money up front, and a lot. The Europeans I know love our highways and can't believe that we have such low speed limits. The young Europeans are not used to not being able to go into bars or drink before they're 21. They hate not being able to go clubbing....The middle-aged admire our more senior folks still being very active, going on long road trips, etc. They also generally think we are a nation of prudes. Their TV shows are more explicit and their beaches usually permit more nudity than ours. By the way, in Florida, at least, the signs are often in English, German and Spanish. They often come with a tour group and are blown away by the distances and the size of this country, especially when they travel by tour bus. From what I've been told, they have to revise their opinion of the United States completely once they've been here.

Posted by
12040 posts

Most of the Dutch-language guidebooks I've seen about the US are of the Frommer's variety. They're very hotel, restaurant and sight-seeing oriented, with not too much detail on daily life.

Posted by
481 posts

I used to coordinate student exchange groups from different countries. The only impression these kids had of America was what they watched on TV (90210, etc...).

When I had a group of Russian high school students, they really thought that every family has 3 cars, lives in a big house, and has a swimming pool. It was a huge ordeal when they discovered that it's not always the case.

Posted by
8503 posts

The book stores here are packed with travel books. I haven't read any of them though! There are a lot of tour companies in Germany that specialize in tours such as Native American tours, the National Parks, scuba diving, visiting Alaska, etc, along with the ever present packages - one week hotel in NYC with flight for 400 €, and stuff like that. I had an ex-brother-in-law who specialized in tours for blind people who wanted to travel in the US.

Germans will do a lot of research too, there is even a German page over on Trip Advisor. Since English is a required subject for at least 4 years, one of the things the students study are the English speaking lands. So, 1 year will be the UK, the next Canada, then the US and Australia. TV is of course a big influence on what people think. One other thing to think about, is that Germans have a minimum of 4 weeks vacation a year so many, many people come to the States. So a lot of your friends and family will have been there and will be happy to tell you their experiences. Face it, it is a cheap vacation with the dollar being so bad and the gas is so cheap in comparison.

Germans often want to see the natural beauty of America, whether it is the deserts, the mountains, the swamps of Florida or the rainforests of the Pacific NW. They are highly interested in the Native Americans and "Western Clubs" are quite popular. One has to realize too, that many more books written by American authors have been translated into German, than the other way around. So, they do get a fairly good view of life in the US.

Posted by
17 posts

Thank you so much, everybody. These are exactly the types of responses I was looking for! When I asked my Scottish friend what he had heard about Americans, he said that he found us to be superficially friendly (all the hugging of near total strangers and so on). Anyways, thanks again everyone. What are some of the GOOD stereotypes people have of us?

Posted by
2090 posts

Before I moved to the US, I thought everyone drove Cadillacs and all the women wore huge pink curlers in their hair to the grocery store. At the time anyway there weren't any guidebooks for the US in East Africa.

Posted by
1158 posts

but Frank, isn't that true?
Well, not all Americans are fat, but 60% are.

Posted by
6560 posts

In a related way, I thought of this very topic over the weekend...I booked a ticket on Amtrak for my daughter, Eastern Iowa to Provo, Utah. First, I have to drive an hour and a half to a train station, then she travels...for 28 HOURS on a direct train! Imagine traveling across the entire country! 3-4 days? Imagine any type of travel in the US using only public ground transport? I am sure all of this must come as quite a shock to Europeans.

Posted by
18690 posts

Imagine traveling across the entire country!

When I was in college (no the railroad had been invented by then), I traveled cross country (3 nts) from Seattle to Albany NY on the train. It was a great experience. It really taught me how BIG our country really is.

Posted by
252 posts

I think we have to give a little more credit to our fellow travelers from abroad, thinking they would believe all those American stereotypes. In fact, it's the ones who plan the trip over who are less likely to fall into that trap. For example, if I truly believed every French waiter was rude, I'd have never gone to France.

Posted by
85 posts

Personally, I don't like it when advice is given that we (Americans) need to "blend in" when in Europe. I think it's OK to be who we are, dress like we normally do, and not be ashamed of our culture.

Do Europeans get the same advice when they are planning to visit the U.S.? Are they made to feel like they need to dress like us and act like us? I hope not and frankly, I doubt if they are. I hope they still dress and act like themselves and we can do the same. JMHO. :-)

Posted by
345 posts

Sorry to hijack the thread just a little bit, but I want to speak to the pervasive belief that adapting your dress when traveling is some sort of "trick" Americans use to disguise themselves as locals or that it's motivated by shame of being American.

That in itself gives some insight into American thought. (Warning, sweeping generalizations to follow.) In general, we dress to please ourselves, feel like "being yourself" is the most important value, and one "shouldn't care about what others think." That's how I was raised too.

In some other cultures dressing well is something you do out of respect for other people, therefore a respectful guest and traveler may choose to do that also. It's not something that you do to accrue personal benefit.

OK. I hope I didn't take us off-track too much.

Posted by
17 posts

Are there really no positive stereotypes out there about Americans?

Posted by
386 posts

thank you for your post, off track or not! I have touched on this subject myself a few times, without finding just the right words.

America is a highly individualistic society, the matter of dress is certainly a manifestation of it, and with it the perception of being told to 'blend in' or 'disguising' oneself when traveling abroad, not just Europe.

As to Europeans traveling to the US: I first did so in 1984, at the age of 25. I had researched my adventure extensively (no internet then), but despite my knowledge, I was simply blown away by the sheer size of your country.
And I was blown away by of how much space Americans have for themselves and claim for themselves. The size of the houses, the properties, cars, roads everything!

What also struck me, was that Americans live quite separate from one another, that there aren't many common spaces the way we Europeans understand them.

I was also totally fascinated by all the drive-throughs, I still have an album of photos about it - everything from drive-through post-offices to Dunkin Donuts ;-))
It is a society built for car travel, for sure.

As to what I was being told, in travel guides, books and by Europeans that already had visited:

NOT to hitchhike under any circumstances, to be very mindful of not drinking alcohol in public places, to stay in the commercial parts of the big cities, and not to venture into residential neighborhoods, and NOT to show to much skin or nurse babies in public, which I promptly ran afoul of.

And yes, I remember being told to wear jeans, tennis shoes and baseball hats, so not to stick out as a tourist!

Posted by
13097 posts

Lane....the next time your future MIL reminds you to speak "The Queens English," remind her that the Queens' English is reserved for subjects of the Queen. And since, you are an American and not a subject of the Queen, you are not expected to speak "The Queens English." (I have friends who are British and this is a running gag we have when we talk about pronunciation.)

Posted by
63 posts

I believe it is almost impossible to grow up without developing a stereotypical impression of people from other countries, especially watching TV.

Speaking as a Brit, I grew up with the following stereotypes of people influenced by TV & movies (I haven't believed all of this since I was a kid though :-)

French: Wear berets, love garlic, onion, romance, wine and having wars with us.
Swedish: All blonde, love sex, very clean cities, boring (besides the sex :-)
Spanish: Eat paella all the time, have siestas and tend to be a bit lazy.


Americans: Everybody has a huge car & a gun, eats nothing but burgers/hotdogs, are rude when abroad but are very polite and welcoming when at home, wear Texan 10 gallon hats, speaks like bugs bunny/Scarlet Ohara/Surfer-dude, and are kind harted down south, sleazy in New York and nuts over in the West. Oh and everybody in the middle is a cowboy!

That's what happens when you grow up watching US cartoons (Looney tunes & Tom & Jerry), Cop shows (Kojak, Steets of San Francisco, Ironside...), movies (Cool Hand Luke, Convoy, inumerable Westerns, Dirty Harry etc)

Also having English as a first language meant I read Superman/Spider man comics so for example I wondered for a long time what a Twinky was (thanks for Wikipedia for telling me about that).

Thank goodness I grew up! I remember when I first went to the US I spent a long time on the first day in the supermarket having a nostalgia blast seeing for example Twinkies and trying them out.

I love the US and the people by the way. Oh and the French :-)


Posted by
37 posts

I am engaged to a British ex-pat, and boy some of the ideas Europeans have of us! They get their wisdom from TV and film, our politicians and Disney.

1) We're all overweight, but obsessed with our teeth.

2) We're horrible with geography and rarely travel outside of our country.
3) We have no sense of history.
4) We're "loud" and insensitive. (My future mother-in-law frequently states "Don't speak in your American voice." = quit yelling. I had to explain that my Dad is nearly deaf so it's MY habit, not an American trait.)
5) We've butchered the English language. (Once again, my future mother-in-law corrects my pronounciation frequently, and reminds me of the "Queen's English". I told her that the only Queen in America is RuPaul -- that was probably insensitive of me).
6) The country is over-run and run by crazy Christians.

7) We're far too violent.

Posted by
337 posts

A thing that modern guidebooks explain are the hoops the US immigration service makes visitors jump through. And to reassure the would be visitors that the iron curtain like experience is rewarded by the beauty of the land and the friendliness of the people.

And then there is the usual practical advice concerning different customs: "wait to be seated in restaurants" and "if stopped by cops don't get out of the car and leave the hands on the wheel" and so on.

I never came across "how to masquerade as locals" instructions. Perhaps because most Europeans have already been to different (usually European) countries and know that such a thing is futile. And that there are no horrible consequences of being recognised as a tourist.

Like Frank and Steve already said: the ubiquity of US movies and TV shows means that everyone has already a fairly detailed (if often exaggerated and downright false) stereotype of Americans. So the obstacle of guidebooks is not so much the "fear of the unknown" (because many think they already know), but to challenge the stereotypes.

Posted by
37 posts

Yep, our teeth. They think we have freakishly white teeth. On the other hand, mainland Europeans think that the British have bad teeth.

And there are very positive stereotypes regarding Americans also. We're generous, friendly and good tippers. My fiance's grandmother (God Bless her soul at 90 years-old) always thanks me for the US rescuing the British in WWII. The British were 2 weeks from starvation when the US joined. And Grams knows that my Grandpa was one of the liberators of a Polish concentration camp.

Posted by
10344 posts

Re the advice given to Europeans, in their travel books, about travel to the US, here's an excerpt from an actual French travel guide (however, no warranties made as to accuracy of translation into English): "It is recommended that one attempt to blend in with the locals. This can best be achieved wearing the shorts, t-shirt with local sports team logo, work-out shoe (blanc!), and--tres importante--when entering their sacred Walmarts, one must keep the head covered, preferably with baseball hat, as there is invariably a dress code enforcer at the door."

Posted by
163 posts

Yes, I've heard the comments on Americans straight, bright white there is a positive stereotype Laura!

Posted by
102 posts

Americans are very friendly but beware because they do not mean anything they say. American women all have breast implants. All kids wear braces because they have to have perfect teeth. And yes they have no clue about geography or anything going on outside the U.S.

I guess these are not very nice but this is the kind of things I have heard. Obviously, the people on this website are interested in the world affairs and the world outside the U.S. :)

Posted by
342 posts

I remember once, someone told me "Inside every German there is a policeman." Having lived in Germany for a while, I kind of knew what they meant, but it struck me funny.

Posted by
2349 posts

Kent, I'll never look at a Wal Mart greeter the same!

Maybe the rest of the world looks at America as if it were a Labrador retriever. Very friendly, doesn't know how to stop being happy. Loves you when you like it, doesn't understand when you don't like it. Slobbers too much. Tries to be helpful but sometimes knocks over things and makes a big mess. Too enthusiastic. Soft spot for children and the helpless. Leaves big footprints. Usually makes people smile buy sometimes makes them yell.

Posted by
586 posts

One positive stereotype I've heard is that Americans are always optimistic, forward looking, expecting change and good things just around the corner. Another I've heard that's less positive (actually, read about) is the notion that in terms of age, American culture is really still an adolescent, with all of the positives AND negatives of that stage of development, including high energy, risk-taking, an "I'm going to live forever" mentality, a hyper-self-consciousness, a touch of gullibility, and a naive enthusiam for the future, a tendency to oversimplify things...while Europe is more like a recently retired adult who's seen and done it all, and just nods and smiles at the teens on the corner, as if to say, "You don't know anything, kid"--but at the same time feels a little jealousy, looking back at its own lost salad days.

Posted by
37 posts

Exactly, Gio. That's why my fiance moved from England -- couldn't take the negative attitudes any more.

Posted by
365 posts

It's difficult to cling to my guns and religion with a Big Mac in each hand.

Posted by
13097 posts

One thing I remember hearing a lot from people visiting the U.S. was how big things were.--big portions of food, big cars, big trucks, big trains, big refrigerators, big hotel rooms...and so on. Americans like to do things big. That doesn't mean it's necessarily better, just bigger.

Perhaps that's why, for a young country, we've accomplished so much. We just do everything big.

Posted by
235 posts

Yet another stereotype about Americans. I once did a house exchange with some travelers from Paris. After picking them up at the airport, I offered to take them out to dinner. Ok, they said, but just don't take us to McDonald's.

Posted by
85 posts

Linda: When I mentioned dressing like ourselves when in Europe, I wasn't meaning that I want to wear shorty-shorts, tennies, and a ball cap. I was meaning that I don't feel that I need to buy a totally different wardrobe that comes from Paris or London in order to visit there. Personally, I dress far more modestly than most people (only long dresses, long sleeves, and loose fitting clothing) in any country, so I doubt if I would offend any Europeans. And this idea of "blending in" comes from Rick Steves' books. He suggests we try to look like Europeans when we're there. I just disagree, but I do think people should dress respectfully no matter which country they're in.

Lane: I had to chuckle about your comment on being loud. One night, while on a Rick Steves tour, we were all riding the Metro in Paris and several of us started laughing at a joke someone told. Our guide sternly scolded us (like we were 5 yrs. old) to "be very quiet so as not to call attention to yourselves. All Europeans are quiet." Well, we knew this wasn't true because at other times when we were on the Metro without the guide, lots of French people were laughing and talking loudly. And they also talked alot in restaurants. She acted like they were silent, serious people who whisper all the time. That's another Rick Steves pronouncement that I just don't agree with. If I want to laugh or talk to someone, I will. Life is too short to be somber and serious all the time. :-)