20 Things Non-Americans Take Too Seriously About the U.S.

Many of us hold stereotypes about other countries, whether we realize it or not. The same is often true of foreigners’ perceptions of the United States.

During my over a decade of international travel, I’ve met non-Americans who’ve shared their unknowingly skewed views of the U.S. with me. I’ve also talked with travelers who’ve heard about American ways that don’t always hit the mark.

These are some of the recurring U.S. stereotypes that I’ve heard on the road. Some will make you laugh, and others you might be able to relate to.

1: Gaps in Bathroom Stalls

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To Americans, gaps in bathroom stalls are a way to tell if someone’s using the restroom and beat claustrophobia. But to people from many other countries, gaps in a place that should be private are an invasion of privacy.

As uncomfortable as it may be for foreigners to use restrooms with gaps, it turns out the U.S. might be on to something. Gaps allow people to more easily see if someone lost consciousness, and they reduce the chances of people doing the deed in public, among other illegal activities.

2: Cowboys Abound

Cowboy herding cows.
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Older Europeans are sometimes under the perception that the majority of Americans are cowboys. The reason likely traces back to the pre-World War II days, when Western films gained popularity.

Once World War II started, Western movie importations came to a halt. A surge of Westerns arrived at Europe’s shores after the war. But once the 1960s came around, the backlog of films mostly vanished and new, non-Western films took their place.

3: No Culture

Girl holding a sparkler.
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Some Americans are guilty of joining certain foreigners in believing the U.S. doesn’t have culture. But that’s just not true.

Although the U.S. started out as a melting pot of cultures, and we continue to value our roots (Little Italy and Chinatowns around the U.S., anyone?), we’ve also shaped our own culture. That’s especially the case in different regions of the U.S., with cultures in the North and South being distinct from one another and also different from those in the Midwest and West.

Since the U.S. is the fourth-largest country in the world, it’s understandable that much of American culture has formed regionally.

4: Super Dangerous

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No, most Americans don’t step out of their homes every day in utter fear of their lives.

It’s hard to blame non-Americans for believing that all of the U.S. is very dangerous, though. They’re fed news about mass shootings across our country while not experiencing the everyday life many Americans live of greeting neighbors on the street and running into kind strangers.

5: Everyone Has Firearms

Police officer.
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Perhaps because of those old Western films or many foreigners being aware of our issue with mass shootings, there’s a common misconception that all Americans own firearms. I’ve even heard some people believe that Americans are armed everywhere they go.

Here’s the reality: Thirty-two percent of Americans in a Pew Research Center report said they personally own a gun, and about 40% reported living in a household with one. As many Americans can attest to, it’s uncommon to see people who aren’t police officers walking around with a firearm attached to their side.

6: We All Act Like TikTok Users

Kids recording for TikTok.
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Viral TikTok videos are often an unfortunate representation of America for people who’ve never been to the U.S. Many TikTok users put on a show to increase views; they might not even act that way in real life.

While there’s plenty of TikTok content that does a better job of representing a more average American life, most Americans don’t live like some of the most popular TikTok stars.

7: Wooden Houses

Log cabin in South Dakota.
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Approximately 90% of homes in the U.S. are made of wood. While wood doesn’t always make sense as a primary material in homebuilding, many Americans have never thought twice about it. Not so in other parts of the world.

I’ve heard non-Americans criticize wood for not lasting as long as brick, stone, and cement houses. It’s a weak material, they argue. They’ve got a point. But wood holds up well among low-intensity natural disasters, and it’s relatively economical, so it’s unlikely most Americans will give it up as their preferred building material anytime soon.

8: Sales Tax

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Americans are used to having sales tax tacked onto their bill when they arrive at the cash register. But such a system floors many foreigners.

In countries like England, the price of an item you see on the shelf already includes sales tax. It’s a nice perk. However, Americans are so used to having sales tax added onto a transaction at checkout that it isn’t as big of a deal for most of us.

9: No Healthy Food

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Yes, food deserts exist in the U.S. But the majority of the U.S. population lives in areas where they have relatively easy access to healthy food options. That said, many foreigners seem to be under the impression that the primary food choices Americans have for eating out consist of places like McDonald’s and KFC.

Nowadays, it’s even possible to eat healthy fast food in many parts of the U.S. Tender Greens and other salad shops allow people to eat healthy on the go.

10: Bad Cheese

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Just because the U.S. isn’t France doesn’t mean we have terrible cheese. If in doubt, ask a Wisconsinite.

So, how did the U.S. get the stereotype of making gross cheese? Based on my conversations with people abroad, it likely has something to do with individually wrapped, floppy pieces of yellow American cheese. I agree it’s bad. But American cheese is far from the only option that U.S. citizens have on the cheese front.

11: Poverty and Healthcare

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The research is clear: Poverty and the increased chances of poor health are closely linked in the U.S. Nevertheless, despite the high costs of healthcare in America and contrary to what many foreigners believe, people in poverty who have a medical emergency aren’t without options.

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act mandates that emergency rooms receiving Medicare funds can’t refuse a patient who needs treatment. The majority of U.S. hospitals fall under the Medicare category.

12: Portion Sizes

Man serving food at a restaurant.
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Admittedly, America’s stereotype for gigantic portion sizes may not hold as true as it did in the past due to shrinkflation. Nevertheless, I’ve had several non-Americans tell me how they couldn’t get over how large restaurant meals are in the U.S. They have (or had) a point.

However, not all Americans eat everything on their plate. There’s a reason restaurants keep a stock of takeout boxes on hand. How can anyone be upset by squeezing two meals out of the price of one?

13: Vacation Dreaming

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I’ll be the first to agree with the narrative that many Americans don’t receive enough paid vacation time. However, I’ve found that not receiving enough vacation time sometimes gets misconstrued abroad as us having no paid vacation time.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find an American willing to work for a company that doesn’t offer any paid time off. Nevertheless, companies technically don’t have to; federal law doesn’t guarantee workers any paid vacation days.

14: No American Food

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Many people overseas are aware that the U.S. is a melting pot of cultures. Perhaps because of that, there’s a stereotype that the U.S. doesn’t have any American-born food.

Try telling that to a Buffalo, New York native. They’ll quickly put you in your place; Buffalo chicken wings were invented there and are now a beloved food among meat eaters across the country.

Lobster rolls, S’mores, Philly cheesesteaks, peacan pie, and ranch dressing are some of the many foods with U.S. origins.

15: Literal Sayings

String of American flags.
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We have many nicknames names for the U.S., such as the Land of the Free. And if you’re at an Olympics event, you might hear a group of Americans declaring the U.S. as the greatest country ever.

But here’s the thing: Most Americans don’t call the U.S. the Land of the Free believing we’re the only free country. Instead, for many of us, the nickname represents freedom as a value of ours.

The same goes for saying the U.S. is the greatest country ever. Yes, some Americans truly believe that. But I’d argue that more Americans recognize that other countries have a lot of great qualities, too. So, we use “greatest country” like a Red Sox fan would say the “Red Sox are the greatest team ever,” knowing full well that the Red Sox haven’t won every World Series in baseball history.

16: Big Trucks

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With over 90% of American households owning a vehicle, U.S. car culture understandably seems extra big for many foreigners who live in countries where public transportation is abundant.

However, I’ve found that some people are under the impression that most Americans drive massive trucks. “Most” is an exaggeration. Nevertheless, Americans bought more used Ford F-150s than any other used car brand in 2023, so foreigners understandably see many trucks on our roads.

17: No Introverts

Friends taking a selfie.
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If I had to pick one American stereotype of the many I’ve heard when traveling abroad, I’d say it’s that Americans are all loud and boisterous.

The problem? Such a stereotype doesn’t accommodate introverts like myself. Sure, perhaps my willingness to greet strangers on the street is considered extroverted in certain Asian cultures. But in the U.S., it’s simply seen as being a friendly person. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who identifies as an introvert viewed as loud from an American standpoint.

18: Hollywood Fail

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I’ve had more than my fair share of moments of wanting to watch a local movie in a movie theater abroad, only to be greeted by a slew of Hollywood film options. Couple that with me being from New York, and I’ve conversed with many foreigners who talk about the Empire State as if they’ve been there, thanks to American movies.

Of course, for most Americans, life isn’t like Hollywood films. However, non-Americans who’ve never traveled to the U.S. often have a vision of it being like what they’ve seen on TV.

19: Everyone Is Overweight

Woman eating a salad.
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“But you’re not fat” is the reaction I received from one person during my travels upon learning I’m American. While I’ve never again had anyone so bluntly reveal their perception of the U.S. as all Americans being overweight, the conversation has come up in more subtle ways.

According to the National Institute of Health, 30.7% of Americans ages 18 and over are overweight. About 42% fall under the obesity category, including severe obesity. So, it isn’t so hard to see why some people abroad have the misconception that everyone struggles with excessive weight in the U.S.

20: Tipping Woes

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These days, Americans might want to jump on the bandwagon with foreigners who feel that tipping practices in the U.S. are extreme.

However, given that restaurant employees can legally make only $2.13 per hour as long as their tips add up to the federal minimum hourly wage, you might have a harder time finding Americans who agree with not tipping restaurant workers at all unless the law changes to protect them.

9 Countries Where Tipping Is Rude or Uncommon

Tipping with a bill.
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Since when did tipping your local coffee shop barista 20% become the norm? If you’re tired of American tipping practices, you just might want to visit (and perhaps move to) one of these countries.

9 Countries Where Tipping Is Rude or Uncommon

10 Countries More Overweight Than the US

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The United States technically isn’t home to the highest percentage of overweight citizens. Can you name the countries that have the most overweight residents in the world?

10 Overweight Countries That Make Americans Look Thin

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