Are Are any "Western" or Christian countries more conservative than the USA?

By conservative I mean not only politically but more in terms of cultural and social attitudes toward sexuality, religion, and the like.

I get the impression, especially here, that in terms of acceptance of various features ranging from mild nudity on television to public breastfeeding to “underage” drinking; the United States is seen as hoplessly puritanical by the rest of the Western World; who seem to believe that they are long past hang ups over such trivial issues of modesty.

The way some people seem to portray it, next to the Netherlands or Sweden; the United States seems more akin to the Muslim world when it comes to certain aspects of public morality. Are there any other western countries which have these sorts of ‘culture wars’, on everything from Harry Potter to topless sunbathing?

By the way, I suppose the definition of “western country” is a debate unto itself…

A lot of Latin American countries have somewhat schizoid attitudes towards sexuality. Depending on the circumstances they have both a lot of promiscuity AND puritanism. Basicly a war between what’s “proper” and what “everyone does”, especially for women.

American Catholics have a reputation for being much less hampered by Church rulings than many predominately Catholic countries. Ireland still makes it pretty tough for women seeking abortions for example.

In some countries with a strong culture of “machismo”, murdering an adulterous wife is considered justifiable killing, at least unofficially.

You can safely put your bets that most every European country looks pretty much like a quaint and benign version of Sodom and Gomorra from an American moral majority perspective.

Especially the prudish aspects of American culture is one of the things that Europeans take great glee in snickering at behind American’s backs.

All that being said its not really viewed with any derision and strangely America is also considered the bastion of hedonistic debauchery, There is a perceived double standard that somehow is intricately woven into the stereotype image Europeans sometimes hold of America.

I guess it’s the paradox of a much higher degree of libertarianism and a far more rigid morality that dumbfounds a socially constrained but morally liberated European.

You’ve actually struck at one of the major cultural conflicts there is between our proud Unions.


I do know Latin America is pretty divided; Brazil strikes me as an anything goes place - but I think Chile still has laws prohibiting divorce. I have lived in Mexico myself so I know all about that double standard on sex - which still exists in a milder form in the USA.

I have recently moved to the Eastern US, after being born and raised in Canada. I’m going to firmly say that Canada is more conservative in many ways, but more open in others.

Ireland is quite conservative in a lot of ways. Birth control and divorce were only legalised within the past generation; abortion is still illegal and will most likely remain so for a long time to come. Nudity is OK on television but there are far more restrictions on pornography and things like stripping or lapdancing than there are in the US.

In terms of actual policy some part of Europe may be more socially conservative than the US. In addition to Ireland, as ruadh mentioned , perhaps Bavaria (in Germany) when it comes to issues like abortion and separation of church and state in public schools. I am not sure though.

And of course in the US itself there are huge difference between different regions and cities.

Well, Vatican City, I’d presume, but I guess that’s not the type of country you were thinking of.

I’d say you’d pretty much have to rule all of Europe out; especially if you’re talking about nudity. Typically conservative countries in Europe include Austria (Jorg Haider, anyone), Bavaria and a smattering of others depending on your definition. Switzerland can be construed as conservative. Scandinavians accuse their countries of being conservative in many ways, despite the commie-pinko image they seem to get in the States.
Britian can be a bit uptight when it comes to sexual mores, but nudity isn’t that big a deal. Many tabloid papers have a page-3 girl (topless chick on page 3) which serves no editorial purpose.

Here in Budapest, for example, I have to pay to get HBO, but my normal cable package includes hard-core pornography from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. Topless beaches are generally no big deal; women routinely sunbathe topless in our equivalent of Central Park (Mararet Island.) Even in the more conservative parts of Germany, fully nude spas are not at all uncommon. Europeans in general have a more relaxed and, IMHO, much healthier attitude toward the human body.

Everywhere I’ve ever been in Europe, alcohol laws are also much more relaxed. 18 is the official drinking age in most European countries, but this (from what I’ve seen) is rarely enforced. I’ve seen 14-year-olds buying hard liquor without any problem. I have never heard of anyone being carded. Plus, drinking alcohol in a public area is usually ok. In Scotland, I would routinely drink a beer or two on a long bus trip. In the States, forget it. You’ll get kicked off. Here I can walk down the street with a beer and not have to worry about a cop citing me. Makes it fun when I forget about these laws and go back to the States.

The answer is pretty simple - there are 2 USAs. Look at a map of who voted Democrat and who voted Republican in the last general election. The big cosmopoltan cities around the coastal areas are at least as laid back and liberal as the trendy bits of Europe (in practice). The rural heartland is god-fearing and - what did Tom Lehrer say? “in the land of the boll weavil, where the laws are medieval…”

There are some seriously conservative places in the UK (bits of N Ireland and Wales), and I think in Germany, Greece, etc - in their own ways But I’ve never seen guys masturbating in the street except in Dupont Circle, DC (OK, at halloween). The problem is that people over-generalize (like Sparc with his obsession about “our unions”.) There’s even less of a Europe than there is a USA.

Fantastically enough I agree with you Hemlock, and for once the jab is well taken, but you do know that my constant hammering ‘the Union’ is more agitprop than anything else.

That being said, the general level of admissibility of nudity, sexual references and so on is significantly higher in Europe. References to violence, or depiction of violence on the other hand are generally more restricted.

The issue of religion varies dramatically across Europe; the big general difference lies in how acceptable it is to mix politics and religion. Any European politician that routinely ended public address with; “God bless you,” would be pretty short lived.

Other things that are on average more accepted are abortion, homosexuality and drug use, but once again this varies dramatically across regions. For instance as far as drug use goes; Sweden is far, far more conservative than the US and has the most harsh drug laws in the Western World.

Bavaria was mentioned… yes we are the bastion of conservatism, but on the same token we are the bastion of eccentricity and libertarianism. A walk in Munich’s inner city park the English Gardens (the biggest inner city park in the world BTW) on a warm sunny day will entail meeting a fair amount of people walking around in their birthday suits, right in the middle of the city. There is even a tram line were you are allowed to ride one stop naked since it connects two points along the Isar river were you jump in, let the stream take you on a fun ride of about one kilometer and then either walk or tram it back (for obvious reasons this portion of the tram line is free of charge). Munich also has the second largest gay community in Germany. Meanwhile the crucifixes won’t come off the classroom walls, drug possession and open use is far more restricted than in the rest of Germany and an abortion requires so much paperwork that many girls go out of state to have it done.


My impression from the month I recently spent in Germany, and in conversation with locals and my co-workers, is that both cultures perceive each other as hopelessly conservative in some cases and hopelessly libertine in others.

The nudity/sex question has already been addressed at length, but in most ways, Germans are less hung up about it than Americans are. After 10 p.m., full-frontal male and female nudity was not at all uncommon on television, nor was at least softcore pornography of the Skinemax/Showtime variety. (And even raunchier, in some cases.)

One program, a variety-type show, had an act on that I could never imagine seeing on American cable television, including pay-per-view. It involved two men who appeared completely nude, and used their genitals to “do impersonations.” This involved grabbing and pulling on their penises and their scrotums to arrange them in different shapes. They even got volunteers from the audience to help them out.

Not to mention the legalized prostitution in Germany. Right in the center of Frankfurt, just a few blocks from the Hauptbanhof and within walking distance of the business district, are brothels called “Eros Centers,” brimming with prostitutes. There are also private “nudist clubs” in Germany, called FKK Clubs, which are essentially brothels.

But in other ways, there were some very conservative practices. The shops in Frankfurt close early during the week, at 7:00 p.m. That’s everything – grocery stores, shopping malls, general stores, the works. If you want to shop, you do it during work, usually at lunch. (And everybody takes lunch.) On Saturdays, hours are short, like 11:00 - 6:00. On Sundays, most everything is closed, except restaurants. It’s much like the “blue laws” in some American towns.

Ireland is still struggling to come out of the shackles of a Nanny-state.

at least I freaking well hope it is.

What about Spain and Portugal? They had the reputation of being pretty conservative countries, at least when I was young.

Re Portugal and Spain. Very mixed Neidhart. Portugal has the most lax drug laws in the EU, curfews on bars and restaurants don’t exist, and the minor laws for drinking are more or less not applied. Nudity on TV is OK. Meanwhile the country remains pretty Catholic in respects extra-marital sex, abortions etc. etc. You can say that it’s all along Hemlock’s and my proposed double standards. Spain is pretty much the same.

BTW Hemlock, I already agreed with you in my first post if you read carefully. I was attempting to expose the stereotypes, not trying to perpetuate them; maybe I wasn’t very clear though.

Law restricts opening hours in Germany. Weekdays no shops can only be open till 8 PM. Saturdays till 4 PM and Sundays you are not aloud to transact business except in the form of certain services like serving food and beverages or provide sexual services.

Which leads to the topic of brothels; yes it is legal in Germany, albeit regulated in as much as that a prostitute must register with the state, have a clean bill of health and may only provide her services under organized circumstances without solicitation. Hence the brothels are sort of franchises with each prostitute being his/her own business of sorts. Much abuse exists though and most recently a whole ring of forced prostitution involving slave trade with the Eastern European states was uncovered - real 19th century stuff. Zoning laws for how brothels are aloud to be situated vary across the federation. In Bavaria you are not aloud to run a brothel within a city perimeter for instance.


Allowed goddamn it…I hate when I spell the wrong word right so that the spell check doesn’t help my addled brain the way it should.

The fact that half the time American conservatives are railing against Big Government restrictions and half the time they’re clamping down on things like sex really calls into question what “conservative” even means.

I dunno, sqweels, paradoxical though it may seem, I think you’ve nailed one very prominent strain of US conservatism: you relegate economic affairs to the workings of the so-called free market, but you police private morality in whatever fashion you can.

You might want to separate it down to fiscal conservatives, social conservatives and reactionaries (neo-conservatives). I for instance am a fiscal conservative a social liberal and hence conservative centrist by American standards and libertarian by European standards.

I deplore the moral majority attitude, while I hail anything that streamlines government.

The division of politics into Conservative and Liberal has long since stopped making sense if you ask me.


Goodness, I’ve never heard of blue laws that left a loophole for sex trade work! When I was in England it was very frustrating to all of us Americans that there was nothing to do on Sundays; perhaps we should have gone to Germany instead. :slight_smile:

I’ve often wondered why our neighbours to the south are so socially conservative.

I live in a country that’s on the verge of approving gay marriage. Meanwhile, down south, homosexual sex is still illegal in several states.

We have gays in the military. We have women in combat positions in the military.

We settled the “socialized medecine” debate quite some time ago.

A politician’s sex life is unlikely to affect his or her chances of re-election.

Environmental issues are taken much more seriously in Canada.

We’re very, very slowly legalizing marijuana.

All of which puts us in stark contrast with our nearest neighbours. So does anyone know why America is one leap to the right of (most) of the rest of the Western World?