Non-U.S. Dopers: What Are Typical "American" Traits?

I don’t mean stereotypes or movie/TV portrayals - in other words, I’m not looking for stuff along the lines of “The Irish sure do like to drink” or “The French are all pretentious and arty”. More based on your personal interactions with Americans - what are some of our characteristics you notice, behaviors that seem quintessentially “American”? For example, in my travels, I’ve noticed there are definitely cultural factors that tend to give people elements of what I associate with a “National Character” - the Irish people I met were extremely friendly and self-effacing, very down-to-earth, Australians similarly open-hearted and laid-back, etc. So, how do we come across when you meet us in a pub or whatever? Should I continue to tell people I’m Canadian when I travel overseas, or is the image of us as rude, loud and self-centered more a media creation?

Most of the Americans I’ve met on holiday were real decent people, ready to give you their last dime.

Southerners are very VERY friendly but they do have this thing about the civil war…“It aint over, we’re just waitin’ on supplies”

I could never grasp why they still have this thing about a war that happened 100+ years ago

Americans I have met in America have for the most part been friendly, friendlier than the inhabitants of most other countries I have visited. Americans that I’ve encountered say “Uh-huh” instead of “you’re welcome” when you thank them which has always struck me as a bit jarring. Americans seem to talk louder than other (sober) English speakers. I can pick out a full conversation amongst Americans from across a room where I could not with other nationalities.

Outside of America, in Ireland or other European countries I’ve noticed several things.

1. Vocal lack of satisfaction with things not being the same as at home
Everybody does this to a certain degree but some of the things I’ve heard have pissed me off.

**2. Listism or Goalism. **
That is “I’ve done Dublin, I’ve done London, I’ve done the Taj Mahal”, I hear this all the time. There’s an element of oneupmanship but basically it’s as if the average American tourist is keeping a tally of all the things on Earth they must see and is ticking them off. People from other nationalities do this but it’s most salient IME amongst Americans. This could just be the simple fact that I live in Europe so am not in any great hurry to visit other European countries, whereas an American tourist is likely to have a packed itinerary. I get the sense that many American tourists never really get time to get a proper feel for a place.

3. Machismo**
Amongst American men in their 20s and some older there’s a distinct macho culture that isn’t as much in evidence here. Here, it’s by and large okay to be a nerd, a geek, or cultured, or gay or whatever. It doesn’t really matter. Relax, great you like fucking women, so do I, I just don’t need to go on about it all the time. :slight_smile:

4. Lack of shyness
American men and women aren’t as usually as shy as other Anglophones IME again.

Just rereading, this seems a bit negative so I’ll qualify all this in saying that I have met all sorts of wonderful people from the US including my partner whom I love dearly and several people from SDMB.

Oh, it’s fine if it’s negative - as long as it’s based on real-life interactions rather than stereotypes or prejudices, it’s all good.

As for your point #1: When I was in Venice a few years back, there was another American tourist in the restaurant where I was eating who, as he was walking out the door, loudly proclaimed “Thanks for not smoking!” in a total asshole tone of voice before storming out. I felt embarrassed even though I didn’t know the guy.

Southerners are very proud, and we can have this – wry snottiness. I’m having a hard time coming up with another term. We know it’s ridiculous, we embrace the ridiculousness, and in way, we’re letting you in on the ridiculousness. One of my professors was a Civil War reenactor. I asked him, “Ain’t y’all beaten the Yankees yet?” He replied, “Next year. Next year!”

But don’t call us Yanks. No, don’t.

I am an American, but can I submit a response I got from a Mexican? (I was curious about the same thing. It’s really hard to pull anything specific from a Mexican. They are very very polite.)

Anyhoo, this was in the context of a bunch of Americans staying at the Mexican’s home - he was the host parent for a language school.

He said American men would not do anything that would make them look less than competent. For example, the ones he’d met thru the school were all there to learn Spanish, but would not speak Spanish in front of a native speaker for fear of looking stupid. American women were not afraid to jump in an make mistakes.

The Americans I’ve met (I’m Canadian) respond to “Thank you.”, with “Yes”, not “You’re welcome.”
I found that odd.

Really? Huh. That is odd. I may be wrong, but I can’t recall any instance of anyone ever responding that way to “Thank You”. “No problem” I hear a lot.

Please do not tell people you are Canadian.

Self confidence. When I think of American men I have known in particular many had this bluff way of looking at ease wherever they were and being able to talk to anybody. In some cases though this was taken as far as brash tactlessness, especially when it came to asking questions of the “why do you guys do things we don’t do” type.

Dreadful clothes sense and I’m saying this as a Brit! Especially ugly shoes.

Online I’ve found Americans can be really really touchy, very quick to see insults where none is intended. Not so much on message boards but in IM chat during online games. I’ve had people flare up because they’re convinced that I was being sarcastic when all I said was “nice move” and meant it.

Amongst themselves I was surprised at how intolerant and bitchy American women can be. I’m thinking of a group of young women from Boston and how they were at daggers drawn over the subject of their virginity or lack of it. Oh and spoilt, boy have I met some American women with a most damnable sense of entitlement!

On the other hand the American woman I know best is nothing like that. She’s always thoughtful and shows her thoughfulness in characteristic American ways like baking cookies for people.

Often people abroad assume I’m Canadian until I tell them otherwise. (I’m American.) Not sure why.

I live in the American South. I’ll just list the negatives (more interesting!)

  • USians can’t see themselves as just another country: it’s either ‘USA USA’ or ‘America is a global pariah, waa’ … get over it. The US has some positives and some negatives, just like almost every other country. Focussing excessively on the negatives is just another form of American exceptionalism.

  • This one irritates me! Americans often put what seems to me to be too big an emphasis on their ethnic backgrounds? Oh cool, you’re Scottish? No wait, you’re American - your grandparents were Scottish.

  • when Americans hear my accent they always seem to want to tell me about their study abroad in Europe or whatever. I don’t care. Maybe if we get to know each other then I might want to know more about you but please stop trying to tell me how international you are. And no, I don’t want to hear about you often you listen to the BBC. All the cool kids are watching al Jazeera English (not really available in the US, marketplace of ideas my arse) anyway.

  • deathly earnestness. USians don’t seem to be able to be serious and lighthearted about something at the same time. Consider Jon Stewart - a funny guy but it’s obvious where his views lie. Ideally we wouldn’t be able to tell.

  • inability to see past party political divides. Some ridiculous proportion of the girls I know wouldn’t date a Republican/Democrat. This strikes me as ridiculously intolerant.

  • willingness to put up with terrible infrastructure. The roads and skies in particular are crammed or falling apart.


Why do you say that? Was that directed at me in particular?

I’m American but I have lived outside the country for many years and when visiting the US, except for my hometown sometimes, it feels like a foreign country.

Americans add “like” to every sentence and it is almost never needed.

Americans have never heard of where you live and have only a vague sense of the world outside the US border.

Americans are very friendly and helpful.

Based on election outcomes, we are a bunch of easily manipulated idiots.

Southerners in general tend to be proud of our Scots-Irish heritage, even if its 200+ years back. I’ve heard Brits complaining before about Americans going on and on about how they’re ‘Irish’ or ‘Scottish’ or whatever, so when I meet Brits I never bring it up. Interestingly, several times they’ve asked me. I imagine this is common enough to any ‘old country’ – I’m sure Italians and Danes and Moroccans and everyone else are amused/annoyed by people showing up and excitedly telling them “Oh, I’m ____, too!”

But why do you call us USians? We’re Americans. USians looks and sounds weird. United Statesians? Yoo-ess-ians?

I dislike when Americans use the term Brits for both British and Irish people. We dun fought a war just like youse.

I’m a very Europhiliac American male, and I have often found that I’m most at home in the UK and Ireland. I think it’s largely due to the fact that I identify myself as a cultured geek, and don’t really fit in that well with the machismo which you’ve observed (as have I) among many young American men.

Despite the connection I feel with European/British/Irish culture, every once in a while something happens that reminds me that, deep down inside, I’m still an American.

I have a dear friend who lives in London (he’s of South African origin, but has lived in England for most of his life). On several occasions, I’ve ridden in his car. Now, I know–of course–that you drive on the left in England, so the steering wheel is usually positioned on the right side of the car. However, I rarely drive in England, so when I would walk to his car, I would normally walk around to the right side–which I, by American habit, associate with the passenger’s side.

This amused my friend to no end. “Oh, so you want to drive?” he would chortle.

On one occasion, I made a conscious effort to walk around to the left side of the car, and got into the passenger’s seat. Finally, success!

Then, out of courtesy, I leaned over to open the latch on the driver’s side door for my friend. He stepped inside, and said “Thank you.”

“Um-hmmm,” I replied.


To be honest, I didn’t even realize I had said it until my friend pointed it out. “Why do you Americans always say ‘um-hmm’ instead of ‘you’re welcome’??”

Just goes to show, you can take the boy out of the southern U.S., but you can’t take the southern U.S. out of the boy.

Yeah, but UKian looks even dumber than USian does, and about one out of every four of you *are *Brits.

UKians still would annoy me and from now on I’m gonna call all y’all Canadians. :slight_smile: