Uniquely Distinct Americanisms

Pardon the title… I wasn’t sure how to label this, so I made up a word.

Anyway, I was talking with some friends online, some of which were internationally based, and we briefly discussed American football, baseball, and our insistance on adhering to the old Imperial measuring system and that got me to wondering… what other things do Americans do that the rest of the world is generally confused by (aside from invade sovereign countries… let’s not get into that debate here)?

Judging by some of the threads we’ve had on the boards over the years, here are a few I can think of off the top of my head:

The electoral college
Relationship between state and federal governments
Why we all don’t get paid vacation/maternity leave/etc.
Why we all don’t speak at least one other language besides English
Why soccer (football) never has been a real success here
How big both the U.S. and Canada are, and how it affects our perspective
Why we make a big deal out of the personal indiscretions of our politicians

[li]Driving on the right-hand side of the road.[/li][li]Why did you have a war of independence? The rest of the Empire got it without having to kill off its fittest and finest young men.[/li][li]Slavery.[/li][li]Hollywood.[/li][li]Governor Arnie.[/li][li]Bush (either).[/li][li]Webster’s simplified spelling.[/li][li]“USA is number one!”.[/li][li]Yank tanks.[/li][li]See also Bowling for Columbine: what a wonderful world.[/li][/ul]

How’re nationalism and slavery American domains?

FWIW, these aren’t particularly “unique” (in the spirit of the OP) to America (foreign to many Europeans, perhaps). Then again, it’s hard to find strictly unique traits of America, so a few “unusual” features this foreigner notices:

– American politicians name-checking God and discussing their faith in public. To an outsider, “God bless America!” really is an bizarre thing to hear.

– Political rallies with thousands of screaming, chanting, balloon-carrying, streamer-throwing, placard-holding supporters. Well, you do see this kinda of excitement around election time in a few developing democracies, but most Western democracies seem to conduct a more sedate political process.

– The “sir”, “mister” and “ma’am” thing.

– Overt patriotism, like you’re barracking for a football team. People of many other developed nations seem to display quieter forms of nationalistic pride; belief in one’s country and people is assumed, rather than brandished in public.

I hope this doesn’t sound like American-bashing. Some of the US’s unusual traits really are quite attractive. I also realise that the outside world largely only sees a distorted, media-filtered picture of the US; what we perceive as uniquely American may in fact be far from the truth.

What? SUV’s? People think they’re safer and gas is cheap. No biggie.

Don’t believe everything you see in the movies.

Good freaking God. Can someone please clean that up?

The snazzy academic term for this phenomenon is “American Exceptionalism,” and legions of sociologists and historians have cut their teeth on it.

The classic question in the study of exceptionalism is why socialism (a la the British Labour party or the Social Democrats in Germany and France) never caught on in the US the way it did in Europe, but the study of exceptionalism has gone in all directions since then. Princeton University published a book called <I>Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism</i> which attempted to explain why you-know-who don’t watch you-know-what.

Here, I’d posit that the first colony to attempt to assert itself was going to get it in the neck. I believe the later experiences of Canada and Australia, for example, were influenced by the experience with the U.S. It just happened that our cultural and economic development put us ahead of the pack.

At the beginning, independence was not really the goal. Due to Britain’s policies and reactions, the hotheads gained influence. And, as mentioned by Neurotik, many folks had no interest in independence even then. Many of them went to Canada or Britain during or following the war.

One thing I am surprised not to see mentioned yet is guns. Does the debate over any* limitations on guns seem odd to foreign eyes?

I see lots of Merkin tourists in my career so maybe the traits I notice are not typical of any yanks except those with passports, but …

  • Asking personal questions and telling personal stories to people they’ve only just met;

  • Leaving knife and fork placed horizontally across the plate when finished (in the USA how do waitresses know to clear the plates away if you’ve had enough to eat but haven’t actually finished everything?);

  • Speaking in colloquialisms and of brandnames as if everyone the world over knows what they mean;

  • Being surprised when things are different overseas than at home;

  • Being very friendly and extremely proud of their own country;

  • A fear of swearing, to the extent that even not-very-naughty words are **-ed out and slightly-naughty words are initialised - eg BS.

  • Not drinking very much alcohol, and always carrying a bottle of water, albeit one filled from the hotel bathroom tap.

  • And the one that’s always worried me for some reason … why is death, mayhem and violence okay but nudity isn’t? Movies who show couples wearing pyjamas when the script indicates they’ve just had sex really lack reality.

You didn’t. All three of those words are real, pre-existing words.

The volume of our conversation in public places and our predisposition to reveal every detail of our lives to complete strangers. I could make a very good living as a thief merely by hanging out in a Denny’s restaurant and listening to conversations about future plans.

Most Americans are such prudes that it makes the rest of the world wonder how we ever manage to reproduce. I am eternally grateful that I travelled the world for 30 years or so.

[li]Driving on the right-hand side of the road.[/li]This is actually more common in the world, not just the US
[li]Why did you have a war of independence? The rest of the Empire got it without having to kill off its fittest and finest young men.[/li]But we got it a hundred or so years earlier. We also avoided having some silly monarch and governor general pretending to be in charge. We don’t want to make some moron the head of states just because his or her dad or mum was. Oh wait, sorry we do that anyways :smack:
[li]Slavery.[/li]How do you think blacks got to Jamaica? Did the British shanghai them and leave them there as a joke? European powers actually imported much more slaves from africa to the New World. American ones just weren’t worked to death as much
[li]Governor Arnie.[/li]California
[li]Bush (either).[/li]Every country has two kinds of bushes. :wink:
[li]Webster’s simplified spelling.[/li]So we could spell theatre and centre when ever we want to be classy
[li]“USA is number one!”.[/li]Canada too, but thats just because we invented the first telephone network and got to pick the first nation code.
[li]Yank tanks.[/li]SUV’s? That a pretty good one.

One word explains most of these: Puritanism.

[li]Huge 2-door cars[/li][li]People in urban areas using pickup trucks as personal transport[/li][li]Strict control of alcohol sales (carding, blue laws, etc)[/li][li]Drive-through ATM[/li][li]The Pledge of Allegiance[/li][li]1-year long Presidential campaign/election process[/li][li]The concepts embodied in the 2nd Amendment[/li][/ul]

Interesting you bring this up, because it’s something of a regional stereotype in the US as well. The general rule of thumb is that Southerners and rural Midwesterners are more gregarious than people from the Northeast and big cities.

An American beer company ran an ad a couple of years ago featuring a bunch of tough-guy hoods with New York/New Jersey accents in a bar carrying on entire conversations with each other simply by repeating the phrase “How you doin’?” The follow-up featured a stereotypical Texan coming into the bar and responding to a “how you doin’?” by actually telling the amazed questioner how he was doing. Chaos ensues.

Another factor here is that what is a personal question varies from culture to culture. In America, asking about a relative stranger’s children or job is generally considered just being friendly. In some other countries, such lines of questioning are considered incredibly rude.

Typically, they ask. How is it done elsewhere?

Oh, everyone does that. In this very thread someone mentioned how American patriotism resembles “barracking for a football team,” and if I wasn’t part of the .01 percent of Americans who like to watch tape-delayed broadcasts of Australian Rules Football on cable TV, I would have no idea what the hell that poster was talking about.

Hardly unique to Yanks, either, I think. Possibly more common among Americans than among other countries, but recall that most Americans are less exposed to other cultures than other people as a simple matter of geography. If you go 400 miles from Paris, you can travel through Switzerland and Italy before arriving in Slovenia. If you go 400 miles from Austin, Texas, odds are you’re still in Texas. Is it any wonder that Americans can’t remember that there are places on earth without Wal-Marts?

I think this is a generational thing. Young Americans aren’t nearly as anxious about swearing as older ones. If the American tourists you encounter are middle-aged or retired people on package tours, swearing is likely to be pretty rare. If they’re college-age people backpacking and you never hear them swear, chances are they’re either Mormon missionaries or they’re making a special effort not to swear out of a desire to not offend their hosts’ sensibilities…

I take it you’re not from Cancun, then.

Never noticed this, personally.

Doctoral dissertations can and are written on the subject of American prudishness relative to European nations. That having been said, American culture is positively sex-drenched compared to places like China or the Middle East.

As for violence and mayhem, it’s not that those movies aren’t popular in the States, but a big part of why they’re made is because simplistic action films have a guaranteed world-wide audience–much less is lost in translation. So the fetishization of violence isn’t a purely American thing.

Australia is equal in land mass to the U.S but our perspectives are different, except for john Howard our PM as he is intent on us becoming America in the South Pacific.

But unless you are talking populous size i dont think size really has that much effect on this although we are in a unique situation in Australia where we have no shared borders so we have little in the way of fear of invasion etc.


Well, I think it’s just that every country is different, but some it most likely stems from the sense of American independence. A desire to be different, and in doing so a lot of perfectly good things changed simply because they seemed to British/European.

USA is number one:
Well, don’t you have a sense of pride in your country? Don’t you feel like there are things about your homeland that are better than others? That’s just the natural arrogance of humans, and the need to define who you are using an identifiable set of landmarks. And besides, it has a better ring to it than “USA is kind of decent!”

It’s not like our country is the only one that participated.

No idea on this one sadly, but then, I have no idea why any sports are as popular as they are.

Why do they only speak English:
Well, we don’t. You would find a large number of the population that borders Mexico to be very well spoken in Spanish. Just look at the geography of our country, it’s not like we’re surrounded by as many other nations and cultures as you find in Europe. So it’s generally unneeded for your average American.

Speaking in brand-names:
Well, what the hell are bangers and mash? Why do you call the trunk of the car the boot? Why do you go on holiday rather than vacation? It’s all a matter of where you come from. Commercialism runs rampant in the states, and a side-effect of having a brand become successful on such a massive scale is that brand name becomes the most associated with the product, so brands like Jell-o are often used to refer to just about any gelatin product.

Fear of swearing, nudity, so on:
Puritanism, old habits die hard. But just because it’s not allowed on broadcast television, radio, and the like doesn’t mean it’s not used.

Not drinking enough alcohol:
Says who?

Violence, blood, guts, gore, but no boobies:
Puritanism strikes again, and of course, we have to vent our sexual frustration somehow. Yes that was a joke, but only slightly. I think violence is accepted because we are a country founded on such, and of course nudity is evil in God’s eyes, so we can’t have any of that.

Ok, now in all seriousness, even though I tried to make my responses lighthearted, a lot of it seems to be true. I believe many of the differences stem from spite towards our lands of origin. Once we developed a nation of our very own, we began to develop a culture of our own, and that feeling still seems somewhat present. I know that doesn’t apply to every single citizen of this country, it’s just my assessment on the overall feeling. Don’t take any of it to heart; I’m not an expert by any means, so it’s all just opinion.

Parade floats…and in the case of Philadelphia, MUMMERS!

Most of our cars have automatic transmissions…when’s the last time you’ve seen a Buick with a stick-shift?
Also, except for the truly economy minded, we tend to shun automotive diesels.
(Truck diesels are OK :wink: )

The NCAA (how come we have big NCAA Footbal games, big NCAA Basketball games, but no-one ever sees a big NCAA BASEBALL game broadcast anywhere?)

Monster Trucks and Tractor Pulls.
NASCAR racing.

Harley Davidson Motorcycles…REAL bikes ain’t got no mufflers, man!
Corn on the cob. Hot dogs (not frankfurters…HOT DOGS, man!)
Stick 'em both together…CORN DOGS!

Sure I do. It’s just I don’t often bring it up in public. Particularly if people of other nationalities are present. There’s a reason you’ll never hear people shout, “The UK is number one!” or “God bless Australia!”–it’s an unnecessary sentiment and it can be rude to voice it, in our culture. Some Americans–some–differ.