No matter where I go and who I meet, there are always the standard questions everyone wants to know about America because I’m an American. Sometimes I feel like a monkey behind a cage, everyone looking inside wanting to look at it and ask questions about why it’s doing what it’s doing. But I remind myself, everyone is just curious about the American culture and people, and they want to hear it straight from the source.
Sometimes the questions are just so absurd, the conversation ends in a complete facepalm and shaking of my head. Many of the question result in heated debates, which as an American I either have to thoroughly explain or defend. But over time, I have grown weary of these conversations as the questions are always the same, so here are my answers.
1. Do you like/Did you vote for Donald Trump?
I’m just gonna lay this one out there first and foremost, but be forewarned, I am not much of a political person and do not want to get into a debate about this one.
Since the recent campaign/election of 2016, this has been the most widely asked question that has shot up to number one. Just because I’m an American, everyone wants to know if I like him too, or if I voted for him or my family and friends. And do people really wear the Trump supporter hats? And WHYY do people like him? And why why why?
It has become such an annoying question, but I understand that people want to know HOW someone like Donald Trump could become president and why people like him so much. Especially living in Germany, it’s understandable why this is such a popular question. You often hear of comparisons between He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named and Trump, therefore, the Germans are quite hesitant to like someone with some similarities to the one person who did the most harm to their country.
I still to this day don’t understand how people could like him. However, in my opinion, he promises to focus on the middle white class which feels like they have been forgotten about and are struggling the most in America. That kind of promise can be very powerful. Other people just seem to have voted for him because they have no common sense and still see him more as a reality TV star than a true potential candidate for the presidency.
For the record, no and no.
2. Is there REALLY so much gun violence in America?
I am in no way someone who can give an accurate account of just HOW many gun shootings there are in America. I lived in the states for 26 of my 31 years and have never personally come into contact with gun violence. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. And it doesn’t mean that America is in no way a safe place to visit.
With over 300,000 registered guns and probably another million illegal guns roaming the country, it’s likely at some point you’ll encounter a person carrying a gun. Sure, there are random acts of gun violence, like mass school shootings, but for the most part, day to day life is as it is anywhere else in the world. But just know, people will be packin’ as it is in our 2nd Amendment that we have the right to bare arms to protect ourselves, our home and the people we love.
This is a hard question to always have to explain to Europeans who live in a world where gun violence is almost non-existent and guns are securely locked away and used only for sports/competitions/hunting. We are a gun loving nation who want and need to protect ourselves from intruders and people who might do harm. Yet, we also complain about the amount of gun violence in our communities. Kind of a Catch-22.
And yes, I know how to shoot a gun.
3. Is racism STILL such a problem?
Until this whole “Black Lives Matter” movement had picked up momentum, I had been quite naive and in my own happy world where I thought we all got along. This is the 21st century, is it not? Unfortunately, it has become quite clear there are still some racial tensions in America, granted that in my opinion, the media has sometimes blown things out of proportion, therefore, inciting more racial tension and further dividing our nation.
Coming from California, I grew up in a racially diverse neighborhood and my high school had a plethora of people of all colors from all areas of the world. It was normal and I would never have given it a second thought that the person next to me was black, white or orange. But it was also quite strange to live in Kalispell, Montana which has the lowest racial diversity of any state in America and learn that Neo-Nazis liked this area because of its racial purity. When I discovered this, I was shocked. Why can’t we just all get along despite the color of our skin?
4. Do people really drive EVERYWHERE?
Yes. We really do. Public transportation is not as immaculate as it is in Europe and Japan. After Henry Ford released his first Model T in 1908, America quickly gave up on the dream of locomotives dominating the country. We still have trains which people use either for long distance travel or for the movement of goods but don’t expect to travel around America by train as quickly and as easily as in Europe. And when you get to where you’re goin’, you’ll likely need a car, as our cities were built around the invention of the automobile.
And yes, in California we really do measure distance in the time it takes to get somewhere because there is sooo much traffic. If you ask us, “How long does it take to get from San Diego to Sacramento” we would respond with 8-10 hours rather than telling you its 525 miles one way.
And because of this, we are willing to drive anywhere to travel somewhere new. America is massive and flying across the country can be incredibly expensive. So we love road trips!
We love driving so much we even have drive-thru banks, pizza joints, ice cream joints, coffee shops, and even drive-thru pharmacies!
5. Why are Americans SOOO loud?
Again, I couldn’t possibly begin to answer why all Americans are so loud. It’s almost like we have forgotten our “inside voices” Often while living abroad, I get the occasional scowl and death look when I laugh or talk too loudly, suddenly being reminded to use my inside voice. But we’re really no different than anyone else, as I constantly hear other travelers laughing it up having a jolly time while clinking their glasses.
However, the difference in what Americans consider their “personal space” is much larger than the average person and so we feel the need to talk a little bit louder to make sure you heard us the first time. If you’re standing less than a foot away from me, you’re in my personal bubble and I’ll step back and talk a bit louder.
Secondly, I think when we visit a public place which has music playing too loudly, we tend to yell over the music in order to hear one another. You’ll be hard pressed to find a restaurant in Germany playing such loud music unless it’s a bar or club.
6. Have you ever ACTUALLY met a famous person?
Coming from California, this is quite a popular question and one that I can definitely say yes to. But not because I was walking down the street one day and randomly bumped into someone famous. More for the fact that my parents loved to go to concerts, baseball games and charity events where they could go behind the scenes and meet their favorite celebrities. Therefore, I have rubbed elbows with quite a few celebrities, for example, country singer Toby Keith and Dave Roberts from the San Diego Padres (who also went to my high school!).
However, it does occasionally happen that you might run into someone famous. I actually sold a movie ticket to Mark Hoppus, the lead singer from one of my favorite childhood bands, Blink-182.
7. Why do Americans smile ALL THE TIME?
To be honest, I have no idea. However, I recently came across an article explaining this very American habit foreigners have a hard time understanding. And for the record, it’s not just an American habit, but more of an Anglo-Saxon thing.
Turns out, according to The Atlantic, cultures with a lot of immigration rely heavily on non-verbal communication and therefore, you have a lot of big smiles, which helps to build trust and cooperation. Americans also value people with high energy and happy feelings and this is why we will always greet you with a smile at any public institution. Nobody likes a Debbie Downer so turn that frown upside down!
8. Is it true Americans almost NEVER take a vacation?
I wouldn’t say NEVER, but this is the sad truth. According to Project: Time Off, 55% of Americans squandered 658 million UNUSED vacation days. (I know I can’t believe it either! This is a crime against humanity!!) Germans, who on average work around 1,436 hours per year compared to Americans who work 2,080 hours, are actually more productive at work after a hearty vacation! Sadly, these unused days impact the American economy and cost the country $223 billion and 1.6 million jobs.
But WHY do Americans not use their time off?
Surprisingly, the number one reason is the fear of a mountain of paperwork they will come back to after a greatly deserved holiday, followed by a fear that no one else can do their job and that many can’t afford to take a vacation. Some even complain of a lack of support from their bosses and fellow colleagues, leaving Americans glued to their desks and their work mobile phones.
For any American reading this: TAKE A VACATION!! Life is too short to spend it behind a desk!
9. Is the drinking age in America REALLY 21?
Sadly, yes. Apparently, in America, it’s ok to vote, have sex, smoke and join the military at the age of 18, but having a beer with some pals to relax after a hard day of work is not acceptable thanks to M.A.D.D. We are one of the few countries in the world with a drinking age over 18.
However, we can drive at the age of 16 is how I turn that around! In Germany, the drinking age begins at 16 with beer and wine, 18 for hard liquor, but getting a license doesn’t happen until the age of 18.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of underage drinking. Because
unfortunately, there is. I had my first taste of alcohol at 14, learned the seriousness of its effects and my car keys were always taken away from me should I have a night out on the town. But having been to Europe at 17, and being able to legally drink, it was quite absurd to come home to such strict drinking regulations. What’s wrong with a glass of wine with your dinner at the dinner table with your parents at 16?
Which leads to me also explain that the drinking regulations are SOOO ridiculously strict in America, you will always be asked to show your ID, even if you’re grey and balding and 80 years old. Yes, this really happened to my uncle. Unfortunately, some institutions are so strict about checking IDs for fear of loosing their alcohol permit in their bar/restaurant if they are caught serving a minor alcohol.
10. Why do Americans put BACON ON EVERYTHING???
Because it’s gooooood. Although I have to admit I have NO IDEA why people want to put bacon on a cupcake or other strange things. Foreigners just can’t understand the joy of having a stack of pancakes in the morning for breakfast with a few slices of bacon on the side. Although, after years of being away, I can see why this might look more like a heart attack waiting to happen than a hearty breakfast.
11. Why is “Football” not popular in the US?
I’m not sure why America didn’t get hooked on soccer quite as much as the rest of the world. However, I do think we got things confused, as we don’t actually play American “Football” with our feet. We’re just special that way. Instead, the national favorite past time is going to a good ol’ fashioned American baseball game, singing “Take me out to the ball game” and snacking on some Cracker Jacks. Or going to a good ol’ American football game.
It’s not that the game is not popular in the US, because it is. There’s just a bit more competition between baseball, basketball, football and even hockey. But I think after the American team won the English Premier League, we may even start to see an increase in the love of the game.
12. How do people actually LIVE and WORK in California with all that sunshine?
Yes, this is a real question I often get asked. Like somehow all that sunshine affects our brains and we live in a happy world of blissful paradise. Sorry to disappoint, but we have bills to pay too and we gotta make that doh!
Yes, all of that perfect sunshine weather does make it harder to focus on work though when you would rather be out frolicking on the beach and your hair flowing in the wind, but unfortunately, not all of us have that pleasure 24/7.
13. Why do Americans move SO MUCH?
This is a question that I often get asked. Kevin Bacon moved from the big city to a small podunk town where dancing is outlawed. Susan Sarandon dragged her daughter from the Midwest to Beverly Hills, California. This isn’t just your typical plotline for American movies but a reality for many Americans. We really do move. A lot.
As of 2016, 1 in 4 adults reported to having moved within the country in the last 5 years. We move for family. For Love. For jobs. For school. It is reported that Americans move on average 11 times in their life time. I can honestly say I’m beyond 11. It’s been in our blood since the time of Manifest Destiny to the Gold Rush to the Okies going west.
14. Why are Americans OBSESSED with the American flag?
And wearing it?
Because we are a nation that is loud and proud to show our love for our country. Most other countries were founded on a common heredity or a common language, while the United States was not. We needed to find something that would bind us together to be proud of the melting pot of nationalities and cultures that make up America. We have been proud to fly our flags, wear our flags, decorate our food in colors that don’t run and party in red, white and blue to show our nationalism.
We have never had to worry about an excess of nationalism like Europe had to. Germany, for example, hardly ever flies the German flag for fear of displaying too much nationalism, which many still associate with the Nazi era.
The flag stands for so much more than we all realize. It stands for freedom, for hope, for equality, for opportunity and for the American Dream. Many people don’t have the chance for a better life in their home countries and the American flag means so much more to so many people than just an ordinary flag.
But, Americans aren’t the only one flaunting the flag. Europeans love to wear T-shirts, have purses or scarves also in the American flag, which I find strange that they would wear the flag of a country that isn’t theirs. You would never see a German walking around with a German flag scarf wrapped around their neck.
15. Why are cars/trucks sooo BIG in America
Refer to question 4.
Also, because we like to be comfortable when we travel. SUVs are great for family cars where there is a seat for everyone to have breathing room, including the dog, and allll the luggage. And your extended family.
Trucks are so big and necessary for actually doing heavy lifting. How Europeans live without trucks is beyond me! I would hate to have to constantly rent a U-Haul (Transporter for all you non-Americans) to move anything. Although, we still doooo rent U-Hauls for massive moves.
Plus, as mentioned before, our cities were built around our cars, which means our streets and our parking lots are big enough for our cars. Here in Europe, everything was built before the invention of the automobile and so streets and alleys are too small. In Germany, many parking spots are so small, all passengers must vacate the vehicle before parking otherwise they wouldn’t be able to get out.
Plus, we grew up with the song “Elbow Room”, and therefore, made sure we had plenty of it!
Misconceptions can go both ways there are many misconceptions that Americans have about Europeans such as thinking that everyone drives on the left or that you still have to go through passport control at the border for each country you visit.