I recently landed in Iceand after spending a bit of time in the United States of America, or ‘Murica, as I like to think all the Yanks call it.
I’ve always had strong opinions when it comes to the US, ranging from being 19 and just assuming that the whole place was full of morons, to being 23 and viciously berating anyone with this opinion, to being 24 and having a real desire to get over there and find out exactly what the hell went on behind all the warmongering and the reality TV. Spending a week there broke down some stereotypes, propped up others, and led to all sorts of confusion. But let me put all my uncertainties aside for a second, be dramatically ignorant and make a series of pig-headed statements about what I thought of the ‘Leader of the Free World’.
1. The people are VERY interesting, and SO unpredictable
This can be good, it can be bad. In Melbourne, or anywhere else in the world, I generally feel like I can get a read on someone in the first 5 minutes, and decide whether or not I like them. But I have never been so uncertain as to someone’s character than when I’ve dealt with Americans. My first night in San Francisco, my friend and I were talking with two local girls, and were getting on quite well. They seemed a bit alternative, open-minded, and had a real desire to travel. Then one blurts outs;
“Yeah I hate Indians.”
Well, that went well. I met another American during my time in Germany who I despised almost instantly. Through mutual friends, we hung out a few more times, and I learnt that he was actually a pretty decent bloke. He even apologised later on for being ‘such a douche’ the first time I’d met him.
I don’t know why I find them so unpredictable. But until I figure that out, I guess I’ll just have to try and forget about first impressions for now. Irony anyone?
2. Australians are all racist
We hear a lot about racial injustice in America. Anyone who’s heard anything about the US justice system will probably know about the hugely disproportionate number of African-Americans and Latinos incarcerated in American prisons. We all know who the Klu Klux Klan were, and most of us have heard of Zimmerman.
So it might come as a surprise that many Americans seem to think that Australians, by comparison, are incredibly racist.
Now I should make clear that I’m not really in a position to judge on this. Being a straight, white male, I’ve ever directly encountered any real form of discrimination. I also make somewhat of an effort to not hang out with people who are blatant bigots. And I do come from Melbourne, by far the most multicultural city in Australia. So I can’t really defend my country on this one. I do, however, see how we could be judged as quite racist, based on the Cronulla Riots and our treatment of native people. I’ve often heard Europeans express surprise at how openly racist Australians are. Yet I was still quite indignant when I heard this in America, as their social issues are somewhat better publicised than I’d assumed ours were.
3. There are a million different accents
THIS was cool. I love guessing where people in Europe are from, as the accents are so varied across such a relatively small space, even within countries, England and Germany being two great examples. Reading up on how accents develop fascinated me. But I never imagined sitting in a diner in the middle of New York City and being bombarded with so many different American accents. It was so much fun, and so weird at times. Sorry, ‘hella’ weird. I still have no idea what I’m hearing*.
There were still a few fools who tried pulling the whole “I don’t have an accent” line. You’d think explaining to someone that they do, in fact, have an American accent would be fairly straightforward. It’s more like bashing your head on a table.
4. Coastal rivalries exist
I’ve listened to hip-hop music from an early age, so I knew of the whole east coast-west coast thing. What I didn’t realise was how seriously some people take inter-town rivalries. I guess I thought there’d be a bit of a North-South divide, you know, with the whole civil war thing. Maybe the topic just didn’t pop up. I wasn’t exactly heading down to Alabama on the Tuesday. But there was some serious scrunching of noses in Cali when I mentioned that I was heading to New York. And I seriously offended a couple of New Yorkers by mentioning that I could see myself living in San Francisco.
In Australia, there’s a bit of a Melbourne Sydney rivalry, but it’s more friendly sparring, less ‘why would you ever go to Sydney?’. Then again, saying you prefer Porto to a Lisbonite is practically a criminal offence, and my Amsterdam-born Opa never DID have any time for Rotterdam, so maybe it makes sense that interstate rivalries are somewhere in between.
5. Da Beerz
OH MY GOD. We all know that joke about American beer, right? It’s like canoe-based copulation? WRONG. Any Australian/German/Belgian/Englishman who thinks that Americans know nothing about beer is some sort of fool. I have never been assaulted with so many choices of beer upon walking into any random bar in a city. It was incredible. The craft beer movement here has exploded with such force that it really puts any European nation to shame. I take solace in the fact that the Australian movement seems to be on a similar trajectory, albeit about a decade behind.
I must concede though, that their cheap beer still tastes absolutely dreadful. Bud Light and PBR taste like watered down versions of VB. My New Zealand mate said it best, in telling a San Franciscite toting a half litre can of Bud Light that he just “couldn’t stand there and talk to a girl with that in his hand”.
So there you have it. False impressions? Perhaps. Surface glimpses? Definitely. Any American who takes offence should know that all of these impressions make me all the more desperate to return to the States and do it justice. Leave a comment below letting me know what you think.
*One of my proudest moments in recent memory was surprising a girl I’d just met by guessing she was from California.