It’s easy to make fun of Americans. They do, after all, ask some fairly dumb questions. (“You’re from Australia? How did you learn to speak such good English?”)
They also, as a nation, have a baffling approach to gun laws, a quite incredible opposition to universal health care, a “world series” in a domestic baseball competition, and occasionally just a slight arrogance at being leaders of the free world.
So Americans, both the ones in their homeland and the ones abroad, get kicked around quite often. Head to the comments section of any travel article talking about annoying travellers or dumb questions they’ve been asked while travelling and Americans will make an inevitable appearance. Or frequent appearances.
The ones at home are gullible, or ignorant. The ones you meet on the road are loud, rude and demanding. They expect everything to be the way it is back home. They’re disappointed – and vocally so – when it isn’t.
You’ve heard all the stories. You know the stereotype.
And that’s why I figured it was about time someone mounted a defence of Americans. After all, some of my best friends are Americans. Some of the nicest people I’ve ever met are Americans. Some of the friendliest locals you could hope to find while you’re on the road are Americans.
The thing I like about Americans – if you can group an entire nationality together, which is a little dangerous – is that there’s an impressive lack of cynicism about them. When they tell you to “have a nice day”, they actually want you to have a nice day. When they say “I love your accent”, they really do love your accent.
The Americans I’ve met seem to have a confident optimism that can put people off to begin with. You wonder if they’re making a joke, if there are hidden levels of sarcasm beneath this facade of positive vibes and sparkly teeth.
Spend a little while in the country, however, and you come to realise that no, there are no hidden levels. What you see is what you get: genuine friendliness.
Because Americans are friendly. Want to meet people while you’re in the States? Just go to a bar and order a beer. Bam, you’ve got friends. Someone will inevitably clock the accent and pipe up to ask where you’re from.
It happened to me just a few weeks ago in Nevada. “Hey, I recognise that accent,” the guy next to me at the bar said. “You’re British!”
Well, no. And this, for me, is part of where Americans get their reputation. Think of all the dumb questions people from the US have asked you in the past: the whole reason they’re even asking them is a genuine curiosity to know the answer. The only reason they’re talking to you in the first place is that they’re friendly enough to want to make conversation.
You can travel through some countries and spend the entire time talking to yourself, because no one else seems interested in having a chat. That’s never a problem in the USA. Your main issue is taking to the time to answer all those questions.
Of course Americans’ lack of cynicism can also make them appear a little gullible. It’s the reason they believe stories about drop bears and hoop snakes and shoo-ers, and that Australia is a little island just off the coast of Florida. Because why would you lie? That’s not very nice.
Of the Americans who travel, however, it can sometimes be hard to mount a defence. Stereotypes appear for a reason. But I’ve found that this is more a case of the vocal few ruining things for the polite majority.
I feel sorry for American travellers sometimes, sitting around hostels and being grilled about their warmongering government, or their gun-crazed southerners, or anything else that the self-righteous fellow travellers around them have an issue with. These are the good ones, remember – the ones who have decided to get out and see the world. Cut them some slack.
In fact, cut all Americans some slack. They might be loud, they might be brash, and they might be gullible. But they’ve also got a genuine warmth and friendliness that we could all learn from.
Do you think Americans deserve a break? Or do they live up to the stereotype in your experience?