I wrote an article summing some points about both the United States and Europe when I returned from the US last year, but I didn't publish it and the file was just sitting on my harddrive - until I rediscovered it earlier this week. I think it is still current, so here it is:
This won't be a traditional Internet USvsEU fight where someone's trying to persuade you why the place you are rooting for is the best, and the other one sucks. First, because social media are already full of this nonsense; and second, it's nonsense. All this judging is based probably more than anything else on one thing: stereotypes. Yeah, Europeans have a ton of those about Americans and vice versa. So I thought it could be fun to focus on some of these and do a little breakdown.
That's the wonderful thing about traveling, you get a chance to learn how some things are, so you don't have to depend on some myths from TV or the Internet, many of which exist just to say crap about "the others." But let's face it: where there's smoke, there can be fire, too. Anyway; without further ado, let's begin with European stereotypes about the US:
Americans are fat
Based on some infographics and perhaps some "walmart videos," it is common for Europeans to describe an average American as somebody who has to enter a door sideways. My take: while you can find some extremes on both sides, on average, Americans are a bit bigger indeed - probably because while most Europeans walk, cycle, or run to catch public transportation, most Americans drive. Speaking of driving...
American cars are rubbish
Most American roads are made by a ruler, straight and smooth for miles and miles. With that in mind, for some time, the US car companies cared less about some sophisticated suspension for better cornering. Also, the manufacturing used to be less precise - but because of that, the cars were cheap as dirt so everyone could afford one, whereas in Europe they had smoother dashboard, but you had to be rich to buy one. When I was a kid living in an apartment building with 30 flats, there used to be only five or so cars in the parking lot. Though it is important to mention here that you simply don't have to own a car in most parts of Europe - you can get everywhere either by walking or public transportation, so you drive only when you want to. I like that better than being required to own a vehicle to participate in society. My take: the difference in car quality these days is minimal. European cars have a more efficient fuel economy, but since the fuel is also more expensive in the EU, the running costs are similar. I prefer European roundabouts to American four-way stop intersections, but the US car culture was fascinating to experience.
Americans are stupid
While the internet causes fat jokes to slowly disappear, it is responsible for making stupid jokes popular. It started before the modern era, based on all the warning signs on new products like "Don't use this washing machine to wash cats," and so on. However, as everyone has a camera nowadays, so when something goes wrong, it is often captured on a video. Youtube has years worth of these, and since the US is huge, that's where many are coming from. My take: to think that some idiot who filmed himself smashing 20 windshields by his head represents the whole nation, c'mon. But it is, I guess, more entertaining to watch than to read about Adams, Edison, Ford, Roosevelt, Tesla…
Americans know nothing about Europe’s geography
Sort of subcategory of the previously mentioned, but it is a big one, so it gets recognition. Europeans love to laugh about results when Americans are asked to name European countries on a blank map. It is poor - if they hit more than three correctly, it is a tremendous success. But try to give a blank map of the US' states to any of those who laughed, and you will see that most will fill correctly only California and Texas, maybe. While, countries should be more essential to know than states, still, it's a kind of draw.
My take: Many people in the States I spoke with knew fair enough. But I also had several conversations where, after I mentioned that I used to live in Czechia, they said something like, "that's a city in Russia, isn't it?" Assuming like this is more annoying than admitting no clue. If you'd talk with European about... Nebraska, for example, they will probably say something like: "I have no idea, where is it?" instead of: "Yeah, that's the capital of Alaska, right?" Anyway. I think if people would learn a bit about historical events related to nations and such, countries would make more sense and will be easier to remember by more.
US is the land of racism
Well, given the US history (here we go again), where segregation was common at places until not too long ago, and there are still places that reflect that. There is no wonder that some spots have more tension.
My take: It is not common for Europeans to categorically say "all [insert a race] are [insert an insult]," but they will find other things to judge you, such as your language or accent, economic status, physical appearance, and so on. I've seen hateful name-calling and prejudice in both places. It is sad, really.
Cops in the US are idiots
This is probably more popular among Americans than in Europe, but it is a stereotype about the US, so I’ve included it as well..
While many citizens see police officers as good people who protect their safety - as it usually is, there are others with the ACAB philosophy. The second approach, while arrogant, has some reasons behind its existence. Unfortunately, there are police officers who do their job just for the power and the glorious feel to open carry a firearm to compensate for some other fields. If these people got caught doing some misery, they got much more media attention than regular officers who do it right; therefore, it is easy to assume that everyone is like that.
My take: As a photojournalist, I got to deal with law forces on a nearly daily basis. So it happened that I met representatives of both groups. The first one had fun binding me with spotlights, destroying my camera, and all sorts of crap. Once I got detained for taking photos of an injury accident when I was a good 1000 ft away from the scene on public property; there were no risks, the ambulance had already left, and the wreck was secured. Still, a cop came and handcuffed me "for my safety!" One particular guy mastered such an approach, so every time I've encountered him, song lyrics by Reznor started to resonate in my head: "I am a big man yes I am, and I have a big gun... I can reduce you if I want, I've got the power..." and I knew that I need to get the pics sooner than he'd notice me. Still, the majority are great people who do it just for the better good, selflessly help others, protect neighborhoods, and keep cities clean. I had a great time while cooperating with these.
All right, now let's take a look at some stereotypes Americans have about Europe:
Europe is a liberal place where you can smoke weed and drive fast everywhere
While you can drive without a speed limit only on certain roads in Germany and the Isle of Man, the average speed limits are higher in the EU than in the US. I like the way it is in Europe, but the EU also has better driving training programs than the US, so it is sensible, I reckon.
The drinking age in America is three years higher than in most places in Europe - which makes no sense to me. How is the "land of the free" allowing you to buy a house, cars, guns, go to the military, marry someone, and film porn, before you are old enough to decide whether you want to consume alcohol? Then, you have a bunch of people who get totally wasted by the age when Europeans already figured this out, and are acting more responsibly. As for drugs, I saw that, in both US and EU, those who want to use them do so regardless of local laws.
Europe is just a bunch of communists
Oh dear. I just.. I could.. let's put it shortly: that average taxes in Europe are higher than in the States, and average costs of health care and education are lower - with all of its pros and cons. I'd argue that having a healthy and educated population benefit the country more than letting them to have a few bucks extra to buy some consumer stuff, but I get that opinions differ on this.
Europe is a dangerous place
After the media coverage of the recent attacks in France and some cases of immigration issues, I noticed that many Americans started to think that the whole of Europe is a place where you'd get murdered on every corner. I remember that on the same day as I read reports made by US travel agencies about how many Americans canceled their vacation to Europe because of safety concerns, I turned a TV, and the first thing on was news about some mass shooting in the US...
My take: Unless you'll be asking for trouble with some inappropriate behavior, the odds that you'll get hurt are about as big as that the plane you'll take will have an accident. US or EU, it doesn't matter.
Everything in Europe is insanely expensive
While prices in some metropolis can be astronomical, you can find places in Europe that are much cheaper than anywhere in the States. Although the EU is smaller than the US, it is still big enough to include a massive variety.
My take: nothing better than getting a backpack and check it on your own. Once in the EU, you can get plane tickets across Europe for as cheap as $15, but then you will need another $20 if you have anything more than a carry-on bag. Hotels are anywhere between $20 - $12,000 per night. You can get a pint of beer in central Europe for a dollar, but cameras in the EU do cost more than in the US, so bring your own. While at it, you can check out my article about how to "Travel Cheap, Travel Well!"
Everything made in Germany is flawless
About the same warranty as “made in USA” badge provides. My take: Not just Germans, many EU countries had some brilliant engineering… until the events of the first half of the 20th century happened, and things went to a dump. Many people with know-how fled elsewhere, taking their wisdom with them. I don't think many people these days realize the damage of the two world wars in Europe. It is a miracle how it has recovered. Which brings me to the last point…
Europeans are awfully lazy
While the American GDP is impressive, the combined GDP of European countries is actually bigger. Sure, you might say that Europe is not a country whereas the US is, but that's actually speaking in favor of European work ethics - they have to deal with a different language spoken every few miles, and many different currencies. In the US, however, no one has to care about these two issues - which makes the business a ton easier.
Well, there you go. It all comes to that one is more diverse and the second simpler to navigate and work in; they both have nice people, totally stunning nature and brilliant architecture to look at - one with more historical structures, the other with more skyscrapers. Sadly, they both have wealth redistribution problems and stupid foreign policies. My take: they are both great places to live in.
If you liked this post, you can browse my Blog Archives for more of them.
Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Essays