Perceptions of the USA and Americans

Many Germans engage in political discussion without hesitancy, yet without rudeness. It seems less taboo to talk about politics, and disagreements are anticipated—but so is understanding, the synthesis of ideas, and reconciliation. Of course, arguments about politics undoubtedly still occur, but in general, I have experienced Germans asking me clear questions about American politics, or simply American life in general. Somewhat unexpectedly, however, I interact in Germany primarily with fellow foreigners than with Germans. Since other foreigners attend the language school, I know other students from the US, students from South America, from Africa, from other parts of Europe, and from Asia, all with whom I primarily speak German. Similarly, however, they have asked me clear questions about America and American life, especially after events that make headlines, such as the tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas or the Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade. Many people ask for details, experiences, or a more comprehensive picture, whereas some have first offered praise or critique, wanting to open a discussion or discern the “why” or “how” behind headlines and news stories. When answering, I try not to generalize, try to provide different perspectives, and try to clearly communicate what stereotypes or misconceptions may blur perceptions of America or Americans. I offer my own opinion if appropriate, but it is not the subject of the discussion—if so, I would not only feel uncomfortable but also misrepresentative of a comprehensive issue or matter. 

It is refreshing, as political discourse in everyday life within the United States has become increasingly tense and increasingly hostile. People have mentioned and inquired about American lifestyles, the American government, American politics and Americans’ political views, environmentalism and climate change in America, crime, social justice, drugs, medical care and insurance, activity and diet, and so forth. 

Simultaneously I have encountered stereotypes about Americans, particularly regarding monolingualism and education. Several students joked on several occasions that Americans only speak English and lack thorough knowledge of geography and the greater world. Though intended as jokes, these statements nevertheless perpetuate negative American stereotypes that often create barriers of misconceptions, especially toward Americans abroad. I lightly intervened, as the Americans (including me) at the language school countered these overgeneralizations simply by being there and learning a new language—part of our goals and our identities. I would also describe the diversity of languages and backgrounds within the United States, which may be overlooked in broad generalizations. 

Overall, the attitude toward the United States that I perceived was primarily curiosity, which I welcomed. When people would ask me direct questions—not skewed or loaded—I was more than happy to answer to the best of my ability, with my opinions only in the background and more of a discussion in the foreground.