At the beginning of our trip to America, everyone was burdened with a few stereotypes. Before we came here, we had the image that everyone in the US plays American football or is a cheerleader. We also thought that the pupils have to stay at school until 4 o’clock or even longer and so much of the day would be spent in school. Social media and movies had a deep impact on the way we imagined American life. We also expected that the people here only eat fast food, such as burgers, fries and pizza.
Since our project deals with stereotypes, we want to probe some which are connected to the American lifestyle. Therefore, we reflected on our own ideas of the American lifestyle and created the following list of stereotypes to analyze:
- The shops in America are huge and most of the products can be bought in a big size.
- The houses are flat and only have one floor.
- Americans drive big SUVs and pick-ups. They go by car everywhere.
- Religion plays a big role in America, for that reason there are many churches.
- There is no public transportation in America.
- The Americans watch a lot of TV. The TV channels are mostly about sports, fast food commercials and talk shows.
- Many Americans use Apple-products.
- There is a big hype about sports like football, baseball, basketball and golf.
- Americans are proud of their country.
In order to analyze these stereotypes, we have created a survey which we passed around in some classes to get a good insight of real life in America. This survey and the results are enclosed below. We questioned 50 pupils between 14 and 17 years.
Sex: Ο male 20 Ο female 30
Age: ______ ( 14 – 13 15 – 26 16 – 9 17 – 2 )
1) How do you get to school?
Ο by car 27 Ο by bike 0 Ο by bus 22 Ο by foot 1 Ο others (by _____________) 0
2) How many cars do you have?
Ο 0 1 Ο 1 1 Ο 2 32 Ο 3 13 Ο 4 2 Ο more 1
3) Do you do any sports?
Ο Yes 28 Ο No 22
3.1) If so, what kind of sports?
Ο American football 1 Ο soccer 7 Ο golf 2
Ο cheerleading 1 Ο swimming 3 Ο running 5
Ο basketball 3 Ο others (_______________________) 10
3.2) How often do you do sports per week?
Ο 1-2 times 8 Ο 3-4 times 19 Ο 5-6 times 3
Ο 7 times 0
4) Is there any kind of sports you like but don’t do?
Ο Yes 34 Ο No 16
4.1) If so, what kind of sports?
Ο American football 14 Ο soccer 13 Ο basketball 5
Ο others (_____________) 15
5) Do you have any Apple products?
Ο Yes 32 Ο No 19
5.1) If so, how many?
Ο 1 10 Ο 2 13 Ο 3 6
Ο more (_______) 3
6) What kind of TV shows do you like to watch?
Ο comedy 31 Ο talk show 6 Ο cooking show 12 Ο crime scene 22
Ο others (drama, science fiction, adventures, soaps) 19
6.1) How long do you watch TV per day?
Ο 0 h 3 Ο less than 1 h 17 Ο 1-2 h 26 Ο 3-4 h 1
Ο more than 4 h 3
7) Do you attend church services regularly?
Ο yes 27 Ο no 23
With the help of this survey, as well as our own experiences we want to answer if the stereotypes are correct or not.
- Huge shops
The shops in America are huge and most of the products can be bought in a big size: From our own experiences we can say that this stereotype is definitely true. As an example one can mention the big supermarket “Walmart” where one can buy nearly everything. Starting off from clothes over toys up to food and hygiene products. Being used to go to German supermarkets and now going into an American store, it is striking that you can buy a lot of products in a very big size, such as peanut butter. Walmart of course sells huge amounts of different products everyday. In addition to that, they put every single product in a plastic bag which is obviously bad for the environment.
2. Flat houses
Apart from big villas of rich people, the houses are very flat and often have only one floor. Also the BHS is divided in separate buildings instead of having one building with more than one level.
3. Big cars
During our trip to the US we have recognized that a lot of American people drive big cars and trucks. When we asked them why they have big cars, they told us that they preferred sitting in high cars and having a lot of room for bags and other stuff. So they mainly drive such big cars for reasons of comfort. Moreover, it is noticeable that the Americans use their car for short distances.
It seems to be true that religion is an important aspect in America because one can find churches and religious establishments almost everywhere in Florida. There is a big variety of different churches, e.g. Baptist or Christian. Besides, there are many families that pray before having dinner and attend church services regularly. From this behavior one can conclude that religion seems to be important for the people here. In addition to that, Americans call their country “a nation under God”. Talking about church services, the survey shows that not everyone is very religious.
5. Public transportation
Apart from the school bus, which is for pupils only, there is no public transportation in America. Driving around the towns in Florida, you don’t see many people walking on the sidewalks or riding a bike. Most people have a car to get around, as the survey shows. It is noticeable that 27 people go to school by car while 22 get there by the school bus and only one goes to school by foot, which is quite different from Germany, where you can see people riding their bikes or walking to school. Our host families have told us that you find public transportation in the US only in big cities like New York and that if you walk around in a little town instead of driving a car, other people will think you are crazy. So for us Germans it is different to go by car for short distances.
After using the TV one time, it becomes clear that the shows are mostly about sports (especially football) and commercials. Since the majority stated in the survey to watch TV 1-2h per day, one can see that the Americans are not addicted to watching TV. It is also interesting to see that apparently not talk shows are the most watched shows but comedies, crime scenes and other shows like dramas and cartoons. When we watched TV here, it was really striking that there are so many commercials and most of them advertise fast food. On the TV there was also some sport but not as much as we expected. Since our exchange students are in IB, they don’t have a lot of free time to watch TV because they have to many assignments. So one can say that the stereotype of American people watching TV all day long is not true at least for this group.
Talking about the expectation of an increased usage of Apple products, such as iPhones or MacBooks, the survey shows that 32 out of 50 people have at least one Apple product and most of them have even 2. Additionally to that, we have met lots of people owning an IPhone or working for school using a MacBook. For this reason one can conclude that there are really a lot of people who have Apple products.
From the results of the survey concerning sports one can conclude that it is really striking that only one person out of 28 plays American football. Since we have always had an image of American people playing football, we expected a higher number of football players than one. Unexpectedly, it seems like a lot of people play soccer or tennis. The relation between people doing sports and those who do not is balanced which contradicts to our expectations, as well as the fact that only one person declared to be a cheerleader. Referring to the data one can see that most people play sports 3-4 times per week, which is quite often. On the other hand 13 persons have stated to like football but do not play it. For this reason one can say that, although not a lot of people play it actively, football is a very common sport in America, as well as soccer, tennis, swimming and basketball. From our own experiences we can say that if someone plays any kind of sport, then they have to go to their practice very often. Most of the people being in a school sports club are supposed to attend their practice every day for nearly 2 hours. To conclude, not everyone in the US plays a lot of sports but a lot of people are interested in sports and so e.g. like to watch it on TV. If you compare this to Germany, one big difference is that there are no sport clubs at German schools. Everyone who is interested in sports attends a team in their leisure time instead of playing a lot of sports at school.
Many Americans are very proud of their country. For example some people have an American flag in their backyard and at school there is one in every room. Apart from that, the pupils have to take an oath on the American flag every morning called the pledge of Allegiance.
Additionally, we have probed different values that we find true for Germans. It is astonishing that not all of them fit to our experience with our American hosts.
The difference between German and American values e.g. being on time will be listed and compared to each other to see how big or how small the difference is in the following text.
Being on time
Being on time is something that we need everyday so it is something that is a big part of your life. A German stereotype e.g. is that they want to be on time and hate it to be late and that stereotype is mostly true, not everyone hates to be late but most of them do. Americans though do not really care about being late or being on time they are more chilled and go whenever they want to or if they are doing something before that they will finish that before going anywhere.
Cleanliness is something that is really good around here and the Americans clean a lot of their places so they look good and you can feel comfortable in them. Some of the Americans even have maids or anything else but the house in general is most of the time very clean. In Germany it is also a big thing of cleaning your house so you do not really find any dirty house because both cultures want to have a clean house.
For the reason that I spend the three weeks of the exchange program in an Indian family, I saw some of the differences between the American and Indian culture.
In my opinion the biggest difference in the lifestyle is the food. On the one hand many Indians are vegetarians so my family is vegetarian as well. In addition to that the traditional Indian food is very spicy and they eat it with their hands. I think the food is much healthier too because they do not eat much fast-food and meat.
Also the decoration in the house is different from the typical American household. For example my host family has a swing in the living room and many pictures and sculptures connected to the Indian culture and religion. In comparison the American household looks similar to the German one. Except for the kitchens, which are way bigger than the ones in Germany.
In addition to that religion plays a relatively big role. For example we went to an Indian festival which contains religious music and dances. Also we have to take off our shoes (while the dance and in the house) because cleanliness is an important part of Hindu culture.
After having analyzed all the stereotypes, one can conclude that some of them are true and others are not. In our opinion the most striking aspect is that the Americans are very proud of their nationality compared to Germany. Another huge difference between these two countries is that cars and shops are much bigger in the US. One point which we have not expected is that not everyone is obsessed with doing sports. For this reason, it was a great experience to learn about another culture and lifestyle and so be able to distinguish between fictional stereotypes and reality.
Leonie Wessels, Sanina Hubanic, Luc Lenz, Jonas Heine