Jerry Springer, or ‘How The Rest of the World Sees Us’

25 Sep


American stereotypes or stereotypical of Americans?

Going abroad as an American student is certainly a lesson in humility. Not everyone is as big of a fan of the good old U-S-of-A as we might like to think. And while I have not directly encountered any blatant anti-Americanism, it seems that our reputation proceeds us.

During our first days here, the IFSA students stayed at a hotel before we moved into the dorms. We would encounter people from different countries all of the world in the elevators and almost immediately after the doors would close, they would turn to us and say “Are you Americans?” Sometimes without even hearing us speak. Is it our clothes? Our look? Do we emit a subconscious ‘American’ obnoxiousness — like a cultural dog whistle that only other nationalities can hear? I probably couldn’t have told you where they were from just from looking and I couldn’t have asked them in their native tongue whether they were German or Swedish or Norwegian, like they had just asked us — in English.

I think the general European consensus about Americans is that we are overbearing, dismissive of other cultures, ignorant of world events and that we see things as being either ‘our way or the highway’. My flatmate even told me that she thought the show ‘Jerry Springer’ was meant to be an accurate depiction of American life. When I mentioned to one of my flatmates that Americans pretty much know that the French dislike us, she regretfully informed me that, “Most everyone dislikes Americans..”

My immediate thought in response to this was, “But where I’m from, everyone loves Americans!” Now, how American of a thought process is that?

The stereotypes of Texans are even more grandiose (Although I’m sure we wouldn’t have it any other way!). Today, a guy asked me what state I was from and when I told him “Texas”, he said “Oh God! Aren’t you allowed to shoot people in Texas?” and then he asked me if we were all inbred. (Don’t worry, I told him that he was thinking of Arkansas).  Our gun control and self defense laws are extremely horrifying to the British, most of whom have never even seen a gun before. Pepper spray is considered a firearm here, and you can serve a pretty hefty jail sentence just for possession. (I think I’ll keep my passport, money, cell phone and camera, and you can go wash your eyes out, thank you very much!)

Another huge adjustment is the differences between the collegiate systems. British students are on a different path then American students in their first year of college. You don’t shop around the course catalogue, trying on different classes to see what fits best. At university in the UK, if you are going to study dentistry,  you only take courses in dentistry.  They find our ‘little bit of everything’ attitude towards coursework strange. Some of the UK students I’ve talked to even see it as almost non-committal and watered down. Your educational foundation should be established in ‘college’ (high school), and your focus is narrowed at the ‘university’ (collegiate) level. Courses have a much stronger emphasis on self-teaching and individual learning; they assume that if you are a student then you should have the motivation to come to class, complete readings and do research without being ‘rewarded’ with completion grades, participation points or benchmark quizzes.

So far, the greatest lesson I’ve learned abroad is that in leaving behind your home, family and friends (and inevitably a large part of who you are), you discover so much about yourself and the place you are from. When you are taken out of your context, you are forced to define yourself in clearer terms. Your surroundings can no longer speak for you. Your friends cannot be used to reflect upon your character.  You must be able to communicate articulately and distinctly about who you are as an individual, when all of the ‘extra’ falls away.

Living in London, I am learning more about what it really means to be an American, on a personal and global scale. A lesson that is both challenging and enlightening!



9 Responses to “Jerry Springer, or ‘How The Rest of the World Sees Us’”

  1. Jeff Piepenburg September 25, 2011 at 3:52 AM #

    Judge Judy is a far more accurate representation of American life. Nobody watches Springer anymore.

    And if I’m not mistaken, I believe your British accent is beginning to peak through a little bit.

    But regardless, it sounds like you’ve got some nice flatmates and have already experienced the reasons why this sort of experience is invaluable. Enjoy it, live it up and make the most of the opportunity that you’ve earned.

    Hugs and kisses,

    Jeff and Livenshire Pieps.

    • stalkingharry September 25, 2011 at 2:00 PM #

      Thanks Jeff and crew! I agree, Judge Judy is truly a shining beacon of cultural progress. Love and miss you all very much!

  2. Jenn Piepenburg September 25, 2011 at 2:28 PM #

    Miss you Sis. So proud of you and hoping you come back with more than you had hoped for!

    Love reading about your experiences, the new discoveries, and how your are perceiving it all!!!

  3. Robyn September 25, 2011 at 4:12 PM #

    I’m really sorry if we were being mean about the fact you’re American! I feel really bad now! I was only joking, promise!
    Much love,

    • stalkingharry September 25, 2011 at 9:44 PM #

      Didn’t think you were being rude to me at all! No need to apologize! 🙂 Xx

  4. Andrewski. September 26, 2011 at 3:11 AM #

    CLAIRE! I PLAN ON TYPING IN ALL CAPS… THOUGH.. I MAY ONLY MAKE IT THROUGH HAlf.. ok .. there. my finger got tired. ok:
    FIRST: Your posts are FUN to read. like. I’ve read all of them, and if outlook wasn’t already my home page, i’d make it this.
    B. Psych returns October 12. I’m scheduling the recordings for you and I to watch when you get back.
    3. We need to get back to talking and junk! K? K cool.
    also: I love you. K cool. I’m gonna send you some of the drawings I’ve been doing. I hope you like them!

  5. Marianne Piepenburg September 26, 2011 at 4:03 AM #

    I want to see your flatmates’ vides of YOU speaking in a British accent! I actually thought they did a very commendable job! I love reading your posts and feel as though I am getting to experience a bit of it with you, so keep it up!

    Have a wonderful time in Paris! Oh, you are a lucky girl! XOXO

  6. Andrewski. September 26, 2011 at 5:01 PM #

    MOM When are we getting lunch? K cool. I’ve got that coupon to that place.. HIT ME UP!

    • stalkingharry September 26, 2011 at 9:04 PM #

      Are you making dinner dates with mom on my blog?

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