The 10 most embarrassing American stereotypes

Embarrassing American Stereotypes

‘Murica. The greatest country in the world, that ever was or will be. Right? Well, that’s what plenty of Americans think. Oddly enough, they’re often the ones who have no understanding of the world, inside American borders or out. Even the chauvinistic use of the term America is problematic to begin with, not to mention the endless flag-waving and vainglorious boasting as to our imagined greatness. We’re like a C+ jock calling himself the smartest kid in school.

American flag backlit sunlight
The US has plenty to be proud of, but plenty that needs fixing, too. (photo thanks to VigilancePrime)

Sadly, it turns out that a lot of what people say about the United States turns out to be quite accurate. Mediocrity has long been our station, and for quite some time, our laurels made for a great resting place. But it’s not the 1950s anymore. The rest of the world is catching up––scientifically, economically, educationally––and unless we make some major systemic changes to the way we do business, they’re going to leave us in the dust. In some cases, they already have. Thanks, CERN. You damn atom-smashing bastard.

So, do I hate America? No, far from it. But we have some obscene problems that our collective ego largely refuses to acknowledge, or that entrenched opposition refuses to change. We’re not #1 in any category worth winning, and a lot of the worst stereotypes about Americans are embarrassingly true.

It’s not an insult, guys. It’s a call to action. We’ve got 99 problems, and a solution to none.

Allow me to name just a few…

The unfortunate American stereotypes list:

1) We’re FAT

2012 US obesity rates state by state
2012 obesity rates, state by state. Not overweight…obese. Deep red is over 30%. Source.

If there’s anywhere to start, it’s right here. Our expanding waistlines have been the subject of global ridicule for decades, with our weapons of mass consumption fed with bottomless obesity fuel, and our luxurious domestic throne rooms of TV appreciation and ever-present automobile infrastructure at the ready to remove any and all semblance of physical activity from our daily routine.

A couple fun facts: 68% of Americans were overweight or obese in 2012, and since 1960, we’ve packed on an extra 24 pounds each, causing endless problems related to diabetes, heart disease, fuel consumption, and airplane seating size standardization. Somehow that $60 billion we spend every year on weight loss products is getting us nowhere.

When I was in Taiwan, one of many nations for whom portion control and lack of trans-fats are simply non-issues, I was asked if I thought the humans in Wall-E were a realistic portent of our inevitable fate. They thought it was silly to think humans would end up as severely fat, immobilized, and digitally entertained as the characters depicted in the film…whereupon I informed them that a certain percentage of our population has already achieved such a feat.

Asia in general has significantly lower rates of obesity. Just for a quick comparison, our 33.8% obesity rate is pretty darn easily beaten by Japan’s 3.5%. Get it together, America.

Minor consolation? Someone overtook us. But our current 2nd place fat trophy is no reason to cheer. And I expect our size and sedentary vegetating often contribute to another particular sort of laziness…

2) We barely travel

Percentage of Americans who have a passport, state by state
Passport ownership, state by state. Source.

We’ve all heard the embarrassingly low statistics concerning the percentage of Americans holding passports, but at this point, it’s over 30%. Still incredibly lame, and far behind the UK’s 80%, but a lot better than you may have heard.

But I think that misses the point. It doesn’t matter how many people have passports, but how many use them. And according to a (somewhat outdated) study that ranked countries according to number of trips abroad, the USA is in a respectable 3rd place. Woo hoo!

But that’s by sheer numbers, not per capita. Germany was #1, with 86.6 million trips abroad…compared to a population of 80 million. Compare that to the 58 million trips that Americans took abroad, and our 300 million people, and they turn out to be quintuple the travelers we are.

We’ve got all sorts of excuses, of course. We live far away. Our economy sucks. And we barely speak our own language, much less others.

And all that would make sense, except when you take a look at Canada, where a respectable 60% hold passports, and according to tourist receipt data from 2009, they spent about 1/3 as much as (USA) Americans did on travel, but with only 1/10 the population, which makes them approximately triple the travel junkies we are. And both are in North America, so I don’t think problems like expensive plane tickets are good enough excuses.

A frequent argument put forth is that travel expenditures correlate closely with income and proximity to international borders, and that’s true enough, except when our Canadian buddies are upstaging us 3 to 1. I mean seriously, guys. Who the hell doesn’t want to see the world?!?!!

And you might think travel is a frivolous expenditure that doesn’t count as a necessity of life. Except that it exacerbates the next problem…

3) We’re ignorant of the world

World map, Americas centered
Quick, fill in every country you can! (PS: Ever notice how Cold War era world maps quite often placed the United States in the center, in a Mercator projection, thus implying America was the center of the world, surrounded by enemies on all sides, who appeared much larger than they are in reality? Weird, right?)

I won’t trot out the parade of ignorant Americans saying silly things about whether Europe is a country or Africa is a planet or whatever. I’m sure you’ve seen ’em. And this is to say nothing of the Americans who don’t know the Earth goes around the sun.

What bothers me far more than mere stupidity is the cultural prejudice that festers from this ignorance, and keeps millions of Americans irreparably distrustful of the outside world. We’re constantly in fear of a rising China or resurgent Soviet empire or socialist European dictatorship or reincarnated Caliphate, or whatever the hate target is for that particularly decade. You can tell which racial group is the big bad wolf at the time because they’re the bad guys in all the movies. Hollywood is literally chronicling our xenophobia before our very eyes.

I wish I could find the source, but several years ago, a few Muslims went on a cultural exchange tour, intended to increase communication and understanding between Christians and Muslims, at a time when the media continues to push some of us into thinking we’re destined for some inevitable clash of civilizations. And Christian attendants actually asked “do Muslims love their children?”

And the price for such ignorance? Unchecked ease of political manipulation. While knowledge remains a magnificent way to spot a liar, it remains childishly easy to manipulate an ignorant voting bloc, which is a big reason why Americans need to travel more. We’d know the whole rest of the modern world does health care better, or that Amsterdam isn’t a cesspool of drug-addled violence, or that public transportation systems don’t have to suck. But too few venture beyond our borders, which is why the last two elections saw candidates for some of the highest offices in the land claiming on TV that Russia is still our arch-nemesis, and almost half the country voted for them.

Ignorance happens everywhere, sure. But in a country so well-connected with the outside world, and with a communications infrastructure that allows us to consume seemingly any cultural creation the world can produce, ignorance is not an accident. It’s a choice. And many of us make it every day.

If you’re not exploring the world around you, you’re destroying your country.

4) We’re scientifically illiterate

Sputnik 1
Tinkering on Sputnik 1, the first satellite in space, launched by the Soviet Union. They also put the first animal in space, and the first man, and the first woman, and…you know what? Pretty much everything except the moon.

Okay, I lied. I won’t give us a free pass on this one. We don’t deserve it. The country that flew to the moon still has 20 million people that believe it was faked.

A few fun facts about American scientific flailing:

Sigh. And it can only become increasingly problematic to maintain this level of ignorance. At no point in our future will scientific literacy become less important. The more we invent and discover, the more we’ll need to know what the hell is going on. If we haven’t even caught up with the discoveries of Copernicus, how can we be expected to handle all those flying cars we’ve always wanted?

But we might not be able to afford them anyway…

5) We’re rich…ish

American income inequality since 1948
For many years, we grew together. But for several decades, we’ve grown apart. And it’s breaking the country in half. Source.

Some of us are, anyway. Income inequality has become a hot-button political issue lately, and for good reason. The chasm between rich and poor has grown to match the level of the Gilded Age of the 1920s, right before the most horrific economic collapse in our history. The super-rich of the 0.01% control a greater share of wealth than at any time in recorded history, while their taxes are among the lowest they’ve been in our lifetime, which all adds up to make American income inequality the most severe of any developed country.

Now you might think that’s fine, since they must have worked hard for all that wealth, right? Well, not those six Walmart heirs, who control as much wealth as the bottom 40% of Americans, and certainly not in the case of all those politically-derived tax breaks and offshore bank accounts that allow rich people to build massive amounts of wealth while selling out their own country at the same time, but even aside from all that (which I think is pretty awful to begin with), there’s a direct correlation between income inequality and everything bad in the world.

It would be one thing if they were working hard and reaping deserved rewards, but when plenty of other people are working hard but not even managing to break out of poverty-level wages, something’s gotta give. And I think it should be rich-people tax evasion scams, not child poverty nutrition programs.

And, for those who think billionaires paying an extra tax percentage or two will cause our democracy to collapse into a socialist dictatorship, it’s probably worth knowing that when our country was fighting World War II, tax rates on the top earners reached 94%. Is it really so much to ask our new nobility to contribute to their country in a time of need?

Yet such modest suggestions are met with fervent, ideological, almost religious opposition. Speaking of which…

6) Religious fanaticism runs deep

Sinclair Lewis quote when fascism comes to America
How else can they justify giving tax cuts to billionaires while cutting food subsidies to starving children?

Now allow me to begin by pointing out that I have no problem with people practicing their religion. I strongly support absolute freedom thereof. Unfortunately, a third of Americans do not.

We have reached the point that 34% of Americans would favor the establishment of Christianity as the state religion.

It’s funny how vocal the debate can get over whether or not the United States was founded as a Christian nation, since the Treaty of Tripoli literally declares the exact opposite and bears the signature of President John Adams. Seems like it would be over and done with, right?

Nope. The debate rages on. And although religious participation is generally down, with increasing numbers of Americans (particular younger ones) declaring no religious affiliation at all, the number of Americans claiming that “Christianity is a very important part of being American” increased from 38% to 49% from 1996 to 2004.

So while it’s not entirely accurate to call the United States “religious,” it’s perfectly accurate to claim this for half the country, whose opinions have become so deeply entrenched that a third of Americans apparently want to see the country transformed into a Christian theocracy. We’re getting split right down the middle, and religion is the wedge. One of them, anyway.

Good thing all that religious fervor must be keeping everybody morally righteous though, right? RIGHT!?!?

7) We have more prisoners than anyone else

Chart of the number of Americans in prison
Know what happened at the time of the spike? Privatization. Chart by Pwrm.

I find it rather odd that Americans talk about Americans like we’re the greatest people on the planet, while simultaneously locking up the highest percentage of our citizens of any country on the planet. How great can we be if we have more criminals than anywhere else?

Yet for many Americans, this isn’t even a problem. They view record-setting incarceration rates, mandatory minimum sentencing, zero-tolerance drug offense policies, and the $75 billion annual tab as the solution, failing to see how these astronomical imprisonment rates only serve to exacerbate the existing problem.

We turn non-violent offenders into inmates, whose criminal record then guarantees employment challenges. And what’s a former criminal to do when the clean life won’t pay the bills? Turn to crime, of course. And so the term “correctional facility” is just a lie: Within 3 years of release, about 43% of inmates end up back in prison.

You might think those repeat offenders deserve it, but in Norway, it’s just 20%. So it’s not just the offenders that get themselves back into the system. It’s equally a result of the system itself.

And thus we could save billions, while drastically cutting crime rates at the same time, but instead we’re just spinning along on our imprisonment hamster wheel, all the while suffering, and paying for, the enormous consequences. Such as…

8) Our gun crime is out of control

Gun ownership per capita, OECD countries
Number of guns per 100 people. We’re in red. Source.

There is no modern country on the planet that has the same problems with gun violence as the United States. In 2006, over 10,000 Americans died due to gun-related deaths. In Japan? Two.

Sadly, it’s not just murder. Gun-related suicides actually happen more often than gun-related homicides. In 2010, the ratio was 1.75 to 1. And I’m all for allowing gun ownership for the sake of self defense, but when most of those deaths are self-inflicted, it’s really not a matter of defense, is it?

The cycle is depressingly self-defeating; every school shooting leaves the public terrified, and clamoring for reasonable gun control legislation. Fearing tyrannical regulation, gun lovers flood the gun shops and stock up on new firearms. And since the gun lobby blocks even the most reasonable of new regulations, no progress is made…except for the massive addition of newly circulating firearms, thus enabling yet more school shootings (but if you’re looking for a strategy, this crazy idea might just work).

And yet…Americans think other countries are dangerous.

9) Our military budget is killing us

American military spending as a percentage of US federal budget
This is the budget of a country at war, not a country fighting a few insurgent forces in 3rd world countries. Source.

Speaking of massive stockpiles of deadly weaponry, the United States consistently outspends everyone else on the planet on military expenditures, exceeding, as of 2013, the next 11 countries combined. It would be one thing if we were at war with all of them simultaneously, but plenty of them are allies. Awesome.

More fun facts? The United States accounts for about 40% of global military expenditures, spending about 6-7 times as much as China, the next biggest spender. And although the Department of Defense has accounted for about 20% of the federal budget for the last several years, other estimates, which include defense-related spending beyond simply the Department of Defense, put the number at a staggering 58%.

Even so, no discussion of reigning in government spending ever includes a reduction of military might. One might think it would be simple to suggest we outspend the next eight countries combined, instead of the next eleven, for example. But it’s just so easy to say “weakening America,” “grave threat of terrorism,” and “support our troops,” that no politician seems capable of mustering the intellectual prowess to ask “could more lives be saved if we spend those billions elsewhere?”

And while I have nothing but respect for the soldiers who put their lives on the line for the sake of their country, I have nothing but disdain for the politicians who put soldiers’ lives on the line for the sake of their political career. And judging from the vast number of 3rd world countries we’ve invaded or bombed that pose absolutely no threat to us whatsoever, we seem to have quite a few of them.

The trouble is perhaps best phrased by Abraham Manslow, who once said:

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

So we keep on banging away.

10) We don’t know what “patriotism” is

George Carlin patriotism quote
Well said, George.

This is a big one for me, as it tends to eclipse any other problem, by facilitating the existence of them all.

I’ve written before about the mentality of certain Americans who think it’s “very special” to be American, but whose only explanations consist of factors present in hundreds of countries. Democracy, for example, or freedom of speech. Or people who refuse to travel to other countries for fear of their safety, including those with significantly lower crime rates, or who believe American citizenship somehow entitles them to the favorable economic circumstances our country currently enjoys.

And though it would be one thing for sheltered Americans to continue ignorantly wallowing in the mediocrity that is the current chapter in the history of the United States, it’s another thing entirely when that ego merges with assumed privilege.

A disturbingly popular view has emerged in recent years, which declares that the United States has a unique privilege in the world, which allows it to pursue whichever goal it desires, without regard to its effect on citizens of other countries. All because America is the “greatest country in the world.”

I once witnessed an American pack up his things and refuse to speak further with a Swiss man who (politely) suggested the United States should take into consideration how its actions affect the populations of other countries. And when the Swiss man left the room, the American said “I don’t like that guy.” For the crime of suggesting considerate behavior.

And this is no fringe view. When a recent political candidate recommended following a foreign policy based on the Golden Rule, the audience shouted him down. This country literally witnessed the voters and leadership of a major political party revolting against the basic concept of morality.

If you ask me, greatness doesn’t provide leeway for inconsiderate behavior. In fact it does the exact opposite. No one has ever seriously declared “he’s a great person, so he can bomb other people.” And yet somehow it’s perfectly acceptable…to certain people, anyway…to provide this privilege to an entire country.

That isn’t patriotism. It’s narcissism, plain and simple. And it’s blinding us from recognizing or solving the massive challenges we currently face.

So is America in decline?

Map of the United States split into 11 countries based on cultural similiarity
A map of the United States, redrawn by cultural, religious, linguistic, and political affiliation. Source.

I find it be rather odd that people even bother asking whether the United States is a nation currently in decline, when it’s so indisputably accurate. We’re in serious trouble, and we won’t get out of it by pretending it’s all good.

When considering the seriously entrenched political divisions, which have only been exacerbated in the last decade or so, combined with the rising prevalence of culturally split news consumption, which forms a bubble into which no conflicting opinions may enter, I think it’s safe to say we’re nearing a breaking point. The country is being split in two, and it’s not entirely out of the question to expect that at some point, it’ll snap in half. Or perhaps several pieces, forming a patchwork of independent states, each a mere shadow of its cohesive ancestor.

Are we doomed to such a fate? Maybe, maybe not. But if we’re ever going to reclaim the mantle of “greatest country in the world,” whatever that means, we’ll have to recognize just how far this nation has fallen.

About SnarkyNomad

Eytan is a pretentious English major whose rant-laden sarcastic tirades occasionally include budget travel tips and other international nonsense. You can follow his every narcissistic word on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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118 Comments on “The 10 most embarrassing American stereotypes”

  1. You hit every point exactly. I always say we are the cause to our own problems and then we are in denial why our country is not progressing. We have to look within to make this country change, or it never will.

    It seems like its a hard pill to swallow that we caused our own problems, I notice it and I’m sure you do but our politicians and govt needs to realize it. I hope this country can change.

    1. I’m sort of torn between thinking we’ll fix things, and thinking we’ll be stuck like this for another 30 years. The split between the older and younger generation is rather stark, and it might just take the passing of the older generation to allow for any changes at all. But even so, that’ll take 20 or 30 years, and even then it’ll only be the beginning of progress, not the completion of it. Sigh.

      1. I love this piece. Well done. However, what exactly do you mean by older and younger “generation”? A generation is roughly a 20 year age cohort. You’re an English major. You know that. There are, say, 5 generations hanging around in the US right now. You’re waiting for the “older” generationSSSSS to die off? You mean the ones that fought in WWII and Korea and Vietnam? The ones that built most of this country and did all the hard protesting in the 60’s and 70’s? (Kent State, remember?)

        I suggest you consider that the problem is not with the older couple generations or so still around, but the younger ones who lack a sense of public service and responsibility. Who can you blame for that? Yeah, the generation that raised those folks. And if we have a generation or two lacking what we might define as traditional American values (or at least what we publicly claim are traditional American values), how do we expect things to get better or return to our best and most successful behaviors? Tis a puzzlement.

        At some point I will write a long diatribe about the American economy which now pretty much requires mothers to work, not to stay home, raise their kids, and pass along those values which we claim are so important. I don’t see anyone writing about that. But, consider please, the horrible conditions of today’s America began after women pretty much discovered they had to work outside the home to make ends meet. And, at that, they still make maybe 3/4 of what men make for the same job. And whose fault is all that? It’s the way our economy is structured these days. How did we get here? You tell me. What’s the solution? You tell me.

        1. Alright, so “older generation” is a bit of a vague term, but in general there’s a major political split between people above the age of about 40 and those below. It’s an oversimplification, of course, but there’s a great deal of polarization due to age.

          I also don’t think the younger generation (under the age of 35, let’s say) lacks a sense of responsibility. They’re actually working longer hours for lower pay than their parents, if they’re able to find work at all, and are often taking jobs in fields for which they are incredibly overqualified, because that’s all that’s available. They’re also more entrepreneurial than any previous generation. It may be out of necessity, but it’s still happening. There are more people working toward self-employment and entrepreneurship than ever before, and it generally includes a lot of those people who have become disillusioned with the job market who are doing it. With hard work like that, it’s hard to believe that kids these days just feel entitled and lazy.

          As for mothers not being able to raise their children, I think there’s an easy solution. Extend maternal leave to a period similar to what other countries offer. In Sweden, new mothers get 13 months of paid leave. In the US, they get zero. However, I don’t think this has any impact on “instilling values,” because at that age, no child is absorbing values, and probably won’t begin to do that until age 5, and by that time, they’re in school. And when kids are in school, it really doesn’t matter if the mom is at home or not. They can’t instill values in their children if their children aren’t even at home. So I think giving new moms paid maternal leave as well as easy access to cheap daycare would be incredibly helpful, and by the time the kids are in school, mothers can go back to work without having any adverse effect on the kids who won’t be home anyway. It’s just the early stages where you’d want to give a new mom lots of free time to spend with her kids, and that’s what lots of other countries do.

          1. Moms should be at home when their kids get home from school at 3pm , instead they are out working till 5pm and not getting home till 6pm , and that’s only if they have a regular 9-5 job
            “United we stand” divided we fall” you are correct about the american economy requiring mothers to work , not stay me to raise their own kids and pass along those values which we claim are so important” so our families are divided, our kids are being raised by other families, and that is how families fall apart or grow apart and it reflects throughout northamerican society

        2. I am a 57 year old beginning traveler . Embarrassingly so , I find your observations to be very accurate . It’s amazing the amount of people that still think Russia is communist !
          Of course you’re not really getting much criticism because of the demographic profile of your readers . I think . Many would reply with the old saying ” Love it or leave it . ” Whoever created that statement should have been shot . Right now I really can’t say that I love my country . Especially now that I’ve visited half a dozen other countries , including quite a bit of time in Russia.
          I pray , not fundamentally , that people your age and younger are seeing these problems . I know they are experiencing them to some degree . It hasn’t been a smooth path for me by far and certainly isn’t getting any better . I lost the idea of travel after retirement . That may never happen , the retirement I mean . Lol quite a few long time work associates , people who worked hard putting money aside to retire died in their 50’s. I quit waiting. At 57 I wonder exactly how much is enough to retire ? I laugh thinking about it .
          I’m rambling but I agree ! This is a conversation that needs to be had . Subjects that need to be looked at . Nice to know I’m not alone .
          I enjoy your blog . Keep up the good work !

        3. Women stay home and raise children? I don’t think you are well aware of our past and the dictatorship of men and controlling everything in this country. For women to ever live their own lives they need to have their own freedoms. Non of their freedoms came without each step taken in history. For the longest time men had property rights over women and had the right to kill her or reduce her into a slave. Men weren’t just enslaving womens body’s they enslaved their minds and kept them from progressing for centuries. Women JUST got the right to vote. Non of this could happen if it weren’t for women working. Back in the early 19th century it was still very difficult for women to get a job. Now women are graduating colleges and in some cases at a rate higher than men. Children have 2 parents and with 2 parents they both need to raise their child. After the age of 4 children go to school…. there is no need to have a woman sitting around the house wasting her life away. She needs to be out in the world learning new trades and managing her own life. If the man and woman split, she isn’t left in the mud and she also doesn’t feel forced to stay with an abusive husband because she is an intelligent person that can hold her own. It may be hard for you to understand but for women to be truly equal they need to live their life equally.

      2. First of all, many of these aren’t stereotypes, they are just unfortunate facts. However, I don’t see how they mean we’re in decline. Second, other nations are facing some of them too and third, we are doing something about them. Yes, we do know what patriotism is. Please provide the proof that that many Americans believe in ghosts. The prison population has been dropping, many other nations are fat too. We’re not the fattest contrary to popular belief. Not at ALL. Still waiting for a reason income inequality is so bad. Oh, wow, they are “more equal” and also more poor in Europe. Americans have bigger houses, can afford to drive SUVs and pickups, more material items. I would think wealth is measured by that, not purely by money. An idiot making $20 in Denmark isn’t any better off if not worse off than somebody making $9 in America. Our public transportation “sucks” because the cities are much more sprawling. The population density is far lower. We’re not getting a high speed rail from coast to coast anytime soon. The gun crime is not “out of control.” Maybe, it was in the 80’s and 90’s. But it’s been dropping since then. And I don’t understand the obsession with simply measuring gun crime. The violent crime rate in the UK is higher, 2,000 per 100,000 compared to 466 in America regardless of how many less people own guns per capita.

        1. Hey Fred, how about bringing the facts rather than just rant about things? Have you ever been to Denmark, even Europe? When I read you, it certainly does not give the impression. Or maybe you were and forgot to take off your super dark Ray Ban’s.

        2. this may be a bit out of time, but americans have bigger houses because they are cheaper, and they are cheaper because you can simly punch the wall and make a hole in it, Most of them even have a wooden infrastructure…

    2. This isn’t true. I stopped reading at the science part. This was obviously written by a merica hater.

      I will admit some of this is true, but no one believes the sun revolves around the earth! There is no stinkin 18%. So I’m gonna go read some other america hating magazines,because no way you did your research

      1. As you may or may not have noticed, that statistic is a link, which goes directly to the Gallup poll citing the details. I am an English major, and I cite my sources.

          1. Looks like someone just learned what they thought about about planetary rotation was all wrong. Way to take it like an American blame someone else for your own stupidity. And boy, that “Mr. Snarky Collage boy” comment has really got to hurt. ;-)

      2. The explanation for your distrust is probably that people who are quite uneducated simply don’t live in your neighbourhood. If you ask in some districts of Detriot or rural areas as well, you might get more than 50% in that area.

      3. Okay, just saying, the US’s population is more than 318.9 million people so it is not unlikely that a lot of people in America believe that the Sun revolves around the Earth. Just because some of your friends say that they do not, does not mean that they make up the full population of America. This is probably the reason why most countries in the world hate us. The research on this blog is incredibly accurate, you are just too ignorant to see it.

    3. 1. Of course you cherry pick like people always do comparing the U.S. to Japan. How about Canada, the U.K. or Australia whose obesity rates aren’t as bad. But still bad? The U.K. isn’t far behind at 28%. Just because we might have the worst (which we actually don’t, the Pacific Islands are far worse) doesn’t mean we are the only one facing the problem.
      2. Ok, but I don’t see how this would have anything to do with being in decline. And there could be some good reasons for it. Most namely, the U.S. is a vast country. Many states and regions have their own cultures and many different climates and landscapes. There is a lot to see in our own country.
      3. I know many Americans who are knowledgable of the world. And non-Americans don’t know nearly as much about us as think they do. And about public transportation. I’d rather have that be worse. But have lower gas prices. Most Europeans drive even with their public transportation and pay more than 3 times as much on gas.
      4. We most certainly are not scientifically illiterate and even if we are, I don’t see what those things you listed really have to do with it. Some people just believe in ghosts out of experience. It’s not just some Americans who think the moon landing was faked. And also provide some up to date sources.
      5. Yes, we are rich. I’m still waiting for a reason income inequality is so bad. A majority of Americans are still well off. Even poor Americans still own pretty sizable houses and their own cars along with HD TVs and video game systems.
      6. More and more Americans are becoming atheist. I doubt what you claim is true even if there are people who think we are a Christian nation.
      7. This is true. But it’s because of the war on drugs and longer sentencing times. Not like we just pick up random people off the streets and arrest them. And the rate has been dropping.
      8. Key word is gun. Crime is lower than it was in the 60’s through the 90’s. And even if we have worse “gun crime”, we actually have an overall lower crime rate than Canada and Europe. And the lack of guns hasn’t stopped Japan from having one of the highest suicide rates in the world. 21.7 out of every 100,000 people in Japan kill themselves compared to 12.1 in the U.S. It is not “out of control.”
      9. We DO NOT spend more than half our tax dollars on military. I don’t know where you got that graph from. It is at most 20% both at state and national level combined. And we actually spend one of the highest per capita on education.
      10. I do not know a single person like that. We most certainly do know what that means. It’s love for your country. It does not mean thinking it is the greatest in the world. I have also never met somebody who says that. Many people address areas we need improvement in.
      When people call others anti-American for articles like this, it’s cause that is exactly what they are being. Plenty of other nations have their problems too. And people from other nations also get angry when you say bad things about their country. It’s not just Americans.

      1. Wyatt,
        In the event you ever return to this page I sincerely hope that you will decide to read all of this comment at least once. Know that my intention isn’t actually to offend, embarrass, or insult you. It is to motivate you to enrich your perception, and hopefully to also enlighten yourself. I have merely decided the best possible way to do so is by questioning your intelligence. Should it be helpful to you to become offended then please do so by all means you might prefer unnecessarily. Yet that is only if it will fuel some form of positive result. First off you obviously failed to realize that this article is from 2013. Ergo it’s very likely that few people will ever read your comment, and those that do whose ignorance doesn’t prevent them from checking post dates most certainly aren’t going to be interested in your opinion of it’s content. Also it’s beyond the scope of ridiculous that this isn’t obvious, but for the sake of decency I will explain it to you. If you are going to discredit a person’s sources then at least remember to provide your own. Otherwise it’s rather unconvincing (as well as hypocritical) to dispute the accuracy of their statements. Just to clarify I fully understand that my comment is probably going to be just as pointless as your own, but at least there is a decent chance that it will be useful some day. Wishing the best of luck to anyone who has to interact with you unless this directs your path to one less traveled. Peace be with you Wyatt. Always.

  2. Really interesting post!

    The stereotypes unfortunately do fit many Americans I know. The points you made constantly baffle my British friends who make up most of my circle of friends these days. “What the actual fuck is happening in America! Another shooting!?!?” they say. The religious zealousness that demands we teach fantasy stories in science class is equally confusing to them.

    Luckily I also know plenty of healthy, logical, travelicious Americans too! :) More and more of my friends are traveling abroad and I’m so excited about that!

    I don’t even know how to correct these problems…Just educate yourself and travel I suppose ;)

    1. Many of the stereotypes apply only to half the country, which is why they’re so invisible if you only visit or live in the other half. I’ve met a few people who have traveled to the States and they mentioned how they didn’t see any fat people, which was a huge surprise to them. But they only visited Seattle and Denver, which are usually in the top 10 healthiest cities every year, so of course not. But that means if half the country doesn’t have these traits, the other half has them twice as much!

  3. These are definitely pretty embarrassing stereotypes. I think you’re spot on about the patriotism/narcissism, and the lack of gun control is horrific.

    I live in Spain, and my Spanish roommates are particularly interested in the religious aspect. They have the impression that all Americans are very, very religious and think they believe some really crazy things, so they were quite relieved that not everyone is like that. Still, as they pointed out, it’s pretty scary that the “leader of the free world” country is full of people like that, isn’t it?

    1. Yeah, it’s really just split in half. I know we’re supposed to think of unity and togetherness, and how “there are no red states or blue states,” but it’s just plain silly. The map looks practically identical in every election, and although plenty of nuances exist, half the country disagrees with the other half, and more adamantly every time. And who in their right mind would want a country with leaders like that in charge of the most powerful military on the planet?

  4. If you would permit me, I would like to (personally) add one more: 11. “Ego and willful ignorance appear to have signed a long-term lease for the space formerly occupied by reason and open-mindedness.”

  5. As a non American, I tend to view Americans as being the Opposite Ends of The Spectrum of Labels / Stereotypes instead. There’s never an in between so called average American for me I guess. I’m not sure how to put this out right but the impressions that I get from the Americans I’ve met as such are always of complete opposites of each other. Like for every good impression or quality you could meet in 1 American, the exact opposite will be exemplified with another. I’ve tried to discussed of this observation of mine with the Americans I’ve meant so far, but they generally seem to agree with some of these impressions that I’m getting. Like for example, one of the workforce stereotypes I get is that people tend to tell me Americans can be pretty lazy. But so far, for most of my work life, the ones I’ve met are probably the most hard workings one in the region. But when I do bring this observation up to the Americans, it’s not like they’d disagree but on the contrary, they too believe them some, but not all, do perpetuate the negative stereotypes at times. – This is just an example. It could almost be applied for every point as mentioned here too I guess in a sense.

    1. Yes, this is true. It’s partly due to the sheer size of the population, as well as the cultural differences between different regions, which can make them seem like two different countries. Religion, for example, is something of a stereotype of American culture, but maybe half the country doesn’t seem to care much about it, whereas the other half does.

  6. Yowza, what a post! Oh these stereotypes…I was actually surprised to see very few overweight people when I went to the USA, but then again I was in cities like Boston, Miami, and San Francisco, where people seem to live very active lifestyles.

    As for ignorance…some of the things I’ve heard come out of the mouths of Americans make me want to smack my head down on a desk and scream. My fellow Brits aren’t always much better, however.

    Guns and religious fanaticism – yeah, that puzzles most of us Europeans who just don’t get how a country with such a high level of gun crime doesn’t have more restrictions on ownership, and how politicians bleat on about religion when the constitution states that state and church should be separate. Oh, my head.

  7. Well, this is pretty blunt! Basically, no country should be on a pedestal but Americans do put theirs on there a whole lot, despite all those blind-spots.

    1. Yes, it’s rather extreme. I mean, I’m sure there are plenty of Koreans out there who love their country, but they probably don’t pretend they’re super magically amazing.

      1. Actually I’ve heard the opposite about Koreans and how they view themselves. I lived in Taiwan for a few years and from what I’ve been told, the Koreans do have a similar “we’re #1 mindset”. I can’t cite any sources on that.

        Good article, I agree with most of what you said. A lot of Americans say that we’re ‘land of the free’, and best nation on earth… But they’ve never left the country… Many haven’t even left their state. They wouldn’t know. ‘freedom’ has just become a buzz word in the US recently.

  8. Now while I don’t think any of the things you’ve said are lies or something untruthful, but I do disagree with a few things you mentioned.

    In this article, you generalize America as a whole and exclude yourself, you realize this yes?

    Second, statistics are fine – but just because you have some fancy numbers, doesn’t mean it’s actually like that – have you ever even taken one of those surveys? I think not. You can’t judge the whole by a piece.

    Third, someone tries to take away my gun, they’ll be sorry. Yeah, they’re are shootings. Yes, the media makes a huge deal over it – and yes, it’s a sad. Call me unsympathetic or what you will – but you’re not taking my gun.

    Fourth, for most people in this country, America ISN’T their favorite – big deal, it can be whatever you want it to be.

    Fifthly, of course the US isn’t perfect. No one claimed it was. But there’s nothing wrong with loving your country, no matter how shitty it is. Whether it be America or someplace else. Fix it.

    Finally, every human being on this planet Earth is entitled to their opinion, you to yours, and myself to mine. Whether you’re American, or Japanese, or whatever, you can be who ever you want to be. Your country doesn’t determine who you are – that’s your job.

    I understand that you must except others opinions and I will yours – but sir, don’t be hating on my country.

    1. Well, I appreciate what sounds like a respectful tone while dealing with an issue that is often contentious, but it seems like this is a good example of what I’m talking about.

      The gun issue, for example. Whenever anyone talks about gun control, people immediately jump to “don’t take my gun.” Well, that’s not really what anyone is talking about, so it just shifts the conversation into fictional territory, and then no one can have a conversation about gun control, because people are angry about an imaginary gun law that no one is proposing. And thus people get gunned down in schools because certain people can’t have a rational discussion about what sort of gun laws would still allow for gun ownership, but without allowing former criminals or mentally disturbed individuals from owning assault weapons. So instead of getting anything done that would save lives, we just get “don’t take my gun,” even though nobody was even remotely discussing that.

      Same thing with patriotism. People say “don’t hate on my country,” while simultaneously saying, “it’s not perfect, so fix it.” Well, that’s exactly the sort of commentary I was issuing as well. We have problems that need to be fixed. And yet people somehow respond with patriotic resistance, which ends up subjugating any discussion of how to solve those problems. Are these not problems that should be solved? Are these not imperfections to be fixed? And yet they are met with “don’t hate on my country,” because patriotism clouds the judgment of the patriotic.

      I appreciate the respectful tone…I really do. But it seems like your comments really just proved my point.

    2. I wanted to also point out that there are many military missions that are humanitarian. My husband takes SCIENTIST to Antarctica via military transport and they are not just American scientist and six months later, picks them back up. When there is a natural disaster, EVERY country looks to the USA for aid yet we are hated? The budget isn’t just war related. There are many things that go into that budget and there are many men and women and families who sacrifice, serving your country doesn’t come without a price and I don’t mean that literal.

      A lot of the points you pointed out can be said of other countries as well, EVERY country has their stereotypes and there are many countries that have populations too poor to travel and due to poverty may be “ignorant” as you say because they less traveled or not afforded an education? If you think this doesn’t also exist in America you are mistaken.
      Also, not everyone wants to leave their state, country and there is something kind of romantic about a place that provides culture because they stay. If everyone in the world had “free spirits” we wouldn’t have those neat places where time stands still, where simple is a beautiful place. Those places exist here and all over the world.

      Oh and by the way, there are a lot of countries that deal with criminals in unethical ways. In fact I think we are too kind to our prisoners, if going to jail or prison was something to fear like in some countries where stealing means losing a finger or two, we’d have less numbers to report too.

      There are good things and bad things about everywhere, your blog is an example of that. I say that because your blog is here for the purpose of educating the do’s and don’ts of foreign travel and what to bring, how to pack, and etc. BTW, I am EXTREMELY grateful for your site. It was just a little disappointing to hear you agree with all the negative and yes, point out you love being an american. Remember the Dixie Chicks? I heard one of their songs the other day, I have maybe heard it 4 times since the lead singer talked crap about our president while on tour overseas. I LOVE that our country didn’t stand for that! I hated that my favorite band dissolved after that. Don’t be a Dixie Chick. :)

      1. Humanitarian aid missions are great. Sadly, the amount the US spends on foreign aid is lower than most Americans think; people think 28% of the US budget goes to foreign aid, when the number is closer to 1%. So when Americans say we help people, so why do they hate us, it might have something to do with our perceptions of our own generosity being completely inaccurate. That’s not to say we’re not helping, but we think we’re helping a lot more than we actually are.

        As for criticism, there’s simply no way around this: If you can’t tolerate criticism of your country, you don’t really love it. You’re just infatuated with it. All of these problems are true, and in many cases, represent the absolute last place compared to any other modern country in the world. That’s how bad things are. Among similarly wealthy nations, the US is dead last. And if the first step toward solving a problem is recognizing it…then refusing to accept criticism is only going to prolong the problem. That’s not love. That’s just unhealthy.

  9. I don’t see how you could believe this. Americans aren’t portrayed positively anymore and all of these things are common knowledge. America has no right to be the world’s policeman, but we have good reason to fear for our safety abroad. Other countries are portrayed positively, but not us, such as Asians being good at math and American children being spoiled brats. Why don’t you actually ask Americans what they think of their own country instead of telling them what they seem to think?

    1. I don’t even know where to begin here. Firstly, it doesn’t require “belief” to agree with factual information compiled over many years. And Americans do not live in fear when they’re abroad, as is proven time and again by the millions who travel abroad and come back just fine. The only people who live in constant fear are often the people who never leave, because they’re paranoid about the rest of the world. And polling a country to ask about what they think about themselves is less useful than analyzing factual information about what’s really going on.

  10. You have brought up many fine but sad points. I feel bad for my 10 year old and what the future holds for her in the US. The fact that people are so set in their beliefs on many fronts is why we can’t engage in mature discussions and move on to solving problems. It’s really a shame.

      1. Have you considered that Americans may not travel abroad as much because, unlike citizens of other countries (those in Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, etc), the many locations that we would like to travel to are not very accessible? In Europe, for example, you can drive a few hours and find yourself in another country. In America, much more effort and expense is required to travel abroad, and not everyone has the resources to buy expensive plane tickets and make hotel reservations (we aren’t all rich). The many Americans I have encountered have rarely expressed a distaste for exploring other cultures, so I feel that there may be reasons beyond apathy that have not been evaluated. It may also be taken into account that each of the fifty states is like a country with its own unique geography, and even exploring the states within one’s own country can be quite the task.

        1. It’s true that we have greater geographic challenges that get in the way of travel, but it’s also true that Canadians and Australians overcome those challenges to a much greater degree than Americans do. On the road you meet as many Australians as you do Americans, even though we outnumber them 10 to 1, meaning they out-travel us by the same ratio.

          There are plenty of factors at work, but I think apathy is one of them. There’s another reader here who asked “why bother” traveling when he can just do all that stuff at home? Sigh…we have difficulties, but we also have a whole lot of people who don’t care to explore.

  11. This was something. Something I could have written fifteen years ago; one of those things I’d have looked back on and shook my head about – the tin ear of youth. Let’s start with the technicals: you aren’t deep into stats, ain’t a quant; that’s clear or this whole thing would look different. Let’s keep it simple and say it’s not that what you have here is wrong but you’re trying to play Mozart on a drum kit. I hear you, but I also know what it should sound like and the nuance is missing. The nuance is what’s worth ‘rit’n ’bout. No? That’s the technicals, believe it or not. Go deeper, use the appropriate instruments, explore the nuance, be wary of the cliché. Aside from a poor understanding of stats there are cognitive errors of logic that seem to be the foundation of the piece. Just dig into some of the lit on metacognition, Bayesian processing, shit written by ATversky/DK. There are a whole set of errors and biases we are all predisposed to given our evolutionary heritage coupled with the modern state of things.You should be aware of them. I noticed you left off the list conflicted, self- indulgent American travel writers. These former English majors are crawling across the globe, repeating an old trope. That’s fine as long as you don’t put yourself in the enlightened camp – you aren’t. They came before you they said the same things about their homeland (Montaigne) they’ll come after you, you’ll roll your eyes. I rolled my eyes at this (minor difference was my education was science based). OMG ‘merica’s dying…lol. It’s not that I’m saying your wrong, but I’m right and you’re not. I get it, you’re a smart guy and this won’t sit well; you’ll not be happy I didn’t address your points. Please understand that’s not necessary when the premise is hosed. As an example heres a challenge: invert the piece and find statistics to make the opposite point you made at every node/argument. Write the exact opposite work. One of the things my friends abroad have learned about Americans is how these sorts of rants are caricatures – entertaining, somewhat correct, but a lie in the end.

    1. You must like Led Zeppelin, because you sure do ramble on. And yeah, if you don’t actually address any points, your blatherings don’t actually merit much of a response.

  12. Interesting post.
    The difficult part is, so many stereotypes only apply to one region or another.
    I in no way can account for all Americans, but I wish people didn’t automatically assume that this is how it is for the majority of people.

    It makes me really sad that a. this is the image that America presents to the world and b. that this is how a large portion of Americans may present themselves. I’ve always made it my mission to break stereotypes because I hate being lumped into a category simply because of the country I come from or what I look like or whatever. :(

    I am and can be just as ashamed as some things happening in my country as foreigners might be. I don’t necessarily think my country is necessarily better, and I really think there’s a hell of a lot to improve. I too can not stand ignorance or intolerance, but I can’t hate my country because of those that do unfortunately fit these stereotypes. This country has good and bad, just as any other country.

    On a personal note, I would LOVE to travel. It’s a dream of mine! Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened yet. Always for some reason another, but usually it’s my ridiculously busy school schedule.
    That’s one thing I’ll point out – the primary education system is severely lagging. I’m sure there’s great schools out there in the US, but it seems pointless to try and maintain superpower status and think of the country as a world leader when so often we can’t even educate kids properly. It’s a shame; I really love learning for the sake of learning. But school leaves so little time for that, which really defeats the purpose…

    Overall, I believe stereotyping is an awful way to truly assess people, but perhaps a good indicator of societal presentation as a whole.

    1. It’s a good point about schools; education is clearly a means to a better economy, though of course not the only one, and we just lazily let our schools slide into collapse without much effort put into reversing the trend. I remember a long time ago someone quoted something along the lines of “you know it’ll be a great country when the schools have all the books they need, and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to raise money.”

      1. The Obama administration is about to go away, so I don’t know how much longer this will be in effect, but there was a federal law passed back in 2010 restricting how often schools could hold bake sales per year in order to crack down on childhood obesity. It also cracked down on other unhealthy snacks that were found in schools. I should know, my school lost its only vending machine that year :-(
        There was huge controversy as to wether this was a good idea by the government to decrease childhood obesity rates or a bad idea by the food police that would defund schools.

  13. Was with you until the “gun crime” non sequiturs from the Bloomberg playbook. Overall violence matters, not “gun violence”. Overall murders matter, not “gun murders”. Google “substitution effect”.

    There were no gun murders in Rome in 10AD, so clearly there were no murders amirite?

    The murder rate in the US is the lowest it’s been in 100 years while we own more guns than ever and more people are carrying them. We’re safer than ever.

  14. Loved this post. I was born in the U.S. but was raised in South America and Europe, and have traveled more than the average American. I do not understand, and never will, the mentality over here in the States. I think that the US’ biggest asset is its population size….can you imagine how far this country would go if the government invested in its citizens?? Basic health, good education, little to no debt stemming from the pursuit of higher education….I could go on and on.

    Anyways, I just found your blog and have enjoyed what I’ve read so far. Keep it up :)

    1. Thanks. And yes, the ridiculous amounts of money we spend on war could be spent on ending war. But…you know, without using war as the method.

  15. Let me preface my comments with an important ahhh…contrast:

    I’m a Texan born and raised, who loves all forms of malicious, manslaughtering implements of mayhem. Guns included.

    Now having said that:

    I agree with almost everything you’ve said here, and would clap with my feet if I didn’t need them to keep the Earth at the center of the universe, around which the sun obviously revolves. Obviously. There are a few things I’d like to say though.

    The first is not a critique, because I haven’t looked for better options myself, but at the time this post was published, some of your statistics are up to 14 years old. Some things might have improved. Having said that, please don’t change anything. It looks scary as hell, as it should. Especially for lazy kids/(wo)manchildren to whom it will hopefully shock out of a life of….perennial mediocrity.

    You mentioned that nobody was suggesting that the government take my gun away. I agree with that statement in one way, and disagree in another. Has any recent administration (read as: Obama) been politically idiotic enough to suggest that? No. Would a lot of people like that to be the case? Yes. And while this might be my vehemently vitriolic disgust with the current system of politics peeking out, the left-wing nuts should be just as thoroughly ignored as the right-wing nuts. I mean, really. That bird should never fly. The fundamental difference that separates zeal from enthusiasm is willful ignorance. Zeal bad.

    Ultimately though, guns have nothing to do with it. Guns are the weapons of the age. Keep them around, some crazy, maladjusted asshole will murder people with them. Take them away, that same asshole will just do the same thing with a bat, or blade. The only real difference is that I may one day have to defend myself by jamming a butter knife in some guy’s eye socket, as opposed to just shooting him in the chest. Either way, though the second option is much safer for me, and less trouble. Hence my preference.

    War, conflict, and murder are facts of human nature. You can’t have independent thought, or opposing viewpoints, without an inevitable spark of violence somewhere. Doesn’t mean it isn’t terrible, but it is what it is. Well, I’m just rambling now. Great post, fellow traveler. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I appreciate the respectful commentary. It’s quite rare when talking about issues like these, so thanks.

      As for gun ownership laws specifically, yes, there are people out there who support banning them all, but they have zero support anywhere in Congress, and I expect things to stay that way. Personally, I’d like to see background checks at the very least. I mean, you need a license to drive a car, but you don’t need a license for a gun? Seems a little weird. But even just that simple hurdle would keep out a huge number of dangerous people, and allow legitimate owners to continue as normal. Seems like a good balance to me.

      1. Just an FYI. Background checks are already required. The only people who don’t have to wait 3 days are already licensed. Also, former criminals are not allowed to own guns under federal law. Unfortunately those laws don’t seem to be enforced much. Deals made in gun show parking lots are also illegal (the “gun show loophole”).

      2. loved your review of Tom Bihn stuff. how i got here – haven’t a clue. but since you like to travel, i suggest you travel down to a gun store and fill out an application for the Federal Background Check just for the experience. maybe then you would know that, yes, there are restrictions on who can lawfully posses a gun. having a “license” system would imply some sort of “check” before you are “granted” that license. a “background check” – which is what we currently have. you might be interested to know that even applying for a background check when you are in a restricted class is a crime – and yet apparently no one is hardly ever charged for this. when you read stats on how many people were denied approval for purchase of a fiream, curiously you will never see a stat on how many of those were then subjected to actual charges for even attempting to buy a weapon while being in a prohibited class. the end game of “registration”, “license”, etc is to eventually ban the ownership of firearms. please do not try to avoid that fact. you may think that would be a good thing, others don’t. there is not “zero support” for a complete ban and you know it. you are being willfully disingenuous or willfully ignorant if you deny this. currently there are insurmountable political hurdles, such as the US Constitution. this topic has a good corollary in the idea that anti-abortion activists want to ban all abortions, no exceptions. the rest of us would like some middle ground and to be left alone, but the far extremes will continue to insist on absolutes. so, i would encourage you to apply for a background check – would provide good fodder for further musings. then you can post about it.

        also occurs to me that if you feel there ought to be “a simple hurdle” to own a gun – would you extrapolate that to “a simple hurdle” to weed out “a huge number of dangerous, i.e: ignorant”, people from voting but allow “legitimate” citizens to continue as normal – like say, proof of who you are and your citizenship and a background check of your understanding of basic ecomonics and the political construction of the USA? then maybe “dumb Americans” wouldn’t be allowed to vote and all our problems would be solved by “smart Americans” voting for the “right” way to self-govern, including educating ourselves. just looking to stimulate some consistency in thought.

        i would also say that i work in an emergency room and thus feel that my patient population leaves little optimism for the future of our society. the ER is where physical health, accident, lifestyle choices, decision making skills, substance abuse, social problems, economic problems, mental health, lack of constructive guidance in upbringing, lack of commonsense, pure carelessness as to personal responsibility, and just plain random bad luck all conspire. mostly though, how people abuse their health leading to real consequences. this is similar to the world-view of police officers in that the vast majority of their offical encounters with the public are only in the form of interacting with either a criminal or someone who has just been victimized. we must all, including wandering english majors, remember that there is a vast number of reasonable, normal, well-adjusted, happy, fulfilled people out there with whom we may never interact. they are the ones that i never see in the ER for a cold or hangnail or a cough whilst toting around a pack of smokes, or the ones who work, care for their family and community, never commit a crime and may or may not travel to foreign places. so be careful about letting generalizations, even based on good statistics, extend to pronouncements about people as individuals, or to the inhabitants of other countries as individuals. people love to run down America, but for all our faults as a society, vast numbers of the world’s population would love to live here. it ain’t utopia, but nowhere is.

        1. So all I feel the need to say is that, yes, background checks exist, but not universally. So if a terrorist or other horrible person wants to buy a gun, all he has to do is go to a gun show in a state where they don’t require background checks all the time.

          It’s like saying “No one’s getting into my house, because the front door is locked.” But the back door isn’t. “But look at how safe and secure my front door is!” But the back door is wide open. Where’s a criminal going to go?

          Either we have universal background checks in 100% of legal purchases, or we have a quick and easy way for horrible people to get guns. And currently we have the latter.

          1. We don’t need 100% background checks for “legal” gun purchases because, by definition, they ARE legal. Imprecise wording on your part. You quickly retreat to the “gun show loophole” argument, which really is a good point, but is almost universally used to ‘prove’ how ‘easy’ it is for the ‘wrong’ people to obtain firearms. The fact is that this avenue for obtaining a weapon, while possible, is essentially never the path that a person in a restricted class uses. That’s a fact. You cite lots of data/stats in your initial arguments – so be consistent and apply them to this issue. It is possible is possible for a restricted-class person to purchase a weapon at a gunshot without a background check, but not common. But again, the mere act of attempting to obtain or possess a firearm when in a restricted class is actually a crime, just like going in the backdoor to rob a house is a crime – unlocked or not. A criminal will willfully break a law, or a lock, or your face despite it being “illegal”. It’s some sort of tautology to even have to say that.
            Please acknowledge that the simple presence of a law designed to restrict a person’s behavior does NOT mean that they will follow the law. Otherwise – there would never be any crime “against them law” at all. The only way to keep any criminal or deranged person from obtaining a firearm is to ban all guns and sweep the entire nation clean of them AND build the much-derided wall compleyely around the country to ensure not a single weapon ever crosses the border. And continue to patrol any possible manufacture of same. And remove all weapons from the police and military to ensure no possible black market source via ‘legitimate’ weapon holders. You may call that a safe society – I call it a Police State.
            Please acknowledge that there needs to be prosecution of anyone in a restricted class from even attempting to possess a firearm – which, as mentioned, is in itself a crime. Please admit the endgame is a complete ban.
            Your posts are thoughtful and my original post is meant to provoke yet more thought. I would again urge you to go to a gunshop and submit to an instant background check – just for the experience. Then tell us how it felt to be wondering if you made a mistake, checked a box wrong, and just might find cuffs slapped on you. Like a bad TSA interaction. Or a bad third-world border crossing. And how it feels to know that you have to submit to such scrutiny when simply exercising your innate right to possess a means of self-protection that is not “guaranteed” by the Constitution, but is simply recognized as an extant Right that the government shall not infringe.
            Please drop the “gunshot loophole” and “assault weapon” buzzwords designed to elicit an emotional response in a discussion/argument. Similar to saying “pro-life” vs “pro-choice” – both terms used to imply the opposite view is “anti-” and both used with willfull avoidance of the legitimacy of the opposite’s argument.
            Will you be satisfied that you live in a some instant utopian safe-from/firearms society if the “gun show loophole”is closed by “universal background checks”? Be honest – of course you won’t! You’ll immediately segue into arguing why there should be a magazine capacity limit, why there is really never a reason for anyone to have a semi-automatic loading system, why any firearm that looks scary should not be legal. I dare you to admit it! I know I’m making an assumption that you do not own a firearm. But I think it’s probably a correct guess – do tell if not.
            And let us know how the trip to the gunstore goes. Hopefully you’ll actually buy a gun and then maybe submit to a Concealed-Carry permit procedure wherever you live. Then you can blog about the best/lightest/ most practical ways to carry. Or you just might save your own or someone else’s life.

          2. Quote: “It is possible is possible (sic) for a restricted-class person to purchase a weapon at a gunshot (sic) without a background check, but not common.”

            The prosecution rests.

  16. Honestly, you’re kind of an asshole. We’re a melting pot of a nation. The US is diverse and almost the same size of all of Europe. It makes no sense to go to another country where everyone is the same. You can pull out most of these stereotypes from Americans because we have large groups of people that believe in the same thing. Yeah, a lot of people are unreasonably religious and a lot of people are dumb and a lot of people are rich and a lot of people don’t follow the law and a lot of people find it easy to go to war about something we have nothing to do with, but this country is big enough for all of those different people. The rest of world condemns people in their own countries if they fall into any of these categories, but Americans believe in freedom. Freedom means to have the ability to choose how you’d like to live. That’s also what justifies US presence in other countries as well. We don’t believe it to be right for anyone not to have a choice. We have the resources and we have the will to do good. We give more money out in charity than any other nation.

    You say the US is on the decline. Who isn’t? Europe? They’re in the same crap as us.

    We’re not scientifically literate? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_United_States_inventions_(1946%E2%80%9391)
    Have fun, jackass.

    We’re fat? We have good food. We have almost every dish from around the world, albeit modified to be our own. You can be fat in America and live without being harassed.

    We have the longest running constitution in the world. Our nation was founded on principles most countries didn’t figure out until much later.

    There’s more to discover in the US. There’s just too much here to even start with what’s outside. I’ve never seen LA, why would i go to Turkey?

    We work hard to give every citizen fair treatment. It’s reasonable to be terrified of a nation that doesn’t. So, the Christians didn’t know a lot about Muslims? The Muslims don’t know what it’s like outside of their religion at all. Sharia law dictates that Atheists either convert or die. It’s also illegal for a Muslim to become Christian. Trust me. Americans don’t know a lot about Islam for the same reason your mechanic knows what’s wrong with your car more than you do.

    Going from one nation to another in Europe is a lot easier than it is over here. I’m sure the Germans know a lot about their surrounding area because they’re friggin’ surrounded. You could go across the border on accident for Christ sakes.

    You’re a pessimist. Americans get things done because we believe that we can, while the rest of the world says we can’t. That’s patriotism. The US is exceptional because we have every element found in other nations here on American soil and protected by law. You might say “Oh dear, the Americans are going to show up and try to tell us what to do.” It’s more like a European, an African, an Asian, and an Arabian are coming to “show us the big picture.”

    1. I just love when people show up to solidify my point. We’re fat because we have good food? Better tell that to skinny Japan, where you’ll find some of the best food on the planet. And France. And Italy. And…everywhere else, basically.

    2. True to name: “Snarky” quotes my typo (sic), excuse me – my “typographical error” made using an unwieldy iPhone interface – as if that’s an argument. Similar to name-calling to bolster an argument. Then “the prosecution rests” on the “possibility” of the “gunshow loophole” being exploited. And now I find there is no “reply” button after “the prosecution rests”. No enlightenment for us with the use of statistics as applied to gun sales / crime / background check failure as a cause for enforcing gun restriction laws. Statistics, which were the foundations upon which the original “stereotype” argument was laid, are quite a bit more persuasive than a “possibility”. “Your Honor, he must be guilty bc it’s possible he’s guilty”. There is no acknowledgement of valid points raised by me. ‘Course, it is your blog….
      So maybe I will end all my comments with “the prosecution rests” as if there is no other truth than what I decide. And cut off responses.
      Look up cognitive dissonance, self-serving bias, anchoring bias, belief bias, framing, etc. Open your mind, Snark, fear not the Truth. It doesn’t reflect on you, it’s just the truth.

      I still really liked your review of the Tom Bihn carry-on. I thought it was thorough and thoughtful, and that’s the truth.

      1. If people can walk into a gun show that doesn’t do background checks and walk out with an assault rifle, something is wrong. That is all. It doesn’t matter that some purchases require background checks. They all should. It’s just that simple.

        1. Agreed. But almost never happens. Unlike straw buyers the Feds let walk away in the “Fast and Furious” fiasco in TX. Repeat: Let. Them. Walk. This is your (our) govt in action. Orlando shooter apparently passed a background check. Once again: your/our govt in action. There is no 100% solution.

          My point is to get you to admit that closing the gunshow “loophole” won’t satisfy you, or anyone who doesn’t feel gun ownership by citizens is reasonable. Next it’s magazine capacity. Then scary black rifles. Then a complete ban. Am I right?

          Would be interesting to hear your take on the militarization of local police forces. Please also brush up on the definition of “automatic” and “military grade”. I still look forward to hearing about your trip to the gunshop and then to a gunshow. Ample targets for snarky comments as well as heartfelt observations.

          Stumbled onto your “cultural appropriation” commentary: well-said. Insanity, common sense, reasonableness, offensive, harmless, – all perceptual. You can always find someone that will be offended. Reductio ad absurdum. The ultimate solution to all of our society’s ills is to finally just ban people from existing.

          1. Do you see that by opposing any change whatsoever, you are supporting terrorists being able to get guns with no background check? You see that, right? Terrorists can walk into certain settings where background checks aren’t necessary, and walk out with an assault rifle. Do you realize that is the side you’re on? And how the current background check is insufficient, if it missed a guy who was on a terrorist watch list?

            And you’re right, I’d go further than that. But you’re wrong about a complete ban. Very few people actually support that. But the fact that you’re so adamant about widespread gun availability that you’d support a policy that allows terrorists to get assault rifles should, at the very least, make you think something is wrong.

          2. See Snarky’s response.
            I think you’re finally seeing it – talk talk talk of “closing the gunshow loophole” won’t solve the problem of “bad” people acquiring guns. The constant simplistic refrain of the same is just that – simple – and of very little effect. Orlando shooter passed a background check. So now I ask : short of a complete ban, no exceptions, how is our govt going to keep weapons out of the hands of the wrong people? Lots of people continually repeat the catch phrase “common sense gun laws” but they never define what they mean, bc what they really mean is a gun ban. Virtually no one is in favor of the current state of affairs but no one can offer any useful workable practical solutions. The only practical solution is a complete ban and confiscation. I don’t think that is workable either.
            By the way, did you see the cbs correspondent walk in to s VA gunshop and out w an AR-15 in 35 min? Then she handed it over to someone else – thereby committing a crime of not truly buying the gun for herself. Yes, that is a crime. Do you think she’ll be charged? No, of course not. Once again – laws are only effective if they are enforced. The cbs commentator on the story at least was able to qualify “assault” weapon with “so called” but then says you can buy a gun just like buying a cup of coffee in Starbucks. Uhm, no, – I don’t think you have to show an approved ID and proof of address and wait for a background check to clear the Feds’ system to buy a cup of coffee. Useless ignorant hyperbole. Where’s the outrage over the failure of the wife, the Newtown’s mom, the Aurora’s psych – all ignoring what freak weirdo assholes all these shooters were? We’ve been culturally conditioned not to even suggest people are just plain dangerous and aberrant. Hide the mental health records under privacy laws. Woe be unto you to mention a faith as a motive (unless it’s a white Christian we’re talking about).
            So please define some laws or regulations that 100% keep us all safe while respecting our existential rights.
            I find some laws to be abominations – such as Obamacare – which effectively makes you an indentured servant owing money to the State as a condition of simply being born. Good idea? Opinion differs – but I wonder if you have ever thought of it that way? How about gun laws that assume you are a criminal that require you to disprove that? Fair? Free? It goes to the heart of the relationship between the citizen and his govt. the right to bear arms in San Diego is now solely at the capricious whom of the Sheriff. What if that applied to driving licenses? Work permits? Marriage licenses? Or, as you have no doubt experienced from other countries – traveling visas. Encroachment of rights and restrictions of freedom rarely loosen. No organization, especially govts, willing give up power. And neither should you.

          3. I’ll refer you to my previous comment, which again points out that strengthening the background check system and requiring it in all cases would be objectively helpful. But what’s far more annoying is the preposterous notion that Obamacare makes you an indentured servant owing money to the state. The law requires you to owe money to an insurance company. If you’re talking about the penalty for not having insurance, that’s still in the service of requiring you to pay the insurance company, rather than the state. That’s why the fine is smaller. I have problems with the law too, but to say it makes you a slave owing money to the federal government is just ludicrously backwards. And I bet you have no problem funding the armed forces, which, under the same logic, is a financial burden imposed on people simply for being born. It sounds like you have a problem with taxes and fines inherently, which I don’t think you’ve thought all the way through.

          4. as I said already: I agree – as in: I think background checks at gunshows make sense, as do most people (“well” established by polls). the resistence to encoding this regulation into Law is knowing that it will never satisfy those who believe no one should own a gun. it is merely an incremental step toward a ban. I’m still waiting for a concise definition of new and improved workable, infallible “commonsense” gun control laws. my whole argument has been that this catch-phrase is a feel-good exercise accomplishing very little in the way of substantive results. this is a data-proven point if you look at where the “wrong” people acquire guns. it is not at gunshows. it could be, but it’s not. so when I hear it said that America’s gun laws are crazy – my response is: which ones? and why? and what should they be? and why? one rarely get an answer beyond catch phrases and soundbites. when those in favor of stricter gun control laws are confronted with the argument: “why don’t we enforce the laws we already have and see how that works?” they simply have no idea that, like immigration laws, the starting point ought to be to at least try to enforce what we’ve got and go from there. again i would ask: where are all the criminal cases against the tens of thousands of people who have been turned down by the Instant Background Check? simply turning down an application is not much of a deterrent to trying to buy a firearm. A real threat of prosecution, just like a real threat of deportation, probably makes an impact. failure to follow-through simply singles out law abiding citizens for jumping through hoops that criminals ignore. if an applicant is turned down, there is usually a reason and that very reason usually makes it a crime to even attempt to purchase or own or possess a firearm. who’s screaming for those laws to be enforced? where are the prosecutions? lets go after them instead of casual dope-heads. i would say some positive movement on these issue is the fact that, at least in my state, the immediate revocation of a concealed carry permit by anyone against whom a domestic assualt charge or Emergency Protective Order is officially issued. this also forces them to surrender their weapons until due process is complete. why mental health records are so coddled and insulated by privacy laws is a mystery to me. simply being depressed, especially with a previous suicidal gesture, should be grounds for loss of firearm ownership since so many suicides are successful with firearms. that’d save lives and get rid of a huge chunk of “firearm related deaths” from the stats. then the data would more closely track criminal behavior, as in assualt and robbery,and no longer be skewed as much with “other” cases of firearm related death and injury. better data should mean better policy – unless it is being purposefully obfuscated as often happens. we live in a violent society. it is a cultural norm reinforced by our entertainment and information offerings and preferences. therein lies the genesis of the problem. difficult to change that but possible. no one seriously thinks smoking is cool anymore. that took about 50 yrs. true prosecution of DUIs and raised awareness of the simple avoidability of so much senseless loss and suffering has made drinking and driving no longer an acceptible cultural norm – or even funny on the big screen. try to watch “Arthur” without cringing at the drunken main character that everyone used to think was so cute. ugh. i applaud the effort of many people and organizations to not endlessly repeat the name and causes of perpetrators of horrible gun-related crimes – tate notariety or “reverse glorification” is a cultural norm that may be starting to fade.

            and continuing to get waaaay off topic:
            obamacare: call it what it is: you are compelled by the State to pay money if you are alive, regardless of consumption of that service. this requirement is softened by a complex system of subsidies and subterfuge, like out tax system as a whole. this is therefore a Tax owed from birth. (an aside: compare and contrast this to the “Death Tax” – food for thought). do not confuse the issue with who it is paid to: it is enforced by the State with the power to confiscate your personal wealth, so it is irrelevant to whom you are paying. it is not simply a contract wiith an insurer. the insurance companies have effectively been regulated into subcontractors for the govt. if you are committing a crime by not signing up for it (or some other health insurance “product”), and then paying for it, no matter what entity it is paid to – that is the power of the State to force you to remit your own money for a service you may not want or need. I have no problem with Taxes. just please call it a tax. it is willfully tortured logic to call it anything else. echoes of most discussions on “gun control”. we all can of course, disagree on how taxes should best be spent. that is a different argument. how would you like it if the State passed a law requiring you to own or lease software to interact with the State – and that software was Microsoft’s? or Apple’s? and you would be fined for committing a crime for not purchasing a product from a non-gov’t entity? that is a better analogy for obamacare.

            as for your argument against the appropriateness of the concept of indentured servitude – I like your questioning of how to supply personel and materiel for the military better. the “draft” is open to debate as to whether a “free” country can be defined as “free” with an active draft. hence the reason it is no longer used. classically, the military is used to repel attempts by foreign powers to overthrow a govt and bring those citizens under its own jurisdiction. how we use the military now – well ….

            i’m guessing everyone who reads and responds to your musings (they aren’t really “rants” in the classic sense) appreciates the overall civil commentary of both you and your readers/respondents. I can only count 4-5 times I’ve ever commented online as usually most opinions and arguments offered seem so poorly thought out that there’s really just no point, not to mention simple name-calling used so often as a substitute for reason and dialogue. I’m wondering if perhaps this characterization of most online commentary might actually be fodder for yet another stereotype of Americans that could be data-proven. i’m guessing there are plenty of other countries where the cultural norm is rather more non-confrontational.

            so can we all just agree that most arguments are simplified to such a degree that they are just nonsense. I thought of your comment on the use of “agenda” as an argument when i saw somewhere a discussion of ‘the agenda of The Agenda agenda’. now that’s snarkiness on multiple layers.

  17. 1) Mexico has us beat in the fat category. Though we are still number two. There are two reasons why we are fat. The first is that because many of us live in sprawling suburbia, you cannot really go anywhere without a vehicle. Because of this there is less walking. The second reason is because the United States uses plenty of artificial colouring, preservatives, etc. that have been banned in other countries, and so our health suffers.

    2) It’s comparatively easy to travel when you live in a small cluster of comparatively tiny countries, have ample vacation time, universal currency, and by benefit of an education that doesn’t suck, you know two or more languages. Just saying.

    In the US I would have to deal with hiring a cab to take me to the airport, (or face the wrath of parking fees), then I would have to deal with flying, timezones, electrical standards (must be nice knowing your razor won’t explode), language/cultural barriers, road laws, a limited window of travel opportunity, before I need to get home. Currency exchange rates, etc.

    Had I been born in Europe somewhere I could just drive to another country, spend my euros, be in the same timezone, know the language somewhat, my razor would use the same voltage, and I’d have plenty of time.

    Furthermore, yeah I’d like to travel, it would be fun I suppose…but the problem is that other than historic sites, I cannot think of anything that I can do in another country that I cannot do at home. If I was traveling with friends or a spouse, that would make sense…but alone? Why bother?

    3-4)Ignorance is everywhere as you’ve stated. American ignorance is probably over represented on account of how much of the worlds media we produce. Surely every country has their village idiots. But than again I was the loser that became a history major, so I’m aware of stuff that others aren’t. Our education system sucks, I won’t deny it. A lot of it has to do with the Bible Belt crowd. The colonists were puritans, and the religious attitude runs deep.

    5) Yes our economy sucks, and when you combine that with our dismal health care and education you can’t help but to paint a grim picture.

    6) Religious fanatics are annoying, but on the bright side ours haven’t declared any intention to commit genocide recently, like some other religion*.

    7) Blame drug laws for that one. If we legalized all drugs, prostitution, gambling, the prison population would drop dramatically.

    8) We can’t change that amendment. It is ridiculously difficult to change anything in the constitution, and if guns were banned…well they can be unbanned, just like alcohol was. When it comes down to it if someone wants a gun, they get it whether its legal or not, so letting people legally own them is pretty much the only workaround. Hunting is also a huge thing in some parts of the country. It would be impossible to take that away, even if we tried to compromise and let them use bows instead, they wouldn’t have it.

    9) The reason we have that huge military budget is because of fear. Some of it is rational, sometimes the best offense is a good defense. Though it seems excessive in some cases.

    1. Some helpful analysis on the reasons behind the problems, which are accurate. As for “why bother” traveling, though…there are literally millions of people who travel alone to countries all over the world. There’s gotta be something to it, and it’s worth giving it a try to find out what that might be. Preferably somewhere completely different from what you’re used to.

    2. Well…Gidnats…for my two bobs worth…Australian of course…if US is a similar size to Europe and Europeans travel more because of location location location…can I ask you this…Have You Travelled to your neighbouring states and if so…how many.

      You don’t have to go overseas to get a travel-education do it within your own Great United States…do the meet and greet for a month or so not a long weekend…and then you can educate your own particular village idiot when you come home…or better yet take them with you on your next ‘big adventure’.

      We have a trend in Australia to back pack around the world when we are young, join upmarket overseas tours when the nest empties and become a grey-nomad exploring our own ‘backyard’ when we retire and hopefully do this all before we sign up for the nursing home, or our own little piece of six by three piece of dirt when we fall off our perch.

      I am not saying all of us do all of these and I am aware of many Australians that refuse to travel interstate let alone overseas but the Global Village is as safe as the local one.

  18. There is pretty much only one reason why so many have passports in UK and Germany – sunny vacations (in UK the season is short, in Germany there is a lack of beaches close to where most of the people actually lives + short season of course.)! In US, people go to Florida, or California. UK and Germany are also densely populated, small and close to other countries. In US you can find sunny beaches, ski slopes, big cities, the great outdoors and on and on and on… …some of the european countries lack pretty much all of that. Obv. the “sunny beach” goes for Canada as well. Australians feel left out in the middle of nowhere, and to be fair, they mostly go to englishspeaking places or mainstream backpackingcountries.

    1. Sorry…Anders Lindqvist…we don’t really feel that left out.

      It is a common thing to have a minimum of one overseas trip to the ‘home’ county…be it England, Malta, Greece, China, South Africa and so on. After we pop over to a neighbouring ‘island’, or our closest neighbours, a couple of times we get the taste for travel and realise that we are not so isolated after all.

      Many of us ‘right-size’ our home…downsize to others…so we can afford a nice retirement As well as some travel…doable for all our distance from it all.

  19. Very cool article. I see some folks got all but hurt because you told a truth and stroke a chord. Keppra telling the truth, be fearless.
    Those prison statistics are scary, but with recreational use of Marijuana in Washington and Colorado, we could see some decline (so far, I haven’t seen anything positive!).
    Travel safe, voyager!

  20. Hey snarkynomad..

    You have some great points, Im doing a paper for my Communications class and would like to site your words.. is there any way i can have your real name

    1. Well, I do give out my first name on my About page, which is Eytan, and ordinarily I’d leave it at that just for privacy reasons, but Google+ has generally insisted on full names, so hiding it is pointless. Last name is Levy.

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