The US through European Eyes

Various interpretations of American culture by Europe's youth

[Editor’s Note: While not the typical article for PaintingBohemia, given our recent articles on Polish/New Yorker rappers and American/European bohemians, this article nicely finds “mainstream” opinion of Europeans on American culture, which helps contextualise those other pieces.This project was the product of an Understanding Historical Change: Modern Europe class at Fordham University in New York City. ]


 

The United States is one of the largest political, economic, and social powerhouses on the globe, therefore, it tends to be a popular country to discuss. Accordingly, each year Pew Global Research posts a specific ‘global attitude survey’ on various countries’ opinions of America. From this study I learned that 75% of polled French citizens and 78% of Italian citizens have a “favorable” view of the U.S, while only 34% of Greeks offered the same positive response. ‘Interesting,’ I thought to myself, ‘but who do these numbers represent?’

I wanted to know what members of my age cohort think of America. What activities, behaviors, or trends do they consider to be indicative of “American culture?” To avoid the task of attempting to analyze data or read through countless stereotypes offered online, I resolved to interview real people with real opinions. The following profiles are of young adults who either currently live in their European home country, or have come to the United States to attend school.

Interestingly enough, most of the responses I received correspond to the study from Pew Research, and even incorporate classic stereotypes of American culture. Regardless, these are real European citizens who have genuine, strong, and sometimes negative views of my country of origin. What I’ve compiled here is personal data, rather than faceless numbers on a computer screen.


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Mohamed | Reims, France

Favorite Movie: I Am Legend

What is your favorite aspect of American culture?

Ce que je préfère dans la culture américaine, c’est probablement l’engouement que suscite le sport dans votre pays ainsi que la décadence qui en découle! De l’université à la pratique professionnel, il y’a toujours de la mise en scène, comme les pom-pom girls ou les concerts avant le superbowl.

What I like in American culture, it’s probably the excitement created by sports in your country and the ensuing decadence! From university to professional practice, there’s always the staging, like cheerleaders or concerts before the Super Bowl.

Have you ever considered living in the United States?

J’adorerais vivre au États Unis! C’est un rêve qui me tient à cœur depuis tout petit et une fois mes études terminées en France, je réfléchirais sérieusement à venir m’installer aux USA!

I would love to live in the United States! It’s a dream dear to my heart since childhood and once my studies have ended in France, I would think seriously about coming and living in the USA!


Ciara | Listowel, Ireland

Favorite Movie: The Devil Wears Prada

What is your favorite aspect of American culture?

I love the whole idea of American culture. The food, the places, the fashion and weather! It looks amazing from what I’ve seen on movies. In Ireland we get a taste of the American culture through clothing stores such as Abercrombie and Fitch and Hollister. Not a single one of my friends hasn’t been obsessed with ‘The Hills’ at one stage. I have a lot of family from America, especially on my dad’s side, so it’s a part of his culture almost. He loves it, and so does my mom. My parents used to take trips to New York- my mom is in love with that city. Her favorite place to visit would be Central Park, and she says that “Christmas time in New York is the most magical place in the world.”

Have you ever considered living in America? 

I hope to live there someday once I have finished my studies. It would be a dream come true to gain work experience at Vogue or Apple or another successful business there.

Do your friends have similar views to yours?

Yes, in some way or another all of my friends want to visit or live in America. It’s kind of a ‘must do.’ My best friend is hoping to gain entry into a performing arts university next year to gain enough experience to move to America and continue with her acting career.


Angelo | Athens, Greece

Favorite Movie: Rush Hour

Growing up, what was your favorite thing about American culture?

I wasn’t really involved in American sports, I find them stupid. I only like soccer. I knew about American music, even though Greeks really only play their own music a lot. There were a lot of American artists I listened to. I used to like Flo-Rida.

What motivated your family to come here?

We’re Albanian, so there was a lot of prejudice against us in Greece, and my parents wanted a better future for me. Also, Greece was kind of falling apart… and still is. Just out of luck the US granted us green cards, so we decided to come here. My parents hate it here, they miss Greece so much. We were better off in Greece than we are right here, right now [economically]. My parents worked a lot less and we had better living standards. But in the long run, it’s better for me to be here. They’re only here for me.

Since you’ve been here, how did your view of the country change?

I didn’t think about America a lot before I came. When my parents told me I was coming to New York, I thought, “oh my god, skyscrapers! Manhattan! I saw that in the movies!” I was really pissed off and sad at first, but I was really excited, because come on, its New York. Then I come here, land, and it wasn’t what I expected at all, so that was kind of disappointing.

What about your friends back home? Do they think it’s cool that you live here?

A few of them, yeah. They’re half-curious, half-sarcastic. *laughs* A few of them call me an American boy now. It varies by person, honestly. Some idealize it, some are against it. I’m indifferent about America.

Do you consider yourself American, Albanian, Greek, or all of the above?

Technically I live in the US. Culturally, I’m not American whatsoever. My family, we preserve a lot of our culture and I personally preserve a lot of my culture. But at the same time, I live here and I listen to American music, etcetera. I guess I’m American in some ways.

Do you think you’ll ever move back to Greece?

That was originally the plan for me: I wanted to get a degree and move back. I don’t see it happening anymore. Maybe… whatever life brings. I want to- it’s what I call home- but I can’t say for now.


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Michele | Venice, Italy

Favorite Movie: Blow

What motivated you to study in the United States?

When I was a child, I wanted to travel, but I just couldn’t for a while in my life. When I turned 16, my mom asked me if I wanted to go to England and study English for a month at a school in Brighton. It was one of the best experiences of my life. So after doing that, I went every summer in England to another location and for the first time when I was 18, in the United States in Miami for a month. That was great, and a good opportunity to learn English and Spanish at the same time. When I went back to Italy, I finished my high school and graduated. I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but I knew the most important thing to me was travelling and settling in a different country. I really love the States especially, so I found out about the school of language in Westchester New York, and I studied there for 7 months and then I moved to a partner school in Honolulu, Hawaii. During this time I worked on my applications to different colleges in New York and that’s how I ended up in Fordham University.

What did your parents think of you coming here?

I would say they are really happy I’m here, but the first period was weird. In Italy, the whole idea of a family is a big thing- it’s fundamental to be part of your family and to love each other, it’s an important nucleus that I broke. I decided to leave when I was 19 and now, of course we are in touch and I go back for a month every summer, but I don’t live with them anymore. It was tough, but they are really happy. They travelled to the States for the first time; they had never come to this continent until I was here. They are enjoying it, too. Now they are taking English classes with a native speaker from Brighton. For some reasons that I never really understood I was in love with America for my whole life. I had an American flag in my room, so maybe I affected my parents a little bit.

What’s your favorite thing about America that you didn’t have/experience in Italy?

I like the fact that everything goes on 24/7 in America. At 5pm, the cities shut down: Italy is dead. Here, you can go out, take a walk, and buy anything you want at 2am, especially in a place like New York. I love that. I also love that here in the city there are people from all over the world.

What’s your least favorite thing about America?

I don’t like that everything is eventually led to money. We are in a university here, it’s an educational institution. We should be here to learn, but people go on thinking, “I need an A because my GPA needs to be high so when I show up in front of an employer, I get that job.” I think it’s really messed up: you’re sitting down in class learning about history, urbanism, math, whatever you’re studying- you should live in the present and try to get as much out of it as you can, because your knowledge is the only thing that people cannot take away from you. Money can fade away.

In Italy, students are encouraged to share their ideas and doubt what the professors say. My Latin professor would always tell us, “whenever I say something that you don’t like, you should raise your hand and say that you disagree.” Here, it’s basically the opposite: a class needs to be straightforward to the end, no problems, and everyone needs to get things 100%.

It seems like you idealized America when you were little, has this idea of the country changed since you’ve lived here? 

It changed a lot. I still love it, I don’t regret a second that I spend here. If I could go back and do it all over again, I would. [After college,] I don’t know whether I’m staying or not, but I’m enjoying everyday here.

Of course [before you come to America,] you tend to take all of your dreams and aspirations and goals about the future and proceed thinking “everything will be perfect once I get in America.” It’s something everyone tends to do. Afterwards, you get here and some things are perfect and some things suck; it’s real life. You need to readjust yourself to this new world and your idea of it, and then it becomes real.


Carmen | Madrid, Spain

Favorite Movie: Pearl Harbor

What motivated you to study in the United States?

Well, my entire family has always come to the United States to get an education. My grandfather was the one that started it all. Then my mom, her sisters and her brothers, and my older cousins all came, so it was something that was expected in my family. I always knew I was going to leave at one point.

Do you plan on moving back afterwards? Do your family members move back?

Well, not really. My mom and my aunts and uncles did, but my cousins now live in Miami and the other two that came here with me study in Boston. No one really goes back after coming. I want to stay in New York after college and I want to work here for sure.

Is leaving Spain to go to University common?

My friends went to England, but they only go for a year, and then they go back to Spain. Or if they do come to the US, it’s also only for a year. People at home were surprised that I was going for more than one year.

Growing up, how did you view American culture?

It was all football players and cheerleaders- the quarterback dates the hot girl and takes her to prom.

How has your views of America changed since you’ve been here?

When I’m here I realize how many stereotypes people have of Spain. People ask if we actually wear flamenco dresses in our day-to-day life. I get so frustrated when people ask stuff like that but then I realize that I have stereotypes of America, too. Now that I live here, I know that everyone has them. It’s interesting to see how people think of your country. It’s not the same here as it is in Spain, but it’s more similar than you would think.

What is your favorite thing about America?

I like the way of thinking. In spain, you are not given freedom, you have to gain it. When you do things right, you are given more freedom and rights. It’s a social thing, in day-to-day life, in school for example. In the US, I started off with freedom- if you do something wrong and don’t use it wisely, you get it taken away. In Spain, you have to work harder for it. I think the way they do it here teaches you how to use it better. Because you don’t have [freedom] in Spain, when you get it it’s like, “oh my god, oh my god, freedom.” But here, you have it to begin with, so its like, “I don’t want to lose it, so I’m going to use it wisely.” It’s so much better, that’s why I like it here, I love this country for that.

What do your friends think about you studying in the united states?

When I first came here they were like, “oh my god, you’re going to meet the football player.” They all think I’m living in a movie. They think it’s weird that I’m not going back and that I’m staying here, but they haven’t experienced it, so they don’t understand. They think their home is the best thing; they don’t get why you would ever leave Spain.


 

Thank you to my friends abroad who allowed me to share their opinions and insight with the Internet. I would also like to give a large thank you to Fordham University for its diverse student body, and for allowing me to befriend individuals from all over the world—Europe and beyond.

 

 

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