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The world is becoming more globalized everyday and although we all have a much better understanding of each other’s cultures than our grandparents’ generation did there are still some surprising things you’re bound to be asked after you’ve relocated to Italy from America!
While you’re living in Italy there will be times that somebody asks you a question that will literally stun you! Being prepared for some of the most commonly asked questions and stereotypical assumptions that you’ll be faced with as an American will help you to be ready with a polite and fair answer.
It can certainly be frustrating to be presented with stereotypes and false assumptions however in most cases it is not done with any malice so you should grasp the opportunity to educate your new friends about the truth of life in America.
You Don’t Look American!
I am from India and I am a first generation Indian American. When I travel within the United States or meet people, it is normal to talk about where we are from. I typically say that I am from Philadelphia. On a few occasions, my fellow American citizens have asked me a follow up question, “Where are you originally from?”. I take no offence when asked such questions. Curiosity is part of human nature.
In the United States, you can spend a few hours talking to a stranger in a bar and then depart without even knowing each other’s first name. This is a very interesting aspect of American culture. But this is not how it works in most other countries, particularly in Italy. If you spend a couple of hours with an Italian, they will end up knowing a lot about you and your situation. This is absolutely the case in India also.
I sometimes think that Italians get their impression of what Americans are like by watching the big Hollywood Blockbusters so they might be a little disappointed if you’re not wearing a cowboy hat or speak with an “American accent”! Don’t let it bother you though because they don’t mean it in an unkind way. If you are told that you don’t look American it’s a great opportunity to tell them more about your homeland and what it’s really like in the States. This can also be a good ice breaker when you’re meeting new people in the community.
Some of the stereotypes that Italians may harbor about Americans include the idea that many Americans are fat! This can be a hurtful stereotype however it does exist in Italy and other parts of Europe. Sometimes I think this is no longer a stereotype as studies show that obesity is a major health issue in the United States.
It is interesting to note that in the United States there are a lot of gyms in every town. However in Italy there are hardly any! This will surprise you although most Italians prefer other types of exercise like football, walking or swimming. Despite the lack of gyms though very few Italians are obese or overweight, largely due to their Mediterranean diet.
Americans Like War!
There’s a common conception in Italy that Americans love war and conflict! This is partly based on the success of the USA during the Second World War when it helped defeat fascism in Europe and in more recent years, due to the invasions in the Middle East.
This is most likely based on the idea that America is a military and economic super power which has frequently used its military prowess to gain geopolitical advantage; however, the idea that all Americans like war is more than a little unfair.
If you are faced with this type of stereotype you can explain that although there are powerful interests in the United States that benefit from war and conflict most of the ordinary citizens are peaceful and internationally isolationist.
Italy is a far smaller economy than the US and even if they wanted to go to war they would not really be able to afford it. In recent years the invasions of the Middle East were fully supported by most major nations in the world, including the UK, Germany and, of course, Italy. This makes the criticism that the United States is solely responsible for the wars in the Middle East hypocritical but even so, this false notion still exists among many Italians!
Americans Are Not Family Oriented
To be honest, I used to feel this way about the United States when I was very young. But I learnt over time, that letting go is an important aspect of love. Many Italians find it extremely strange that in America when kids get to college age they frequently leave home and move to cities that are often far away (America is a huge country though compared to Italy and so it’s very common for kids to move thousands of miles away from home to study at their University of choice).
American children leave home for a lot of reasons. On the one hand they enjoy the adventure of leaving home and finding their feet at University but it’s also because there are many opportunities available that they can pursue elsewhere. This is one of the benefits of living in America, the land of opportunity.
Italian families tend to stay living close together and it’s rare for their children to travel too far from home to study. Compared to the United States, young Italians have far fewer opportunities and so they tend to stay at home with their families, often until they get married themselves. This has always been the tradition in Italy which has retained its traditions and customs to a much greater extent than most of the rest of the Western countries.
American Food is Terrible!
I have travelled to many countries in the world. I will start by saying that in my view, American cities are as good as any when it comes to quality of food, choice of food and the cost of food. But this is not how Italians see America. You will often find Italians who think that all American food is terrible. This is partly because they think of McDonalds or other fast food as being the only type of American food without knowing that all across the USA there are international and regional specialties that can compete with the best!
Italians do take their food very seriously and they can be a little bit snobbish about the cuisines of other nations, including America. However, this attitude actually extends to almost every country on Earth including the rest of Europe and Asia.
To be fair to the Italians their food is wonderful and is one of the reasons why many people choose to relocate to the country. But one of the negative things about Italy is that it is very difficult to find non-Italian cuisine in Italy.
Americans Are Rude!
Italians are fiery and passionate people however they do take care over their language and can often speak in very flowery ways. They also have the idea that Americans are rude but this is mostly because Americans tend to be quite direct when they talk to each other.
When Expats first move to Italy it’s always a good idea to be a little more careful than usual while you’re speaking to the locals so you don’t accidentally offend someone without meaning to! But don’t worry, in no time at all you’ll get the hang of it and as you do so you can help to change this negative stereotype about America.
Part of the problem is that quite a lot of the culture that is exported from America to Europe and Italy is not the best representation of the actual people who live in the States. When you relocate to another country it’s important that you act like a diplomat of your nation; not only to avoid unnecessary or unexpected trouble, but also to show your new community the best side of America.
Democrats Are Good. Republicans Are Bad.
Politically speaking, America today is a deeply divided nation. I do not want to add to the polarization. I made a decision a few years ago not to discuss politics anymore with my friends, in social situations or at work. I will not be spending a lot of time discussing politics in this blog either. I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican. I have voted for both parties.
However, over the last several years, it is true that the media in many major nations in the world have become very strong supporters of the Democrat Party of the United States. This includes most of the media in Italy and India. Many Italians and Indians, have a very unbalanced and slanted view of the political situation in the United States. They are not fully aware of what both parties actually stand for and most importantly they do not know about the track record of the parties over the last several decades.
They only know what the media in their country tells them about the situation in America. Many Italians cannot comprehend why half of American voters would want to vote for the Republican party. So if you are not a fan of the Democrat Party, get ready to be judged. Or if you are like me, concentrate on the red wine, when such discussions are taking place over dinner!
Misconceptions About America And Americans
When you’re in Italy you’re bound to bump into people who have very strange misconceptions about America that are based on stereotypes and the media. You always have to be patient though and present them with the truth while being friendly and understanding.
Italy is a highly developed nation but the fact that most Italians don’t speak excellent English and are somewhat cut off from day to day life and politics in America means that you’ll have to be diplomatic while representing the best of the States in your answers to their questions!
Despite some of the stereotypes that still exist about Americans in Italy the people are very friendly and welcoming. You’ll find yourself meeting people in no time and as your new friends learn more about you they’ll start to see that some of their misconceptions about Americans are false and unfounded.
What are some of the interesting questions that you have encountered in Italy?