My Educational (and Comical) Experience with Spanish Stereotypes of Americans

Spanish Stereotypes of Americans
Spanish Stereotypes of Americans

his was a fun article for me to write because it had me remembering all the random questions I got during my time in Spain. I had so much fun reminiscing about the stereotypes Spaniards have of Americans that I thought I would share a fun list of stereotypes brought to you in the form of questions. Below you’ll find a list of questions that I received during my time in Spain that so hilariously capture many of the stereotypes Spaniards have of Americans.

At the end I add some final thoughts on stereotypes in general and how my experience has given me a new perspective on the power of preconceptions.

Questions I was Asked During my Time in Spain:

  1. You’re from California?? So do you live in Los Angeles?
  2. Do you see movie stars everywhere?
  3. Do you drive a convertible to the beach everyday?
  4. Do you know how to surf?
  5. If you’re from California, aren’t you supposed to be tan? (yeah, the guy who asked me that got the dirtiest look I could muster…haha)

    Image by: Theo Moudakis Cartoon
  6. Do you live near the beach?
  7. Do you eat fast food everyday?
  8. What are your favorite fast food restaurants?
  9. Do you party every night?
  10. How much can you drink?
  11. Do you go to house-parties all the time?
  12. How many times have you been drunk?
  13. Do you drink beer at breakfast time?
  14. Do you know any cowboys?
  15. Do you own a gun?
  16. Are you afraid you’ll get shot walking down the street?
  17. Do you have a huge house?
  18. How often do you eat hamburgers?

A few note-worthy stereotypes that I just had to include, but I wasn’t asked about personally are:

  1. That Americans are rich; we go shopping all the time walking up the streets with ten bags all dangling off our arms.
  2. That we don’t know how to dress properly. From sweat pants to pajamas to workout clothes I can’t say I disagree with them….The classic image of a beach boy comes to mind with his Vans shoes almost completely falling apart or pair of flip flops, a brightly colored tank top hanging off his body, fluorescent shorts, with white, long blonde hair flowing over his perfectly sun kissed shoulders.
  3. That we are like wild animals walking around barefoot outside or vice versa, wearing our shoes inside the house.

I came across this cute video on Youtube of people from other countries trying to imitate Americans. I had a good laugh and hope you all enjoy it as well!

What Learning About these Stereotypes Taught Me:

In the moment, these questions often made me laugh, but it took me some time to realize the cultural insights these questions divulged about my own country and about the Spanish. In the beginning, I found myself almost wishing I did fit some of those stereotypes. So I could be the “exotic” foreign girl from California who surfs and drives a convertible down the PCH with her tan skin and hair flying in the wind.

When in reality, at the time, I was living in the desert of Riverside County, as white as the bed sheets, avoiding going into Los Angeles at all costs, and the closest I ever got to a movie star was through the screen on my television. My hair only blew in the wind when I stuck my head out of my 2001 Toyota Solara and even then it was neither sexy or graceful.

Being battered with these often times hilarious questions opened my eyes to several critical realizations:

Learning about a culture’s stereotypes of your country can help you understand them AND yourself better:
  • Whether negative or positive, when you understand a person or culture’s preconceptions of you, it can help you understand why they are treating you a certain way, saying certain things, etc. When the girls on my soccer team were asking me if I drove a convertible and went surfing all the time it made me see the person they thought I was or should be based on their ideas of my country.
  • Maybe these misconceptions were why they were so hesitant to talk to me. Did they think I was this stuck-up Beverly Hills girl too good to talk to them? Maybe….but once I saw a clearer picture of how they viewed me I was able to understand better why they may have been acting a bit stand-off-ish and act accordingly.
  • Rather then get offended or hurt because they didn’t want to approach me, I realized that their preconceptions may have been what kept them from initiating conversation.
  • Furthermore, I discovered that seeing yourself from another’s perspective allows you to ask yourself am I really like this? Do I know anyone who is like this? If so, what is it about our culture that makes us this way? That little bit of self-reflection can reveal more than you think about yourself and your own culture.
How strong media can influence people’s perceptions:
  • I’m no “Jersey Shore” addict of “Keeping up With the Kardashians” die hard, but I’ve seen how Los Angeles, Hollywood and New York City are portrayed in the biggest movie releases.
  • As someone living the “Southern California” life, its easy to laugh at many of these shows, knowing that they are portraying maybe 1% of the actual population.
  • But I didn’t realize that for those who aren’t living in the areas where these shows and Hollywood hits are based they have no idea what life is really like. This pop culture is their only exposure to our culture.
  • These movies (and music for that matter) paint a very skewed picture that many may not realize is not true of the entire population. Which only emphasizes my next point…
My opportunity to represent myself and my country in a positive light and “break” the stereotype:

I quickly realized that with all these preconceptions this was the perfect situation for me to break at least some of the stereotypes surrounding my country. I enjoyed explaining what life in California was like for ME, my family and my friends. Hopefully, I was able to provide a more well-rounded picture of Americans.

Final Thoughts on Stereotypes

I wanted to conclude this article with a last comment on stereotypes. Often times we can get offended that someone would automatically assume something about me or my culture. We get impatient and may look at them as ignorant or uneducated.

However, I think a healthier and more positive way of looking at stereotypes is as a form of education. I have learned so much about myself and the Spanish from realizing some of the ideas surrounding American culture. Likewise, living in Spain has helped me see why certain stereotypes surrounding their country have developed as well.

At the end of the day, we should be able to laugh about the stereotypes that may have some truth to them and when we come across others that we feel are unjust, realize that this is an opportunity to educate that person on what our culture may really be like rather than make them feel bad for not having known in the first place.

Together we can create an atmosphere of sharing, openminded-ness, understanding, patience and joy when it comes to intercultural interactions! ☺? What are your experiences with cultural stereotypes? Any hilarious questions you received during your time in another country? Share below!

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Comments (2)

I remember when I travelled in Europe in the 70’s. I refused to where tennis shoes because that was such an American stereotype. I wore leather shoes and skirts to fit in a little better. It really helped. I was a young girl traveling alone and people came up to ask me questions quite often as if I were a native.

It’s funny when you are aware of the stereotypes how hard you try not to confirm them! I remember always trying to avoid words like “awesome” and “cool” because they were so American and my teammates would always tease me lightheartedly when I did.

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