23 People Explain The Shocking Things Americans Continue To Believe In

America, the beautiful; the home of the brave — and yet, disliked by so many others. We don’t give ourselves a good name at times, but we’re still American. Who else but we write 10,000 word long articles about the beauty of Twinkies, confess our love to lard and bacon fat, and turn up our noses at the “beautiful game” called soccer (or “football,” as it’s known around the world) for something more American like NASCAR? Enough, let’s see what these un-American people are saying about the US. These responses, found on this Quora thread, demonstrate just how skewed American beliefs are. Check it out for yourselves.
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1. Mike Sellers

Many years ago I hitchhiked across the American West (no, I certainly don’t recommend it, and this was many, many years ago). I was picked up in Las Vegas one evening by a Norwegian journalist driving up to St. George Utah to do a story on the effects of the old nuke testing there.

Part of the duty of the hitching passenger is to help keep the driver awake with good conversation, so I did my best. We talked about all sorts of things, and finally I asked him what it was from his point of view that made Americans different from everyone else.

“You Americans,” he said — not quite accusing, but emphatic — “You believe there is a solution to every problem.”

I have to say that answer kind of stunned me. After he said that I found myself thinking something like “as opposed to what?” We talked about it for several hours, and I think he had a point: Americans tend to live with a bedrock belief that if there’s a negative condition — war, starvation, political oppression, etc. — that it’s not only temporary but that there is a clear, discoverable solution to resolve it if we only put our minds to it.

This axiomatic view helps me understand things like why we would get involved in Iraq or Afghanistan despite the lessons of history — after all, it’s a problem and we’re the ones to solve it (never mind that the highlands and mountains in eastern Afghanistan have stymied not just us, but the Russians, the British, the Indians, and many others all the way back to Alexander the Great). It helps me understand why we see homelessness as a condition to be cured, resolved, eliminated; why we see AIDS as something that can be beat so we never have to worry about it again (worked for smallpox after all); and why many see global climate change as either a temporary condition or a problem that we can tackle (if we just drive a little less).

Overall, this helps me understand another trait that I think is perhaps uniquely American: our impatience. We do not take well to the idea that some things “just are,” or that there’s not a quick, sufficient fix for some complex issue.

2. Mike Farr

Americans from both the left and right don’t know how profoundly America-centric their view of the world is.

For example, before the Iraq war, I often heard it asked, why would Saddam Hussein deny UN inspections if he had no WMDs? It’s still a mystery to most Americans. Given the reality Saddam knew, and that we know now, I think he threw the inspectors out because he didn’t want them to find that he DIDN’T have WMDs. This explanation seems crazy unless you posit a world in which he was acting not for American benefit. Before and after the war I proposed that for various reasons, Saddam feared his neighbors and his own people more than he feared a unilateral US invasion. He wanted his neighbors and his own people to believe that he did have WMDs and so he would throw the inspectors out because he didn’t want them to discover the truth: he had none.

3. Steve Black

I was at the London Science museum today and was dumbfounded when I heard an American teacher tell her kids that it was typical that the museum had wrongly stated who invented the Automobile and that everyone knew it was Henry Ford.

4. John Morrow

It goes beyond the justifiable belief that America is a great country (which it clearly is) or that it is the dominant force in the world and has been for almost a century. No one could possibly argue with those points of pride.

But American exceptionalism goes beyond this to argue that America is the greatest nation that has ever existed, or indeed ever could exist. That it is somehow unique in human history and that its political/social/moral values cannot be surpassed. (I’m paraphrasing here – I’m sure there are many definitions of American exceptionalism that differ from what I just wrote).

To observers outside the US, this just looks like a delusion. While no one can argue with the military and economic dominance of the US over the last 100 years or so, it isn’t clear that this dominance is either perpetual or, indeed, more impressive that the dominance of previous empires in earlier times. Someone is almost always dominant; for a while.

But it is going beyond the military/economic realm that American exceptionalism become hard to understand for most people. One oft-quoted line by believers is that America is “more free” than anyone else in the world – something that I think even a casual observation of most western democracies would call into doubt. Adherents to the theory sometimes point to specific things like taxation – suggesting that democratic countries with higher tax rates are less free, for example.

This is an odd example since tax rates are something that a democratic country sets – freely – through its elected government, and the free choices made by voters to support the policies of particular people/parties. Choosing to support higher taxes because you want universal post-secondary education and heathcare isn’t an example of less freedom – it’s an example of the result of freedom. Just because you disagree with someone’s free choice, doesn’t make that choice less free.

Similarly, American exceptionalism believes that the social and moral norms of the American system are superior, but again I find this hard to understand. In my experience of having worked and lived internationally for many years, almost no one in another western democracy would have any interest in adopting the social policies of the US. Indeed, most of those people recoil in horror at the idea that healthcare should be a for profit business, or that you should imprison people for years for simple drug crimes or that the state has any business executing people. Far from serving as a “city on a hill” and an example to the rest of the world, much of the American system strikes outsiders as a perfect example of how not to run a country.

Now, lest anyone think I’m hating on America, I will add that clearly America is a great nation, and certainly by certain measures the greatest. I think the history of innovation and economic development in the US is probably unmatched in history, and certainly its military might is the greatest the world has ever seen. I’ve lived in the US (Texas) and loved it – I found much to admire there.

But the part of American exceptionalism that goes way too far for me is not just the belief that America is the best thing ever, but that no country or system could ever exceed it. I’m pretty sure every empire believed this at one point, and they’ve always been wrong.

At the very least, I think we an all agree that the US would be a much better nation if it were able to address some of its less admirable issues, such as having the highest incarceration rate of any nation on earth. That certainly doesn’t suggest to me a system so perfect that it can never be improved upon.

National pride is a necessary and good thing. Blind (and misguided) faith in superiority and an inability to recognize opportunities to improve, isn’t.

5. Ben Mordecai

That our founding fathers were Christians

Christianity has played a huge role in shaping who we are as a nation, from the first Puritan settlers, to the Quakers, to 19th century revivalism, and the advent (pun intended) of the Christian cults. However, America was not founded by Christians with Christian principles, but by Deists with Enlightenment principles.

That American public policy is democratic and representative of the people

Most of us are pretty ignorant of exactly how public policy works, and the problem is compounded by the fact that it doesn’t actually work the way it is supposed to. If anything goes wrong, we blame the president.

Mot Americans don’t realize that the bulk of new laws are drafted by lobbyists, who pitch them to our legislators and have also been making campaign contributions.

Some of the most controversial public policy decisions were made by unelected Supreme Court judges.

That racism and racial conflict is behind us

I grew up in the South, where the racists are supposed to be, but in close to two decades I have only met a few bona-fide racists (who call black people n*ggers, and so forth), however America as a whole (not just the South) still has a problem feeling “safe” when black people move into the neighborhood, or think that a white woman is “sketchy” if she bears a half-black baby. It is hard to believe that when my parents were kids, there were still segregated buildings. We have a long way to go.

That we discovered America and just moved in

The American people and government wiped out entire nations of American Indians. Our Army expelled families from their homes and forced them west, killing thousands of them. We sent them blankets laced with small pox. We have almost completely wiped them out, their languages are almost entirely lost, and we have forgotten about them. Yet we still have the audacity to put Andrew Jackson on our $20 bill. It is sickening.

6. Mike Palmer

I was driving a taxi in Melbourne, Australia during my uni years, but since I’d grown up in the US, my accent always attracted interesting reactions from the locals.

One night, I picked up a passenger from in front of a pub and he got in, staggering and stinking of beer. I asked him about his night, and he responded with: “You know what the problem is with you Yanks? You believe your own bullshit. Aussies know when they’re pulling your leg and can’t take it all the way. But you Americans invent stuff and then believe in it to keep yourselves going.”

7. Mark Blei

As an american who has immigrated to Canada.

  • That both World Wars were totally won by Americans without significant participation by other allied countries.
  • That they won the war of 1812
  • That American products made by American workers are somehow desired when there is no financial component tied to the home country.
  • The US military intervention is always welcome.
  • That freedom still exists there ( land of the free) ( wiretapping, loss of civil liberties, selective prosecution excluding elites, selective taxation, Guantanamo bay, prison industry and especially when it inflicts those infringements on those of other countries who want to have relations with them such as doing as much as flying over or near US territories, but not to them ( TSA, don’t fly list) ..
  • That a two tiered health system is desirable
  • That a two party form of government is wise or desirable.
  • That a benevolent monarchy can never be better than a democratic system. ( I’m not sure how I feel about this, but in my travels, it’s been expressed to me)
  • That Americans don’t know anything about the production of cheese.

8. Anouk Vleugels

A survey released just today by Public Policy Polling of 1,247 registered U.S. voters shows a startling number of rather bizarre beliefs:

  • Global warming: 37% of all Americans believe it is a hoax, while 51% do not. While the issue barely came up in the 2012 elections, 58% of Republicans believe it is a hoax, while 23% percent of Democrats think so.
  • Aliens here and there: 29% of Americans believe aliens have landed on earth, while 47% do not, and 24% are not sure. On a related note, 21% believe a UFO landed in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947 and the U.S. government covered up the landing (47% think this is nonsense, while 32% aren’t sure).
  • It’s Bigfoot, or my foot?: 14% of Americans believe in Bigfoot/Sasquatch, 72% don’t, and another 14% might be waiting to see what the sequencing data says.
  • The reptiles within: somewhat reassuringly, just 4% of Americans believe that shape-shifting reptiles control the world by taking on human form and gaining political power (no lawyer jokes, please). Another 7% aren’t sure about this, however.

9. Philippe Bechamp

  • The belief that prisons, guns and the death penalty deter crime.
  • The US has extreme pockets of crime even if it has highest incarceration rate in the world. It also has the highest per capita gun ownership in the world.
  • Most European countries as well as Canada have less crime, less guns, less prisoners and no death penalty.

10. Tom Bushell

Speaking as a Canadian who’s lived in the US for more than 10 years…

  • The belief that the US private health care system is the best in the world, and that ANY government involvement will totally wreck it, and put the whole country on the road to socialist serfdom.
  • This is in spite of the overwhelming factual evidence that – for the average person – the US system delivers mediocre results on key measures like life expectancy and infant mortality when compared to other western countries; at a much higher cost; while insuring a smaller percentage of the overall population.
  • (To be fair – it’s been my experience that medical care here is roughly equivalent to that available in Canada. It’s the private, employer provided health INSURANCE system that is truly, unequivocally broken!)

11. Alvaro Navas

I’m not American but I lived there for a year. One of the things that surprised me, even though obviously not everyone shares this thought, is that a proper rail network for passengers is “socialist” and therefore bad. It puzzles me because trains were fundamental to the development of the country, yet somehow trains are almost demonized there nowadays.

I understand the difficulties of building a proper rail network in some areas because of the suburban sprawl, but I think that some areas would benefit from having a commuter network and even high speed rail linking a few cities.

12. Michael Kovnick

Most of these statements are politically slanted. Here are some that are neither left nor right:

  • Most Americans believe:
  • That we are THE free people of the world.
  • That our judicial system is “the best in the world”
  • That everyone in the world wants to live in America.
  • That everyone should be able to speak and understand English.
  • That our way (whatever that is) is better.
  • Lastly, an argument to some that listed “Corporations are people”, this is actually literally true. Corporations in the United States ARE treated by the tax code as though they are people. In context of the statement’s original source, this is actually a true statement.

13. Jurie Horneman

I’m not an American and I hate generalizations (and you can hear a lot of generalizations about the U.S. in Europe). But what I find shocking is the idea of owning and carrying a gun.

I don’t think I’ve ever touched a gun. When I imagine that someone on the street is carrying a gun, or that people who are not hunters have one at home, I am still amazed by how weird that idea appears to me.

I don’t have a very strong view on whether it’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ to carry a gun as a private citizen. It’s just a very uncommon thing to me.

On the other hand, a lot more people die violent deaths in the U.S. than in Europe.

14. Jay Matthews

I frequently host international students, and have been noticing a lot of things about my own culture by contrast. It’s been really wonderful. Some of my observations about US attitudes vs the attitudes of non Americans

A lot of these American beliefs are really more what I would call “delusions”. And some of them are not delusional but just the product of a different perspective.

The primary thing I notice is how in middle class American culture we actively avoid obligations, in a social sense. In many cultures, social debts are what strengthen relationships and help cement your place in the fabric of your social circle. (for example, wasta ) This seems to apply mostly to the middle of the bell curve, and less to the very-poor or very-rich.

  • Time is money, very literally
  • It is obnoxious to give unsolicited advice – we consider it controlling
  • By the same token, it is also bad to prevent people from doing things they want to do. Its not seen as affectionate
  • Eating your dinner in complete silence usually signifies that you dislike the people with whom you are dining. If there is one single thing I could change about my Japanese guests, it would be the grueling experience of sitting through an entire meal with the only sound being the other person’s open-mouthed chewing
  • Complaining and picking at details is seen as a sign of weakness, not a sign of domination or being rich. In some cultures being high-maintenance is considered signify an upper class upbringing
  • Needing help is considered a sign of weakness, because virtuous people get it “on their own” (a/k/a the myth of bootstrapping)
  • That being poor happens due to personal failings
  • Nepotism is bad, and if you benefit from it, you should pretend you earned the opportunity on your own merits
  • We also have an expectation that life will continuously improve in quality. Most Americans sincerely believe that their future will be better than their past
  • We don’t really mind if someone fails a lot, as long as they are successful in the end.
  • Conversely, living at home after graduating from school is frequently presumed to be the mark of dysfunction, or being an outright loser.
  • Americans expect that personal preferences should dictate the course of ones life. So things like switching majors 3 times as an undergrad aren’t a big deal (although probably a bit worrisome for ones parents until it settles out)
  • Also that individual preferences should dictate personal life. Its totally fine here to decline an invitation just for because you don’t “feel like” doing the proposed activity,or because you’d prefer to do something different. You can even say that as long as you are polite.
  • We glorify commerce, and even the children of wealthy families are encouraged to work. My Brazilian student was shocked to see that high-schoolers hold after school jobs even when their families don’t rely on the money
  • Americans can be uncomfortable with cultures that do not put the individual first. I was really surprised to notice how uncomfortable I feel when I have students who refuse to indicate preferences (example, we have 2 movies at the cinema, which would you like to see, choosing a restaurant, etc)
  • That being attending church twice a year equals being active in the congregation. My students from South America were all shocked at how infrequently self-desgnated christians go to church.
  • That everyone in the world wants to come visit / live here / *be* us

Many of the behaviors I have seen in my students stem from an assumption that if you want to get ahead in life, you will need help. Therefore giving advice (or even nagging) is seen as being helpful. There is also an assumption that there is not enough to go around. Which, actually is generally a pretty realistic expectation so I cant blame them. I’ve had students from Asia and the stories they tell me about the job hunting process there are pretty fearsome.

15. Wael Al-Sallami

  • That the American military is the “world police” and that they’re responsible for preventing anyone from doing anything bad in the world because that’s “right thing to do”.
  • That other countries shouldn’t have weapons of mass destruction because they’re not responsible enough to have them, because it’s like putting a gun in a child’s hand, believing in the process, that they are the adults, ignoring the fact that they’re the only people who’ve used a nuclear bomb in all history of mankind.
  • That Iraqis are all peachy after their pleasant visit.
  • That corporations are people too!
  • That, better yet, US presidents are people too, too. And that other presidents are just evil maniacs with thick mustaches :{ (to their credit, it’s true in Saddam Hussein’s case!)

16. Alice Spinnaker

  • That we live on the continent of America.
  • That we are extremely diverse in behavior. Most non-Americans I know who have visited the country are consistently shocked at how homogeneously we behave, dress, and think.
  • That people from the U.S. are Americans. That people from other parts of North and South America are not Americans.
  • That there is such a thing as an American left. People who are considered leftists in the U.S. would be considered moderate or right leaning in most other places. Most people in the U.S. are completely unaware of this deep conservatism.
  • That a person should be told “thank you” for absolutely everything.
  • That only religious people can be moral.
  • That we should tell strangers what we think of their behavior, political beliefs, choice in relationships, or parenting skills but we should be non-judgmental and silent about our closest friends’ choices.
  • That the word “useful” means “money-making.” Learning, speaking, or earning a credential is only worthwhile insofar as it increases your ability to earn money.
  • That time is money.
  • That the richest people in the country should be taxed the least. This is because…
  • …having money is a sign of virtue and God’s grace.
  • That they are all lonely and misunderstood heroes. A brief view of quintessential American literature, movies, and television shows indicates that the rogue everyman cowboy who breaks the rules and thereby saves everyone from the forces of evil is (not so) secretly every American’s personal image of him or herself.

17. John Trevithick

That tipping makes sense, and is a good thing.

18. David Witz

That no matter where Americans are in the world, they will never be more than a few feet away from someone who speaks English.

19. Harel Malka

That everyone landing on the shores and airports of the United States is trying to stay in the US for ever and ultimately become a US Citizen. Because of course, everybody wants American Citizenship.

20. Tyler Cook

Super delusional.

The same people who strongly believe in American exceptionalism are generally the same people who think we’ve lost our national greatness. They seem nostalgic for days of June and Ward Cleaver, back when people were decent and America still had a sense of morality. Sure we might have beat our children, had Jim Crow Laws, McCarthyism, Hoover’s FBI, and drafted kids who couldn’t vote to die by the thousands in pointless wars, but when people got married they stayed married, there weren’t boobs in movies, television wasn’t violent, and people didn’t use such naughty language! They imagine a past that never really existed (possibly because a lot of them weren’t alive to experience it) and they think that they’re somehow losing their identity.

To some extent this probably describes every society on earth. What’s considered moral behavior is changing everywhere and plenty of people don’t like it. Look at the Middle East.

21. John W. Rooney

Some of the things I’ve heard from my students (I teach college) that shock me include:

  • vaccines are “dangerous” and should be avoided
  • the electoral college makes voting futile
  • evolution is “just a theory” or untrue
  • education is elitist/liberal
  • many racist comments, thinly disguised as criticisms against illegal immigration, affirmative action, social programs, President Obama
  • taxation in the U.S. is unreasonably high/unfair to the rich
  • our healthcare system is fair (it’s your fault if you get sick, i.e.)

Really…there are so many. The failure of the U.S. public primary education system, as represented by the college students I encounter, is just saddening.

22. Chris Post

That anything we do affects everyone on earth or that everyone knows what is going on with the US. This was a big wake up call to me when I traveled to Kyrgyzstan in 2009, not long after Obama was inaugurated. Having just endured countless months of non-stop politics from our election I was shocked when we were at dinner and I made a comment about Obama and a lady at the table looked me dead in the eye and said “Who is Obama”? It just godsmacked me that the president of the most powerful country on this earth, a country that had an air base in her country, played absolutely zero relevance in her life to the point she did not even know who this person was or that he was the president of the US. Quite eye-opening indeed!

23. Bob Wonders

I believe it was Martin Cruz Smith who said (paraphrased) “To Americans, it’s not how poor they are, it’s how rich they’re not.” TC mark

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