19 Completely False Things About America That Foreigners Think Are True

Written By Jill Taylor

The U.S. is arguably the most famous country in the world, and people from far-off places often know our flag and president’s name! However, a lot of media coverage and exported movies mean plenty of opportunities for misunderstanding and stereotyping. Here are 19 false assumptions non-Americans often make about ‘the land of the free!’

Everyone Carries a Gun

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According to the Pew Research Center, 32% of American adults own a firearm, but only 9% have a license to carry a concealed weapon. American movies that feature abundant guns and international media coverage that focuses on mass shootings contribute to the idea that U.S. citizens are always armed, yet most of us don’t walk around with firearms in our daily lives!

Everyone is Rich

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TV shows like Beverly Hills 90210 and Succession perpetuate the myth that America is full of a wealthy upper class, living in luxury with chauffeurs and house staff. The reality for most U.S. citizens is a more modest income, with many also struggling with poverty despite working hard. ‘The American Dream’ is by no means easily obtainable and often depends on luck.

Americans Only Eat Fast Food

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Being the birthplace of McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and Pizza Hut certainly hasn’t helped America’s reputation for healthy eating! While fast food chains are ubiquitous and popular, junk food is an infrequent indulgence for the average American, not a daily dietary choice. A huge variety of cuisine is available beyond burgers and fries, including plenty of fresh produce.

Everyone Speaks Perfect English

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Although English is dominant, the U.S. has no official language. USA.gov reports that over 350 languages are spoken in America, and “some of the most widely spoken languages other than English are Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Arabic.” Immigrant communities often maintain their native languages, leading to a multilingual society in many areas.

Police are Racist

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Police brutality and prejudice are concerning issues in the U.S., as they are elsewhere. However, the sensational nature of news reporting inflates this complex issue, which isn’t representative of all officers or interactions with law enforcement. America has a strong focus on police reform, with increased training and accountability measures being implemented to reduce racial bias.

Everyone Goes to College

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The high cost of college tuition is a serious obstacle for many students from lower-income households, and the burden of student loan debt affects many young people for a large portion of their working lives. Access to higher education greatly depends on economic background, and there are insufficient scholarships, grants, and financial aid for all worthy applicants.

Healthcare is Free

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Foreigners living in countries with government-funded healthcare can be blind to the fact that many Americans struggle to access medical care, even when desperately needed. With no universal healthcare system, expensive health insurance plans are the only option, with varying coverage. Government programs like Medicare and Medicaid exist, but they only cover certain demographics.

Everyone Lives in Big Cities

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While it’s true that rural America (by its very nature) isn’t crowded, it’s inaccurate to assume that all Americans live in famous cities like LA, NYC, Houston, and Miami. The American Communities Project states that, of a total population of 332 million, only 81.2 million U.S. citizens live in major cities. Most live in less built-up urban areas, like suburbs and small towns.

Everyone is Materialistic

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Being a capitalist country that runs on consumerism, American culture can seem superficial at times, but there’s a lot more depth to American people besides base-level materialism! There’s a strong emphasis on volunteerism, community involvement, philanthropy, and social justice, as well as a growing trend to reduce waste, embrace nature, and live more simply.

The South is Full of Racist Rednecks

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The American South indeed has a complex history regarding slavery, colonialism, and race relations, but that doesn’t mean that everyone living there is uneducated and prejudiced. The South is a diverse place, home to all kinds of people and communities. While pockets of racism may still exist, significant progress has been made in the 163 years since the Civil War!

Everyone Wants to Be a Movie Star

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American movies and novels often feature wannabe starlets or struggling actors, but that doesn’t mean the average American dreams of fame and fortune. The glamor of Hollywood remains alluring for many young people, but the majority find careers that are more ‘normal’ and reliable, balancing their working life with family commitments and varied hobbies.

Tipping is Non-Negotiable

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Tipping is customary in restaurants and bars in the U.S., with a standard tip being around 15–20% of the bill. However, this amount isn’t payable by law, and many other outlets (like fast food joints and coffee shops) don’t add gratuities, although they may have a ‘tip jar’ should customers wish to reward the employees for their service.

There’s No Public Transportation

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We’re not sure where this myth came from, but it’s certainly not true—as the buses, trains, and subways portrayed in American movies can attest to! While perhaps not as extensive, affordable, or universally used as in some European or Asian countries, public transportation is available in most major U.S. cities. Car ownership is more common in rural areas, with fewer transportation options.

Americans are Loud and Obnoxious

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The New York Post claims Americans are internationally regarded the same way that Floridians are viewed domestically. Such generalizations about national character are almost always unfair because human personalities exhibit great variation. Americans can be friendly, confident, and outgoing, but they can also be shy and self-aware. It’s a big country, folks!

Everything is Open 24/7

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Like all major cities, those in the U.S. have a vibrant nightlife and many late-night convenience stores and dining options. Still, most businesses in America have regular opening hours, especially those in smaller cities, towns, and rural areas. This varies depending on the industry, local population, and location, with the supply of services typically matching the demand.

The Weather is Always Hot and Sunny

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Maybe Hollywood made a few too many movies set in the California sun, but that’s no excuse to disregard the other 49 states, many of which are rainy and overcast or cold and snowy. The northern states experience all four seasons, with cold winters and hot summers, whereas the Midwest can be brutal in winter, with freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall.

All Americans Are Obese

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This one is not only untrue but unnecessarily cruel to boot! International media coverage often paints U.S. citizens as unnaturally fat and unfit, snacking constantly on high-fat, high-sugar, heavily processed foods. While some people struggle with their weight (as in all developed countries), many Americans are health-conscious and work hard to maintain a healthy weight.

Americans Worship Their Flag

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National pride is important and strong in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean every American has a ‘Stars and Stripes’ tattoo or displays a flag outside their home. ‘Allegiance to the flag’ is something that is taught in schools but is by no means a ubiquitous act of brainwashing. Like in other countries, individuals display varying levels of love for their national colors.

Thanksgiving Means Turkey

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With Thanksgiving being a holiday unique to the U.S., it’s perhaps unsurprising that foreigners don’t quite understand what it’s all about or how it’s typically celebrated. Many get their information from movies, incorrectly assuming that every U.S. household celebrates the same way (with turkey and football). In reality, many families enjoy vegetarian or alternative dishes.

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17 American Attractions That Not Even Americans Want to Visit

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17 Fairy Tales That Are Now Considered Racist

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While fairy tales weave magical narratives that span generations, many emerge from historical and cultural contexts tinged with biases. Hiding in many of these tales, racial undertones can be found. Let’s look at 17 fairy tales that have deeper implications.

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18 Common Traits Found in Adults Who Had Unhappy Childhoods

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18 Things Old People Just Can’t Get On Board with Today

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