Nobody likes Americans. Plenty of people warned me of this before my departure for Dresden. Having been to Europe before, I brushed these warnings off, arguing that I had met plenty of European people on school trips to Europe who liked my friends and me just fine. In my first class at the Goethe Institut the teacher, Frau Peters, asked each of us to say our names, where we were from, and why we were here. I had never been in the presence of so many people from so many different countries: Libya, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Bosnia, Italy, Jordan, India, Hungary, and Poland all made the list. I was the youngest person in the room by five years and the only American in the room. I watched many people in the room shift uncomfortably and exchange looks as I stated my country of origin. After everyone had spoken, Frau Peters wrote the name of each country that had been mentioned on the top of a sheet of paper and asked all of us to write something we know about each country. Russia, Brazil, and Italy were the only countries I could talk about offhand. To write something for the others I had to surreptitiously look at the map on the wall to find clues (mostly I just stuck to capital cities and geographical position) while simultaneously trying to hide my embarrassment.
I noticed most other people had significantly less trouble than I did in writing down facts about different countries. (One of many reasons that we should completely overhaul the American education system.) Then, each person would take the sheet with his or her home country on it and read what people had written, saying if it was true or untrue. All the things written about America were that we are good at basketball, we eat too much fast food, and our president is Barack Obama. All correct. Frau Peters then asked me if there was anything else people should have known about American culture. The only other things I could add was that American football was the unofficial favorite sport and that a lot of people are trying to eat less fast food, even if it may not be a majority. I wanted to somehow assure everyone in the room that not all Americans are like that but I realized that wouldn’t be entirely true. Not only did I realize I know embarrassingly little about the world I inhabit, I also realized that I don’t know as much about my own culture as I thought I did.
It boils down to this: Americans do nothing to break the stereotypes that foreigners have established for them. To many non-Americans, Americans are lazy, ignorant, and wasteful. We complain that we are not treated fairly and yet we continue to knowingly eat McDonald’s and Chick-Fil-A much more than we should. We also continue to treat trash uncaringly without regard to what could potentially be recycled. And, as evidenced by my limited geographical and cultural knowledge, we know absolutely nothing about living globally. I am well aware that I can’t completely change the mindset and public policy of one of the most powerful countries in the world, but I can already see my own mind changing course and starting to focus more on becoming more world-conscious slowly but surely.