7 things Americans don’t understand about Europe

I don’t understand Americans in Europe. Actually, I don’t understand them in their own country as well. I mean, I don’t get baseball, NASCAR, American gun laws, the American insistence on using an archaic measurement system and above all I don’t understand ice in whiskey. But I think Americans do not understand Europe either. Not all of them, of course, but I think the average American has no clue about may things that are quite common in Europe. Here’s a small guide to the visiting American, helping rectify the most common American misconceptions about Europe.

What most European cities really look like

What most European cities really look like

  1. Europe is a continent, not a country
    “Europe is my favourite country” – how many times have I not come across this statement? Admittedly, the last one I saw was made by a Canadian, which only serves to prove the point that Canadians (and Australians) are a bit of Americans in disguise. Perhaps for people from countries the size of a continent it is difficult to understand. But Europe actually consists of more than 50 countries (depending a bit on how you define “country”). They have their own flags, anthems, culture and for what its worth their own foreign policy. Lumping them together is like saying “animals are cute” – sure they are, but a bit overgeneralizing.
  2. Europe is not the same as the European Union
    Its true that by now the majority of Europeans live in EU-member states. But there are still dozens of countries in Europe that are not a member, and the EU still covers less than half of Europe’s physical area. Besides, contrary to what Eurosceptics and Europhiles alike would like you to believe, the EU is not a super-state. Its members are independent countries who largely run their own affairs.
  3. Europe is more than the tourist hotspots
    Sadly, most Americans who visit Europe, and even many of those who live in Europe rarely leave the beaten track of old town centres, business districts and tourist top destinations. Their impressions of Europe are limited to Paris and Venice, and perhaps a bit of the countryside of Tuscany or the valley of the Loire. Their image of Europeans is therefore that of sopisticated, cycling, latte-drinking fashionistas. Sad truth is that most of Europe is less like the Champs-Élysées and more like the suburbs of Dusseldorf or the Bulgarian countryside – full of moustached people in jump-suits, who drink beer for lunch.

    What most of Europe's countryside really looks like

    What most of Europe’s countryside really looks like

  4. The UK is not a part of Europe
    This is actually what the British themselves believe, and their Anglo-Saxon cousins have inherited this belief. However, the UK is separated from the European mainland by a stretch of water just 33 km wide and less than 50 meters deep. People have even crossed swimming! The UK has been a part of the EU for over 40 years. Culturally, economically, socially, ethnically, religiously, geographically – any way you put it – the UK is firmly a part of Europe. Dear Britons – you are Europeans. Get over it. And mention it to your cousins, will you?
  5. Europeans have more than two parties
    In the USA it is simple – you’ve got the Republicans and you’ve got the Democrats. Europe is a bit more complicated politically. In most European countries its an elaborate game of multiple parties and coalitions. I know Americans like things simple, but European politics just doesn’t work this way. But don’t worry about this one, most Europeans don’t get it either.
  6. Football – no, its not soccer, its FOOTBALL
    Americans don’t even understand the name of the game that drives Europe crazy. They think they have football and what the Europeans play is soccer. But seriously – American “football” is played with the arms and hands mostly. Even if the occasional kick is taken into account its “limbsball” at best.

    What football really looks like

    What football really looks like

  7. European social system
    “Social=socialism=communism=DEVIL” – that’s pretty much the line of thought of the average American. “Europe” is in the USA a symbol of all that goes wrong when the government takes over. In reality, in the USA government spending is ~47% of the GDP and in the EU government spending is ~49-50% of the GDP. Hardly a difference, isn’t it? True, in Europe poor people get various benefits and social subsidies. But in the USA the system is pretty much the same – the benefits are just called “tax credits” so that it sounds more business-like. But how can people who pay no taxes get tax credits? A-ha! That’s just social benefits in disguise!

So dear Americans – whether you’re visiting Europe, or just hearing some news about “Europe” – do keep in mind that things are a) a bit more complicated and b) perhaps not that different than at your place. And if you have stories of European misconceptions about the USA – I’d love to hear, I’m sure there are plenty.


Filed under Europe, Travel

20 responses to “7 things Americans don’t understand about Europe

  1. In our defense, most of us can’t find our own country on an unlabeled map… so… uh…

  2. mareklug

    Sweetness, I am a Merkin (learn that word for “An American”; it will amuse your inner trapezoid to no end). But your elementary, not to say jejune, plaint in the lexical form of a list is so…. American that your sense of autoirony surely needs (Merkin technology alert!) some stem cell implant therapy.

    Do visit my LinkedIn to get a proper calibration of yours truly, but I will have you know already that I definitely would say, with full premeditation: “Ya know, Europe is my favorite cuntry.” Your Marek.

  3. Jack

    Interestingly speaking from an American standpoint, Michael did NOT address the key features of socialistic governments: i.e.: the taxation system and rliance on governments to do what in other countries the private sector does. Americans have traditionally distrusted overreaching governments and large tax rates.

    PS: Sadly, geography is no longer taught in most schools and many Americans today rely on TV and even satiric TV and the Internet for their news.

    • I don’t quite understand what you mean. Do you speak from an American standpoint or are you saying I was speaking from an American standpoint?

      My point is that the American government is doing pretty much the same as European governments (see the government spending as part of GDP), but sometimes calls it differently to please the American taste (tax credits instead of social benefits).

      And if I have followed the news correctly (from TV and internet, mostly), the American government is pretty much the most overreaching in the world , knowing everything about everybody. That might be the reason Americans distrust such governments.

  4. I can give you a different perspective. I grew up bi-culturealy(is that a word). I spent most of my time in Florida(USA), but then spent summer and winter breaks in the Dominican Republic. Some of the misconceptions of the Dominicans to America were pretty funny. According to most Dominicans there are two cities only in the USA- New York, and Miami. So when we would explain we lived in in Jacksonville, they would look confused, and say where? We would explain that Jacksonville was in Florida, “Oh, oh they would say you live in Miami.” No we live in Jacksonville. “Same thing, same thing. You live in Miami.”

    I find spending so much time in a third world country gave me a completely different experience than my peers. It made me more open to different experiences. When you’ve sat under a mosquito net dripping sweat while cramping due to the intense heat and humidity, having to run to the bathroom every 15 mins due to some poor choices at mealtime. It gives a different perspective.

    Truly I feel most Americans and most especially most American tourists represent the country poorly. But, if you take the time to get to know them, you’ll find some mettle there. For the most part we’re always willing to help a friend, and once you breakthrough some of the BS you will find many of us worth knowing.

    • Thank you for the different perspective. I’m sure that for all practical reasons it is quite sufficient for Dominicans to have the USA represented by just New York and Miami.

      I find Americans totally worth knowing and great fun. I intended this (and other) articles as light, humorous puns. And I was hoping this will help Americans who read my musings to breakthrough some of the BS about Europe.

  5. It may well be some Canadians appear to be ignorant to..you. I will bet you if they came from any of the big Canadian cities with over 1 million people they would not see Europe as a country. Why? We have ALOT of immigrant-based people…from Europe, Asia. They have family members overseas. No, Canada is NOT US in disguise. Different currency, gun laws are closer to some of the European countries, our parliamentary governance and constitution is quite different from the US. I think you have revealed your lack of understanding about Canada.

    I am Canadian born…and my love and expression of it…is throughout my blog. It is from a Canadian perspective and from someone who is not white.

    • You’ll have to take my word for it – I know Canada and USA are not the same. I know about the currency, the political system and the gun laws (I have learned a great deal about the differences from South Park, among other sources). And I know about the immigration history of Canada (which is quite similar to USA by the way). I am aware of the differences. Question is – are you aware of the similarities?

      My casual line about Canadians and Australians as Americans in disguise that seems to have hit a nerve with you was a bit of a joke – I am sure you understand that. Most of all, this joke was directed to Americans who nail a Canadian flag to their backpack to pass for Canadians when they go abroad.

      Nevertheless, as I mentioned, I have more than once come across remarks made by Canadians about how great a country Europe is. Sometimes, these remarks are being made by Canadians of Asian origin who come from big cities, believe it or not. Next time I read one, I’ll send you the link, I promise.

      • Don’t paint all Canadians the same. My childhood and teen years were growing up in a Mennonite-German based city of Kitchener-Waterloo in Ontario. My partner is Canadian but born in Germany. Immigrated as a little boy.

        No, Americans think their country in the West….in better than Canada.

        You need to live in Canada for a few years and then cross into the U.S. …You will see the difference. I had read about all the differences with regions of Canada but until I lived in Ontario, then British Columbia and then Alberta some very different history, cultural underpinnings, etc.

        The U.S. sees Canada as very small. We’re only similar as 2 countries that exploited the First Nations (Canada calls the native Indians this term or aboriginals, not native Indians), and then settled their lands after immigrating.

        Most Canadian children must learn abit of French in school years. This is not true for Spanish in U.S.

        Be not superior in your knowledge….live in Canada first.

      • I don’t recall painting all Canadians the same. I suggest you save your lectures for Americans (USA citizens I mean). As I said, I am sufficiently aware of the history of Canada and otherwise I can read Wikipedia by myself.

        And I don’t need to have lived somewhere to have knowledge about a place of to have an opinion about it. I’ve mentioned that in my recent post about Greece – I haven’t lived on the moon either but that doesn’t stop me from having an opinion about it.

      • Well, maybe be best living in Quebec for you..

        And I know you won’t take recommendations to read about Canada …from someone….like me.. My blog does provide real in-country experience compared to Wikipedia, even if “biased”. My blog is very Canadian…I didn’t realize how strongly Canadian until I was determining my next blog post to write.


      • From someone like you? You mean a person who’s coming to lecture without being asked?

        I have friends from Canada. I’ve met plenty of Canadians, of various origins. So seriously, don’t go preaching on me. Wikipedia is not my only source of information.

        And what’s you point with living in Quebec? That remark is not making much sense to me. Perhaps I’m not Canadian enough to understand…

      • From someone like you? You mean a person who’s coming to lecture without being asked?

        I have friends from Canada. I’ve met plenty of Canadians, of various origins. Wikipedia is not my only source of information.

        Your Quebec remark doesn’t make much sense to me, perhaps I’m not Canadian enough to understand the pun.

  6. I live in Portland Oregon,and after living in America for 61 years, i confess, my ancestors should have stayed in Scotland….

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