American arrogance: Fact or fiction?

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As academics, professors and people who are influenced by pedagogy in one way or another, we all have some degree of understanding in terms of world cultures.

As children we were instructed to cut out the shapes of the seven continents and memorize which shape corresponded to what country. Some of us had diversity days or school projects that required we create a presentation on a particular culture.

At the very least, we were given a generalized picture of the history of different countries and continents in an effort to be more refined in our understanding of the world. However, what we were not given was our perceptions of different countries.

With that being said, why does it seem as though Americans are perceived as arrogant around the world? Is there any significance or truth to this idea or is it simply a misconception?

The notion of the arrogant American is one that is by no means unheard of or uncommon and is a prevailing stereotype around the world. It is also important to note that not all citizens of different countries maintain this belief.

For instance, not all Americans think the British are obsessed with tea or that Australians live in the desert so this should be kept in mind. However, what is interesting is how these stereotypes came to be?

The notion of the arrogant American is so commonplace that it bears paying attention to. In some way or another, Americans have been etched in the minds of other countries as presumptive, rude and overbearing people. Why is this and what can Americans do about it?

According to professor Gina Zanolini Morrison, the answer is quite simple. Morrison states that “Americans–meaning those of us from the United States–, often go overseas without spending much time learning about the culture of our destinations.

So when we get there, we make cultural mistakes that are often misinterpreted in a negative way.” It is then clear to see that our arrogant reputation may have been forged from our international affairs.

Having a limited understanding of the customs and practices of other countries can have a negative impact on our global presence.

In reference to whether there is truth to the notion of Americans being arrogant, Morrison states, “I just don’t think that many Americans realize how their behavior is interpreted by people of other cultures, and while there may be arrogance in that ignorance itself, I honestly don’t think Americans are inherently arrogant.”

Erica Acosta, Wilkes University’s associate director of diversity affairs has a similar perspective. “I feel like we are told at a very young age that America is one of the best countries – your dreams come true in this country so you already have that patriotism instilled in you,” she said.

She also believes that “for example, when we go to a restaurant as Americans we are able to pick and choose ‘OK I don’t want this can you substitute it for that, we can change the whole menu to fit a person’s needs which can be rude when visiting other countries.” This concept demonstrates the individuality and drive that initiated the American Revolution and our nation’s independence from Britain.

This decisiveness is one of our core values which can also be perceived as arrogant in countries that value subtlety, humility and steady yet effective progression.

She emphasizes that this tendency and encouragement to take initiative “as natural born citizens or those that obtain their citizenship through other ways is one of your rights that you will gain as an American.”

With that being said, what can we do to change the image of the arrogant American?

According to Morrison, one of the most effective things we can do is to research and learn about international customs.

Morrison states that “the best place to being your research is by going to our U.S. Department of State at travel.state.gov.”

“Keep researching, get to know people from other cultures, listen well, and do your best to forgive yourself when you travel–because no matter how much we study cultures, we’ll always make mistakes. Just treat every trip like a wonderful, new adventure and enjoy yourself!”

So when navigating the realm of international stereotypes, it is important to understand that such stereotypes are fueled by misconceptions.

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