It’s safe to say that I had a chronic case of stereotyping while I lived in Ireland. I had an opinion of America, and of Americans. It was built solely on the ideas I’d formed from a relatively safe distance across the ocean and from the criticism spouting from the mouths of those I believed to be completely in the know.
Growing up in the age of the Internet, with constant re-runs of "The OC," "The Hills" and "Friends," endless access to American media and magazines awash with famous Americans, I thought I knew all there was to know about the mighty United States of America.
It didn’t take long for these misconceptions to come crumbling down, however, once I relocated my life to the US’s east coast and experienced America in real life, without the aid of a computer screen.
Here are some of the many ways in which America has surprised me in the past nine months:
1. Not everybody is overweight
In fact, a lot of Americans are very fit and in a lot better shape than I am. Despite the endless amounts of dollar slices, and fast food places on every street, healthy eating is as important a concept in the US as it is in Ireland. In New York, at least, the amount of walking you do really makes up for any extra calorie intake.
2. They’re more intelligent than they look
I know that it was very wrong of me to fall for the two biggest misconceptions about Americans i.e. being obese and ignorant but in my defense, my opinion was formed on witnessing an extremely overweight American tourist complain viciously with the staff of Blarney Castle because she was too large to fit up the stairs and couldn’t understand why they didn’t have an elevator installed in the castle tower.
On reaching the US, and actually befriending Americans, I discovered that they are well-read, quick-witted, driven, and altogether quite intelligent people. Still not quite as well-read, quick-witted, driven, and altogether quite intelligent as the Irish, but who is?
3. Some people have no idea where Ireland is or know anything about it
The fact that Ireland isn’t the center of everybody’s universe came as a complete shock to me, as did the fact that some people don’t realize that we’re not part of the UK.
I can’t help but look bemused every time somebody tells me they knew that my accent must be from somewhere in Europe and stand aghast wondering how sheltered a life they must have led not to be able to instantly recognize that I’m from the Emerald Isle.
This surprise was probably good for my bloated Irish ego and a wake-up call that I myself need to learn about other countries, too.
4. Others know too much about Ireland
What with filling my mind with other endless trivia, some of my elementary school Irish history and geography seems to have escaped (along with various other important pieces of information).
There’s nothing that will bring you back down to earth quite like an American who claims to have no links to Ireland putting you in your place with regard to some aspect of Irish culture.
Not just that, but it’s astounding the levels that some people will go to keep their family connection with Ireland alive and how in touch they are with everything that’s happening at home.
5. It’s really easy to find bits of home
Stepping onto an airplane, and knowing you’re not going to be back in the place you grew up in for an extended period of time, brings all of the things you know you’re going to miss flooding to your mind. While nothing beats being at home, it’s easy to find a place to watch GAA while you have a good Irish breakfast and pretend you’re sitting in a pub in Dublin just for a little while.
6. American sports aren’t actually that bad
Ok, so I still don’t really get the baseball thing, or understand American football all that well for that matter, but the spectacle of American sports is something you don’t get at run-of-the-mill GAA matches down the country.
The GAA league sees poor attendance and even the Championship attendance dwindles until the bigger matches are played (or Dublin is playing), but fans in the States are willing to attend two or three matches every week, never mind one Saturday every other weekend.
7. It’s a really big place
Obvious but until you physically stand in a place, it’s difficult to comprehend its size. New York City has larger population than the whole of Ireland and New York state alone is almost twice the size of our little country. As such a big country, its states are also very different to each other and it surprised me just how different people from various states could be.
8. America isn’t completely monolingual
Once again the US is lauded elsewhere, this time as a country that doesn’t put enough effort into learning the language of others (as is Ireland). Many of its population are bi- or polylingual, however, from immigrant families to those who take up languages in school. Many states are also more willing than Ireland are to provide information for their citizens in other minority languages, with states such as California allowing the publication of state documents in languages such as Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, Persian, Russian, Vietnamese, and Thai to accommodate these minority groups.
9. Ireland’s weather isn’t really that bad in comparison
Whether it’s the sweaty summer saunter along the sidewalk or a dash from door to door in winter huddled under layers and layers of clothing, there have been more than a few times that I’ve cursed the weather since moving to the US. I haven’t even had to deal with the likes of a tornado and I’m already professing that I will never complain about Irish weather again (not really likely).
10. Americans are actually critical of themselves.
It’s very easy for an Irish person to sit comfortably at home and criticize the US from a far while the country around them is far from perfect and has just as many of its own problems to solve. I moved to the US expecting a certain mentality from the people I met – that the US was, is and forever will be the greatest place in the world. I was surprised to find that many Americans understand the flaws that exist in their society and want to do some something to change them.
Anything I've missed? What surprised you about the US, or Ireland for that matter, the first time you visited? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.