I was born and raised in the United States, but I’ve spent seven of the past thirteen years living in other countries. In that time I’ve had thousands of conversations with people of other nationalities about life in America. They didn’t all bitch about America all the time, but through the course of these conversations I heard the following reasons why non-Americans are underwhelmed with America:
1: The death penalty
America has always had the death penalty. So Americans tend to take it for granted, some people even celebrate it. There are a lot of pro-death penalty arguments that sound good on paper, but people who were raised in a country that doesn’t have the death penalty tend to be queasy about it. They view it as archaic, small-minded and an inherently counterproductive path to prosperity. They also see it as an overreach of government power because if a government has the right to kill its citizens then how can you really say citizens control the government and not the other way around? Even if American citizens want the death penalty that says something about the American public: that they’re bloodthirsty. You can disagree with this perception, but don’t blame me for its existence. I’m just pointing out that other cultures view killing as uncivilized and thus they view America as uncivilized for using much less embracing the death penalty.
There’s no doubt that America loves its guns. American gun advocates will tell you that the less armed a country is the more it will devolve into fear and chaos. There are a lot of arguments for gun proliferation that sound good on paper, but life in countries that have strict gun control laws (and a lack of gun-loving culture) is very different than the N.R.A. would have you believe. People raised in first world countries where there are strict gun control laws have never experienced the fear and chaos Americans live with every day where you can’t cut off another driver or shout at someone who bumps into you on the sidewalk without worrying about them shooting you. In other first world countries, you just go about your business and never worry about getting shot.
Sure, criminals will always have guns, but most people only shoot people they know. And the fewer people who have guns the less opportunity they have to commit a crime of passion. The less people who want guns the farther the statistics of gun violence fall. Countries that don’t have and don’t want guns are more peaceful, and they feel more peaceful. And the less afraid people are of each other the better they tend to get along. People who grew up in countries where this is the norm look down on America for celebrating weapons of mass destruction and thinking mutually ensured destruction is a viable path to prosperity when it really just ensures destruction.
America bombastically claims it’s the land of the free, which confuses foreigners since America has more people in prison than any other country in the world. Not only that but American prisons are famous for being inhumane. If you go to an American prison you’re either going to have to join a gang or become someone’s bitch to avoid being raped and/or killed. That’s a simple fact of life for Americans but it’s not for citizens of every other first world country. This is yet another reason why foreigners look at America with pity and disgust.
Foreigners who visit America (particularly the Bible Belt) are astounded by the number and size of churches in America. The reason is because religion is mythology plain and simple. Just open up a religious book and you’ll find all the proof you need to come to that common sense conclusion. Yet a mind-boggling number of Americans celebrate their belief in easily-falsifiable fiction while despising reality and anyone who believes in it. Many Americans can’t imagine life any other way, but many foreigners can’t imagine living in a country filled with so many religious fanatics.
In America, the high school football captain and head cheerleader are at the top of the high school social hierarchy while the nerds are at the bottom. This phenomenon isn’t as bad as it used to be, but it was never this bad in other first world countries. In other countries, you’re viewed as a failure if all you can do is move a ball from Point A to Point B.
Even in the adult world American culture celebrates idiots more than smart people. Just turn on any reality television show to see more evidence of this. Granted, every country has its own share of morons, and television personalities in other countries even copy America’s idiots. But the fact remains that America sets the bar in anti-intellectualism, which makes citizens of other countries facepalm at us.
6: Propaganda/entertainment news
Possibly the biggest monument to American anti-intellectualism that foreigners facepalm at is Fox News. It’s a thinly veiled propaganda machine for the ultra-rich that employs shock jocks to use reactionary rhetoric and fear mongering to pit its fan base against everyone who isn’t just like them. People from other countries don’t get it. They think it’s satire, and it terrifies then when they find out that millions of Americans take it literally… as well it should.
North Korea is the only country in the world that currently rivals America’s sense of patriotism and sense of exceptionalism. America’s sense of patriotism is so strong that social scientists have referred to it as bordering on a civil religion. Germans in particular view America’s fanatical sense of self-righteousness with horror because they know all too well where the path of nationalism leads: it leads to blind obedience and treating others as inferior.
The grim truth is that America isn’t the God-blessed land of milk, honey, and freedom that it paints itself to be. It’s the world leader in prisons, shooting sprees and exporting war, which is all the more reason why foreigners scratch their heads at American patriotism.
8: Broken electoral system
The past two United States presidents’ approval ratings dropped to around 30% in the last few years of their tenure, and Congress’s approval rating has been even lower. The 2013 government shut down just goes to show how ineffective America’s leaders are, which just goes to show how ineffective America’s process of picking leaders is. Yet Americans continue to celebrate their electoral process while jeering the results it produces. And everyone else wonders what’s wrong with us.
9: Invasion of privacy
America, the self-proclaimed land of the free, sets the bar for invasion of privacy. This was common knowledge even before Edward Snowden handed the world proof on a silver platter that America has no respect for its citizens’ privacy. People from other countries have a hard time imagining living in a country where their own government distrusts and disrespects them so much. They have an even harder time imagining why Americans are so lackadaisical about being spied on.
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