17 Things About The USA: Critique of Benny Lewis' Article (Episode 22)
We changed up this week's podcast just a bit! A few weeks ago, Matt and I discovered an intriguing and unique article posted on Business Insider. The original article, titled "17 Cultural Clashes this European had in America," but also more famously called "I'm Irish and I spent a year traveling the US-- here are the 17 things that surprised me about day to day life," had gotten an insane amount of publicity-- and it's really no wonder why. The Irish author, Benny Lewis, who is known for his website on helping people become fluent in a new language in just three months, had traveled and lived in the US, noticing a lot of things about the country, then wrote an article, focusing on 17 grievances he had with the country/overall culture.
After reading this article, Matt and I found a lot of things that we completely agreed with and some things we didn't particularly agree with. We've been traveling the world for four years now and have also discovered a lot of things we never noticed before about our own country. In this unique podcast episode, we critiqued this infamous article and added a little bit of our own opinions into the mix! We talked about:
- Americans are way too sensitive
- Everything is "awesome"!
- Smiles mean NOTHING
- False prices on everything
- Cheesy in-your-face marketing
- Wasteful consumerism
- American stereotypes of other countries
- ID checks & stupid drinking laws
- Religious Americans
- Corporations win all the time, not small businesses
- A country designed for cars, not humans
- Always in a hurry
- Obsession with money
- Unhealthy portions
- Thinking America is the best
We also talked about:
- Our agreements and disagreements with these points
- Our own personal experiences abroad and in America
- What we thought about the positives he found in America
- What we wish more Americans would do more often
Thank you for reading/listening! If you'd like to see our blog post on this along with some pictures and more information, simply scroll down! Cheers!
Wine: Lindemen's "Unexpected Friendships Make Me Smile" - Cabernet Sauvignon (Australia)
1. Americans are way too sensitive
(2:27) The author starts off immediately with an excellent point. Americans in general like to make everyone feel included, not feel discriminated against, and so on. That part is well-put, and both of us completely agree on that part of American "sensitivity." We love that part, in fact!
However, the author finds that Americans get so offended by anything and everything. So much so, that the overall sensitivity becomes negative. This sensitivity is different from most of the world. We can agree with that. For our own personal example, when we were in Thailand, we knew someone who was overweight and was asked by a Thai teacher on numerous occasions, "When are you going to lose weight?" It's a cultural difference and may seem rude, no doubt, but she was honestly worried about her health as well. That, and in Thailand, there are hardly overweight people because they eat right.
However, if an American was told that, then that person would be incredibly offended and sort of blow it way out of proportion.
Basically, in other countries we have gone to, if there is something wrong with you, people will tell you to your face. They don't lie. But, they're main goal isn't to embarrass or to "shame" you. They are providing you with constructive criticism for you to better yourself.
Another problem that arises with this "sensitivity" we have in the American culture is that people will never change if they aren't told what is wrong with them or if they are lied to about who they are. That is the main takeaway of this part of the article, according to the author. We agree with this, too, because although being told there is something negative about you, it's good to hear in the long run because you have become aware of this issue and can work on it. Ultimately, you will then become a stronger and better person.
2. Everything is "awesome"!
(5:00) The author points out that the word "awesome" and other adjectives are so often used in America, they almost lose their meaning. They are more often than not used as fillers, like "um" and "like."
I (Marilyn) completely agree with this-- and I am unfortunately one of these people! I use adjectives constantly, even awesome! I have actually recently become aware of it and have been working on it. See? Constructive criticism and I'm not offended, but am bettering myself! You can even look back on other blog posts and look at all of my adjectives if you'd like! They'll be there, I promise!
However, I personally don't entirely agree with this point. I have noticed it and I agree that it's prevalent, but I don't find it to be as nails-on-a-chalkboard-like as it is for the author.
He also makes the point that people use these adjectives so often when asked "How are you?" Americans so often lie, using these positive adjectives to describe their overall mood and life even when they don't feel that way. We're subliminally taught to "be polite" and simply answer the question "How are you?" with a "I'm good," "I'm great," "I'm fine," and so on. The author personally never understands why people lie and claim that everything is supposedly "awesome" when it isn't.
Although it's a rational point, Matt and I personally don't totally agree with that. While we're completely aware that that happens and people do it constantly, we can understand it. I mean, I don't exactly want to tell some stranger behind a pizza counter my life story when they ask, "How are you?" They don't want to hear it and I don't want to share it.
3. Smiles mean NOTHING
(7:28) Here, the author is trying to focus on the fact that Americans smile "too often." In his article, which we paid particular attention to since we live there currently, he claimed that he's heard so many Americans complain that people don't smile on Prague's trams. We completely agree with that complaint! People in Prague, whether on the trams, metros, or sidewalks, look miserable. He then goes on to say that just because people don't smile in public doesn't mean they're angry or miserable people. They just don't find meaning in smiling for no good reason.
But, Matt and I don't agree with that part at all. We have gone to places where people are constantly smiling, like in Ireland-- where the author is from, ironically enough! Oh, and we're from New York, and we don't think anyone smiles in public, especially in the city! We personally think people don't smile enough, to be honest. Smiling is a wonderful and friendly thing. Smiling is contagious. Why not want to make yourself and those people around you a little happier? Why not enjoy your life just a little bit more?
4. Tipping in America
(9:40) Once upon a time, I was a waitress, working in a pizza place/Italian restaurant near my hometown. When I was a waitress, I felt that tipping was so important and grew angry or annoyed at those who didn't tip me the expected 20%. However, my viewpoint has changed since then because I've traveled.
In this point, the author talks about tipping. He doesn't understand why it isn't just included in the bill if it's "mandatory." And, why it is mandatory even if the waitstaff provides you with terrible service and/or terrible food. Even being a waitress in the past, I completely agree with this. Why do we have to tip people for doing their jobs? Or, if it's expected to tip servers, why not just automatically include it on the bill beforehand?
As a waitress, I was paid $5 an hour, which is considered a good hourly wage for a waitress in America! I honestly didn't even care much about that. I had to worry about my tips. That was where most of my money and pay came from.
Another point he made was that because of this tipping nonsense, waiters and waitresses were constantly in his face while eating. He was always bothered by the servers asking about the food and everything multiple times per meal. To him, it was just a reminder that he would have to tip them and that they wanted a good tip from him.
We've discovered that everywhere we've traveled to, no one expects tips like they do in America. Tipping was actually considered rude in Thailand and Japan! Since then, we've loved the idea of not tipping. That meant that the waiter or waitress was already getting paid a decent salary for their job, so we as consumers didn't have to make up the difference like in America!
Another excellent point is if we tip servers and bartenders, why not also tip people who actually have difficult and important jobs, like nurses and teachers?
One thing that we do disagree with on this point is that we don't mind the servers coming over to our table and checking on us. This is mainly due to the fact that we've eaten in so many places abroad and struggled for minutes on end to get our server's attention. But, of course, that's as long as they don't come over constantly.
Another thought: why are we as consumers paying these people their salaries? Why can't they just have a decent wage so we don't have to cover it with unnecessary tipping? The owners of these businesses are making a killing by not paying their employees a decent wage!
5. False prices on everything
(13:29) This was a great following point to tipping, since when you go out to eat, you always end up spending more than what you see on the menu in the end because of the tipping. But, in this point, he's mainly talking about taxes. When you see an item in a store or on a menu, you never pay that price. Why? Because taxes. For whatever reason, taxes are not included on that price tag. You have to pay more than that price tag in the end.
This is commonplace in America. Taxes aren't added in until the end. When I'm shopping for anything, I never know exactly how much I'll end up paying. I have to round up the price of whatever thing or things I'm buying to guess what I'll pay.
But, what we've noticed in almost all of the countries we've traveled to, taxes are already factored in! You pay exactly what the price tag says you pay! So, why can't America implement this?
6. Cheesy in-your-face marketing
(15:15) Advertisements. Are. Everywhere. And, they're obnoxious and in-your-face. That's the main takeaway from point #6. We couldn't agree more.
We've noticed this the most on TV. While abroad, we mainly watch our shows and movies on Netflix and other places, so we don't have to be subjected to any commercials. But, once we return home, there are an alarming amount of adverts. Plus, they're all the same commercials! Cars, food, insurance, medications, and beer. That's it. It gets old real fast, especially when they come on during a TV show every 5-8 minutes for 5 minutes at a time!
If you couldn't tell, we completely agree with this point. The advertising industry is king in America, without a doubt.
7. Wasteful Consumerism
(17:29) Lewis is talking about how obsessed Americans are with new things on the market. This should be obvious by now, since there are tons of movies and documentaries about it. Americans buy too much stuff and waste their money on crap they don't need.
We completely agree with this point. We also feel, though, that there are a few other cultures that are like that, too, that we've seen. However, Americans take this too far.
Naturally, when we were both younger, we felt this way a little bit. We both wanted to have the new iPhone or gadget or whatever. However, now that we've traveled and realized that there's more to life than just material things, our mindsets have changed. Now, we travel the world with just a couple of backpacks and minimal amounts of clothing items with other small items to get us by!
We love minimalism, if you didn't know. It's changed our lives for the better, without a doubt!
The article uses a great example for wasteful consumerism in America: Apple.
People amaze me with how insane they get over Apple and their products. They will sleep in a tent in front of a store for days just to get the new iPhone first! On top of that, most of their current iPhones or other gadgets work perfectly fine! Why do they need the new one? Because they need the best and newest and they need it now.
8: American stereotypes of other countries
(21:14) The point the author makes here is that American's are blinded by their preconceived notions of people from other places-- especially those who have never been to those places!
The author uses himself as a prime example. Since he is Irish, he would meet people in America and they would automatically associate him with being an alcoholic. Americans believe the stereotype that all Irish people are drunks. However, this author is Irish and he doesn't even drink any alcohol, which blew these people and their stereotypes away.
We also have plenty of great examples along this line that we've come across, but one we can think of because it's most recent is when we told people we'd be moving to China in September. Every single time we told someone that, we'd get faces struck with pure disgust and questions like, "Why there?" "Can you breathe there?" and "Isn't it really dirty everywhere?" No response was positive because they were all blinded by stereotypes. We may not have gone there yet personally, but we've heard some seriously fantastic things from people who have.
However, we have been to Ireland. We discovered that people don't even seem to drink that much there at all! We've been to other places where the general public drinks far more than the Irish!
Another great example was when we were telling people about our future move to South Korea back in 2015. Everyone would respond with, "Oh my God! Aren't you scared of being attacked by North Korea?!" As it turns out, there was no need to be because our South Korean students openly mocked Kim Jung Un and North Korea. So, I think it's safe to say that, if they weren't scared, then we certainly had no reason to be, either!
Americans tend to be totally consumed by the media and what it provides them. However, the world is far safer and more different than the media portrays. So, therefore, we very much agree with this point!
(24:36) Here, Lewis is focusing on the fact that Americans love to talk about their heritage. For example, they like to say, "Oh, I'm 75% Irish, 22% Polish, 2.5% Cherokee, and 0.5% Dutch." However, people most often aren't meaning to ask about that. They want to know where you're from. Therefore, the response should instead be, "I'm American."
We agree and have found this to be true. When we were both younger, Matt would tell people that he's half Italian and half nonsense. I would also tell people that I'm half Italian and half German. After traveling, however, telling people that when they ask, "What nationality are you?" doesn't really make sense and confuses people. Now, we know to always reply with the correct response: "I'm American."
However, we can understand why Americans do this. We are a unique country. We are a melting pot of people from all over the world and want to share our family's heritage with other people. Most other countries aren't like that. So, we understand that to a certain degree, but some Americans do tend to take it over the top.
10. I.D. checks and stupid drinking laws
(26:05) Lewis talks about the incessant ID checks everywhere with alcohol and that the drinking laws in America are flawed and foolish. We are both passionately and aggressively agreeing with this point! We've traveled to 15 other countries and have almost never had problems buying alcohol in bars or stores. Nor do we have trouble drinking alcohol in any places, such as in public. No one ever checks us or worries about it.
But, in America, there are people at the doors to clubs and bars just to make sure everyone's I.D.s are valid and that that person is at least 21 years old. That, and drinking in public is strictly against the law in almost all places in the U.S.
The laws are incredibly flawed and foolish for sure. In New York, at least, and a lot of other states, you can't buy beer and liquor/wine in the same store. They have to be sold in separate places. I mean, really? Why?! I personally love this quote from the author to sum up how ridiculous America's laws on drinking are.
11. Religious Americans
(28:22) Here, the author is not making fun of religion. That's not his point. He's specifically focusing on those Americans who are in-your-face religious, the ones who constantly talk about their religion, how righteous they are, and how wrong everyone else is. There are many Americans who take their religion and shove it in everyone's faces. We are not bashing anyone who has something to believe in and neither is the author here. If you believe in something, that's wonderful! If you don't, that's wonderful too! But, please stop funneling your beliefs and practices down other people's throats.
In New York City, this is a little less prevalent. However, in more rural places, it's very apparent! It's also apparent in places it shouldn't be, such as in our laws! There's a law where you can refuse to serve people if you don't agree with what they are doing, their beliefs, or their way of life. We're not sure if this is a federal law or a law in certain states, but this is active. A good example is a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because they're future marriage goes against his religious beliefs! That case is going to the Supreme Court.
Of course, there are other countries who really have religion prevalent in their culture and society. We are aware of that undoubtedly! But, we're just agreeing with what Lewis said in his article here about America.
12. Corporations win all the time, not small businesses
(30:40) Ah, yes. Corporations in America.. What Lewis talks about here is that America is pretty much taken over by big corporations. So much so that they leave no room for small businesses to succeed and grow. He makes the example that he was once walking around in Chicago, looking for a place to eat, but all he could find were places like Wal-Mart, Dunkin' Donuts, and Starbuck's. But, he wanted to just go to a small business place and get real food!
Matt and I personally agree with this whole-heartedly. We noticed this before we even started traveling, to be honest, but when you drive around in America, that's pretty much all you're going to get!
But, in a place like Prague, we can walk around and find tons of small businesses, not chains, where we can eat! Those chain restaurants are all over the world, of course, but just not as overtaking as they are in America.
13. A country designed for cars, not humans
(32:37) Lewis starts off this point with an excellent quote: "America is a terrible place for pedestrians." Agreed! Public transportation is incredibly poor in America. Sure, it's a wide-spread country and it's difficult to build transportation across it, but China is about the same size as America and it has superb public transportation! So, since no one takes public transportation, America is far more catered towards people with cars.
We were in Houston, Texas for about 10 days and getting around was a nightmare. We didn't have a car, so we depended on public transportation. But, the public transportation was fickle and barely even there! So, we depended on our feed to get places. One day, we walked from one part to another and we walked for 3 hours. It was the worst. That walk should've taken 10 minutes by car. However, since the city did not cater at all to pedestrians, we walked a farther distance than we would've if we drove.
Another problem is that no one walks in America because they just drive everywhere! When we're home, if we need to go somewhere, we walk to the car, drive, and walk a few feet into the store. That's it! But, in places like in Europe and Asia, we walk more than that to places because of how the public transportation and sidewalks are set. And we like that! Exercise is good.
Being a pedestrian in America is a nightmare. My brother also travels just as often as we do and walks everywhere, like us. While he was home with me a few month ago in Upstate New York, he was so stressed because he was just sitting in the house and never walking! He just walked into town one day for no real reason but to walk!
14. Always in a hurry
(36:34) Here, he's talking about the overall rushed mentality of Americans. People in America are often in a rush to do things in life, like get the perfect job, buy a house, buy a car, get married, have kids, and so on.
We do agree with this part of the fourteenth point. People tend to be looking into the future more and so focused on getting there that they never really focus on or enjoy the present. But, that's not particularly good because things could possibly get worse in the future and people never take the chance to enjoy what they have right now.
We can't exactly compare this to other places we've been because we don't speak the languages there and aren't completely aware of what their long-term goals are.
The author also makes the point that people tend to be in a hurry when getting to work, home, or other destinations. We can see that sometimes, but we personally feel that that isn't entirely true in America. We've been places where that "in a hurry" mentality is worse in other places, like Japan. The author is from Ireland, though, where people tend to be more relaxed in general.
In the southern region of America, or "The South," this is particularly not true. People tend to in general have a more laidback lifestyle. They even talk far slower and the lines at stores go far slower, too!
15. Obsession with money
(38:33) We very much agree with this point. Americans are so fixated on the amount of money they make, how much money something costs, how much they will make with another job, and so on. The obsession is so strong, it's debilitating for many folks. We personally feel that this isn't a good mindset to have because, again, you don't enjoy the life you have and the life you're living right now. Instead, you're too focused on your money, which is again just a material thing.
We do agree that money is important, of course. We need it to buy food, water, to get a place to live, and other necessities. But, it shouldn't be the be-all and end-all. People just need money, even if they have more than enough to survive. It ties in once again to the wasteful consumerism.
Money is what Americans tend to base success off of. If you say that you're a doctor, people revere you far more than if you told them that you're a plumber. They don't stop to think about your happiness in life overall. They're only thinking about the amount of money you're making, not your quality of life.
We work online and teach English to kids in China. It's a wonderful gig and we make enough money to travel and live our lives. Plus, we're incredibly happy, flexible, enjoy our lives, and love ourselves and each other! But, to people in America, they don't care about our happiness. They only care that we aren't making a lot of money and, therefore, look down on us. I mean, people literally tell us that we don't make "real money." What the hell does that mean? Do they think we're being paid in Monopoly money or something?! Ridiculous.
16. Unhealthy portions
(42:05) Lewis is talking about how when you go out to eat in America, the portions are absurd. You're delivered a trough of food rather than a regular-sized plate! He mentioned that he always grew up with the mentality to never waste food, so he would always finish that plate. Needless to say, he gained a lot of weight during his time in America because of this!
I (Marilyn) do agree with this. I don't like being handed a ton of food when I go out to eat in America because I feel the same way: I have to eat it all or I'm being wasteful! I find it unnecessary, to be honest. No wonder so many Americans are obese!
Matt agrees that the portions are huge, but he loves them! When we first went to Thailand, he hated that the meals were adequate portion sizes. Often, he'd be hungry after a meal or he'd order two meals, then be full. He thinks that if you can't control yourself when eating American portions, then that's too bad!
17. Thinking America is the best
(If you're American, please keep point #1 in mind when reading/listening to this last point)
(43:58) In the article, Lewis talks about how Americans believe that America is the best country on the planet. Americans think that America has freedom, liberty, and so forth. But, he says, America isn't the only country with these things. Sure, America was the "land of the free," but that was 200-some years ago. Times have changed and many other countries with freedom have emerged since then-- and some have even more freedom than America has!
We agree with this point completely. There are many countries in the world with these same freedoms (or more than) as America. Americans tend to turn a blind eye towards the rest of the word, even other modern countries. They mainly cease to recognize the progressive nature of many countries, like in Europe and Asia especially. They automatically assume that America is the best in every single way and that there is no room for change or progress.
During the podcast, Matt brought up this hilarious picture that he saw on some social network. It was the perfect meme to explain American viewpoints. Hilarious!
One of Matt's friends once told him, "I don't understand why anyone would want to go to anywhere but America." And he was dead serious! Very naive and American, if you ask us.
We personally think that there is no "best" country. Every country has things that are great about it and things that need improvement. Patriotism is a good quality to have, but when you take it over the top, it makes you blind to what the rest of the world has to offer and what your own country falters in. If everyone was 100% patriotic, nothing would improve! That, and you'll put other people down because of where they come from.
Some Great Things About America
(46:50) Benny Lewis also mentioned five points he loves about America, so we critiqued those, too.
1. So well connected
Here, he talks about how Americans use great social networks and apps to stay in communication with friends and even with potential friends! We agree that we are well connected in this way!
2. Conferences and conventions
He says that America has a plethora of conferences and conventions for everything. We do agree with that. Yes, America does have those. I mean, my dad makes a living off of those, but that's not exactly a huge positive about America because those also exist elsewhere.
3. Many friends
The author stated that during his time in America, he did make a ton of friends that he still talks to to this day. True! We also have many friends in America, but we've also made friends elsewhere that we still talk to.
4. Countryside diversity and so much to do
Well, the title of this point just speaks for itself. We do agree that America does have tons of different landscapes and vistas to visit, like beaches, plains, mountains, deserts, and more. Agreed! There definitely is a lot to do as well.
5. Open-mindedness and diversity
True, there are a lot of Americans that are open-minded and there is a unique diversity in America. But, wasn't his whole article about how Americans aren't open-minded? That was a little confusing.
(48:13) We both felt that those reasons were very silly for the things he loves about America, though. Sure, those are his reasons, which is fine, but not particularly ours. Sure, we're all well-connected, but isn't most of the world that way now? Conferences and conventions are only really interesting for those who take an interest in those kinds of things. The countryside diversity and population diversity we do agree with. We haven't seen a lot of the countryside, but we intend to! As for diversity, you can get almost any kind of country's food in America, especially in New York and other big cities. There are Chinatowns all over the world, but the one in NYC is one of the most popular and largest. Seattle in Washington has a huge population of Japanese and has a huge Japantown. The subcultures in America are tremendous and a wonderful thing to experience.
What do we like about America?
(50:12) To us, America is homey, obviously! We are comfortable here because it's where we're from. We also speak the language, so that's handy. We know where things are and we are almost never confused about doing paperwork and other things. Our families and friends are here as well. Big plus! Matt enjoys watching sports live and at a decent time. The countryside is beautiful, even in places you wouldn't expect it! Driving in America is gorgeous, too, because of the countryside. There's tons of open spaces, too. The diversity here is widespread and you can experience different cultures and food here.
One of our biggest hopes for Americans is for them to travel more and become more open-minded. We hope that they'll just go places and get an understanding that the world has so much more to offer us and that it's bigger than just America. You can learn so much about the world, your country, and even yourself just by traveling more!
What do you think about Benny Lewis' article? What do you agree and disagree with? Do you think our opinions are valid? Do you agree or disagree with any of the points we made?
Thank you for listening and/or reading! Cheers!
Wine: Lindemen's "Unexpected Friendships Make Me Smile" - Cabernet Sauvignon (Australia)