Social Question

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

Do you find a lot of people from the US tend to assume you have the same knowledge base as them?

Asked by FireMadeFlesh (14498 points ) June 1st, 2011

Let me first say I am not racial profiling, and I don’t mean this to be construed as a slight to people from the US.

I find so often that people from the US assume that I know everything about their country that I do (and I’m not talking about writing aimed at US residents). TV, movies etc. often refer to brand names I’ve never heard of (I had to look up what Hershey’s meant).

When I was last on holidays, fellow tourists would introduce themselves as being from a particular city, without even first stating that they were from the US – some times I had never heard of the city, and still didn’t know whether they were from the US or Canadian.

For those of you that are not from the US, do you find the same pattern?

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70 Answers

cazzie's avatar

I have family in the States and grew up there, so my geography is pretty good, but current events and pop culture sometimes pass me by and my younger nieces and nephews will reference them when writing to talking to me. I have to explain to them that, “No, we don´t get that TV show where I live.” or “We don´t get that commercial.´ all the time. Thank goodness for You Tube, so now I know what a ´Snookie´ is. I´m going to give my nephew a nuggie for that one because I felt like I had to wash my eyes after seeing it. (hahaha)

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@cazzie I was going to look up what a “Snookie” is, but if you felt like washing your eyes maybe not…..

marinelife's avatar

Is that really any different from anyone from anywhere?

@FireMadeFlesh Don’t You will be much happier having no knowledge of Jersey Shore.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Try being from upstate NY and telling people you’re from NY.

JilltheTooth's avatar

From the US here. I find that people from anywhere assume you have the same knowledge base as them until it’s pointed out that you don’t. I doubt it’s usually more prevalent with Americans than others, there are just so many of us that travel that it can seem that way.

_zen_'s avatar

Just a stat: Only 20% of Americans have passports, only 5% of them have used them. Do the math.

Fluther, however, does not represent the actual American society at large.

I love America – but the OP is spot on.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@marinelife Yes, it is different in my experience. When I am travelling, I’ll first tell people I’m from Australia, and won’t mention which city unless they show some understanding of Australian geography. When Australia was mentioned in a Reuters article this week, it referred to “federal ministers including Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Defence Minister Stephen Smith” (link). Admittedly that is a very good website that doesn’t tend to make such assumptions, but you get my point.

Thanks for the tip. I’ll stay right away from it!

@Adirondackwannabe I met a guy from Las Vegas, New Mexico who had to tell everyone that it wasn’t the Nevada one – I imagine its the same sort of issue?

@JilltheTooth How many Germans have you met who talk about Angela Merkel without also stating her title? I’m betting a hell of a lot less than the number of people from the US who talk about Obama without even giving his first name for some context.

@zen That is a very interesting statistic, thanks. I totally agree that Fluther is not representative of the US population (of course never having been there myself), which is why I felt this was an appropriate place to ask such a question – i.e. do more globally aware US residents notice this effect?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh Everyone from anywhere assumes I’m from NYC. Also, doesn’t everyone know who Angela Merkel is?

JilltheTooth's avatar

Oh, chastened me. I only speak from my own experience. I have been treated like an idiot for not knowing who the big names are in other countries, and also by younger persons in my own country for not recognizing what’s popular with them. Ah, well.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@JilltheTooth Fair enough. I guess that comes down to you and I having had different experiences then.

JilltheTooth's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh Yes, I guess so.
And @zen , 5% of 313 million is over 15 million. That’s still a lot. Just sayin’.
BTW, Zennie, your damned user name won’t red for me, it just italicizes.

tedd's avatar

Well one thing you have to keep in mind about us Americans is that we were by in large born and raised here in the US… where you can drive from one ocean to the other, and still be in the same country. We assume you know what we’re talking about because we aren’t familiar in our normal lives with people who don’t know what we’re talking about.

The reverse would probably be true too I assume. If you named off a city in Germany or France or even Britain that you visited, there are probably a lot of Americans who’ve never heard of it. Or famous people over there, who we’ve never even heard of here in the States.

Its hard to keep informed about things on another continent.

Stinley's avatar

I’ve lived in UK all my life but I’m quite aware of a lot of brands and places in USA, from exposure to TV and movies. So I think that since a lot of the time people do know what an american is talking about, americans are used to that and don’t think to expect that it might be the first time that you’ve heard it.

Also I think since the majority of english speaking people here, and on internet in general, are americans, it’s just easier to assume people know what you’re talking about – rather than have to put in awkward and possibly unnecessary explanations.

SavoirFaire's avatar

I tend to find that most people do this. Like @Adirondackwannabe, I lived in New York State—but not New York City—for a long time. I always get people asking me what the big city was like. (“Do you mean Albany or Syracuse?” is typically my reply.) It is both Americans and Europeans that do this to me.

Leaving that aside, however, plenty of people forget their audience when speaking. Brits and Australians call people they’re not having sex with their “mates,” refer to getting “pissed” when they’re not at all angry, and get upset when you hand them something flaming in response to their request for a “torch.” They do this even when talking to Americans. Why? Because those are the words they know. You have to speak before you can clarify.

I think @Stinley makes an excellent point about relative amounts of exposure, too.

cazzie's avatar

I lived in New Zealand for over 15 years. When I checked out at a store and spoke to the shop keeper, they always asked.. Óh.. you have an accent. Where you from?´ In the end I just said the city in New Zealand I was from, because I didn´t want to stand there and talk about a place I lived away from longer than I was there. Now, it happens to me where ever I go because I have a rather vague and indiscernable accent. I went back to Wisconsin some years ago and was waiting for a connection flight and asked the person at the counter a question. She was very nice and not busy so we chatted. Then she asked..´Where you from?´ I burst out laughing and shared the joke with her. I had no idea my accent had changed that much.

tranquilsea's avatar

I agree with @JilltheTooth that the 15 million is a lot of people. And of those people you are going to have ones that are obtuse, rude, ignorant but also ones that are kind, generous and great ambassadors for your country. Everyone should strive to be a good ambassador for their country because as much I think it shouldn’t matter it does. But the last time I checked that isn’t a requirement of getting a passport.

Mariah's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe Ha! True that!

As for the OP, I have problems with this sometimes even being a US citizen because of how little attention I pay to pop culture. Sometimes I’m made to feel like a freak for not knowing such and such band or actor. It’s obnoxious.

Michael_Huntington's avatar

Who is arcade fire?

bob_'s avatar

<—Mexican

It’s called ethnocentrism. Americans tend to be more ethnocentric, perhaps because they’re more isolated, as the stats provided by @zen imply. There’s even a doctrine that basically says tha the America is on a league of its own. How messed up is that?

@marinelife Yes.

_zen_'s avatar

^Word.

@jill And it seems only the amazing @bob_ can get my name to do that. It’s a mystery.

bob_'s avatar

I had to manually include the link (” @ _ zen _ ” : http://www.fluther.com/121596/do-you-find-a-lot-of-people-from-the-us-tend/#quip2020826, without the spaces).

JLeslie's avatar

Story time. I travelled to England and Scotland with my parents when I was a teenager. When people would as where in the states we were from, we answered Washington, DC. We were actually from Maryland, outside of DC, but figured DC gave foreigners an easier general idea what part of the country we were from. I would never assume a person from outside of America remembers, even if they had learned it, where the state of Maryland is. Anyway, we are sitting in a pub in Edinburgh, a very nice gentlemen sits by us and strikes up a conversation, asks what part of the states we are from, and we answer DC. He replies, “my brother moved near there 17 years ago, he lives in Gaithersburg, MD.” We lived in Gaithersburg! I graduated from Gaithersburg High School! Who’da thunk it?!

To answer your question, it is a little bit of ethnocentrism, the US must be the center of the world, isn’t it? We, as Americans, are also constantly told we suck at geography and everyone else in the world is so much better, how come you don’t know where Memphis, TN is?

But, seriously Americans do this to other Americans. If you asked 1,000 east coast Americans what time zone Memphis is in, I bet less than 100 would know for sure. If you tell them it is west of Chicago (pretty much all Americans know Chicago is in central time) they would answer with a, “really? I didn’t realize.” Americans when asked where they live almost always have to clarify for people who live out of state, again even within America. A new Yorker might tell someone from another state, “I live in NY.” some might assume NYC, people from the area would ask, “what part?” meaning what part of the state. People ask me what part of FL I moved from, I many times say South East FL, rather than a specific city, if someone wants to know the city they ask. If I say the city as my first answer, then they typically ask, “what part lf FL is that?” I emphasize again this is American talking to American.

Our country is huge. We have many states with the same cities. What I mean is there is a Raleigh, Norh Carolina, and a Raleigh, TN, and Westchester County, NY and a Westchester Michigan, it is complicated, don’t ever take offense or feel uncomfortable having to ask for clarification, we Americans have to clarify American cities for ourselves.

BarnacleBill's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh, in certain areas of the US, when they ask where you went to school, they mean high school, not university or grad school.

BarnacleBill's avatar

@JLeslie, oh yes. Louisville and Cincinnati are the worst for that. Pittsburgh, from what I hear, is very locally focused, too. I have afriend who, in law school, asked by a professor where they went to school. They said Princeton undergrad and an MBA from Duke. The professor said, “No, I mean where did you go to high school?” A woman from Michigan that I met at a Derby party told me that she got so tired of people dismissing her in conversations when they found out that she was from Michigan, that she picked the high school one of her neighbors attended, and started telling people she went there, but transferred in her senior year. After awhile, she actually got to know some of the school tidbits and different people who went there, that she could pass as a grad quite easily.

JLeslie's avatar

@BarnacleBill I had never heard this, or I have not noticed it. It can be tricky. Asking someone where they went to college, when possibly they do not have a college degree, I guess can be awkward, so the general “school” means they could answer either way I guess, high school or college. Maybe school is through high school for them, and college needs to be specifically stated? It might matter if one is generally with people who have college degrees, do you think that is it? In Lousville and Cincinnati did the people who you were around not have college degrees?

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Some of the videos posted on the internet don’t help the American image when it comes to global knowledge.

Geography Lesson for Americans
American Geography
Stupid Americans
And my personal favorite…Ricky Gervais on David Letterman giving a ‘Top 10 Stupid Things Americans Say to Brits’

I don’t know if the above videos are real or staged, but they cause pause.

Here is a video clip from titled, CNN: How Stupid Are Americans? This is about what Americans should know about their own country.

@bob_ Thank you for the information. Now I have a name for my excuse to a lack of a basic global education. :)

JLeslie's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh Your example in your question. Americans stating what city they were from and you didn’t know if it was Canada or the US, did you tell them you didn’t know, and ask them to clarify?

GracieT's avatar

I’m from the US. I obviously don’t know for sure, but I bet that part of the reason some US citizens don’t know much about the rest of the world is our isolation. It doesn’t excuse it, of course, but this country is so isolated is how lonely we are on this continent. I know that some US people don’t even know much about Canada, Mexico, or even the rest of our own country, but in the US we have many people that never travel. They might not bother learning anything because they never have any reason to. Having said that, I must admit I don’t understand or feel that way, but I’m guessing that might be part of why.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@GracieT I don’t feel that the US is isolated. There are plenty of people living in the country. According to @JilltheTooth‘s post, there are 313 million of us camping out here. And as you noted, we are sharing a continent with Canada and Mexico, and yet the general population knows little about either of these countries. Everyone has a free pass to public education, as well as the news.

I don’t think it has to do with the lack of travel. My sister freaks out if she has to drive across town to pick someone up at the airport, much less leave the city. And yet, she is a reputable teacher who knows more about global information than I do. I’m sure that there are many other cases out there.

@all If one feels the need to point a finger towards the cause of this, then let it begin by pointing at their own chest.

tinyfaery's avatar

I don’t. I’m always asking @Jude if she knows what I’m talking about or I ask her about her country.

I will say, I do assume people from other places know about our media culture; that is really what American culture is. Most people from other places know our music. movies and TV shows, etc.

Jeruba's avatar

I think it’s fair to assume common ground if they believe they’re addressing fellow Americans. Here, for example, it’s a U.S.-based site, and it does take some folks a while to realize that Fluther has an international membership.

The assumption may be just as wrong within the U.S. as outside it, however. Many Americans are extremely parochial (isn’t this true of anyone in another country?) and don’t realize that the rest of the U.S. isn’t just like their own region. There’s also a presumption that television constitutes a common ground, but it doesn’t necessarily. Unfortunately, for a lot of us TV has assumed the place in our lives that once belonged to “culture.” Take away TV and I’m not sure a lot of us know what our national culture is.

I don’t know anything at all about “Jersey Shore.”

If you’re speaking of American-made TV and movies that are set in the contemporary U.S., how can it be wrong to allude to American products and other matters of domestic common knowledge? Referring to the setting in which the stories take place is normal. If a story made for an American audience were set in Colonial times or took place in Africa or France, you’d see different local details. The same is true in films made elsewhere. When I watch BBC TV series, I expect to hear a lot of cultural references that I don’t get. It would be weird if I didn’t. But if I pay attention, I can gain some knowledge that way.

MilkyWay's avatar

I have noticed that, yes.

BarnacleBill's avatar

@JLeslie, this was a law school professor asking a law school student where he went to school. He had him in class and ran into him in a study area in the law school.

JLeslie's avatar

@BarnacleBill And they both assumed high school? Are you sure they had not spoken previously about being from the same city maybe? Still odd. When I am asking about high school, I specifically as where someone when to high school.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

Thanks guys for all your answers.

@tedd I’m not saying that everyone should be aware of geography and VIPs all over the world. That is impractical and unrealistic. All I would like is a little clarification of who people are when they are introduced into a narrative, or more generalised geographical descriptions for people with less local knowledge.

@JLeslie You are obviously one of the more enlightened US residents, making it easier for people to know where you’re from. It also makes a lot of sense that in such a big country not everyone knows these things about their own country. In my example, yes I did ask the people I met to clarify. They were all happy to do so, and I could usually get a sketchy idea of where they meant.

@BarnacleBill That’s another great example. A game show here asked some time back what level of education a sophomore has, and I had no idea. I’m not even sure what you meant by grad school. Here, school is high school, and tertiary education is either university or TAFE (trade colleges).

@Jeruba I realise that TV and movies are largely made in the US for a US audience, and then licensed to the rest of the world. I don’t have a problem with such assumptions there, because as you say it is part of the local culture that they are portraying. In documentaries or other factual shows, or in factual books, I don’t think it is such a good idea though. Some textbooks I have are printed for a world audience, but will still refer to examples from the US, such as ‘if you laid out all the nerves in the human body end to end, they would stretch from city A to city B’. That means even less to me than saying x kilometres.

Plucky's avatar

Yes, I notice it a lot.

Plucky's avatar

I’m not sure this has to do with the question ..but it relates to some of the posts.

I did a college paper on the American public education system many years ago. The lack of world geography that was taught in grade school was absolutely pitiful. As a child, in Canada, I remember learning about so many countries in grade school. And I don’t mean “Here’s China on a map.” ...We learnt the politics, culture, education, monetary systems, exports, etc. It’s no wonder that the U.S. is so ethnocentric.

meiosis's avatar

Have a look at ABC’s World News. The headline right now is “Severe Weather Slams Boston Area”...

JLeslie's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh It is true what @zen said that very few Americans have passports, which I always find surprising also. But, 100% of Americans in Europe have passports. They should understand you need clarification, and it seems they did. I admit most Americans, even enlightened ones might ramble of our larger, more well known cities assuming the whole world knows where they are. Los Angeles, New York, Miami. But, people who travel get that we might have to look at a map to know exactly where Berlin, York, or Florence is, we most likely know the country, but not just where the cities are located, and probably people in Western Europe are surprised by that.

Plus, when you are in America, all too many Americans don’t know east from west. Lol. So their description of where they live might be very limited, because they don’t know how to explain it well themselves. They use large cities near them to approximate where they live for other people, so if you don’t know where that bigger city is, they can’t help much maybe? I had a fight with a friend once because she insisted St. Louis, MO is west of Memphis, TN. I agreed it is a little bit west, but mostly it is North. By a compass it is not even NNW, it would be whatever is in between N and NNW, whatever that is called, in my opinion. She kept saying it was west, she said St. Louis is west of the Mississippi River and Memphis is east of the river. She is right about the river, but an idiot in my opinion about where the cities lie, she needs to stare at a map. The cities are about 3+ hours driving apart.

JilltheTooth's avatar

@JLeslie : Just FYI, N by NNW.

JLeslie's avatar

@JilltheTooth Really? I never new that is what N by NNW means. Thanks.

Stinley's avatar

@JLeslie @JilltheTooth and North by Northwest makes a better movie title than North North West

JLeslie's avatar

This says it is NbW. But, now I am thinking NNW describes the location of St. Louis from Memphis better maybe anyway. Lol.

JilltheTooth's avatar

I just didn’t want to spell the whole thing out, I’m a lazy bum.

JLeslie's avatar

@JilltheTooth But you wrote NbNNW and that link says it doesn’t exist. It says NbW for what we were describing?

JilltheTooth's avatar

Back in the day we had to box compasses in a pretty detailed way. From the top (and using East instead, cuz it’s easier for me to visualize) it went N, NbE, NbNNE, NNE, EbNNE, and so on. That was about 30 years ago, they may have changed it to lessen confusion since then. It was a huge pain in the ass, and we only did it for competition purposes on comprehensive trophy tests. We also drank gallons of Mountain Dew for those things. And were often injured in difficult practical portions of the tests. Ah, to be so young and care so much about such stuff… I still have some scars. And I can still do an eye splice in the middle of a line. point of pride, that!

JLeslie's avatar

@JilltheTooth Hahaha. They probably have changed. They change things like this for simplicity. Lol.

JilltheTooth's avatar

Man, I’d ace that puppy, now! I won the trophy, I was only 15, and I’m still proud of myself!

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@JLeslie There are people who don’t know east from west? That is even more worrying than zen‘s statistic! I mean they live in North America, which is obviously above South America, so there’s only two more directions to learn!

_zen_'s avatar

@FireMadeFlesh How’d you do that with the @zen?

Plucky's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh and @zen ..Hey, yeah, that’s neat.

Stinley's avatar

@ zen_ is a manual link around ”@ zen_”. I can’t get it better than that yet…

Plucky's avatar

Oh neat, cool ..thank you.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@PluckyDog and zen: I just followed @bob_‘s suggestion and did a manual link. When I tried it though, the two ‘at’ symbols made my text a different font, so I just left it out and ran with the underscores and the ‘zen’.

GracieT's avatar

@JillTheTooth, you really showed me up! I’ve always been proud of myself, and all I ever did was place every country in the world correctly on a map! Of course, this was back in the 80’s, so I doubt I could do the same today. (It did get me out of taking a World History final, though!)

JilltheTooth's avatar

No, @GracieT , you’ve got me beat! Unfortunately, I can only generally place countries, and am embarrassly deficient at that. We’re both out of date now in both areas anyway, how many new country names are there? I remember when Sri Lanka was Ceylon…

JLeslie's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh Hahaha. Most people know east and west, as in east coast, west coast, but on a more local level they might be clueless they are north of I40 (the interstates, signified by “I” before a number, are major highways throughout the country like autobahn and motorway). Or, that they are northwest of downtown, they just know drive down Elm Street, make a left on Shady Grove Rd, and it will end at Main Street. GPS devices probably make it worse, because no one looks at a map and really gets their bearings for where a destination is relative to another locale.

People who live near the coasts are more in tune with N,S, E, and W.

GracieT's avatar

@JilltheTooth, I appreciate the compliment. :0) I still say it’s not all that impressive now! I could never do it again, and to do it now. Times they are a changin’- my memory isn’t as good anymore and besides, the world has MANY more countries. Besides, what’s where changes almost daily anymore!

SavoirFaire's avatar

Maybe I’ve missed someone mentioning it in a reply, but has anyone else noticed what I mentioned above regarding people from the UK and Australia doing exactly the same thing? Because despite the statistics quoted by @_zen _, I’m not convinced this is a US thing. One of my UK-born professors does this all the time, for instance.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@JLeslie Okay, sorry for the misinterpretation there!

@SavoirFaire People do use local jargon wherever they go, but I think that is because they are unaware of an alternative. In the case of the fellow tourists I met while travelling, saying you’re from the US is a lot simpler and easier than saying you’re from Chicago or Detroit (both of which I don’t immediately know the location of).

JLeslie's avatar

It actually is nice to hear that people outside the US don’t know some geography since we are accused of being inept at geography constantly. Probably when they evaluate these things it is a much broader test, like countries, and large bodies of water, mountain ranges, but still.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@JLeslie Being from Australia probably has the same constraints on geographical knowledge – we don’t have any borders with any other country, and many of the older generations don’t travel much outside of Australia.

JLeslie's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh It’s easier for a European to sound like they know more, because if they are fairly knowledgeable about all Western Europe say, they can ramble on about lots of different countries. One country in Europe is like one state in America. Knowing Italy inside and out is like knowing Florida, but we are supposed to know all 50 states well, plus everywhere else in the world.

As far as Australia, I would guess your knowledge of Asia is much better than mine, even without sharing a border.

cazzie's avatar

I get into arguments with my European husband all the time about geography. He travels the world and thinks he knows so much. I was telling him about some political stuff from the US in Arizona, something about illegals from Mexico, and he asked, ‘Why do they have problems with illegals? They don’t share a border with Mexico.’ and I said…‘Yes, they do, a long one.’ and he argued it with me so much that I started doubting myself and had to look it up.

JLeslie's avatar

@cazzie And, that was in the news so much in the US it would be surprising to an American that someone was not aware of the shared border. But, of course we should realize our Arizona immigration problems are probably not top news around the world. Did you show your husband the map?

cazzie's avatar

@JLeslie I’ve known him for so many years,... I know which battles to fight and which issues to just drop, and that issue wasn’t worth the trouble. Especially these last few weeks. Bigger issues going on than trying to correct his geography knowledge. I’ve never known a man to pout so deeply and intensely.

JLeslie's avatar

@cazzie My husband hates to be wrong, or to feel he was mistaken. I don’t care much if I am wrong, I usually just admit it and move on.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh Every non-American I’ve ever met has told me what city they were from rather than their country (or else both). And Canadians often tell me their city and province, just as I often say my city and state. People tend to do this for two reasons: (1) giving city and state already implies country in most cases, meaning we give more information with less effort; and (2) people are always free to ask “and what country is that in?” if the given information is insufficient. These are just ordinary features of most—though not all—conversational languages.

Plucky's avatar

I usually give just my country if it’s a general, non-personal, conversation. I give my city, province and country (when in a more detailed personal conversation). However, in talking to Americans (like the ones on Fluther), I tend to give my city and province; I usually give them the benefit of the doubt that they know the Canadian provinces and major cities.

All in all, it depends on the type of conversation and the recipient(s).

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