Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

6 Myths About American Culture That You Learned from Hollywood

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Mon, Aug 06, 2012 @ 07:13 AM

Hollywood Top GunDo movies portray reality?

Hollywood movies certainly do not.

I often ask international professionals what they did to prepare before they moved to the United States. What is the most common answer that I get? "I already knew the U.S. before I got here because of Hollywood so I didn't need to do anything to prepare." 

I think this is a mistake. You do not know American culture if you have learned about it through Hollywood. The U.S. is a huge, diverse, and complicated place with many different regions, people and ways of life.

When you relocate to the U.S. thinking that you know American culture when you actually do not, your expectations often don't match the reality of your life here. This causes stress and sometimes culture shock. Want to know the truth about the U.S. from my point of view? Read today's article to find out.


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Myth #1: Everyone in the U.S. carries a gun


Reality: Some people in the U.S. carry guns but many do not

american cowboysThis is a hot and controversial issue right now, especially after the Aurora Colorado movie theatre shooting.

Yes, the second ammendment grants Americans the right to keep a gun and to use it for self-defense purposes.

No, not all Americans keep guns in their homes.

One study reported that gun ownership has been going down steadily since 1977. This is a complicated issue and I am not interested in making a political argument on this blog.

Instead, will tell you my personal experience. I grew up in the U.S. and never knew anyone who carried a gun. I have never even seen a gun in real life. Hollywood presents an image of the U.S. as a wild, "anything goes" country.

It's just not true.



Myth # 2: New York City is extremely dangerous

Reality: New York City is one of the safest cities in the U.S.

taxi driver New York City

Got an image in your mind of subway muggings on the R train and prostitutes in Times Square? It's time for an update!

The FBI recently reported that New York City was the safest large city in the United States. Sure, back in 1960's and 1970's New York City was dangerous.

Most of that crime was due to drugs and the crack epidemic. However, the city has changed a lot in the last 30-40 years.

There is still crime in New York but most of it occurs in neighborhoods like East New York, Brooklyn and in parts of the Bronx. I spent four years living in Manhattan and then in Brooklyn and never felt in danger, not once. In fact, I have felt more threatened at times in my quiet, upscale neighborhood near Harvard University (in Boston) than I ever felt back in New York City.

Want to know what changed? Read about the Broken Windows Theory in Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point.



Myth # 3: Anyone can go from "rags to riches" in the U.S.


Reality: Some people can go from "rags to riches" but many people cannot

Ah the American Dream... the pursuit of happyness

This is the classic American narrative. The main character is born into a lower or middle class family and works his way up the social ladder with education or just plain hard work. It makes a great movie.

The truth is, it's a reality for some and a myth for others.

The American entrepreneurial spirit is healthy, especially in innovation hubs like New York, Silicon Valley and Cambridge, MA. Unfortunately prejudice and discrimination including racism, sexism and homophobia are still major problems in the United States and probably keep a lot of people from achieving the American dream.

In short, the American Dream is technically available to all.

In real life, it's a reality for some and a myth for others.



Myth #4: Most Americans want to live in the suburbs


Reality: More Americans are moving to the cities

home alone- americans in the suburbs

Hollywood has portrayed the American suburb for years.

In many movies you see the nice big home with a beautiful lawn and a white picket fence. Maybe there is a pool in the backyard, in a quiet neighborhood with kids running around and dad mowing the lawn.

Based on what we see on TV, it seems the suburban life is what many Americans want.

The truth is, this used to be how many people envisioned the American Dream. These days things are changing.

More people, especially young professionals, are choosing to live in the cities, rather than commute to work from a "safe" but disconnected suburb. This leads to our next myth...



Myth #5: Americans love their cars


Reality: (Young) Americans are giving up cars

 gone in 60 secondsSUVs and bright shiny convertibles have had their day.

Things are changing for Generation Y (people born between 1980 and 1999) in the United States.

While 20 years ago the most important part of a teenager's identity was his car, this is no longer the case, at least in urban areas. I haven't had a car since I was 20 and I don't plan to get one any time soon.

I enjoy the financial freedom of not having a car and I save money by not buying a gym membership and walking everywhere instead. Young people in America today are also concerned about the environment and want to live close to where they work and play. (See myth # 4)

Because the up-and-coming generation of Americans just isn't interested in cars, General Motors is panicking and has hired MTV to help them get young people buying cars again.  I would say good luck to them. This is a shift in attitudes and values. It is not a short term cutback due to the recession.

Revise your stereotypes about Americans behind the wheel of a flashy car.

This is going out of style.



Myth #6: Most Americans eat fast food for dinner


Reality: Many Americans are careful about their health

supersize me movie poster

Americans love their fast food, right?

In every sitcom or movie from Grease, to Saved by the Bell, to 90210, high school kids gather around plates of burgers and fries every day after school.

I won't deny that we have an obesity problem in the United States. A lot of people are overweight and there are a number of reasons for that.

At the same time, there is a good chunk of the population that you would never catch in a McDonalds. In my social circle, most people wouldn't even think of stopping at McDonalds for a hamburger. Sure, when we were kids we used to have a meal at McDonalds once a week but things have changed since the 1980's.

The research and statistics have accumulated and a lot of people are just grossed out by McDonalds as well as other fast food chains.

Does America have an obesity problem? Yes. Do most Americans run home and chow down on McDonalds for dinner? No.

Want to learn more? Please join us on Twitter!







Flickr: OtterFreak   s_herman, slaff, inju, fellowcreative, puck90, kairin

Topics: United States Culture, Expatriate Support, Cross Cultural Coaching

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