It’s often said that first impressions are everything. Or that they are the most lasting impressions. If that’s the case, then what do non-American visitors take away from their first trip to the United States? What are their first impressions of America? Are they left with a positive feeling about our country or a bad taste in their mouth?
We asked our international friends and colleagues, in addition to conducting some online research, to determine the answers to these questions. Their initial impressions and observations generally fell into one of the following categories: personality, size, food, lifestyle, interests and expressions.
Let’s dive right in and see what they had to say!
Perhaps the most important first impression you can make relates to how your personality comes across to visitors. If you come across as cold and unfriendly, people may generalize that everyone from your country is mean. Fortunately, Americans seemed to make a good impression in the personality department.
“Outgoing, friendly and approachable!” was how Nathan, a Brit, described his first experience with Americans (or Chicagoans, at least).
Tom, also from the United Kingdom, said Americans had “Lots of enthusiasm. I really like that, though. Even if it makes Brits look unenthusiastic by comparison…”
Akansha from India wrote this on Quora: “The people smile and wish you good morning! You thank the McDonald’s guy, and he in turn wishes you good day with a smile. You enter the bus, and the driver greets you with a smile. I honestly did not once feel like an outsider … In the U.S., you could ask a person on the road directions to the beach, [and] he/she might … accompany you in order to help (No exaggeration. Happened with me.).”
According to Sue from Australia, “Americans are generally friendly, curious and surprisingly knowledgeable about our country.”
So we made a good first impression in terms of personality, but other characteristics surprised our foreign visitors in a slightly less favorable way. In fact, many of them were downright shocked at the size of things (and people) in our country.
Yijie from China summed up her observations in this way: “Everything is HUGE! Food portions, dress sizes, supermarkets and malls. Everything is unbelievably and sometimes even unnecessarily BIG.”
Charlotte from the U.K. was only 6 years old when she first visited the States, but she also commented on the size of things. “I remember everything being so big! Roads, cars, food portions.”
“Food portions and drinks at restaurants are bigger than I was used to,” said Valeria from Colombia.
Max from the United Kingdom took it a step further, commenting on the “size of the food portions and the size of the people.” He added, “The bellies overhanging the belts are simply far more numerous than anywhere else I’ve travelled!”
Beyond the larger portion sizes, our international friends made a few other food-related observations about the United States.
Here’s what Akansha from India wrote: “People eat cheese with everything! Raw vegetables [with] cheese, fruits/berries [with] cheese! I mean why!!!!! For god’s sake.”
Phoebe from China also noticed our dairy obsession, writing on Quora: “People eat ice-creams as if there were no tomorrow.”
Valeria from Colombia says she was impressed by the number of food commercials on television, but Nathan from the U.K. said there weren’t as many fast food restaurants as he’d expected based on American stereotypes. Nathan also said he found our grocery stores to be very confusing.
As with most things, impressions of prices are relative, depending on where you come from. Ashwini from India found our prices to be very high, writing: “13 dollars for lunch (mental note to cook more).”
Lifestyle can differ greatly from place to place, and even among friends in the same locale. And it’s a pretty broad category housing a hodgepodge of impressions.
Giulia from Italy visited New York City and commented on the mindset of being always on-the-go. “You need to be always busy. I have this Italian friend living in New York for a long time, and she cannot accept anymore the fact that sometimes I just spend time doing nothing. [She’ll ask me] ‘Nothing? Not even yoga? NOTHING?’”
Ruben from Portugal said he was struck by the number of people jogging here. Akansha from India agreed: “People in the U.S. can be seen jogging round the clock … Even at 00:00 [midnight] hours (no kidding).”
Tom the Brit commented on our patriotism: There were “so many U.S. flags. Like, these guys really love their country.”
International visitors were fascinated with Americans’ passion for two things in particular: religion and sports.
Giulia from Italy had this observation: “In Florida, there were only religious radio programs. Driving to Key West, I almost gave up.”
In a Quora post, Jing from Singapore noted “the intensity and passion of fans when it comes to sports (especially in football, baseball and basketball).”
Akansha from India also commented on the American obsession with athletics: “Interschool/college sports are taken seriously … VERY SERIOUSLY.”
Most of the previously mentioned observations have been about what Americans do and how we live, but what about the things we say? Are there certain commonly used words and phrases that foreigners have picked up on?
Lucy from China noticed a big one: “People can’t say a single sentence in a conversation without using ‘be like.’”
Two people commented on a classic American greeting. Here’s what Kate from the U.K. observed: “Everyone says ‘Hihowyadoin’ like it’s one word and seems surprised when you actually answer or ask how THEY are.”
Giulia from Italy agreed. “Random people asked me ‘How you doing?’ I started to actually tell them and it took me a while to understand it was just a polite question. They were surprised when I answered.”
And Raj from Australia noticed that Americans say the word “exactly” a lot.
To these observations, we’d be like, “exactly.”