#2. They're Always Being Swept by Insanely Wacky Trends
At least once a week, Daily Mail journalists stop swiping Cracked articles long enough to write about a wacky new trend that's sweeping a country that they read about once on Wikipedia. So far, exactly what you'd expect from the Daily Mail: I'm just impressed that they figured out which end of the keyboard you hit to make words appear on the magic screen. But inevitably "respectable" media will jump on the foreign-fad train as well. Recent headlines have told us that Japanese teenagers are injecting saline into their foreheads in the shape of a doughnut, while others are obsessed with a new prosthetic "pickable" nose. Models in Iran are getting plastic surgery to look like porn stars, while Chinese women are donning hairy-leg tights to discourage perverts.
Via The Epoch Times
If you're reading this site, you can probably guess the truth about these rumors: Those pickable Japanese noses and Chinese man-tights were gag gifts that aren't sweeping anything but awkward office Christmas parties; the "bagel head" phenomenon turned out to be unknown even among Japan's hardcore body modders; and the "porn star" story came from a quote from a single Iranian photographer. Hell, even Japan's coup de grace of brain-killing weirdness, used-panty vending machines, are far from being on every street corner, as foreigners are wont to believe: They were a brief and quickly banned fad found mainly inside sex shops. And yet the world remains full of otherwise smart people who believe this stuff, because they apparently think that every country but their own is a cartoonish dreamlike realm full of illogical people who wear prosthetic noses on their real noses.
The point here isn't that no one in other countries does strange things: Obviously, there are weirdos everywhere. It's that these fads, if they occurred in our home country, would clearly be seen as fringe, weird-person activities. We might know a dude from college who gets horn implants or marries his iguana or whatever, but we realize that this is not a normal thing. But as soon as a wacky hobby crosses an ocean or two, it suddenly threatens to morph into something that everyone and their mom is doing.
#1. They Live Like They Do on Television
Most of us are self-aware enough to know that our own country is different from the way it's portrayed in books or on TV shows. We realize that television -- even news reporting and "reality" shows -- is full of biases, inflated drama, and unrealistically sculpted abs. And yet despite this knowledge, we often unconsciously assume that our television screens are telling us the truth about other parts of the world. And thanks to America's worldwide cultural dominance, this kind of pretend-knowledge is especially bad when it comes to how people think about the USA.
Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images
In real life, this picture accurately represents the view from less than two-thirds of American windows.
For example, growing up, I knew that my home country of Australia was not like it was on TV. But then I traveled to the U.S. for the first time as a teenager as part of a crocodile-wrestling scholarship, and I immediately noticed that most people were hanging out in groups that were segregated according to race. Furthermore, the majority of menial jobs seemed to be done by non-white people. Holy crap, racial discrimination was still around? Teenager-me was completely shocked.
See, I'd grown up watching North American young-adult television, and it had informed me that American people hung out in healthy, multiracial groups who looked past their skin-deep differences. I was naive, yes, but this sort of error is common. Non-Americans are the first ones to laugh when Americans express their ignorance about our home countries, and yet our idea of America often remains a vague, TV-influenced blob.
This disconnect means that in many parts of the world, urbane, tolerant people who'd rather set themselves on fire than say something like "I would never travel to the Middle East! I might get blown up by a terrorist!" will have no problem telling you that they're too scared to go to America because "everyone has a gun there!" These people might have American Internet friends who stubbornly remain unshot year after year after year, but their friends' continual aliveness is overridden by the hundreds of movie images these people have in their heads of every single street corner in America being blown up by a slow-motion explosion.