10 Conflicting American Stereotypes That Confuse Absolutely Everybody

The Metropolitan Museum of Art I ©
The Metropolitan Museum of Art I ©
Photo of Elizabeth Nicholas
21 August 2017

America is a land of contradictions – a place of bacon-wrapped everything and gluten-free everything, of Hillary Clinton and the Real Housewives, of credit-card debt and energy healing therapy. It’s hard to stereotype Americans without proving a stereotype’s polar opposite the minute you begin to dig. Here are 10 of the top contradictions in American life that confuse Americans themselves!

Obese but fitness-crazy

We are clinically obese, but also fitness-crazed: a whopping 66% of Americans are classified as overweight or obese, but we also spent $16 billion on yoga last year, and $60 billion on weight loss products.


Workaholics but lazy

Americans have a reputation for being workaholics who don’t take even their meager allotted vacation days, but there are signs our entrepreneurial zeal isn’t what it used to be: American business creation is at its lowest point in 40 years, and workers are the least productive since the 1970s.

Passionately political but apathetic

We are both politically apathetic and passionately political: while it may seem like America is consumed by its political passions, only 55% of eligible Americans voted in the 2016 presidential election. That historically low turnout was followed by unprecedented numbers of Americans protesting the result in the streets, culminating in the largest political rally in American history the day after inauguration.

The Women’s March on Washington I | © Molly Adams/Flickr

Don’t own passports, but want them

People from other countries love to criticize Americans for being insular, and often point to the statistic that relatively few Americans have passports. But aside from a dip during the recent Great Recession, the number of Americans requesting new passports has actually climbed every year by hundreds of thousands (and in some cases millions) of people for more than 20 years.

Optimists but with mental health issues

Americans may have a reputation for being annoyingly cheery, but all of that bonhomie may be a mask for the inverse underneath: 40 million Americans have an anxiety disorder, almost 20 million are depressed, and that’s just those who reported their conditions.

Anxiety medication I | © emma.kate/Flickr

Spiritual but materialistic

Americans have a reputation for being incredibly materialistic, perennially competing with one another to buy ever bigger and flashier cars, diamonds, and homes. But Americans are also deeply curious about the spiritual – we spent $2 billion on psychic services last year, and $30 billion on “complementary health approaches”, including meditation and energy healing therapy.

Love celebrities but don’t care about royals

Americans may be able to tell you the erstwhile natural hair color of a reality TV star or what their favorite actor’s tattoo means, but would be hard-pressed to tell you how many children the Duchess of Cambridge has – an unimaginable thought for most Brits.

Adore sports but prefer the sofa

We love our sports teams, but prefer the sofa for ourselves: Americans may pack football stadiums by the thousands to watch their favorite teams play every Sunday in the fall and sit in sweltering heat for hours in the summer to watch a baseball game, but when it comes to our own physical fitness, many of the same Americans generally prefer just to watch it in the comfort of their own homes.

No culture but great museums

We don’t do culture, but we sure do have great museums: American culture may be to some extent personified by the Kardashians, but America also has hundreds of world-class museums and performance spaces that are frequently flooded to capacity, and produce some of the most cutting-edge art, literature, and music in the world.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art I | ©

Bad taste in clothing but produce top designers

We have terrible taste in clothing, but have produced some of the world’s top designers: From Ralph Lauren to Tom Ford and Vera Wang, Americans make some of the most incredible clothing in the world. But go to any American airport, and you’ll be met with a sea of hoodies, sweatpants, and flip-flops – and that’s on a good day.

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