Common Misconceptions Indonesians Have About Americans & America

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Some cities in America are better known to Indonesians than others. I’m sure you’ve heard of Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington D.C., New York, Seattle, Boston, San Francisco, and the fun one, Las Vegas. Some of you might have even been there. In such big cities, you can surely expect to see an environment and the way society run their lives the way Hollywood presents to us: busy, higher crime rates, and full of skyscrapers.

According to citymayors.com, as of November 2014, there are the total of 19,429 cities and towns in the United States. Do the rest of the smaller cities that make up America live their life like Hollywood movies? The answer is no.

Here are 4 commonly misconceptions Indonesians have about America:

1. Americans live the glamorous Hollywood life, everyone in America is rich, and every city has skyscrapers.

Reality:

In the United States, as in any country, there is a wide spectrum of economic status. More people live a modest life than the glamorous one. I have been to several small cities here in America. I can safely say that Jakarta with all the malls and skyscrapers is so much more glamorous, although the difference between the rich and the poor there is pretty extreme: Malls and offices are strategically built next to slums.

In America, we can still find people who struggle to pay their bills (something many of us can relate). It’s just that in the smaller cities, the difference between the rich and the poor is not as extreme as in Jakarta.

In terms of skyscrapers, I currently live in Lexington, at the state of Kentucky. There are no skyscrapers here. In my college life, I lived in a city called Madison, Wisconsin: still no skyscraper (a.k.a nasib..) Life is pretty low-key in smaller cities, and some people do actually prefer to live in smaller cities to have a more peaceful life. Not everyone is obsessed with New York.

2. With all the new inventions in technology, all Americans must be smart and educated.

Reality:

According to a study conducted in late April by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read. That’s 14 percent of the population. 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level (dibawah standard anak kelas 5 SD), and 19 percent of high school graduates can’t read.

THE proportion of new American high school graduates who go on to college — a figure that rose regularly for decades — now appears to be declining. Last October (2014), just 65.9 percent of people who had graduated from high school the previous spring had enrolled in college, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said this week.” – ‘Fewer U.S. Graduates Opt for College After High School’, NYTimes.com, April 25, 2014

Do you know how in Indonesia we try to improve our education system? Well, the same thing is happening in America. One thing that is pretty obvious about Americans in general in my perspective is, people are pretty terrible at geography. When I was in college one time, a classmate asked me if Indonesia is the same country as India. So I told him, “It sounds different by the name itself, don’t you think?

3. America is a Christian nation.

Reality:

It is not.

The U.S. Constitution is a wholly secular document. It contains no mention of Christianity or Jesus Christ. In fact, the Constitution refers to religion only twice in the First Amendment, which bars laws “respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” and in Article VI, which prohibits “religious tests” for public office. Both of these provisions are evidence that the country was not founded as officially Christian.” – ‘Is America A Christian Nation?’, au.org,

Among the other secular countries are Turkey, Japan, and most countries in the Europe.

This is one of the most common misconceptions that I have heard. In fact, I used to think this way myself. But as we grow up, we cannot simply accept an information given to us – we need to double check it. Oh, and I used to think that Turkey is a religion-based country. Then I learned.

4. Americans are rude.

Reality:

I’m sorry America. Can’t help you with you with this one.

KIDDING!

There is something about the culture that we need to understand. It is not wrong, it is just different, and difference is what keeps the world colorful.

Indonesians are very smiley and mostly easy to be friends with. We are also known for being very social and it is our nature to want to know what is going on in other people’s life. That’s how most of us are raised.

Americans are more individual. Some are friendlier than others, but according to my experience living here for a couple years, it takes an extra effort to actually be friends with the Americans. If we Indonesians, see someone we know from far away, a lot of us would wave our hands enthusiastically, and go say ‘hi how are you’ to them with the biggest smile. It’s not the case with Americans. If you only meet them for one or two times, don’t expect a warm welcome and hand waving – none of that. They would acknowledge you presence, correct, but won’t be as warm as the way we Indonesians do it. When it first happened to me, I thought to myself, “What’s wrong with these people? Don’t they know it’s ok to look excited? People are really cold.

Apparently, that’s not the case. Americans are very independent people. Because of their independency, many of them act like they don’t need other people. They might look a bit guarded at first, but soon as you get their trust (which takes time), they are just as nice. I personally would not call the independent behavior ‘rude’, it is just the nature of the people here. Just as we are raised to be social, people here are raised to be independent. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with differences.

Now the tendency of Indonesians living in America is to make friends only with another Indonesians: one, because of our similarities living in other’s country; second, because we’re very easy to be friends with. There is almost no challenge at all to be friends with Indonesians which I’m proud of. This cold world needs Indonesians’ warmth.

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I find it to be very beneficial to know the information based on facts, not based on information people pass on to us. In a generation where information is very easy to obtain, it is important to differentiate facts from popular opinions. That’s how we keep ourselves from being blindly provoked. I used to believe all of the misconceptions stated in this article, but then I started to question everything during my journalism study. Knowing facts make you know what you’re talking about, how to identify a problem, and how to find a solution. I hope you find this article helpful!

Content edited by Artricia Rasyid

Photo Credit: WordPress




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Kitty Sitompul-Nieman is an award winning intercultural professional with a blend of experiences in teaching, writing, interpreting, and public speaking in international and diverse platforms. A Fulbright scholarship grantee for the Community College International Development program, Kitty has eight years of experience in English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching and management, as well as three years experience in Indonesian-English consecutive and simultaneous interpretation. She currently lives in Lexington, Kentucky, USA with her husband, Clay Nieman. They both enjoy hanging out at Buffalo Wild Wings. More of her writings can be found at her personal blog www.KittySitompul.wordpress.com.
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