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American image abroad is a topic we seem to be obsessed with as a nation. What do other countries think of us? Do they think we are greedy, wasteful, or individualistic?

Even though outside perception isn’t everything, and some opinions should be taken with a grain of salt, foreign insight can help us recognize areas for improvement and areas where we are blessed as a nation.

Thought Catalog’s recent article 16 People On Things They Couldn’t Believe About America Until They Moved Here features observations about America by U.S. transplants from all over the world. The comments cover everything from the immaculate conditions of our public toilets to the disappointing quality of our chocolate. But what I found particularly interesting is how they view our government, economics, and religion after experiencing American culture first-hand.

Here are their observations about the United States:

Government

“People really are afraid of socialism.” - Olof Åkerlund, Sweden

” [A] majority of things in the US aren’t controlled or regulated by the government. […] Every state has a lot of autonomy.”Natalia Rekhter, Russia

“Bureaucracy really is kafkaesque at times. But most of the time, it’s just that there are over 300 million people and the manning for a certain department is limited to two guys in Kentucky who have to answer every request by snail mail. This is probably the real reason people say government is evil.”Olof Åkerlund, Sweden

Economics

“Incredible wastefulness – I was aghast at the amount of stuff people wasted every single day. Food, electricity, water, paper…in India, we reuse stuff until it can only be thrown away. But on the positive side, recycling is big there, so I guess it is mitigated in part.”Triya Bhattacharya, India

“The amount of food Americans waste. My grandma to this day remembers a story about when she came to teach in California in the 1970s. The students used to get apples along with their lunch. Nobody ate them, so they’d just throw them away or leave them at the tables. My grandma was shocked at how they were able to just throw out good food like that, and that no other teachers cared.”Britt Smith, Guyana

“Philanthropy. There is no culture of philanthropy in Russia and many view American philanthropy either as a waste of money or as some intricate plot to get some additional benefits.” Natalia Rekhter, Russia

Religion

 “Religion – I always thought that America must be very laid-back about religion, like Europe, but that was not true.”Triya Bhattacharya, India

“Religion being an actual thing. Prayer breakfasts in the White House. Educated people believing in creationism. The number of churches and denominations. People actually going to church.” Riona MacNamara, Ireland

“In spite of the society being openly hedonistic and liberal, the social norms and standards still have very strong conservative religious influences.”Rakib Islam, Bangladesh

Though some observations may be less surprising than others, there are three important points to takeaway:

  • Our society is still perceived as exceptionally free, but even those from more socialism-friendly countries notice the problems of our growing bureaucracy.
  • Even though our nation has a good reputation for recycling, we do not have a reputation for being good stewards of our resources.
  • Philanthropy and religion are flourishing in the United States, unlike many foreign countries.

It’s easy to either focus only on our nation’s faults or blessings, but let us remember both equally. Let’s be thankful for our freedom without forgetting the threat of a growing government. Let’s continue to give generously without throwing away wastefully. Most of all, let’s remember the influence that faith has and can continue to have in all areas of American society.

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Elise Amyx

About Elise Amyx

Elise Amyx is a communications associate at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics. She has previously worked with the Values & Capitalism project at A.E.I. and the Acton Institute. Her articles have been published in Real Clear Religion, The Detroit News, and AFF Doublethink. She has a BBA in Economics from James Madison University. Read More...

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  • Erika

    I found the comments to be extremely mild and nice, very far from the true opinion of most educated immigrants and foreigners’.

  • Roger McKinney

    I think the wastefulness charge is misplaced. Very few people waste things that they own. The example of the school cafeteria is an example of government waste. The government school shouldn’t put an apple on every plate, but state policies force schools to waste apples and other food. Most of the waste comes from stupid government policies.

    hat foreigners in the US call waste is often nothing more than the lifestyle of wealthy people. We build better houses for our cars (garages) than most people
    in the world have for personal housing. Complaints that such a lifestyle is wasteful reveals nothing but envy on the part of the foreigner.

    Yes, we are called to be good stewards, but who will be the judge, envious foreigners?

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