Friendly stereotypes

They may be their pals within the United Kingdom, but many English people have told me that it is considered acceptable to make fun of the Welsh. None of them - including my British politics and culture professor, who endorses the practice - could say exactly why, just that it's OK. I have not personally partaken in this national pastime, mostly because I don't know enough about the Welsh to make a judgment either way. I feel like I should probably be here for a few months before I take that plunge.

France seems to be fair game for many Europeans, just as it is common practice for many Americans to talk down about New Jersey without ever passing through the state.

My growing knowledge of inter-country opinions has rekindled my interest in how other countries see the United States and the American people.

Shops and restaurants continue to provide the best source of unprompted information. Hearing my accent, some cashiers and waiters will ask me where I'm from. I usually just say, "The United States." Occasionally, I get a sort of dismissing nod - "Hey, America, that's not too cool" - but people are friendly for the most part. If they ask for something more specific, I preface it with "about two hours from Washington, D.C." because I feel like most Brits haven't heard of Chester, Va.

Opinions toward America tend to be positive in my experience. Some bring up Obama and compare him to Bush, with the latter always referred to as a devilish fiend of a man; others bring up the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While I was in a cab, the driver brought up another political issue: guns. He mentioned his disbelief about the ease with which one can acquire guns in America. I immediately thought of the large number of people I know who own guns, including my friend's mom with the concealed weapons permit and the family member who bought an AR-15 assault rifle before Obama took office, concerned that the new president would outlaw the sale of this gun. I agreed with the cabbie - there is an overabundance of weapons in America - and I would not personally want to own one. I also explained it is just fun to shoot guns.

The whole conversation made me wonder if the police officers at British airports brag to their non-airport buddies on the force because, in addition to the mace and nightsticks the rest of Britain's officers carry, they get pistols, Tasers and machine guns.

Not all talk is political, though. Many people just want to share their U.S. travel plans. Upon hearing me talk, one cashier in Dublin immediately told me he has always wanted to go to Texas. When I asked why, he responded without hesitation, saying, "To see cowboys." There was no sense of irony to the statement - the guy just liked his westerns and had the perception that the whole of Texas is one big set for old Clint Eastwood movies.

I didn't want to burst his bubble and explain that this was not an altogether accurate image of the modern-day Lone Star State, but then again, I was also thinking that it would be pretty cool to see a Clint Eastwood style cowboy in action. Without the gunfights, horse chases, brothels and whisky, I think I would be disappointed with the whole cattle and wrangling aspect, though. In a similar way, I was disappointed not to see droves of gingers in Ireland. I guess we all have our misconceptions.

Alex's Column run biweekly Tuesdays. He can be reached at

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