Searching for foreign perspectives on US Culture.
April 11, 2005 9:46 PM   Subscribe

Bookfilter: I'm looking for books about the US written by non-USians for a non-USian audience. I'd like to learn how non-USians see the US and how US society is described to non-USians. I'm especially interested in fiction, but travelogues, memoirs, and cultural anthropology would be fine. Even well-written blogs would be ok.

Ideally, the books are in English (translations=ok), but I can handle Spanish, and can probably manage Swedish and Dutch. I'm also looking for works written after 1960.

They don't have to have been published in the US; thanks to the internets, it's only a couple of clicks to get international books! And I'm not just interested in the works that are favorable to the US. If someone visited the US, hated the culture, and wrote a book about it, then I want to read it!

I've read American Gods by Neil Gaiman and Strawberry Road by Ishikawa Yoshimi, and have just started Ghost Riders/American Nomads (UK/US title) by Richard Grant. A friend has recommended Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town USA, and some works by Bill Bryson.

Thanks in advance for your suggestions!
posted by luneray to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Jhumpa Lahiri (she's technically USian). Her short stories (the interpreter of maladies) are better than the novel (Namesake).
posted by dhruva at 9:56 PM on April 11, 2005

How about Ciao, America! : An Italian Discovers the U.S.?
posted by Panfilo at 11:51 PM on April 11, 2005

If art history is your cup of tea, I'd recommend taking a look at Robert Hughes. While his subject matter is pretty wide ranging, one of his most recent books takes a good look at the history of art in America. Hughes is an Aussie expat, and has worked in the US for several decades as an art critic. He's also written a book of essays on American society you might find interesting.
posted by pieisexactlythree at 12:00 AM on April 12, 2005

Alastair Cooke.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:09 AM on April 12, 2005

You might be interested in Jean Baudrillard's America. Factually, it's a bit sketchy, but the odd generalizations he make do shed interesting light on international perspective, plus I really like his prose style.
posted by ITheCosmos at 4:25 AM on April 12, 2005

Philippe Labro, a French journalist and filmmaker, has written about the US and his experiences over there in 2 semi-autobiographical novels: The Foreign student (that he turned into a movie) and its sequel, A summer out west. It's about the mid-50s but perhaps still interesting to you.
posted by elgilito at 4:39 AM on April 12, 2005

The author Frederic Beigbeder is really popular in France, and his book Windows on the World has just been translated into English. It's a made-up account of what happened in the World Trade Center after the first plane hit. And it's even worse than you would imagine from the description. Hey, you didn't say that you were looking for GOOD books! I can't recommend this one, but thought I'd mention it as just one example of how a well-regarded French author views the U.S. I love the reviews on absolutely slamming it. The reviews in France were mixed, but it did win a literary prize there.
posted by hazyjane at 4:42 AM on April 12, 2005

Jacob Holdt's photo book might interest you.
posted by AwkwardPause at 4:44 AM on April 12, 2005

Check out the current issue of Atlantic Monthly. It has the first part of a (3 part?) feature where a Frenchman tours the U.S. and gives his impressions, de Tocqueville style.
posted by matildaben at 6:16 AM on April 12, 2005

You might be interested in Granta 77: What We Think of America. It's a compilation.
posted by Cuke at 6:27 AM on April 12, 2005

Bill Bryson wrote "I'm a Stranger Here Myself" about returning to the US after living in England for 20 years.
posted by amarynth at 6:50 AM on April 12, 2005

Luneray, Bill Bryson is also the author of Lost Continent, and is an American, as you will learn if you read Lost Continent, which you most certainly should. As amarynth said, though, he does write from the p.o.v. of an expatriate.
posted by scratch at 7:15 AM on April 12, 2005

It's a bit old, but I very much enjoyed Simone de Beavoir's America Day by Day.
posted by dame at 9:12 AM on April 12, 2005

Beauvoir (my "u" sticks).
posted by dame at 9:12 AM on April 12, 2005

Perhaps the visitor prep book Culture Shock! USA.

Not a book, but there's the quick
Aspects of American society that may be new to you
over at
posted by blueberry at 1:49 PM on April 12, 2005

There's also English travel writer Jonathan Raban. Old Glory (1981), Hunting Mr. Heartbreak (1990), Badlands (1996), and Passage to Juneau (1999) are all excellent. They're exquisitely written, too.
posted by Sonny Jim at 11:51 PM on April 13, 2005

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