How is life in the US described to kids in other countries?
January 17, 2013 12:12 PM   Subscribe

After reading a book on Korea written for American children, my daughter got curious about what books or websites written for kids in other countries might say about life in the United States. We were unable to find any example online. Does anyone know of a website where we could see an example (in English) of something written for kids in other countries about life in the U.S.? Or perhaps you have such a book at home and would be willing to translate and post a few snippets?
posted by DarkForest to Education (12 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
The US State Department might have something like this-- we do still do propaganda, though it's against the law for the government to present propaganda to Americans. They might be able make an exception based on your scholastic interest.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:17 PM on January 17, 2013

Travel guides geared towards folks who might visit the U.S. In France, I found a book (in French) on visiting the U.S.A. "Be careful," it warned, "all the paper currency denominations are the same size, shape and color!" Perhaps a country such as the U.K. might have such a book in English.
posted by Melismata at 12:23 PM on January 17, 2013

Best answer: If your daughter is about middle-school age (at least), try History Lessons. That's an accounting of US history - told by using excerpts from other countries' high school history textbooks. So, say it starts with a Norwegian textbook's account of Lief Ericson, then moves on to Spain's account of the Columbus voyage, the UK and French accounts of the French and Indian War, etc.

You may dig that yourself too - the North Korean textbook's account of the Korean War is mind blowing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:33 PM on January 17, 2013 [16 favorites]

There's at least one for adults in English: Culture Shock: USA. It's pretty old now, but a lot of the cultural/societal points still ring true. Let me break out the 1998 edition I bought in Finland (in 1999) and quote a bit, old-school style:
Like peoples everywhere, Americans don't think of themselves as having American values. We simply imagine that the qualities we hold dear are those that matter to all mankind.

In this we are mistaken. American values are uncommon. This becomes clear when an American advisor launches a project in an underdeveloped country. The American, who plans to bring prosperity to the natives, ends up in despair because nothing gets done. He cannot imagine that there are societies where getting things done isn't top priority. He is baffled to discover people who do not aspire to change their standards of living. He cannot understand individuals who are not eager to change their status in society. He goes home in defeat, thanking God that he is an American.


This viewpoint may change in the 21st century. Certain realities are beginning to affect our sunny outlook towards the future: We no longer have the highest living standard in the world, and today's young people doubt that they'll be better off than their parents. The odds for success appear more difficult than in the recent past. But our response at present remains to work harder, not to look for satisfaction elsewhere. Realities change much faster than values.
And if you don't mind anecdata from an American who's lived in France for 14 years, and who regularly slams up against this stereotype-wall (which is nonetheless based in some factual reality): Americans are considered to be a people who Always Want Change. This has its positive and negative sides: the positive being that Americans are always presumed to be at the cutting edge of technology and such. The negative being that Americans can't be trusted to be reliable over the long-term, since they're perceived as so easily changing for the next best thing... including in friendship and relationships (no matter actual statistics; it's the deeper stereotype that is still held strongly). It can be a lonely life overseas when having to deal with that side of the stereotype.
posted by fraula at 12:42 PM on January 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

EmpressCallipygos just beat me to the punch. History Lessons is highly recommended, especially for (as mentioned above) the history our various former opponents have of the battle. (The US does not come off well in regards to the Phillipines, for example)

It's not exactly the same thing you were asking about, but if she's interested in a view of the US in general, there are also a number of foreign & foreign-language periodicals which have an English version on their website: Haaret for an Israeli view, Al Jazeera for an Arab view, Le Monde Diplomatique for France, etc.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 12:42 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you mean stuff along the lines of "in America, Johnny wears galoshes in winter and rides a yellow bus to school. His mom makes him a peanut butter and jam sandwich, but they call it peanut butter and jelly"? Growing up in the English speaking world I saw books like that about strange and foreign places, but that level of "here is what life is like for kids in ..." stuff didn't exist about America since we saw it all already in the American kids books and TV we got here. I sort of suspect that if that sort of thing exists it won't be English language.
posted by russm at 1:21 PM on January 17, 2013

This is totally anecdata, but before my family moved from the Philippines to America, I watched The Breakfast Club and I came away from it with the idea that American schools were feral gladiator pits that would eat me alive.

but, yeah, while growing up abroad, I didn't need a book to tell me what life in the States would be like. For better or worse, that itch was scratched by TVs and films; though still perceived through my own local cultural bias.
posted by bl1nk at 1:42 PM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: We live in Holland and part of the curriculum for my kids (8 and 10) is watching and discussing the news. They were e.g. following the presidential elections. Here's a
Google translation of the SchoolTV website on the American elections.

More general information about USA on the same website. Did you know that a longboarding race between the skyscrapers is very normal in the US?

And here you have guns and gun rights in the US explained to Dutch kids. They will learn that "more than half of Americans are actually very happy with the weapons".

I also found a website that serves as an information source for kids making presentations on various topics. It's in Dutch but your daughter might dig the cute map (click on "naar de spreekbeurt" to see the images).

And here's a Google translation of almost everything on that website about USA. The paragraph on poverty and discrimination includes this gem: "America is the richest country in the world. Yet there are many poor people live, weird huh? This is because someone who does not work in the U.S. do not immediately get money from the government, as in the Netherlands. Such allowance for poor people is expensive. That money has to come from the taxes that all men pay. And in the U.S., people have a gigantic super hate paying taxes."
posted by sively at 2:10 PM on January 17, 2013 [18 favorites]

I visited Japan in 2007, and remember standing in a bookstore in Tokyo reading a few pages from a book for Japanese travelers planning to visit the U.S. that was written, inexplicably, in English.

I remember a section explaining that Americans and Japanese have opposite social rules for smiling in professional and casual situations. It reassured Japanese visitors to America that Americans usually smile when they catch someone's eye walking down the street, even if they don't know them (a casual situation), but that they often won't do so when engaged in a transaction like interacting with a customer buying something at a cash register (professional), so that the Japanese person shouldn't be offended when receiving what is by their standards terrible service.

(Which went a long way towards explaining to me the manic greetings we received every time we walked into a store in Japan!)
posted by telophase at 2:43 PM on January 17, 2013

Children Just Like Me - I loved this book when I was young. It describes the day-to-day lives of kids around the world, not just the US, but it's also distributed in the UK (and perhaps elsewhere), so it does, in part, describe the lives of Americans to children in other countries.
posted by hefeweizen at 3:00 PM on January 17, 2013

Thirding that America's vast media exports (TV/books/movies etc) filled that role so thoroughly that I've never encountered such a thing. Similar avenues that might bear fruit however are books that are made up of each page describing a different country, or stories that involve travel, eg perhaps a child with divorced parents having to move to live with one in the USA, scary new school, etc?
posted by anonymisc at 5:41 PM on January 17, 2013

I remember one time a seminar speaker showed us a children's book. It was a bit dated. But it went through different countries and showed illustrations of the kids in those countries. Exactly what you'd expect--African kids outside a hut, Chinese kids in a rice paddy, etc. Then we got to the page with the blonde kids in the big city. The natural assumption was that these were the American kids. But the book was from the Netherlands, IIRC. She turned the page and there were the American kids--surrounded by teepees and Indians.

My guess is that in today's global age, stuff like that is pretty rare. But there's definitely stuff out there!
posted by wallaby at 8:31 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

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