7 American Stereotypes in Latin America

7-Gringo-Stereotypes
By Natalie Lefevre

Hola estudiantes! Here are 7 American stereotypes in Latin America, straight from somebody who should know: a ‘gringa’ living in Peru. I think she’s right on about these—many Latinos do think these things about Americans. After my 14 years of living in the USA, now my parents think I fit some of these stereotypes, too!

If you’ve been to Latin America, you probably learned from experience what the world ‘gringo’ means. Legend has it, the word was generated when the US invaded Mexico wearing green uniforms. The locals would shout at them: “Green go (home)!” Now, it is used to refer to all (non-Latino) citizens of the United States. In practice, it is often used for everyone who looks like a foreigner in Latin America. In order to understand some of the pre-determined ideas locals may have about you, it’s helpful to get to know a few Latin American stereotypes about gringos.

  1.     Rich and materialistic

All gringos are rich, because in the United States, you earn loads of money even if you are a cleaning lady or a waiter. They like to spend their money, especially when visiting Latin America, where they can get even more for their dollars. Gringos are very materialistic. They like to buy the latest smartphones, the biggest televisions and, of course, the fastest cars.

This stereotype is strongly reinforced by Latinos living in the US, who love to show off their newly acquired wealth and gadgets and bring back suitcases of gifts for everyone. This is all a bit misleading, since many of these gadgets are very expensive in Latin America but a lot cheaper in the United States, where practically everybody can buy them (even if they can’t really afford them). Of course, the unpleasant consequence of this stereotype is the ‘gringo price.’ If you look or speak like a foreigner, you’ll be charged a much higher price in markets, taxis and just about anywhere.

  1.     Punctual and trustworthy

Just as we believe Latinos are always late, they believe gringos are always punctual or worse—arriving everywhere at least 10 minutes early. Deep down, they think it’s really annoying that you show up at their house one hour before everyone else, while they haven’t even showered or finished cooking yet. Even though they said the party started at 7pm, this obviously means you’re welcome from 8pm onwards (though 9pm would be even better). 

Gringos are also very trustworthy and honest, as opposed to fellow Latinos. While all locals have to open their backpacks when they enter a supermarket, we gringos can just walk in without any problem. Why would we steal? We’re rich gringos anyways!

  1.     The ‘wild’ and ‘easy’ gringas

It is a world-wide stereotype that Americans get really drunk when they go out, and even more so when they’re abroad. Many believe the legal drinking age of 21, very late compared to other countries, is to blame for this. It is somewhat surprising that, in Latin America, known for its love of parties, the wild gringo stereotype is even stronger. This is especially the case for gringas, who seem to get not just tipsy, like Latinas, but really wasted. Though you won’t hear any complaints from the local ‘bricheros’ (local guys that try to seduce gringas). The local girls, on the other hand, frown upon these ‘easy’ gringas.

  1.     Cold-blooded

Gringos are reserved with their emotions. They greet each other with an impersonal handshake while Latin Americans kiss and hug any stranger, really. Gringos address strangers or acquaintances in a formal way, while Latin Americans call the cashier ‘hija’ or ‘amor.’ Gringos also do not seem to care a lot about their family. While Latin Americans stay with their parents until they get married and later often take in their elderly parents, gringos leave the house when they turn 18 and put their parents in retirement homes once they cannot take care of themselves anymore.

  1.     No street smarts

Gringos leave their purses on the floor or on a table, they take their dollars out of their wallets in the middle of the street, they don’t lock the door of their car or hotel room and they walk the wrong streets and take the wrong cabs. They have no street smarts to speak of. Therefore, they are easy targets for local criminals. Locals see it as their duty to warn gringos about all the possible dangers that lurk on these streets and, in the process, often scare a few gringos with their paranoia—which, to a certain degree, has some truth in it, of course.

  1.     Careless dressers

Gringos wear oversized T-shirts and baggy pants, sandals with white socks, a huge camera on their big bellies and, of course, a baseball hat. Even if gringos know how to dress nicely, they often don’t seem to care. Of course, this means they often don’t care how others are dressed, either, but for Latin Americans, who make sure that they always look their best when they leave the house, this gringo habit is strange. Gringos on vacation are even worse, as they visit fancy restaurants in their shorts and oversized T-shirts, or even walk the streets without a shirt on hot days.

  1.     Bad eaters

Gringos only like to eat hamburgers, french fries or hot dogs; they wouldn’t know good food when they saw it. Even when they’re in Latin America, they prefer McDonalds to local dishes, which sometimes make these weak gringos sick. Each Latin American considers his own national cuisine the best and does not understand why anyone would choose gringo food over the real deal.

 

Natalie is an American expat living in Lima, Peru with her Peruvian husband. She has been learning Spanish since she was 16 years old. Besides writing for various online resources, she also manages her own responsible tourism agency.
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