In May, real estate website Homes.com conducted a survey of British users to find out what Brits think of American homes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the results showed that respondents harbor a lot of stereotypes about people in the United States and how they live — sometimes hilariously so. It’s a good lesson for all of us not to make assumptions about how other people live, especially if most of our knowledge about a certain area or culture comes from the television.
Homes.com asked Brits to describe “typical” homes in areas across the United States. It probably won’t come as much of a shock to you that many of the survey’s British respondents seemed to get their conceptions of American homes from TV and movies. After all, a lot of Americans probably get much of their knowledge of Britain in the same way. And, of course, most things on TV are fictional, and often exaggerate or otherwise distort life in certain geographical areas, trading on stereotypes that everyone will recognize. That’s why representations of Texas on TV tend to portray the state as an old-school Western theme park, and why, if you’ve never actually been to New York City, you have every reason to believe that everyone who lives there manages to live in a surprisingly large apartment in Manhattan, despite the fact that their only source of income is freelance writing. (I’m looking at you, Carrie Bradshaw.)
When asked to describe a typical home for Americans in general, the survey’s respondents most frequently described a house with an American flag flying outside and a 4 x 4 parked in the driveway. They also mentioned white picket fences, mailboxes out front, flat screen TVs, and (my favorite) a “nuclear fallout shelter.” That last one might be far fetched, but the others aren’t crazy. Of course, not every American owns an SUV or truck or has the star and stripes on the lawn, but Homes.com points out that, though these stereotypes of Americans as uber-patriotic people with giant cars are overblown, they’re not entirely without foundation. A 2007 survey from Pew Research found that 62 percent of Americans do have a U.S. flag on display at their homes and workplaces or on their cars, and SUVs are extremely popular here.
The survey also asked Brits to describe typical homes in six distinct areas. Homes.com created mockups of what those homes might look like, based on the respondents’ descriptions, and let’s just say that they are… less than accurate. We’ll start with one that hits close to home for me:
I find this one HILARIOUS. I was born and raised in Texas, my family still lives there, and I can say, unequivocally, that not everyone there has COWS in their front yard. In fact, people with cows grazing across their lawns are a distinct minority.
But although I know that Texas is a giant, diverse state filled with all types of people, that might not be obvious to those who have never been there. Clearly, the Brits responding to Homes.com’s survey got their information about Texas from TV (and stereotypes of Texans as gun-loving ranchers): The most common perceptions of Texas listed on the survey were “big homes” and “low tech.” Some respondents also described the average Texas home with the phrases “deserted ranch,” “cowboy hats,” “lots of guns,” “dogs,” and “run down houses.”
Certainly, there are Texans who live on ranches in the desert and own guns and wear cowboy hats, but there are plenty of other people who live in cities, or near the beach, or in the hills, and plenty of people who have never owned a cowboy hat in their lives. Life is a diverse tapestry, y’all. (We do, however, all say “y’all” because it is a fantastic, irreplaceable word.)
New York City
Brits offered a fairly accurate picture of New York, describing the typical home with the phrases “Small apartment,” “tiny,” and “high rent.” Interestingly, Homes.com reports that they frequently mentioned popular culture in their descriptions, citing shows like Sex and the City and Friends. Although these shows are notorious for giving their characters apartments they can’t possibly afford, the survey respondents seemed to get that the average New Yorker does not, in fact, enjoy spacious living.
The most common perceptions of Florida listed in the survey were “swamps,” “crocodiles,” and “An old people’s home by the beach.” The Brits are right to associate Florida with retired people; Homes.com reports that, when it comes to large populations of senior citizens, Florida has eight of the top ten cities for seniors in the U.S. However, the majority of people in Florida are not seniors, and many of them take advantage of “party cities” like Orlando, Miami, and Ft. Lauderdale. (The website also points out that crocodiles aren’t a huge problem in Florida, with only 500 in the state. The respondents were probably thinking of alligators — Florida has 1.25 million of those.)
According to the survey, Brits’ most common perceptions about Las Vegas homes included that phrases “all casinos,” “luxury,” and “Do people actually live in Vegas?” Ha. In fact, more than 600,000 people living in Vegas, but you might not know that if your primary association with the city is The Hangover. There are, of course, a lot of casinos in the area, but when it comes to luxury, that’s perhaps more associated with the high-flying casinos than with the day-to-day living of residents; the U.S. Department of Labor reports that people in Las Vegas earn about 11 percent less than the average wage in the United States.
San Jose/Silicon Valley
Brits responding to the survey associated San Jose with big money, describing the typical home with phrases like “Big house, big pool,” “lots of pool parties,” “a luxury hi-tech mansion,” and “big gates, gated community.” They’re right that Silicon Valley, home to some of the world’s most lucrative tech firms, is an expensive place to live — in fact, it’s one of the most expensive places to live in the United States, with the median price for homes coming in at a staggering $1.25 million. But although buying a house in San Jose costs a lot of money, that money doesn’t necessarily translate to giant pools and endless luxury. Because the area is so in demand, even a modest house will command a high price.
You can check out the rest of the survey results over at Homes.com.
Images courtesy of Homes.com