You have just arrived from another country. You’ve never been here, but you’ve seen every Hollywood movie made in the last 30 years. Therefore, you might think you are an expert on American culture.
They are sure that everyone is either doing well financially or completely broke and living in misery. You think that Americans can’t have sex for the first time without wrecking an apartment, and that the preferred sex position is standing up – after all, why take the time to lie down when there’s a nice wall right there?
Oh, and you think the first thing everyone does when they come home here is grab a beer from the fridge.
Here are some other untrue things you might actually believe, thanks to Hollywood movie myth-making and clichés:
It is very difficult to make a good cup of coffee
Maybe that’s a holdover from the days of percolators, but today, if you’ve got decent coffee and a decent pot, it’s almost impossible to screw this up. It’s not precision science. Coffee is very forgiving, and people tend to appreciate it when someone else takes the time to make it.
Still, screenwriters who are at a loss for dialogue often throw in a few snazzy jokes about how bad someone’s coffee is. Until Harvey Keitel endorsed Quentin Tarantino’s coffee in Pulp Fiction (1994), it’s possible that no character in a film ever commented on it Well Cup of coffee.
Another coffee stereotype: Serious people only drink black coffee. You can’t win a court case or catch a murder suspect by putting milk in your coffee. And if you have anything other than a lost, half-eaten packet of Chinese food in your fridge, you’re a frivolous foodie.
If you are pregnant, you will have a girl
Lucille Ball was pregnant when she played pregnant Lucy Ricardo in I Love Lucy. In real life, she had a boy, but if she had had a girl, she probably would have had a boy on the show anyway. For about 50 years, until about 1975, almost every time a female protagonist was pregnant, she gave birth to what Luca Brasi famously called “a male child” in The Godfather. It was a staple back then for women and men to talk about how they preferred boys.
In the years since, that has changed, and in movies and television, female babies far outnumber male babies. No one has done a study on this so there is no data but keep an eye out. You can not miss it.
If you are having sex for the first time, leave your clothes on
I’ve had to ask other people about this just to make sure I’m not wrong on this point, but apparently the majority of people really prefer to have their clothes out in acts of physical intimacy. More importantly, they genuinely prefer the other person to have no clothes on either. But for some weird reason, people clearly don’t feel that way in movies.
Are you afraid of catching a cold? Did they just forget? Or is it just another example of what sociologists call “knocked up” syndrome: In this 2007 R-rated classic, leading actress Katherine Heigl just didn’t want to be naked on screen. And who would?
But in such cases, just interrupt the sex scene or suggest nudity, but don’t offend our intelligence — or make Americans look so busy and results-oriented that they won’t stop enjoying life’s simple pleasures. Basically, “Knocked Up” portrayed two people who were so intimate that they had a baby together and had never seen each other naked.
If a bartender asks what you’d like to drink, say coolly, “I’ll have a single malt.”
Jonathan Pryce says so in All the Old Knives (2022), but as anyone who drinks Scotch can tell you, that’s like walking into a deli and saying, “I’ll have a sandwich.”
There are all kinds of single malts from all kinds of distilleries, and they’re as diverse as turkey and liverwurst. I prefer Islay Scotch and enjoy Highland Scotch. I’m not crazy about Lowland Scotches and I find Speyside Scotches repulsive – even high-priced Speyside Scotches.
The point is that everyone who drinks Scotch is different, and every bartender knows that, so sneaking up and saying, “I’ll have a single malt” is the opposite of cool. It’s like saying, “I heard that in a movie.”
A common American greeting is “You look like s—”.
Hollywood really needs to pull out. In The Offer, Paramount+’s latest fictional miniseries about the making of The Godfather, the phrase is spoken three times in 10 episodes. And earlier this season someone said that to Ryan Gosling on The Gray Man.
A couple of weird things about this: The first is that almost every time someone is said this, they look great and the phrase comes as a surprise to the audience. Apparently we’re in understand that the figure “looks like s—”. But why?
Basically, the line is just an excuse for the screenwriter to let the main character announce what he or she has been up to since we last saw them. It’s a simple way – and now a cliche, lazy way – to create an exhibition.
The second oddity is that nobody says that in real life. No one has ever said it to me, even if it was true, and I’ve never said that to anyone.
Just a wild guess, but I have a feeling if you try this line on someone, they won’t update you on their recent activity. You will be offended.