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 may think you are an expert on American culture.
You are sure that everyone is either financially comfortable or totally broke and living in misery. You think 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 spend time getting laid when there’s a nice wall right there?
Oh, and you’d think the first thing everyone here does when they get home is get a beer out of the fridge.
Here are some other false things that you might actually believe, thanks to the myths and clichés of Hollywood movies:
It is very difficult to make a good cup of coffee
Maybe it’s a holdover from the percolator days, but today, if you have decent coffee and any decent vessel, you pretty much can’t screw it up. It’s not an exact science. Coffee is very forgiving and people tend to appreciate it when someone else takes the time to make it.
Still, the writers, at a loss for dialogue, often throw in some tongue-in-cheek quip about how bad someone’s coffee is. In fact, until Harvey Keitel endorsed Quentin Tarantino’s coffee in Criminale (1994), it’s possible that no character in a movie commented that it had good Cup of coffee.
Another coffee cliché: Serious people only drink black coffee. You can’t win a lawsuit or catch a murder suspect if you put milk in your coffee. And if you have anything but a run-down, half-eaten carton of Chinese takeout in your fridge, you’re a non-serious epicure.
If you are pregnant, you will have a girl
Lucille Ball was pregnant while playing the pregnant Lucy Ricardo on I Love Lucy. She had a boy in real life, but if she had a girl, she’d probably have a boy on the show anyway. For about 50 years, until about 1975, almost every time a character was pregnant, she gave birth to what Luca Brassi in The Godfather called a “man child.” In those days it was common for women and men to talk about how they preferred boys.
In the years since, this has changed, and in movies and television, female babies far outnumber male babies. No one has done a study on this, so no data, but watch out for it. You can’t miss it.
If you are having sex for the first time, leave your clothes on
I had to ask other people about this to make sure I wasn’t mistaken about this, but apparently most people really prefer to have their clothes on turned off when engaging in acts of physical intimacy. What’s more, they really prefer if the other person is also unclothed. But for some strange reason, the people in the movies don’t seem to feel that way.
Are they afraid of a cold? Did they just forget? Or it’s just another example of what sociologists call the “Knocked Up” syndrome: In this R-rated classic from 2007, the lead actress, Katherine Heigl, just didn’t want to be naked on screen. And who would?
But in such cases, just cut the sex scene, or offer nudity, but don’t insult our intelligence — or make Americans look so busy and results-oriented that they won’t stop to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. Basically, “Knocked Up” depicts two people who were so intimate they had a baby together and yet never saw each other naked.
If the bartender asks what you’d like to drink to be cool, say, “I’ll have a single malt.”
Jonathan Pryce says this in All the Old Knives (2022), but as anyone who drinks scotch can tell you, it’s like walking into a deli and saying, “I’m going to get a sandwich.”
There are all kinds of single malts from all kinds of distilleries, and they are as different from each other as turkey liver is. I prefer Islay scotch and enjoy Highland scotch. I’m not crazy about Lowland scotches and I find Speyside scotches repulsive – even the most expensive Speyside scotches.
The thing is, every Scotch drinker is different, and every bartender knows that, so holding back 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…”.
Hollywood really needs to retire him. In The Offer, Paramount+’s recent fictional miniseries about the making of The Godfather, the line is spoken three times in 10 episodes. And earlier this season, someone said that to Ryan Gosling in The Gray Man.
A couple of weird things about it: The first is that almost every time someone is told this, they look great and the line comes as a surprise to the audience. Apparently you should I understand that the sign “looks like s—”. But why?
Basically, a line is just an excuse by the writer to allow the main character to announce what he or she has been up to since we last saw them. It’s an easy way – and by now a clichéd, lazy way – to create exposure.
The second oddity is that no one in real life says this. No one ever told me, even when it was true, and I never told anyone.
Just an odd guess, but I have a feeling that if you try this line on someone, they won’t let you know their recent activities. They will be offended.