United States


American, Obama, war, fat

big, wide, tall

Boring, big, rich

burgers, clean, democracy, nosy

diverse, freedom, opportunity

diversity, practical, well-rounded, "Fast Food"

eagle, capitalism, Iraq, hollywood

freedom! Statue of Liberty

Freedom, Diversity, Democracy

freedom, diversity,opportunity

freedom, liberty, democracy

freedom, mixture, liberty, culture

freedom, rights, wealth,

Grand, nascent, transience

hamburgers, Hollywood, Bill O'Reilly


home, english, boston

large, powerful, money, patriot

mountains, San Francisco, Boston, beautiful, home

opportunity, extremes

possibility, trying, success

Powerful, large, consumerist, unfair

Red, Baseball, Burgers, Diversity

school,watermelon juice,architecture library,Obama

Gendarme du monde, Obama, 11 septembre, puissance

grand, inégalités, multiculturel

grand, multiculturel

Grande puissance mondiale, argent, travail

Grandes maisons, Taxis jaunes, Argent, Plage

Hamburger, Statut de la liberté, Puissance, série américaine

Immensité, Danger, Paradoxes, patriotes

Indépendance, liberté


New York, Sillicon Valley, rêve américain, séries TV

Obama, attentats 11/09/01, nouvelles technologies

Obama, libéralisme, pétrol

patriotique, grandeur, multiculturel, inégalité

puissance, économique, militaire, affaiblis

puissance, Obama, cinéma

Puissance,richesse,grandeur,pluralité des cultures

Rêve américain, cinéma, statut de la liberté,

Yellowstone, Golden Bridge, MacDonald's, Obama


It is interesting to note how many Americans associate the United States with the word "Freedom" and how many French associate France with the word "Egalite". However, not many associate those words with the opposite group. How 'free' are we really in each of our societies? Could it be that we associate those words with our countries because they represent a universal value that all men look for or because we are actually free?

I agree with Lina that it is quite interesting how many American students associate the US with "freedom".  But I wonder if we associate freedom with the US because all people look for freedom as a universal value, or if we tend to associate freedom with our country because of our country's past.  With our declaration of independence, the revolutionary war, and the american dream, much of American culture seems to be founded on the idea of doing what we want, being who we are, regardless of what people think.  


Furthermore, the French students seem to associate the United States with "puissance", whereas "powerful" only came up once in the list from the American students.  It's interesting to see what identifies our country to outsiders, as we often get "programmed" to think a certain way and sometimes ignore certain things, purposefully or not.

Je suis d'accord avec Lina et Kenneth. Les étudiants Americains associent les Etats-Unis avec la liberté. Je pense que les étudiants Français ont une vision plus "cliché" des Etats-Unis, avec une idée de puissance. Il me semble que, pour la plupart des étudiants, on ne critique pas notre propre pays. C'est peut-être que chacun pense vivre de la meilleure façon qui existe...

Indépendamment de cela, une réponse m'a marquée en particulier: Pourquoi associer les Etats-Unis avec le jus de pastèque?

The founding of the United States of America first marked the idea that freedom exists for all men (all (free, white) men). Ever since then, the U.S. was known as the "land of the free" where opportunities exist and where there is ethnic and cultural diversity (melting pot). While the U.S. is more "free" than some countries and has been historically associate with the word "Free" and "Egalite," it is arguable whether we are still truly free. Yes, we do have the freedom of speech and various rights, but it depends too on how we want to define the word "free."

All in all, I agree with the above responses, freedom in the U.S. is still a subjective topic. An question I'd like to ask: how is America more "free" than France?

About the watermelon juice... maybe the person who responded that way can show up and give the definitive explanation on this point, but their word association makes sense to me in the context of summer, barbecues, and fourth of July. Here in America I guess you're supposed to throw a barbecue on fourth of July, where there's lots of family and neighbors and a dad in a patriotic apron looming over the grill. And watermelon. Which naturally drips down your chin and gets smeared everywhere by little kids. Hence the watermelon juice. I don't think it was a glass of watermelon juice, but just watermelon dribbles. Other barbecue foods, for your delight and erudition, would include ribs, burgers, beef or chicken, barbecue sauce, corn on the cob, and potato salad. Even if it's not fourth of July, you might enjoy watermelon all summer long or at every barbecue ever (and you're supposed to attend several over the summer). Anyway that was what watermelon juice connotes for me...

C'est drôle, je n'aurais jamais associé la pastèque avec les barbecues ou une fête nationale. Pour moi, c'est plus la représentation de la fraîcheur en été. Je n'aurais jamais pensé à assimiler ça avec un pays...


Jamie, je ne suis pas sure que la liberté existe plus en Amérique qu'en France. Je pense que ça dépend de la définition personnelle qu'on se fait du mot liberté. Ceux pour qui la liberté est fondée sur la possibilité de voyager en Europe, comme un des étudiants français l'a écrit, la France lui paraîtra plus libre que l'Amérique. Au contraire, si on associe l'individualisme à la liberté, comme l'a écrit un étudiant Américain, il la trouvera plus facilement en Amérique.


Freedom is a tricky subject.  I think it is logical that both French and American students associate their countries with freedom given their respective pasts.  However, as Josephine points out, how free we are relative to each other (and relative to the ideal of freedom) is debatable and tricky to define.  First of all, what would an absolutely free existence consist of?  Would we be able to do whatever we want, and go wherever we please without being concious of race, religion, sexual orientation, or anything else?  What kind of government would we have?  How would we organize ourselves?  Would we even have different countries anymore?

The point I'm trying to make is this:  all of us associate our countries with an idea that is completely undefined.  The best we can do is say that America offers certain freedoms, and which freedoms we have are constrained by our government, our location, whether we're at war or at peace, and general political opinion at the time.  I imagine the french are in a similar situation.

Regarding freedom, I think most of the American students think of freedom when the word USA is mentioned because this particular concept has been glorified and emphasized significantly in popular culture. Every concept of freedom probably has been portrayed in movies, TV series, music, arts, for example: freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, etc

I am not sure about the French popular culture. Is freedom a main topic?

Also, i definitely agree with Diana on the different concepts of freedom to the two groups of students. For instance, a big part of the American college culture is alcohols. College students in the States always "admire" how students in Europe can drink alcohol at a much younger age and may consider this as a kind of "freedom". But probably to students in Europe, especially France, drinking wine is more of a cultural thing, and not related to "freedom"

I agree with Linh.  The concept of freedom is often glorified, and it is ingrained in our heads from a young age that America is a "free country" (but then again, doesn't every country think they're "free").  Looking at the responses, we got a lot of "freedom", "democracy", and "opportunity" from American students.  But I think something we're overlooking is the French lack of this idea: in the French column, we see a lot of "grand", and "puissance".  Do we, as Americans, overlook the "puissance" of the United States on purpose? Is this power a good or bad thing? Someone in the French group also mentioned "gendarme du monde"; this, to me, has a negative connotation.  I think the clear dichotomy between the French and American answers is interesting, and I wonder why it's like that.

Though all of the theories mentioned above about freedom's role and meaning in both America and in France are intriguing,  I think it is also important to take a step back to think with a broader focus. This questionnaire simply asked us to list a few words that come to mind when we see the words "United States/Etats-Unis." We might like to think that we each have complete power over which words come to mind in a situation such as this, but when you think about why you know everything you know, then you realize that it is because you learned it from somewhere, from someone, from an experience, etc. It is very interesting to analyze the differences between the American students' responses and those of the French students, while keeping this in mind. It is natural to expect for our responses to be different, given that we grew up in different countries. But similarly, it should be expected that responses will vary even between students from different geographical regions of the same country. The fact that there were many commonalities within each list speaks largely to the fact that in our own country, we were essentially trained to think a certain way and have come to embrace it as our own part of our individual identities.

Who originally chose such words as "freedom,"  "liberty,"  "diversity," "opportunity," "puissance," and "multicultural" to describe the country in which we live? Do these words still retain the same meaning as they once did?

Also, with regard to the French students and their associations with the United States, from whom/what does their information stem? Is it the media? History books? How reliable is this information?

Lastly, notice that our responses only represent a very limited pool of people (we are all students, interested in each other's country, and are fortunate enough to be enrolled in a strong education system. How do you think this influences the responses and discussion?

I just wanted to add as a side comment to what Linh and Kenneth said about freedom and how the word, though far from well-defined, is glorified and repeatedly mentioned in American popular culture, that in the context of a word-association task, visual ideas are probably the first to come to mind, and the mention of the US to Americans (or American residents) must often evoke in them the illustrations that one commonly sees of the bald eagle, the american flag, and the word "freedom" almost invariably appearing in the caption. I actually noticed that one person did (with commendable honesty, in my opinion) write "eagle" as a response.

Pour beaucoup d'étudiants français, l'image de la liberté n'est pas vraiment associée à celle des Etats-Unis, surtout ces dernières années; en fait, on se rend compte que dans un pays où tous les citoyens ne peuvent pas accéder à l'éducation supérieure par exemple, il est difficile de parler de liberté; de quelle liberté s'agit-il dans ce cas?

je serais curieux de savoir qui est Bill O'Reilly et pourquoi il apparaît dans deux questionnaires différents? Est-ce un symbole de l'Amérique?

je suis frappé ede voir qu'aucun d'entre vous ne mentionne la technologie, les nouvelles technologies, comme à Silicn Valley, alors que les français y font référence. Pouvez-vous m'expliquer pourquoi?

RE: je serais curieux de savoir qui est Bill O'Reilly et pourquoi il apparaît dans deux questionnaires différents? Est-ce un symbole de l'Amérique?

Bill O'Reilly is a right-wing TV talk show host. I personally don't get the impression that Americans view him as a symbol of the US, but since I'm not American I may be wrong. His interviews are mostly political and (in my opinion) awful. If you're curious, look him up on youtube.

J'aimerai savoir pourquoi un étudiant américain a marqué "Nascent" and "Transcience" et un autre "Red"? 

Cela veut-il dire que tout commence aux USA avant de se répandre un peu partout dans le monde ? Que les Etats-unis sont un "élément déclencheur mondial" ?

Pourquoi éphémère, serait-ce pour dire que les Etats-Unis ne pourront pas continuer longtemps comme ils le font en ce moment ? A quel niveau risque t-il d'y avoir du changement ?

Et qu'y a-t-il autour de la couleur rouge ?

I found "gendarme du monde" to be an interesting connection to the United States. It is true that the U.S. is often involved in many global issues, often forcing its ideology and way of life into other countries. What connotations does this "gendarme du monde" image strike upon you? Should the U.S. mind its own business and not meddle into the affairs of other countries or should it act as the world's policeman?


Andres Delgado

I noticed that too, to me, policeman is never a positive word. There are better words to use for "enforcer" or "overseer" (which aren't coming into my head right now). I think most people think we do meddle in the business of others. If I weren't American, I'd say that America is trying to spread capitalism and "freedom" to places that seem okay without it.

Part of it is that we see some other cultural aspects like gender inequalities as plain inequalities that are unacceptable and we try to change them. Like the predominantly patriarchal societies out there we see as totally bad (with good reason) and we try to change them to our ways without even asking.



beaucoup de gens en France appellent les US le gendarme du monde, mais ce n'est pas forcément positif; je crois que cela l'était beaucoup après la 2e guerre mondiale, les européens avaient gagné la guerre grâce à l'intervention des américains lors du débarquement en Normandie; aujourd'hui, le terme gendarme du monde est plus négatif, car les Etats-Unis, surtout à l'époque Bush, se sont lancés dans des guerres dont on se demande si elles en valaient la peine...



pour repondre a ta question, notre vision des US est transmise d'abord par nos livres d'histoire, puis surtout par les films et les séries américaines, et enfin les reportages à la tv. Je pense que nous avons beaucoup d'idées toutes faites sur votre pays, car nous voyons toujours les mêmes séries (Desperate Housewives, Dallas, etc..); beaucoup des reortages à la tv parlent de la violence , des gangs, de la criminalité, des armes en vente libre.


While I think that TV shows and movies allow you to understand what many Americans watch, I do not think that they are an accurate representation of American society, life, or culture. Rather, I think they serve as entertainment for a variety of target groups. In that regard, I think you can ascertain information about subsets of Americans and people who live in America, who find enjoyment in watching television and movies, but the actual information presented and the way in which it is presented will leave you with a skewed perception. After all, tv shows and movies are great ways to make money and relate information (factual or not) to the masses.

Yoan, I agree with you, and I think the image that the U.S. portrays to many countries is a negative one. I realize the country is involved everywhere and that a quick change of image around the globe is hard, but how do you suppose the United States can erase this negative image and make a new positive one? Should we leave other countries alone or change the way we intervene in other nations?

Merci beaucoup Danielle, mais malheureusement, c'est par ce biais là que 80% des jeunes, en particulier, voient les US; ils ont donc une image très déformée je pense. De plus, beaucoup des relaty shows que la tv française propose sont des copies de ce que vous avez , et les émissions intéressantes de documentaires d'information sont souvent tard le soir, et ne sont regardés que par une minorité d'étudiant.

To follow up on the dialogue of Martine and Danielle, I definitely agree that the image of America on television shows isn't an accurate portrayal of our daily lives.  It takes certain aspects of our lives and blows them out of proportion to make money, so the portrayal of America isn't exactly false, but just sometimes just out of context or proportion.  The comment/question I want to add is that most of the french responses to "Etats-Unis" aren't the stereotypical representations of America in TV shows and movies (at least to my knowledge).  I was wondering if the main source the French form impressions on America from is actually television shows, or something else like politics/current events.


can you tell us more about the "image tres deformee" that the young people in france have on the US? Apart from the world's policeman?

So on how popular culture can influence the view of US, I would like to state my own case since I am not American; I am an international student at MIT. Despite of all the movies about all the "twisted" things that happen in a US setting, I actually never thought of US as "twisted" because I believe that all of these blockbuster movies are merely for entertainment (getting a lot of audience and big bucks) and not to reflect real lives. I think for French, it's very different as the popular culture (arts, music) tries its best to reflect on lives?? Hence the youngsters take what they see on TV about US as true. Please correct me if i am wrong



Bonjour Linh,

quand je dis que les jeunes ont une vision déformée des US, c'est qu'ils voient ton pays à travers des séries télévisées (pas des films) qui ne sont pas très intéressantes et qui insistent plus sur le côté superficiel des choses; je pense que la plupart de français ne connaissent pas vraiment la culture américaine, ils ont plutôt des clichés.


Le mieux serait de faire un échange français/américains pour découvrir la vraie culture américaine! :p