Exploring 11 Subcultures That Are Often Thought of as a Country’s National Identity

When you think of a certain country, chances are that you’ll have some sort of cultural stereotype in your mind. These oversimplified notions can range from the obvious to the obscure and often come from a select few subcultures that are then wrongly associated with the entire nation.

While having these preconceived ideas isn’t inherently wrong, projecting them as a country’s national identity can be misleading or even offensive. Here are 11 common subcultures that wrongly represent a country’s cultural identity based on a group of travelers.

1. The United States: NASCAR, Hipsters, and Nothing Else?

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To outsiders, the go-to caricature of the United States typically involves purple-haired social justice warriors, gun-toting rednecks, and very little in between.

Heck, sometimes it seems like Americans think that the country is nothing more than coastal elites and inland Bible thumpers. The truth is America offers an endless array of people, few of whom fit any stereotype.

2. Japan: Not What Your Favorite Anime Suggests

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Those who get their impression of Japan from anime or other popular culture outlets might assume that every Japanese city looks like a never-ending rendition of Times Square.

For one, Japan has several scenic, mountainous locales that hardly resemble the futuristic cities you’ve imagined. Secondly, even the cities aren’t as neon-ed out as pop culture would have you believe.

3. Amsterdam: Vice City

Amsterdam, Netherlands
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Only some people who travel to Amsterdam are interested in coffee shops (or cough-ee shops, if you catch my drift) and the Red Light district. Amsterdam and the Netherlands, more broadly, are much more than your vice of choice.

4. All Indians Eat Spicy Food

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So, you ate at an Indian restaurant once, ordered the dish with three peppers printed next to its menu entry, and decided that all Indian people live their lives like an episode of Hot Ones? Unfortunately, many Americans assume that all Indian people have a sky-high spice tolerance.

The truth is India is a massive nation containing many cultures, including several known for food that tends to be sweeter than spicy.

5. Paris: Not the Only City in France

Paris, France
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Imagine not knowing that Bordeaux or Nice was a thing. Unfortunately, those whose knowledge of France starts and ends with Ratatouille and Les Miserables sometimes assume that the Eiffel Tower, cafes, berets, and other Parisian cliches are all that France has to offer. They’d be wrong.

6. The United Kingdom: More Than Just London

London, England
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To some, the terms “Great Britain,” “England,” and “United Kingdom” are synonyms. To quote Dwight Schrute, “false.”

England alone is a geographically, architecturally, and culturally diverse nation. The shores of Brighton, the bustling streets of London, and the ports of Sunderland are practically different countries. The U.K., therefore, is far more than Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and—well, it’s just more than London.

7. Indonesia: A Muslim Nation—but You’d Never Know It

women in water in bali
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One traveler familiar with Indonesia is surprised by how much Bali obscures the country’s status as a predominantly Muslim nation. Bali is the only region of Indonesia with a predominantly Hindu population, and it also happens to be the most popular tourist destination in the island nation.

Some travelers might be surprised to encounter women in head wraps and a generally strict culture when they land in Indonesia. That’s what happens when you mistake a subculture for a country’s predominant (or only) culture.

8. Canada: The Great White North

Toronto, Canada
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Some might be surprised to learn that Canada is much more than a frigid tundra occupied by predominately white populations. I suppose the whole “Great White North” nickname isn’t helping matters. 

The massive nation has a variety of terrains, ecosystems, cultures, and sights to behold. From Nova Scotia to British Columbia, it’s impossible to put Canada (or its subcultures) into a single box.

9. Brazil: More Than Samba and Sunshine

Aerial view of Rio de Janeiro with Christ Redeemer and Corcovado Mountain. Brazil.
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Rio de Janeiro dominates the global image of Brazilian culture. While Brazilians enjoy sunshine and samba, those living in the remote towns of the Amazon jungle have a distinctly different culture from those who spend many days tanning on Ipanema Beach in Rio.

10. Australia Crikey

Surfers Paradise aerial view of the coastline on the Gold Coast one of Australia's best beach destinations
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Does Australia have lethal animals and “bogans” who are the Australian take on the redneck? Yes. Is that all Australia is? Hardly.

11. Mexico: Everyone Wears Sombreros

colorful Mexican sombreros and ponchos lined up outdoors
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Sombreros or those wide-brimmed hats traditionally worn in the 18th century are perhaps the most common cultural stereotype associated with Mexico. While they are indeed popular and often seen in festivals, these hats are not part of a typical Mexican wardrobe.

“We don’t fucking wear sombreros… well, at least not the ridiculously big ones you know,” rants one Mexican local.

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