What do Americans say when we say "Only in America"?

Stupot
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What do Americans say when we say "Only in America"?

I'm confused. Who's "we"?
Is your question, "What do Americans mean when they say 'Only in America'?
It's a thing people say after a complaint, usually "Only in this country would such a stupid thing happen." Often bureaucratic foul-ups, red tape.
99% percent of the time they're wrong when they say that, in my experience. They actually have no firm idea whether the thing they are complaining could happen outside America. But they assume it couldn't.
Best Donna Richoux
An American living in the Netherlands
It's a thing people say after a complaint, usually "Only in this country would such a stupid thing happen." Often bureaucratic foul-ups, red tape.

In Europe, or at least Denmark, we say it when something we find stupid happens in the USA, such as a law suit against McDonald's for serving hot coffee. That is when what we perceive as "common sense" seems completely suspended.
It can also concern anything pertaining to lifestyle or culture, that the speaker might find "strange" or even "laughable".

David
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What do Americans say when we say "Only in America"?

I'm confused. Who's "we"? Is your question, "What do Americans mean when they say 'Only in America'? It's a thing ... actually have no firm idea whether the thing they are complaining could happen outside America. But they assume it couldn't.

Interesting. I hear it the other way. Some kid grows up in a tar-paper shack with no shoes to wear and becomes President of the United States - "Only in America".
Some guy starts selling foo out of the back of a pickup truck and ends up with a billion dollar foo franchise - "Only in America". I've only ever heard it in admiring tones, used by Americans, celebrating the land of opportunity.
Though I'd agree on one thing - that 99% of the "only in America"s happen regularly elsewhere too.

John Dean
Oxford
It's a thing people say after a complaint, usually "Only in this country would such a stupid thing happen." Often bureaucratic foul-ups, red tape.

In Europe, or at least Denmark, we say it when something we find stupid happens in the USA, such as a law suit against McDonald's for serving hot coffee. That is when what we perceive as "common sense" seems completely suspended.

The coffee in McDonald's was not "hot." It was much too hot. (I can personally attest to that. I could never drink it when first purchased it either had to sit a while and cool down, or I had to add some cold water to it.)
But don't take my word for it. See:
http://lawandhelp.com/q298-2.htm
Or search for the words "McDonald's," "coffee," and "lawsuit" on the search engine of your choice.
OBaue: "lawsuit" is one word in American English. I'm not sure about British (or other) English.
Maria Conlon
The coffee in McDonald's was not "hot." It was much too hot.

That kind of reply as well as the referenced web site is a very good example of what might make me (and with me the majority of europeans I suppose) exclaim "only in America".
I almost can't not comment on the content, but I think it's better not to.

If you are interested in the local history of the image of the US lawsystem (one word?), the first time I remember it discussed in the national news services was when an american citizen filed a lawsuit against a Danish company that manufactures hearing aids. Apparently the person's child had managed to get hold of a hearing aid, open it, pick out the battery and swallow it. Nothing really bad came of it as I remember. Anyway, the reason they could sue was that the company had not written a "keep away from children"-warning on the manual or packaging.

That seems scary and laughable at the same time to "us". Same as when we occasionally get a car with the warning: "Please notice that objects may seem farther away than they actually are" (or words to that effect) etched in to the side-view mirror.
The problem we have with these things is that it makes it seem as if people are stupid and unable to think for themselves. And that makes it especially strange, because in so many other respects US-culture seems to say the exact opposite: That the individual has both the right and ability to take care of him or herself.
Oh, well. I did not write this to offend anyone in the US or elsewhere, but simply to share how I perceive the expression and why.
OBaue: "lawsuit" is one word in American English. I'm not sure about British (or other) English.

That is one of the most difficult things for me to learn: when to use one word and when to use more than one. In Danish it's a bit more simple - all nouns are one word.
David
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The problem we have with these things is that it makes it seem as if people are stupid and unable ... say the exact opposite: That the individual has both the right and ability to take care of him or herself.

It's not clear here if you realize that most Americans share those exact feelings and agree that these lawsuits are frivolous and the people that bring them are idiots.
Even though you read about these lawsuits all the time, it's really only a tiny percentage of the population here that is involved with them. It's just that no one writes new stories about the millions of people that are never involved in a lawsuit.
On the hearing aid battery thing..
I don't know the case, but I can probably reconstruct what happened. A child swallowed a battery and the parents were naturally concerned and upset that their child had a dangerous experience. Most parents would stop at that point.
However, it's possible that some friend or neighbor said to one of the parents, "You know, you should sue someone over that." The parent, still angry and upset over the incident, called a lawyer and asked "Can I sue someone?" The parent probably didn't suggest "who" or "why". The lawyer worked all of that out.
The lawyer takes the case on a contingency basis. He is only paid if there is an award or settlement made, and his fee is a percentage of the award or settlement. The parent incurs no expense and has nothing to lose. The lawyer will only take on the case if he feels that there is a reasonable possibility of obtaining an award or a settlement.

There are also lawyers - often called "ambulance chasers" - that seek out people that might have a case. The lawyer in the hearing aid battery case may have heard that a child was treated in an emergency room and contacted the parents (by agent or by letter) with the suggestion that a lawsuit might result in a large settlement or award.
I was once involved, in a minor case, in something like this. My daughter was injured in an automobile accident. The insurance company didn't pay some of the expenses, and paid what they did pay very slowly. I was responsible for the bills, and the doctors and the hospital were harassing me to pay the bills.
I finally got a lawyer and asked him to get the insurance company to settle the claims. All I wanted was for the actual bills to be paid. The lawyer negotiated with the insurance company and obtained a settlement of about three time the amount needed to settle the claims even after his fee was deducted. I was never involved or consulted between the time I engaged the lawyer and the call from him asking if I'd accept the amount offered.
I didn't go into it with the intent to gouge the insurance company. I just wanted to be made whole again. But, my daughter ended up with a fat check (I gave her the amount left over after the bills were paid), the lawyer ended up with a fat check, and the insurance company paid out far more than they were obligated to pay. To me, it was sheer idiocy on the part of the insurance company to put themselves in a position where they risked paying out more than necessary, but that's the system.
Oh, well. I did not write this to offend anyone in the US or elsewhere, but simply to share how I perceive the expression and why.

OBaue: "lawsuit" is one word in American English. I'm not sure about British (or other) English.

That is one of the most difficult things for me to learn: when to use one word and when to use more than one. In Danish it's a bit more simple - all nouns are one word. David

Tony Cooper
Orlando FL
The coffee in McDonald's was not "hot." It was much too hot.

That kind of reply as well as the referenced web site is a very good example of what might make me (and with me the majority of europeans I suppose) exclaim "only in America".

You're from Denmark, right? So there's a country where everyone's forced to belong to the Venture Scouts and grown men are required to wear shorts all the time ("longs", as they are known in Danish, are forbidden). Only in Denmark!
It's not clear here if you realize that most Americans share those exact feelings

I haven't seen any polls on the subject, but I certainly realize that not all people are the same regardless of nationality.

It was not my intent to discuss "Americans" - only certain things about the image of US-America inherent in the use of the expression "only in America".
As such it is not much different from that we have similar stereotypes about other nationalities although we are quite aware that the stereotypes are in no way representative. The point of the stereotype is typically not to say anything about the party in question but rather to tell something about what the speaker is not. I think anthropologists have something to say about stereotypes and "the Other".

In Denmark we e.g. have stereotypes of Sweden (our neighbour) having overly prohibitive legislation especially as compared to Denmark. Although recent studies have shown that actually Danish legislation overall is much more prohibitive than Swedish, the stereotype lives and thrives. It does so primarily, because on a single point there is a big difference between Denmark and Sweden: In Sweden liquor is only available in special stores, Spritbolagen (litterally: "The liquor company"), originally operated by the state.
Historically the "temperance movement" (I had to look that up, and I'm not sure how common the expression is?) has had a firmer ground in Sweden and so they have had more prohibitive legislation regarding liquor sales. Danes are very much aware of that, because it has made Swedes, thirsty for anything stronger than a light beer, swarm the streets of the closest Danish cities.
The point is, it takes only a single case to keep a stereotype alive. So in Denmark we still have an expression calling something that seems overly prohibitive "Swedish".
The lawyer takes the case on a contingency basis.

Oh yes, we have ample access to American tv-series and movies to know all about that.
David
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