Happy Birthday to the Most Popular Country in the World! 34


In reality, the birthday for the United States should be on July 2nd and not July 4th, since that was the actual day that the Second Continental Congress voted to adopt a resolution of independence from Great Britain. The reason we incorrectly celebrate the 4th is because that is the day the same Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence that Thomas Jefferson and others drafted. The worthless trivia that I know…

But Happy Birthday to the U.S.A. regardless!

4th of july poster art retro style

Let me say this on this post, because I’d really like to avoid a flame war in the comment section.

I love the United States and I’m immensely proud to have been one of the winners in the “birth lottery” and been lucky enough to be a citizen. It is one of the most interesting and most important countries in the history of the world — and while you can make an excellent argument it is the best country in the world — this is not that post. 

I get into a lot of discussions on my travels about the United States. Everyone has an opinion about the States and I’ve heard them all. I’ll be the first person in one of these conversations to willingly point out some of our many faults as a country, but also will point to the many varied reasons it is such a great and wonderful place. I think I’m very open minded about all the good and the bad that comes with any discussion of my homeland.

But again, this is not that post.

What I find more interesting than the debates back and forth about whether the US is a force or good or evil or whether we are a great country or corrupt one is this…

The United States is the most popular country in the world. And its really not even a close discussion.

worldwide immigration statistics via gallup survey poll

via www.gallup.com

One of the things I find most interesting in my travels around the world, which now have covered over 60 countries on all 6 occupied continents in the last four years, is how many people express a desire to move to the United States. I can’t count the number of people that have asked if I could somehow help them immigrate to the States, even after I try to tell them how difficult the process is and how expensive (especially usually compared to their countries) that the US is.

They don’t care. In their eyes, America is their dream.

Folks back home often ask me if it is safe to tell people you are American. Look, people around the world may hate our government, but almost universally they absolutely love America. The positive reactions I’ve gotten in every corner of the world never cease to amaze me.

I was having this discussion recently with some people and I couldn’t come up with the scientific number to express this seemingly obvious truth, but I actually found it today.

Gallup ran an international survey on this question from 2007-09. They surveyed 259,542 adults spread out among 135 countries representing 93% of the world’s adult population. Based on those surveys, Gallup estimated that 700 million people — 16% of the world’s population — wanted to emigrate from their current country to another. So where do they want to move to?

Fully 24% of them — 165 million people — picked the United States. There wasn’t another country that got more than 45 million (Canada, UK and France).

If people could vote with their feet, the US would have a lot of new folks picking out houses and apartments. And I’ve gotta say, I’m pretty damn proud that’s the case.

But Why?

If you think about it, it makes total sense. The United States dominates the world, and I don’t remotely mean in any military point of view. Music, movies, television, news, soft drinks, finance, fast food companies, and more….. the US is the dominant culture around the world.

For all the Republicans back at home that think the fact that we’ve got the biggest and best military in the world is so important, I’d point them to Madonna, Michael Jackson, James Cameron, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Hollywood, Rodeo Drive, Wall Street, Coca-Cola headquarters, and more. They should thank those people for the current preeminence of the United States around the world.

English is the world’s language because that is the language that people in the world consume a good portion of their culture with and that they increasingly do business in. It is the language of science and aviation worldwide. And although I love Great Britain, the reason English is the world’s language does not emanate from London these days.

michael jackson triller album cover

one of the world’s conquerers — and apparently my namesake

To hear scores of Filipino’s sing in perfect English at karaoke bar (though they might not have much skill in conversational English), is stunning. The number of people in Ethiopia that asked me if I was heartbroken when Michael Jackson died was so large that I thought there was a national joke being played on me.

Another funny side note is that they all assumed I was named after him.

So on this birthday of the country that I call my homeland, I’ll appreciate my good fortune in being able to carry its blue passport, acknowledge both our strengths and weaknesses as a country, and feel good that I come from the most popular country in all the world.

It’s good to be loved.

Just another bit of random good luck I’ve stumbled into.


About Michael Hodson

I’m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all.


34 thoughts on “Happy Birthday to the Most Popular Country in the World!

  • Tiffany

    I’m in Amman, Jordan right now and I couldn’t agree with you more about people’s desires to move to the states! In fact, no matter how many times I visit someone they will ask me these three questions:
    How do you find Jordan?
    Why would you want to come here when you’re from the states?
    (and most commonly) When are you planning on going back?

    Like you, I am pretty open minded to the whole the US is not so great argument. But I would never trade my nationality for the world!

  • Leah Travels

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post, Michael. I admit that I often take for granted the fact that I’m American until I travel. Exploring other countries reminds me what’s so great about the USA. Other nations might do certain things better or in ways that make more sense, but as a whole, I think America is pretty awesome. When I’m asked while traveling where I’m from, I always say Texas. But I am just as proud to say that I’m American.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      I regularly have to claim Texas also, since hardly anyone knows where Arkansas is. Not sure how I feel about that though…

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      I think the origin for this most might have been that conversation.

  • Lisa | LLWorldTour

    Good post. Agree on not ignoring the issues w/ the U.S. and having our big ‘hand’ all over the world for good and bad, but true as a traveler…I never felt anti-American sentiment. As you said, yes, anti-American Government sentiment yes, but that’s it. Happy 4th to you buddy!

  • Caitlin

    Happy July the 4th!

    I am not dissing the US but I’m entirely convinced about your argument on popularity. Why do only people wanting to emigrate get to vote on their favourite country? What about the billions happy where they are?

    If you have one Filipino who wants to move to the US and two Frenchmen who want to stay in France, then surely France is more popular in that scenario?

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Statistically based on this survey, the US is the most popular country in the world, besides the one you live in. I suppose I could have been more exact on how I phrased “most popular,” but “most popular other than were you were born and have your own patriotic feelings about,” might have been a long blog post title. 😉

  • Trav @ Extra Pack of Peanuts

    This year is definitely a different 4th of July for me seeing as I’m spending it in Japan for the 2nd straight year. I couldn’t agree with you (and some of the other commenters) more when you say that we are lucky, and also blessed, to have been born in a country that allows us so many opportunities.

    We could argue all day over whether it is the “best” country or the “most popular” country or any other tag that is put on it…but one thing we can’t argue about is that be being born in America, we are more fortunate than people born in all but a handful of other developed countries.

    It’s a blessing we shouldn’t take lightly, and I think those of us who enjoy traveling enjoy it not only for broadening our horizons, but also for deepening our love for all that we have be given. It’s nice to have a yearly reminder of July 4th should we forget from time to time.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      I agree wholeheartedly. I can’t say how often I just sit there and feel blessed with the good luck of my random location that I popped out into the world. Lucky me.

  • Just One Boomer

    Quite a few years ago when the EU was just coalescing, I read in an airline magazine as I crossed the Atlantic from the US to Spain that the common culture of Europe was American. It’s true that many Europeans know more about the United States from US movies, TV shows, music, American English, and US foreign policy than they do about other European countries. Ironically, as English has become the ‘lingua franca” of Europe, it has become easier for Europeans to study and travel in other European countries. (For example, we just met a German graduate student who is studying science in Finland—in English).

    When economic times are good, I think people would mostly rather stay in their own countries. I am assuming your stats about the US being a top choice for those who want to leave their country are correct, but I’ve met quite a few people in Europe who are afraid to visit the U.S. because they perceive it as unsafe.

  • Samuel @ Backpacking Travel Blog

    I remember you mentioning to me the topic of this article several months ago. I’ve been quite clear regarding my opinion that I don’t encourage Canadian’s to wear the Maple Leaf with the primary intention of not being confused as an American. In my experiences, people judge others more based on their personality rather than nationality.

    • Just One Boomer (Suzanne)

      As an American (I mean a USAer), I can completely understand why Canadians might want to have a maple leaf patch so they don’t have to respond repeatedly to the question, “Are you from the United States?” My experience is that Canadians abroad really do not like this question. I try not to assume people with “American” accents are from the US. I’m happy if I can hear an “ooot” or “aboot” to clue me in that someone is from Canada.

      The real question is whether Americans should wear Maple Leaves so they don’t have to start interactions listening to a tirade about the ills perpetrated by an international bully? (I’m paraphrasing here). It’s that or introduce oneself thusly: “Hi, yes, I’m American, but I didn’t vote for George W. Bush—either time.”

      • Michael Hodson Post author

        I am from Arkansas, but hardly anyone knows where that is, so I usually just say Texas when people ask. And I regularly have to follow up with, “no I didn’t vote for Bush.”

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      In terms of travelers relating to travelers? I agree. In this post, I was more focusing on people’s impressions of a country from afar though.

  • Lindsey

    I love this post – particularly as I’ll be travelling to the US to live for a year on an exchange visa next year! It’s a dream I’ve held for years, and whilst I can’t pinpoint exactly why I hold the idea of living in America, even for a short time, in such high esteem I can’t wait for it to finally happen!

  • Scott - Quirky Travel Guy

    One of the best things about the U.S. is how different things are from coast to coast. From the people to the landscapes, there’s so much variation, so it’s almost like a lot of different countries in one. I got to spend the 4th in Anchorage, which was a cool experience.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      In my eyes, it is the most interesting country in the world. Someone could travel there for a decade… and I have, before I went international.

  • John

    Great post, I’d never heard this stat before and it is absolutely telling about how most people actually view our country. It’s very encouraging to hear as an American who has had to listen to many lectures from travelers from other nations about how awful my country is.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      I find that most people’s “awful” is talking about our government. Heck, there are a good number of times I will start that conversation. LOL.

  • Chael

    I’ve traveled extensively in South America, and place where the United States is particularly frowned upon. I say this with the experience to back it up. However, you’re right to say that most are intelligent enough to separate the government from the country. I’ve only ever had to defend myself a few times to especially brazen attackers, but all in all it has been lovely to enter discussions about the United States.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Exactly. I find that many people dislike our government (sometimes with quite good reason), but they love the country nonetheless.

  • AlexBerger

    Mirors my experiences perfectly. A great post! Really illustrates the experiences and conversations I’ve had the last few days here in rural/northern Zambia along the Congo border.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Yep, the only country that I got a bad reaction from was Sudan, but considering our government had some pretty heavy sanctions on them at the time, understandable.

  • Andrea

    I’ve lived outside the United States for seven years now and for as many wonderful experiences I’ve had living and travelling in other countries, I still look forward to the day I finally get to live there again. I have dual citizenship now with Australia but the United States will always be my ‘home.’

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Man, I would give so much to have duel citizenship. Would be such a boon to traveling.

  • Sophie

    I think many people feel they won the birth lottery in their respective home countries. I certainly wouldn’t trade my Norwegian passport for anything.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Pretty much any First World birth is winning the birth lottery, in my eyes.

  • Janit

    A lottery it sure is. Just the fact that being US citizens means you can travel the world without VISA issues is a boon too. The bad government and the US embassy really does stick up for its citizens in any other country.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      The visa thing is such a big one. I have friends from other parts of the world and the hoops they have to go through are tough.

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