Host Culture: What Makes Americans, American?

Americans are always in such a hurry

Americans often seem this way because of their tendency to use achievements and accomplishments to measure your worth. They’re in a hurry to get things done because it’s only then that they feel they have proven their worth to other people. The more Americans accomplish, the more they feel they are respected. To them, time is money, giving you the impression everything is just “business”. One reason Americans tend to underestimate the need for relationships is that time is so important to us and they don’t realize that building relationships and taking time to talk to people is so important. These things are not time wasters to 85% of the rest of the world. Curt, information-only e-mails are the rule, but you can teach them a few things about the value of taking time to stop and smell the roses like showing personal interest or opening an e-mail with a hello, if appropriate saying you hope they had a good weekend, closing it with your name, just being polite.

They always insist on treating everyone alike

Americans do this because of our cultural roots as a free nation (e.g., “All men are created equal”). Americans have a deep cultural instinct toward social equality and not having a class system. This is a reaction to the European class system as well as the feudal system that existed in Europe. In cultures where inequality between social classes is more accepted, American insistence on egalitarianism, or social equality, may be annoying. For example, in egalitarian societies like the US, Australia, Israel, and the Netherlands, business managers are viewed as coaches who provide resources and motivation to realize individual potential. Managers empower employees to make decisions, and employees are expected to take the initiative.

They always have to say something

Americans believe that being direct is the most efficient way to communicate. It’s important to “tell it like it is” and “speak your mind”—to say what you mean and mean what you say. Being direct is often valued over “beating around the bush.” Americans value assertiveness and being open and direct about one’s thoughts and feelings. Not all cultures have this same value. In some cultures, the normal way to disagree or to say no is to say nothing or be very indirect.

Americans always want to change things

Americans think things can always be better, and that progress is inevitable. The United States is a little more than 200 years old, and American culture tends to be an optimistic one. Older cultures are more skeptical because they have been around longer, have experienced more, and have been in situations in which progress was not always made. In American businesses, being open to change is a strong value, because things really do change quickly, and it is necessary to adapt. Many Americans believe it is “good” to initiate change and “bad” to resist it. The most serious errors made by Americans when dealing with other cultures is assuming they share a love for risk-taking. “When an American manager introduces himself to a new team, he says, ‘I’m here to learn. Tell me what we do well, what we don’t do well, and how to fix It.’ because it is empowering and makes us feel valuable.

They don’t seem respectful of elders

Americans believe people must earn by their actions whatever regard or respect they are given. Merely attaining a certain age or holding a certain position does not in itself signify achievement. In hierarchical cultures like India, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, social ranking is somewhat fixed by birth, and family status plays a role in how much one can accomplish in the future. Hierarchical organizations have distinct layers and everyone expects to see visible trappings of power and authority. Written and verbal communication is more formal. “If an American professor taught in a hierarchical country like Mexico and said, “What do you think?” students lose confidence because he asked what they thought, while the students were thinking “If I knew the answers, I’d be the professor. You’re not supposed to ask me!”

They’re so optimistic

America, because of its resources and successes, has always had a culture of optimism. Americans believe that they are in control of their own destinies, rather than being victims of fate. Many Americans tend to believe that “the American dream” can be achieved by anyone who is willing to work hard enough. Many Americans believe that the only obstacle to things getting better is “not trying hard enough.” Americans also believe that a personal lack of determination or effort can be fixed. Other cultures may believe more in fate (“what will be will be”). When something bad happens, some members of these cultures believe it was fated to happen, must be accepted, and cannot be changed.

Americans are so impatient!

Americans believe that if things take a long time to do, they won’t be able to do enough of them. Many Americans believe that more and faster is better. They do not like to stand in line and wait, and they originated fast food. Americans believe that getting things done (and doing them quickly) may be more important than other things. Many other cultures believe that slower is better and that building and maintaining relationships takes priority over getting things done at the expense of relationships.

They seem self-centered

Americans are fiercely independent people. This significant cultural value can be at odds with the natural tendencies of most people, which is to be dependent and connected to others. This independence may be hard for many people to understand and achieve, but for Americans, it is very desirable. While it can be perceived as “selfish,” the true nature of this belief is self-reliance. Americans take care of themselves and expect others to do the same. Popular shows and numerous films show heroes, usually ordinary individuals, who save the day (or the world!) by acting on their own; sometimes bypassing rules and authorities and ignoring group opinion.

Their life seems tough

Even when doors are open, people ask before entering. While friendly and helpful, they expect themselves and others to make their own decisions and do their own jobs. They don’t answer other people’s phones at work. Self-help books, groups and do-it-yourself projects are standard. While protective of their children, most US parents treat them like small adults. American children are encouraged to make their own decisions from the earliest age. Young adults move away from home, usually after high school. Most American kids have their own phone, computer, TV set, and car too. So, as they are expected to be self-reliant, Americans have a fairly low and declining level of social welfare, healthcare, and public services. Volunteerism for a good cause is common, but also on the decline.

Minimizing the Effects of Culture Shock - Part 1
Host Culture: Culture shock