What Is a US American? Part One
- Control of Nature and the Environment
- Progress and Change
- Moralistic Orientation
- Time Orientation
- Doing Rather Than Being
There are so many aspects to any one culture that it is difficult to describe what a specific culture is like in only a few words. Most people living in the U.S. are either immigrants themselves or descendants of immigrants who have been arriving since the beginning of the 1600's. It is not surprising, therefore, that the U.S. contains many different cultures and ethnic groups. How then can one talk about "Americans?" When people try to describe Americans, they are often referring to the behaviors, values, and ideas of the white middle class, since historically people in this group have held the most prominent positions and have exerted the greatest amount of influence on the predominant ideals of society. Not all Americans are white or middle class, nor do they necessarily agree with white middle class values, but these values are widely evident in the U.S. To help you understand better the behavior you may observe in the United States, some characteristics of American culture are described below. But bear in mind that not everyone in this culture will display these traits.
Americans usually think of nature as something that can be altered, conquered, and controlled for people's comfort and use, for example, to minimize the effects of fierce weather conditions. In contrast, many cultures accept nature as a force greater than people and as something to which people must adapt, not something they can or should change and control.
Most people in this country accept change as an inevitable part of life. Non-western people tend to look upon their traditions as a guide to the future. Americans are more inclined to make decisions based on the anticipated or desired immediate future. Achievement, positive change, and progress are all seen as the result of effort, hard work, and the control of nature and one's destiny or future.
Americans generally believe that people should strive to be autonomous and self-reliant. Most Americans see themselves as separate individuals, more than members of a nation, family or community. They dislike being dependent on other people or having others dependent on them. Some people from other countries view this attitude as "self-centeredness;" others may view it as a healthy freedom from constraints imposed by family, clan, or social class. Members of a traditional society are more likely to regard their role in life as unavoidable and seldom to be questioned or changed. Social and cultural factors may be viewed simply as barriers that need to be overcome in order for them to get ahead. A result of this attitude is the competitiveness of American life. Achievement is a dominant motivation in American culture.
Americans tend to want to win other people over to their way of thinking and are likely to judge other societies in terms of the U.S. Americans often think that other countries should follow their example and adopt their way of doing things; they tend to think that their way is the best, despite the many serious social and environmental problems in the U. S. Other cultures are often evaluated as better or worse than this one, rather than simply different.
Americans place considerable value on punctuality. Because they tend to organize their activities by means of schedules, they may seem harried, always running from one thing to the next and unable to relax and enjoy themselves. Since Americans are so time conscious, the pace of life may seem very hectic. Being on time is regarded as very important, and in the U.S. most people make an effort to arrive on time. Not all Americans are punctual, but almost everyone is conscious of time. Different types of activities have different conventions. One should arrive at the exact time specified for meals, and for appointments with professors, doctors, and other professionals. You can arrive any time between the hours specified for parties, receptions, and cocktail parties. Plan to arrive a few minutes before the specified time for public meetings, plays, concerts, movies, sports events, classes, church services, and weddings. If you are unable to keep an appointment, it is expected that you inform the other party that you will be late or unable to arrive.
Americans consider activity to be a good thing; thus, the expressions "keeping busy" and "keeping on the move." Rather than simply getting together with friends to spend time together, Americans frequently will plan a particular activity so that there is a focus to the time spent with friends. People in other cultures often comment on this American emphasis on "doing."