As I mentioned in a previous blog post, culture is like water and people are like fish. In other words, it is difficult to see certain aspects of your own culture until you are removed from it. After spending time abroad, these are the aspects of my home culture (U.S. American) that I now find odd, which I didn’t notice before. Like most cultural traits, none of these are 100% positive or 100% negative, just noticeable!
Aspect 1: As a society we are super cautious about germs.
Nobody seems to love gel hand-sanitizer as much as U.S. Americans! In addition, we tend to have signs posted in our schools, workplaces and other public areas about the importance of covering your cough and washing your hands. Our household cleaners are strong and potent. We even have sanitizing wipes posted at the front of grocery stores to wipe our shopping carts with. No other place I’ve visited seems to be quite as vigilant about fighting germs—for better or worse (antibiotic resistant bacteria, anyone?).
Aspect 2: U.S. Americans are constantly in our cars, and we tend to invest little in public transportation (in certain areas—this does not apply as much in some of our big metropolises like New York City)
One of my favorite things about living and studying in South Korea was the public transportation system, both inside the city and across the country. Although the Seoul Metropolitan Subway system is pretty exceptional in itself, I think that the U.S. generally could learn a lot from other countries about public transportation. However, the American affinity for cars as a main mode of transportation is ingrained in our culture and our history. It doesn’t mean we are all in love with our cars, but we are much more inclined to use them. You can read more on one perspective of this issue here.
Aspect 3: U.S. Americans in general tend to be more “flaky.”
This is something that can vary greatly based personality and upbringing. However, I’ve noticed that it is more common and more acceptable among U.S. American friends to cancel plans without a reason. I’ve observed that many of my acquaintances raised outside of the U.S. are much more diligent about keeping even the most vague or small of plans. And usually, if these friends say “let’s get together sometime,” they really mean it, and I can be sure that I will hear from them soon. Of course, there are pros and cons to both sides of this trait. Americans tend to prioritize “me time,” which can also be very healthy.
What do you think? Americans, have you ever noticed these traits in yourself or the people around you? Non-Americans, have you seen these qualities while traveling in the U.S. or talking with American friends? Where do you think these traits come from?
P.S. American or U.S. American?
Note: I use “American” and “U.S. American” interchangeably in this post to refer to the people and culture of the United States of America. I recognize that the word “American” can be used to describe people and things from all over North and South America. But I’ve also been told that saying “U.S. American” all the time sounds weird and confusing. What are your thoughts on this?