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Culture Shock USA Part II

Here are a few cultural tips to keep in mind:

  • Americans are competitive, with each other and with themselves. It is important to constantly improve yourself and do better than you did last time, whether at a baseball game or school assignment or party. The USA is an achievement-oriented society, and the widespread belief is that if you work hard enough and want it bad enough, the sky is the limit and anything is possible. This is the American Dream.
  • In general, Americans talk fast and have many accents, some of which are harder to understand for foreigners than others. They will probably not realize that their accent may be difficult for you to understand, and it is perfectly acceptable to ask them to slow down their rate of speech.
  • Americans are direct and assertive, and often say exactly what is on their minds. While this is considered rude in some countries, in the US there is a great value in the right for everyone to express his or her opinion.
  • Extended families are not the norm in America. Families live in small nuclear units, often with only one parent. Community life is not based on family or tradition but on shared interests, like rock music or a shared religion or a love of good wine.
  • Americans smile a lot. This is not considered a sign of imbecility, just happiness and optimism.
  • Americans work hard and play hard. Wasting time is frowned upon, and sitting around doing nothing seems like laziness. Americans like to be on the go.
  • Americans may be shy about asking you about your homeland or ethnicity as they are hypersensitive about political correctness and do not want to offend you, though if you bring it up they will likely have questions about your country and your way of life.
  • Americans love their cars and the independence that having a vehicle affords. Many areas of the country have no public transportation at all.
  • Americans love foreign accents, though have a hard time telling apart between similar ones, like Australian and English. If you are looking to meet a mate in America, your accent will likely help you in your quest.

Some regional differences

Northeast/New England
Though many perceive New Yorkers are rude, in reality they are just busy. They talk fast and get directly to the point. This has nothing to do with you or a bad day on the part of the speaker; it is just the way they are. Life is fast-paced and time is money.

The South
A culture of honor remains in the southern United States and you will hear "yes mam" and "ono sir" spill out the mouths of southerners from age 5 to 95. They are overwhelmingly nice in the south, with big smiles and bigger hair. Although the speech is much slower (a southern drawl), the accent may make it more difficult to understand.

The Heartland
Middle America is full of farms and small towns who probably don't share the same values as people in the big cities of the West and East coasts. The heartland is more conservative and traditional, though no less friendly. If you look different or wear unusual clothes, you may be subject to questions- or at least weird stares.

West Coast
Laid-back, friendly, and outgoing people dominate the West Coast who in general think their friends over on the East Coast need to chill out a bit. The warm climate of California makes for sunny dispositions, while the rain in the Pacific Northwest means that people from Seattle or Portland are a bit more withdrawn, but no less polite and friendly.

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