Adjusting to American Culture

Some Do and Some Don't

The United States is an incredibly diverse culture where it is different in every city or for that matter — every state. Americans are a diverse lot, where mixed-race people abound. We are beset with racial and economic tensions from the haves and the have nots, as some judge our economic situation as being similar to a Third World Country since we have to pay for health care. The United States can be hard for many to adjust to, in particular when somebody is asked: “How are you?” when the answer is expected to be “fine, thanks.” American television doesn’t help new immigrants adjust to the daily grind.

It would seem to some people that Americans do not know enough about the rest of the world, let alone the rest of the country. States have very different cultures from one another. In the United States, we value our independence as individuals. Many immigrants feel that they are trapped in two worlds, as children in the United States walk to school on their own or with their siblings. Americans are very forthright when they talk to people, telling it like it is without mincing words. Some foreign mothers are treated as though they are overprotecting their child.

In some cultures that are more traditional, such as Filipino culture, the “family surpasses the individual. Hierarchical roles define each member’s position in the network of relationships and parents, between father and children, and between mother and children. For instance, the mother plays a paramount role in the nurturance of the children. The burden of the child’s well-being rests on the mother” (p. 48). In the United States, independence is taught from a very early age while in other countries, this is not necessarily the way it is. In Western, English-speaking countries, some families are like this.

But in more traditional cultures, kids have to wait on things like learning to drive. In Thai culture, you can ask personal questions but Americans do not show interest in personal life or income of another person. These are considered taboo topics but talking about your job is okay (p. 69). Americans value individual privacy, the Thai informant remarks. Thais view relationships with Americans as superficial. This is something many people from other cultures struggle with where relationships are not so superficial.

In the United States, the Thai observer writes that she would pick up babies who would fall but American mothers believe that babies need to be on their own. Asians feel they cannot find genuine friendships with Americans. American individualism is evident in the way Americans give each other separate plates. Thai style involves eating from a big serving dish in the middle of the table. In Thailand, parents do not encourage their kids to work until they have finished their education, unlike in the United States where children can have part-time jobs in high school (p. 70-71).

Culture shock is something anthropologists and sociologists study. Culture shock means that a person from a foreign country coming to the United States sees people doing things not the way they are used to. If you as an American, go to another country where things are done differently, then you will also feel the counterbalance of culture shock. People from other countries value their modesty while Americans feel the need to humble brag. Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday that one anthropologist recalls as “when I was confronted with stylized, if not ritualized, dramatic performances that revealed America to me in its glory even when the actual details were altogether gross” (p. 79). Adjusting to American culture is an individual act. Some can adjust while others do not.

Works Cited

DeVita, Phillip R. and James D. Armstrong. Distant Mirrors: America as a Foreign Culture 3rd Edition. 2002. Wadsworth. Belmont, CA. p. 48., p. 69, p. 70-71. 

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