Tuesday, June 28, 2011
CULTURE: AMERICAN STYLE
As the 4th of July approaches, I have been thinking about what defines American culture. Or does the United States even have a specific/dominant culture? Some feel the U.S. has no true culture compared to the "older" civilizations of Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. I searched the Internet for answers. One website dealing with worldwide culture, etiquette, customs and protocol stated that: "America is ultimately a nation of immigrants and as a result is a cultural mish-mash in every sense of the word".
It's true that America is a nation of immigrants. Only about 1% of the population is Native American. But is the Country a mish-mash? The definition of mish-mash is a "jumble". A jumble is described as: "a mass of things mingled together without order or plan". I think it can be safely said that the U.S is not without order or plan. The children of the various immigrants all go to school (for free). Those who become citizens vote, pay taxes, and serve jury duty. With each successive wave of immigrants, there is a blending of old ways with new ideas.
How do people in other countries view American culture? Most know Americans from television shows, movies and music. (Which is a rather scary thought, considering much of our entertainment attempts to derive humor out of extreme stupidity). Though sometimes exaggerated, American values do come across in those venues. Beliefs such as human nature is basically good, accomplishments and winning are important, and individuals have the right to choose what is best for them, even if it means going against the group.
Americans are often thought to be too direct and informal, striking up conversations with strangers, or commenting on the behavior of other people's children. We are curious and will stop and gawk at traffic accidents, or watch long and tedious car chases on television. Foreign visitors are confused by our complex list of social rules about where and how much to tip. (So are most Americans). A bathroom is where the toilet is, and may or may not include a bathtub. Women do not go topless on the beach. Americans do not know how to barter or haggle (except for cars). We do not bribe anyone in a position of power unless we want to take the chance of being arrested.
The United States does have a culture. How do I know for sure? Because every 4th of July, without fail, Americans celebrate. We put out our flags, dress in red, white, and blue, have barbecues, and watch fireworks. We are not a mish-mash, but a Country with a deep sense of being American that is not always easy to put into words.