1.5.2 - US-American Values

 

US-American Values

 

So what are "US-American values"? How many are there? Do all US-Americans really share them? Answers to such questions always depend upon who is observing and reporting. For example, a few of the most common conceptions held by people from other countries about US-Americans include:

·       ignorance of geography, world affairs, and other cultures

·        generosity and charity

·        wealth and materialism

·        informality

·       loud, uncultured, & naïve behavior and attitudes

·        living to work, not working to live

·        self-assurance and independence

·        stress upon practical, problem-solving solutions

·        arrogance and self-righteousness

·        showing little respect for authority

·        friendliness, they "want to be liked"

·        relatively blunt and direct communication style

 

Obviously, US-Americans would see some of these characteristics as positive and worth emulating. Others are obviously negative and critical of US-Americans. While it is normal to reject criticism, to succeed abroad it is important to resist reacting negatively when people suggest that your values are not seen or appreciated in the same way you do. Trying to see things from another cultural perspective is always useful because the same behavior can often be interpreted completely differently. This is one of the first "rules" for going to a new culture.

For example, when a US-American is showing enthusiasm, high spirits, and normal excitement, local people may interpret that behavior as boorish, undisciplined, rude, and insensitive. The "normal" US-American tendency to be friendly towards strangers, smiling at them and making eye contact when walking down the street, is considered quite strange in many parts of Europe and Asia. This can be seen as inappropriate behavior often associated with the mentally ill or prostitutes! The US-American who insists that a relatively new acquaintance use first names can be particularly disconcerting to adults in those societies that value hierarchy and to whom maintaining status distinctions are important.

Such examples could be multiplied indefinitely, but the underlying value structures and ideas which comprise US-American cultural values can be reduced to a relatively few general themes. L. Robert Kohls enumerated such a list in his article, "Values Americans Live By." Do you want to read his list? If so, click here: Values Americans Live By-.

We need to pause here to clarify what "holding a US-American value" might mean. It doesn’t mean that absolutely every individual in the United States believes in every value that exists in the culture, nor does it mean that US-Americans always act according to these principles. 

All cultures set goals and propose ways of living that they think best. The difference between what people agree upon as worthy ideals and actual behavior has long been recognized as the tension between "ideal" versus "real" statements. The gap between the ideal of racial equality and the reality of US-American educational and housing patterns is but one example of the kind of inconsistencies that can exist in a society. 

Nevertheless, it is possible to identify US-American cultural patterns, and contrast them with those in other cultures. The US-American cultural values identified by Kohls and others all have counterparts in other cultures and they are often diametrically opposed to central core values in the United States. Therefore, they can be arranged into "contrast sets”" of cultural values.


 

..Memories..

 


To examine some of the most common US-American cultural values and begin thinking about how and why the culture you are about to enter may have different values, complete the following exercise:

 

Below are twelve cultural contrasts sets. They represent only a sample of such contrasts, but they commonly cause conflict. Read the sets with some attention to those you personally value most. Then, think about which values were stressed in your family. You may want to find out which values are more important in your host country.

 

DEFINITION OF CULTURAL CONTRASTS: Cultural generalizations about what a group of people think is good or ideal, even though they may not always act in accordance with the principle. Typical value contrasts include the following:

 

INDIVIDUAL 

Individualism

GROUP

Collectivism

COMPETITION

Independence

COOPERATION

Interdependence

TIME = MONEY

Time is Limited

TIME = LIFE

Time is Abundant

TASK-CENTERED

Activity/Doing

PERSON-CENTERED

Relationships/Being

FRANKNESS

Directness

HARMONY

Indirectness

EQUALITY

Egalitarian

HIERARCHY

Hierarchical

LOW CONTEXT

Information Given

HIGH CONTEXT

Information Understood

INFORMALITY

Warmth and Equality

FORMALITY

Respect for Age and Status

SELF-DETERMINATION

Control over life

FATALISM

Subject to Fate

CHANGE 

Future Oriented

TRADITION

Past/History Oriented

MATERIALISM

Acquisition = Success

SPIRITUALITY

Success = Spiritual Growth

YOUTH-ORIENTATION

Value Youth

HONOR ELDERS

Respect Ancestors and Elders

 

 

 


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