1.5.2 - 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:
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.
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: