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Thread: Differences Between the American and European Cultures

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    Differences Between the American and European Cultures

    Foreign faces welcomed me happily, "Hi! How are you today, Miss?" Airport clerks said, "Take care, young lady," after I checked in my luggage. Flight attendants said, "Enjoy your trip" and wished me "a wonderful day."

    When I first put my feet on American soil, arriving at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport in 2000, I was amazed by the constant happiness of Americans.

    Strangers appeared to be friends and everybody seemed to be connected as I joined America's "melting pot."

    Although I found the positive attitude, emotional appeal, and great informality among people mostly artificial, it helped me to adapt to this new environment and to make friends. The openness of Americans to a multi-racial population made me feel safe. I learned so much from encountering people with different backgrounds and cultures.

    Soon after, I decided to stay longer in the United States and to attend school in Boston. During any school vacations, I always traveled home to Germany to visit my family and friends. During my last stay at home, I noticed that my time in America affected the cultural behavior that I displayed in Germany.

    I experienced a funny cultural misinterpretation. On a sunny December afternoon, I dropped off my boots at a local shoemaker's store to get the heels repaired. Stefan Mueller, the owner of the shop and a shoemaker himself, assured me that the order would be ready to be picked up the next day. I was excited to hear that such prompt and perfect service still exists in my small town of Bernkastel-Kues and I could not wait to go back the next day to pick up my boots.

    "Hi! How are you today?" I greeted Mueller with a big smile on my face, happy to see my new heels. I reached down into my purse and searched for some money while noticing that Mueller never responded to my question.

    When I looked at him, I saw his face blush and his eyes stare at me as if I was an angel sent from God. "Well," Mueller answered in a sensual tone. "I am doing well. How are you today?"

    I could hardly hold back my laughter. I realized now that I spoke in an "American" way to Mueller. Hi! How are you today?' can be directed to everybody in America, even to strangers, but in Germany, this informal phrase is only used among people who either know each other or want to get to know each other.

    I could hear a giggle coming out of my mouth. "Well," I said, "How much is it for the heels?" "Nothing for you, today. How about a drink tonight?" I grabbed my shoes and quickly ran out of the shop.

    "Oh my God, this guy just thought that I was flirting with him," I told my sister who was waiting for me in the car. "What do you mean?" Marta asked.
    After telling her what happened in the store, explaining the misunderstanding with Mueller, I taught my sister some of the differences of cultural encounters and how they can lead to misunderstanding or misinterpretation.

    In order to avoid awkward situations such as the one at the shoe store, I have learned to be always conscious of my behavior and to think about what I am saying before I speak. A simple "hello" is enough in Germany to be polite and greet someone. But in America, people usually expect to ask how the other person is doing. Some Americans might consider a simple "hi" as rude or distant behavior.

    Tom Ernsing, a human communications specialist, provides his readers with a presentation on the Internet about "bridging the cultural gap between Germans and Americans." Ernsing writes, "Germans consider Americans superficial, easily sold on simple concepts; Americans regard Germans as always serious, with no sense of an issue's emotional heart."

    In addition, he says, "German officialdom seems unable to address emotion or have any sense of humor, while American officialdom seems bent on selling ideas without defining them in depth."

    In addition, one might see differences among cultures in situations such as punctuality. I have noticed those cultural differences within my friends. Although I believe that punctuality is a matter of personal behavior rather than cultural value, I think that being on time might be somehow related to one's cultural background. Germans value punctuality, while Americans often do not emphasize being on time. One of my Japanese friends said that she always tries to be on time because being late is considered impolite in her culture. In contrast, some of my American friends always show up late, and although they usually have good excuses, they do not value punctuality as much as Japanese or Germans.

    Cultural differences occur on different levels and in different situations. In another encounter I experienced cultural differences among guests and hosts at a dinner party. A few years ago, I cooked dinner and invited some of my friends from school to a cultural evening. While everybody claimed to love the food that I made, Melissa Fiorillo, an American graduate from Suffolk University, did not finish eating the food she put on her plate, a common behavior that I noticed in her and some other Americans.

    Some people might argue that the food I made was not eatable, but I think that this behavior is related to one's cultural background. In Germany it is considered impolite to leave any food on the plate at a dinner party. In America, however, people do not strictly see it as impolite if someone cannot finish their dinner. It is okay to leave some food behind without feeling bad. Since I have encountered this behavior several times before, I did not get angry at my friend.

    Ever since I was born I have experienced different cultures and learned from it. Born in Poland, grown up in Germany, going to school in France and the United States, I have friends from all over the world. We have exchanged different cultural values, attitudes and beliefs and learned from each other.

    Cultural differences and experiences enrich a person's life. It is always advantageous to put aside dogmatic thoughts and become open-minded toward people from foreign cultures. One can never benefit and learn more about a different culture than through first hand experience and contact with natives.

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    5 ways Americans and Europeans are different

    1. Americans are more likely to believe they control their own destiny. In a 2014 survey, 57% of Americans disagreed with the statement “Success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside our control,” a higher percentage than in any of the European nations polled. (At the same time, it’s worth noting that on this and other questions there are differences within Europe too. For example, on this question, the United Kingdom looks a lot like the United States.) Americans are also especially likely to believe that an individual who works hard can find success: 73% said hard work is very important for getting ahead in life compared to a European median of 35%.

    2. Americans tend to prioritize individual liberty, while Europeans tend to value the role of the state to ensure no one in society is in need. Nearly six-in-ten in the U.S. (58%) believe allowing everyone to pursue their life’s goals without interference from the state is more important. Majorities in all European nations polled in 2011 said guaranteeing that nobody is in need is more important.

    3. There is greater tolerance in the U.S. than in Europe for offensive speech. A solid majority (77%) of Americans believe citizens should be allowed to make statements that are offensive to people’s religious beliefs, a significantly higher share of the public than in any of the European Union nations included in our 2015 survey. In Poland, Germany and Italy, fewer than half think this kind of speech should be legal. Similarly, Americans are more likely to say offensive statements about minority groups should be permitted.

    4. Religion is significantly less important to Europeans than to Americans. Just over half in the U.S. (53%) say religion is very important in their life, nearly double the share who hold this view in Poland, which registered the highest percentage among EU nations polled in 2015. In France, only 14% consider religion very important. Globally, there is a strong relationship between a country’s wealth and its level of religiosity. Nations with higher levels of gross domestic product per capita tend to have lower percentages saying religion is very important in their lives. However, the U.S. is a clear outlier to this pattern – a wealthy nation that is also relatively religious.

    5. Americans and Europeans don’t always agree on questions about morality, especially on issues related to sexuality. For instance, while just 30% in the U.S. think sex between unmarried adults is morally unacceptable, this is nonetheless significantly higher than what our 2013 poll found in Europe. And while adultery is widely frowned upon in the EU – except, notably, in France – Americans are even more likely to say having an affair is morally unacceptable.

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