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Western Influence On American Culture

People isolate themselves with boundaries, physical and otherwise. With every boundary and border, comes every country with its population who like to believe that their country is the best country, superior to all others, and the same is true of most Americans. Even though the social scene has gotten even more diverse and globalized, many Americans have little to no exposure to foreign cultures outside of TV, movies, and the Internet. However, these depictions are often poorly written and stereotypical at best.

So if that is how the U. S. views the rest of the world, how does the rest of the world view us? What would an outside opinion of Americans tell us about our own culture? What stereotypes do other nations have about us? Reading foreign perspectives gives us interesting insights into how others perceive our social culture, our way of life, and our influence on foreign nations. If you were born and raised in a Western country, no doubt American etiquette seems either perfectly normal or only slightly odd.

A few standard practices of Western etiquette dictates a person should remember to say “please” and “thank you,” to chew with their mouth closed, and to hold the door open for the person behind them. To an outsider, the social rules Westerners follow can seem bizarre and inconsistent. Travel books for foreigners visiting the United States offer a fascinating glimpse at the social etiquette we follow. As these books are written for foreigners, we are awarded the opportunity to see American etiquette as viewed through an outsider’s perspective, and subsequently, see that American social etiquette is a forest of contradictions.

See, Americans value honesty and exuberance, but are also kind of prudish; Americans tend to be more religious than most Europeans, and more disapproving of nudity, and alcohol; A Swiss guidebook warns, “It is forbidden to bathe topless or without [a] shirt (even kids)… or photograph partially unclothed children (even at home). It is forbidden for people under 21 to drink alcohol” (Karass). Americans also appreciate their personal space: “‘Don’t be overly physical if you meet someone,’ says Lonely Planet.

Books gently deter cheek-kissing — and, when it comes to the intricacies of when to hug or not hug, suggest simply following the Americans’ lead” (Fisher, “Welcome to America”). This all sounds as if foreign visitors find Americans standoffish. However, that seems untrue coupled with this excerpt from a Russian guidebook, “Americans: they are a nation that truly feels happy. These people get used to smiling from the cradle onwards, so they do not pretend to be cheerful” (Karass).

By the same token, there are multiple other foreign sources that report confusion over the intricacies of American social relationships. A German guidebook explains, “Things like ‘We should get together sometime’ doesn’t really mean anything unless the same people keep mentioning it to you. ” (Karass). Similarly, Saint Louis University advises its foreign students: [That] Americans [will] often say, “Hi, how are you? ” or “How is it going? ” but do not wait for you to respond. These are friendly expressions, which are not always a question but rather another version of “hello.

If an American seems friendly, it does not necessarily mean that he/she has developed a friendship (a close relationship) with you. As is probably true in your culture, friendships are developed over a period of time (“American Culture and Social Life”). Furthermore, recent immigrants from Middle Eastern, West African, and Asian nations to America are confused by the same thing and share a “tendency to not understand the nature of the friendships/relationships they were making when they first arrived…

They’d meet with a lot of friendliness and amicable treatment, but there was a bit of cold water splashed in their faces as they assumed it was the beginning of a real friendship, and they’d seek the person out for activities, interaction, etc. ” (Koh). That friendliness can, in turn, seem insincere and shocking to immigrants coming from cultures where families live close. From the above we can see that Americans really are kind of bizarre, and definitely inconsistent: we are perceived as friendly and cheerful to the point of insincerity but actually prefer strangers to keep their distance.

Outside opinions of the American lifestyle vary depending on many things, including whether the viewer comes from an undeveloped or developed nation. Visitors from developing nations like Guyana and India marvel at our waste; for example, Britt Smith, a child of Guyanese immigrants, writes, “The [American] students used to get apples along with their lunch. Nobody ate them, so they’d just throw them away or leave them at the tables. My grandma was shocked at how they were able to just throw out good food like that, and that no other teachers cared” (Koh).

Similarly, an Indian immigrant writes, “I was aghast at the amount of stuff people wasted every single day. Food, electricity, water, paper . . . in India, we reuse stuff until it can only be thrown away” (Koh). To people from poorer nations, America’s wealth and consumption seem extravagant. Black Friday and Walmart superstores are incomprehensible to people living in poverty. In contrast, visitors from developed nations like Sweden, remark on America’s fear of socialism: “People really are afraid of socialism.

This seems to be especially true the less they know about it or believe it means turning their car into the state,” writes a Swedish immigrant (Koh). Consequently, it is shown that people from both developed and undeveloped countries repeatedly express disbelief at America’s geographic size, food serving sizes, widespread obesity, lack of public transportation, drive-throughs, reliance on large cars, and an obsession with fitness and running. Unsurprisingly, these issues are interconnected.

As a large nation with its infrastructure built around cars, rather than public transportation, it is shown that as our prosperity has grown, our food portions and waistlines have grown, too. As a result of our car-centric, sedentary lifestyle, and with the ideals of beauty being what they are today more people are turning to recreational exercise in order to combat its negative effects. Whereas recreational fitness is something of a foreign concept to nations where people walk and/or take public transportation.

These observations are not so shocking, as American magazines overflow with articles promising to shrink fat, and you also can’t drive past a strip mall without seeing a McDonalds. Hopefully reading how outsiders condemn America’s wastefulness, will give us the rude awakening we need in order lessen our nation’s waste for the betterment of the Earth and ourselves. However, despite our faults, other nations can’t deny American culture has a worldwide presence. Through poll data from 2012, we can see that foreign nations admire America’s scientific and technological edge.

Be that as it may, international opinions of democracy and American culture vary by nation and by time; A Washington Post blogger, Max Fisher, writes, “It’s not really surprising that people have strong opinions about America, but it is a reminder of how closely we’re watched around the world and of the strong feelings that the American model and American foreign policy elicit” (Fisher, “Who Loves and Hates America”); and according to 2012 data from Pew Research, “Italy is the only European country in which a majority (58%) says they like American ideas about democracy.

However, views in Europe have become much more positive on this question since it was last asked in 2007 — a time when ratings for the U. S. were generally low across the region” (“Attitudes Toward American Culture”). This is because, in 2007, many Europeans opposed the Bush administration’s involvement in the Iraq War, thus, America’s international popularity declined in Europe. Europe’s ambivalence toward America, particularly our low approval rating in Great Britain, surprises Max Fisher: “I thought we’d be more popular in the U. K. where politicians make a big deal out of the ‘special relationship’ with Washington. ”

Fisher explains this coolness from the British by noting, “It’s possible that there’s still some sense that once-great Britain is being led around by its former colony . . . as well as lingering resentment over the view that the U. K. was pulled into the Iraq War” (Fisher). Sadly, America’s involvement in the Iraq War left many Europeans with a dislike of America’s policies. According to Pew Research data, countries that are primarily Muslim generally dislike American democracy.

This makes sense given America’s heavy involvement in Middle Eastern affairs. Interestingly, America is incredibly popular in sub-Saharan Africa. According to Max Fisher, “many Africans, I’ve been told by scholars of the region, are keenly aware of how well African Americans have been doing since the civil rights movement, and see it as a point of African pride that the leader of the world’s most powerful country has roots in their continent” (Fisher). In addition, American popular culture (movies, music, and TV shows) has tremendous international influence.

Japan and Brazil, as well as European nations such as Spain, Italy, and France, especially like American popular culture. Predominantly Muslim nations tend to dislike it, except for Lebanon, where 65% of people surveyed like it. Lebanon has strong connections to Lebanese American communities, which likely accounts for its positive attitude (Fisher, “Who Loves and Hates America”). Muslims’ general dislike of American popular culture makes sense given the religion’s conservative nature in contrast to America’s heavily sexualized music and movies.

In most countries surveyed, American values and popular culture appeal most to people under 30. In Germany, for example, “94% of 18 – 29 year-olds like U. S. music, movies, and television, compared with 47% of people age 50 and older. Age gaps nearly as large are also found in Russia and France” (“Attitudes Toward American Culture”). Pakistan is the main exception to this trend, with only 10% of young Pakistanis approving of American popular culture. However, even countries that enjoy American popular culture have serious worries about “Americanization. Understandably, people worry their native culture will be swallowed up by America’s far-reaching influence.

Only Japan has a majority (58%) that feels positive that “American customs and ideas are spreading to their country” (“Attitudes Toward American Culture”). Even in Italy, where many people like American pop culture, only 40% of Italians support American ideas and customs spreading to their country, making it the most supportive country in the EU (“Attitudes Toward American Culture”). Internationally, Muslims especially dislike the spread of American culture, which doesn’t mesh with conservative Muslim values.

In conclusion, Every nation likes to see itself and its lifestyle as superior, but by looking through an outsider’s eyes, we can see our flaws: our overconsumption, our dependence on cars, our love affair with huge, greasy burgers. We can see our social interactions and understand that what seems natural to us may seem confusing or insincere to another. We can even see what other nations think of our movies, music, and television. We learn that not everyone likes us as much as we like ourselves. In turn, we can become more understanding of foreign values.

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