This is it folks: the final countdown. The last 5 days, 18 hours and 5 minutes (or 5 days and some odd hours, depending on when you are reading this). But who is counting right? As I reflect back on my time here, I wanted to reflect back on what I learned about American culture and what other people think about the American culture. I know this sounds odd, trust me, but you learn two cultures when you go abroad: the host country’s and your own.
From the moment I stepped off that plane, I realised that even though my exterior appearance could pass me off as Dutch, the moment I open my mouth that facade disappears. And people become as interested in me as the lion exhibition at the zoo: “You’re from America?” “Ze komt uit Amerika!”. I can’t type out the way they say it but insert some fun jazz hands and you are pretty close.
The Dutch, in their nature, are very straight forward and I have found that every initial conversation when I meet someone new is about one of the three following subjects:
- Their travels/family travels to America
Typically if it begins with either of the first two, they always bring up both. This made me realise how little Americans talk about politics in public. It is always a “hush hush” conversation and is reserved for people who know you best. That went out the window here and I’ve talked more about politics here than I ever did back home.
Once that person and I got past those unavoidable topics, we got to talk about how I’m doing here, what I think of the Dutch, what they think of America and so much more. It was eye opening to learn about their perception of my country and to hear how they learned it. Through these conversations and my courses, I feel like I am ready to answer the semester long question of: What is the American culture?
I’ve realised that America is one big boiling pot of cultures. There is not any single “one culture fits all” that I can use to define everyone. The country is just too large with too many people that one over sweeping statement is simply not possible. With all of this being said, I learned that while there is no one culture, there is some common practices:
- Bigger and more! Whether this be food portions, trucks, houses, we have this perception that the more we have of something, the better it is perceived to be.
- Customer service oriented. Whenever we shop somewhere or eat out, we feel this sense of “the customer is always right, even when they are not”. This means that every action is important from the business side so we smile and consistently ask if we can get them anything or do anything better. The reasons can be debated all day (wages, competition) but compared to the Netherlands, this is different.
- Fast food. We thrive off of it. When I was asked what typical American foods are, I thought of fatty, fast and easily accessible meals first before I thought of anything homemade.
- Hollywood and media. Popular social outings and conversation topics revolve around “this actor is starring in this movie” or “this artist just released this new song, have you heard it”? The world also listens and watches to what American’s produce so this isn’t anything uncommon but I now realise how integral it is to our culture.
These are just a few of the “ah-ha!” moments I had about what it means to be American. We are such a large country with so many ideas and people that, despite the frustration and complications this brings, is unlike anything else and is truly remarkable. The Dutch grow up only with the Dutch. The French, only with the French and this goes on and on. We are integrated with cultures and viewpoints from all over the world and that is something incredible.