–ефераты. ѕоиск культурных корней јмериканцев (Looking for cultural roots of Americans)

ѕоиск культурных корней јмериканцев (Looking for cultural roots of Americans)









The plan.


First impressions while in the USA

Modern American is an ancestor of the frontiersman.

American paradoxes

Why do I like them anyway.


1. introduction

All societies must provide for the basic human needs of their members.

These include food, clothing, shelter, family organization, social

organization, government, security, belief system or religion, and

education. How a society provides for these needs depends on the geography

(climate), resources, and history of the society. Different cultural values

develop in different societies because of the variations in these factors

and how the people view them.

In order to understand why people behave as they do, it is necessary to

look at their geographical location and the historical events that have

shaped them as a group. Because the history of the USA is rather short

(relatively to most of the world), some of these influences are fairly easy

to understand.

2. First impressions while in the USA

Some visitors to the USA remain permanently baffled [about America and

Americans]. With despair and accuracy they point out endless paradoxes in

the typical American. Friendly on the surface, but hard to know intimately.

Hospitable and generous socially, but hard-driving and competitive

professionally. Self-satisfied, at times, to the point of smugness but self-

critical, at other times, to the point of masochism. And so on.

They find the regional diversity of Americans confusing, too. What on

earth, they ask, can a Maine lobsterman have in common with a Dallas

banker, a West Virginia coal miner, a Hollywood producer, a Montana sheep-

herder, or a black school-teacher on a South Carolina sea-island? And they

give themselves a bleak and hopeless answer; not much.

But that answer is almost certainly wrong; these people share the

mysterious and powerful intangible called nationality. They are all

Americans and, however faint, a common denominator is there, an almost

invisible strand woven out of common history, a common heritage and,

underneath the surface differences, a common way of looking at things.

3. Modern American is an ancestor of the frontiersman.

People never really escape from their origins. So, to understand an

American you should focus for a moment not on the modern American, but on

his ancestor, the 17th century settler who, having survived the grim

Atlantic crossing, found himself with his back to the sea facing a vast and

hostile wilderness that had to be tamed and conquered if he was to survive.

conquer it he and his descendants did, in a struggle so epic that its

memory lingers on in countless Western movies. Many of the basic attitudes

and characteristics formed in that struggle persist in Americans today. You

may find some admirable, and others less so. The point is, they are.

Everywhere he looked, that early American was surrounded by problems.

To this day, by tradition, by training Ц almost by instinctЦ Americans are

problem solvers and solution seekers. In some parts of the world,

uncomfortable or unpleasant circumstances are endured because they have

always been there and people see no alternative. To an American, a problem

is not something to be accepted; it is something to be attacked.

Adaptability, ingenuity, raw physical energy Ц these made up the

frontiersmanТs survival kit. To these qualities his descendants have added

enormous confidence in their technology and a kind of invincible optimism.

No matter what the obstacles, whether they set out to conquer polio or land

a man on the moon, Americans are convinced that initiative, intelligent

planning, and hard work will bring about the desired condition sooner or


A problem-solver is an achiever, and you will notice that once how

greatly Americans respect and value achievement (they have even invented a

whole industry called public relations to make sure that achievement

doesnТt go unrecognized.) They are happiest when accomplishment can be

measured specifically. A businessman wants his charts and graphs kept

rigorously up-to-date. A book tends to be judged by the numbers of copies

it sells. In sports, AmericanТs obsession with statistics often amazes non-

Americans. No fuzzy theory here; no guesswork. The American wants to know

exactly who is achieving what Ц and if he canТt measure it heТs inclined to

wonder if itТs any good.

To be an achiever, one must be a do-er, and it will soon be apparent to

youЕthat Americans are much better at doing that at merely being. In fact,

youТll notice that if theyТre deprived of doing for very long, they become

miserable. Some Americans grumble about their jobs, but the truth is most

of them think they should work hard and most of them like to work. It is

this national characteristic more than natural resources or any other

factor that has made the USA so productive. In modern American life, the

non-worker is regarded with a certain scorn based, perhaps, on the

conviction that in pioneer days he would not have survived.

These attitudes have produced a highly kinetic society, full of

movement and constant change. If youТre accustomed to a more leisurely

pace, you may find the American tempo exhausting. Or you may find it

exhilarating. Most Americans enjoy it; itТs a high compliment when they say

of a person, УHe has a lot of drive,Ф or УHe knows how to get things done.Ф

Almost invariably, the 1st question an American asks about a newcomer or

stranger is, УWhat does he do?Ф HeТs interested primarily in the personТs

main achievement, his work or his impact on his environment, not his

personal philosophy or inner world.

Restless and rootless, the frontiersman had no time to be philosopher

or a theoretician, and his descendants still take a pragmatic and

straightforward view of the world. Еyou may feel that Americans are much

more concerned with material than with spiritual things. YouТre probable

right. Religion is woven into the fabric of American life but most people

have little taste for metaphysics. Man is seen not so much as a passive

part of the schemes of things, but as a re-arranger of that scheme. When

the pioneer needed a waterwheel for a grist-mill, he built one, and his

great-grandchildren still have a unique genius for inventing machines that

can dominate or subdue their environment. Americans think nothing of moving

mountains, if the mountains are in their way. They simply combine their own

optimism and energy with unlimited mechanical horsepower and push.

Until recently, itТs true, Americans have been prodigal with natural

resources, because they seemed to be limitless, and careless about ecology,

because the traditional American way was simple to move on when an area had

been exploited. Now they are beginning to realize that itТs better to

cooperate with nature than try to overwhelm it. A European or Asian could

have told the Americans this long ago, but he would not have listened. He

learns more quickly from his own mistakes than from the accumulated wisdom

of the past.

Regardless of where you come from, it will seem to you that the

American is usually in a hurry. Because of this, he is extremely time-

conscious. He has a strict sense of punctuality and hates to waste time by

being late or having others late for appointments. If you ask an Englishman

or a Frenchman how far it is from London to Paris, youТll get an answer in

miles or kilometers. Ask an American and heТll probably tell you in hours

with his calculation based on the fastest available mode of transport.

Partly because of this time-obsessions, Americans are impatient with

ceremony, which is time-consuming, and with protocol, which they view with

suspicion as a dubious relic of monarchist days when they were rigid social

distinctions between people. Americans are taught from the cradle that Уall

men created equal,Ф a phrase enshrined in their Declaration of

Independence. They donТt really believe that this is true in terms of

ability, but they accept it politically. One man, one vote, with the will

of the majority prevailing and the rights of minorities safeguarded. This

is the AmericanТs political ideal, and it puzzles him greatly when it is

not accepted or admired abroad.

In everyday live, in a kind of a tacit acknowledgement of this official

egalitarianism, Americans tend to be informal, in most parts of the country

breezily so. Visitors from abroad are often astonished to hear secretaries

in American offices call their employers by their first names. The American

is also gregarious; he likes to join clubs or other organizations where the

backgrounds and thought-patterns of other members do not differ too much

from his own. He is likely to have friendships compartmentalized; those he

sees only at social gatherings. He enjoys the companionship of such

friends, but doesnТt offer Ц or expect to receive Ц deep intimacy or total

commitment. The rapid pace and enormous mobility of American society make

lifelong friendship difficult, although in small towns and settled

communities they do exist.

Some visitors to the USA say that the thing they miss most of all is

the emotional support that comes from close, sharing friendships. When a

Spaniard or Greek or Brazilian has some acute personal problem, he turns to

his best friend. An American is more likely to turn to psychologist, or a

marriage counselor. Americans have great faith in Уthe expert,Ф a

reflection of their conviction that specialized training and knowledge make

problem-solving quicker and produce better solutions. Most old societies

are firmly rooted in tradition. You will find that, while they often have a

sentimental attachment to the past, Americans are not true traditionalists.

To the forward-looking American, established ways are not necessarily best.

Unless your visit takes you to older parts of the country Ц New England or

the Deep South Ц youТll probable find that people regard adaptability as

more important than conformity with ancestral ways and customs.

In many countries, persons tend to think of themselves primarily as a

member of a group, or community, or sect, or a clan. The American sees

himself as an individual, and this individualism makes him wary of

authority in any form. He will accept military discipline in wartime, but

only reluctantly. He believes in maintaining law and order, but he also

believes that he is the best judge of what is good for him. In recent years

he has been forced to the conclusion that only centralized government can

deal with certain massive social problems. But his basic concept of

government remains unshaken; that the State exists to serve him, not the

other way roundЕ

4. American paradoxes

Yes, American life is full of paradoxes. Its people and culture, values and

beliefs are often seen as contradictory and at times even absurd. But like

all impressions of a nation or people, popular perceptions do not always

match to the day-to-day reality. Here are some of the paradoxes that you

can meet in the US.

Americans are fiercely individualistic. It may seem that everyone has an

opinion, whether they are informed about the subject or not. УThe every man

for himselfФ attitude is much a part of the American mentality. Americans

place great value on the individual. They believe that individuals are

solely responsible for their success and failures in life and that they

should Уearn their own wayФ. Due to this belief, you may see that

individual achievements are often measured by oneТs ability to accumulate

material things, rather than the quality or strength of oneТs character.

You will also hear arguments in support of individual rights over the

community good. And, even though Americans tend to be very generous in some

situations, many of them are not supportive of national programs where they

think that healthy, able-bodied people might not have to work for their

benefits. Americans are extremely patriotic. The have taken great pride in

their nationТs accomplishments and in being as Уthe bestФ or Уthe 1stФ.

whether it to be in national wealth, discoveries or inventions,

technological feats, or sport. National symbol such as the raising of the

flag, the pledge of allegiance and singing the countryТs national anthem

are rituals routinely made part of public life.

However, despite their fervent nationalism and love of country, only about

half of the Americans vote in political elections. In the 1992 presidential

elections that elected Bill Clinton, only 55% of eligible Americans voted,

which was the largest voter turnout since 1968, when 61% of citizens voted

for president. Many Americans donТt see voting as a duty but do consider it

a right. While immensely patriotic, the are suspicious of government,

distrust politicians and donТt see voting doing much to significantly

impact their everyday lives.

Self-absorbed in their own particular work and activities, most Americans

have limited knowledge even about their own country.

Americans have an extremely organized approach to recreation and leisure

activities. Their weekends and vocations are prepared and managed like any

other work while shopping and watching television consume much of their

leisure time.

In a nation where shopping is considered a leisure activity, Americans are

quite proud of the their purchasing power. The popular slogan Уshop until

you dropФ reflects the pattern of Americans going to shopping malls filled

with every imaginable consumer good and looking for the best deal. The

variety of goods and services available to the average American consumer is


If one didnТt know better, one would think that all Americans are rich and

can purchase anything that please them. But this is hardly the case. The

number of Americans living in poverty is more than 14%, while close to one

third of Blacks are poor. Americans are faced with walking by the growing

number of homeless people who they see on the streets.

Crime has become a result of poverty, drug trafficking and an assortment of

social problems that only seem to grow in number each year. While crime was

once the scourge of urban America, it has now become a major concern for

suburban and rural America as well. Millions of citizens own guns, and it

is reported that deaths by guns may soon be higher than the rate of

Americans who die each year in accidents. While the US has the largest

prison population in the world, little has been done to stop the

proliferation of lawfully owned guns among Americans who staunchly defend

the Уright to bear armsФ that is guaranteed by the US constitution.

5. Why do I like them anyway.

Despite the many serious problems they face, most Americans are optimistic

people. They have great faith in the future and believe that the future

will always be brighter.

Although they are often self-critical people, their criticism is seen as a

method by which the continue to create a better future for themselves. They

have traditionally thought that things can be УfixedФ and will always get

better for the future generations. They place great faith in technology and

its ability to improve the lives of people.


УHow to Understand Those Mystifying AmericansФ by Arthur Gordon.

Introduction to the USA Ц student workbook. © 1993, 1994 by YFU Washington,


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