Did you know?
The first Independence Day was celebrated on July 8th, 1776 and the official signing of the Declaration of Independence took place on August 2nd. July 4th was officially declared a holiday in 1870, nearly 100 years after the Declaration of Independence was created.
The United States is one of those countries that people just think they know, even if they’ve never set foot on the soil. Many preconceived ideas about the country’s culture, landscape, and social systems come from today’s wide reaching media and the global diffusion of American music, movies, and television shows. In honor of July 4th, we’d like to dispel some of the most popular myths we hear about the U.S. (And if you’re an American, this could be great info to pass on to your international colleagues!)
Myth #1: Americans are rude and inconsiderate.
Reality: The American culture values frankness and honesty in communication. This, however, is not an excuse for disrespect.
Tip: Americans are very direct when circumstances or opinions are positive. However, they actually tend toward a slightly indirect style when there is a need to provide negative feedback. As a result, Americans most often give negative feedback in a “sandwich form.” For example, first they say something positive (the bread). Then they insert the critique (the meat). Finally, they end on a positive note (the bread). Being honest and direct in this way is highly appreciated and considered constructive. It also emphasizes practicality and optimism, two other important values.
Myth #2: Relationships in the U.S. are superficial.
Reality: U.S. Americans often develop relationships that are transactional and practical. So, as long as there is a mutual benefit between two parties, a relationship exists. When this mutual interest goes away, the relationship may as well.
Tip: Transactional relationships are primarily based on common interests. When Americans ask, “So what do you do?” it is a way of finding out about your interests. They are seeing where there may be commonalities in order to initiate the relationship-building process. The most common answer to this question is a professional one (i.e. “I’m a Managing Director at an investment bank”). However, you can still answer effectively even if you’re not working. For example, “I just relocated from Switzerland and am currently focused on getting settled. I’m looking for part-time consulting opportunities and hope to join a local book club.”
Myth #3: Cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. are representative of the culture in the entire country.
Reality: Many major cities in the U.S. have stunning skylines with iconic buildings, but the fifty states show tremendous variation in terms of landscape, industry, population, and culture.
Tip: Learn about the regional history and norms in your part of the country. For example, in the Northeast, the pace of life is fast. As a result, people are more controlled about time and punctuality, and communication is very direct. In the South, there is generally a warmer, friendlier, and more traditional culture. There’s also a large religious influence, particularly around the “Bible Belt”, that influences daily life.