In this week's post, Katrina shares some of her observations on cultural differences, including stereotypes held about Americans and some of her own presumptions about other cultures too.
Being an American in a foreign country has definitely given me insight into US culture and given me new eyes with which I look at myself and our culture more critically. The differences (while neither “good” or “bad” are definitely present, and it is really fascinating to observe them.
Photo: Enjoying the food and culture in Italy
The election in the US has certainly been an interesting one, and is sure to be historically important in years to come. Like the US, the UK recently voted to leave the European Union (“Brexit”), a surprising political development that will undoubtedly have plenty of repercussions. Being American and a college-aged student in particular, people don’t usually ask my opinion about politics. I grew up in a culture where talking about things like politics and religion openly were frowned upon. In the UK, I’ve enjoyed having a chance to talk about both US and UK politics with my colleagues, professors, and other people I encounter. Sometimes, though, people do have a negative impression of Americans based on some of the things that are happening in our country. I’ve heard a lot of people make remarks about political candidates that reveal a negative opinion of America as a whole. I’ve definitely noticed a conscious effort from my peers to not add to stereotypes surrounding our current political situation.
Photo: Ocean view in Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre
There is also a stereotype that American tourists are “loud and obnoxious” which I find to be humorous, but also true at times. My friends and I are almost always the loudest people on the tube whenever we’re going somewhere in a group. There are times when we’ll be in a group and stop to say, “we don’t want to be those Americans” and try to be quieter in volume. A friend and I were having lunch at Pret one afternoon and a man seated beside us asked me if I was American, stating he could tell because I said “like” every few words. Initially, the encounter made me laugh, but I thought about just how true the statement was. I’m sure hearing my snippets of conversation, riddled with fillers and excited hand gesturing added to this man’s preconceptions of Americans. Since arriving in London, I’ve noticed subtle shifts in the way my friends and I behave to try to seem less like the “obnoxious Americans” that so many people overseas expect to see.
Photo: Taking in scenic Tuscany
When I arrived in London, I also had some misconceptions about my host culture, thinking Brits would all be “proper and uptight.” In reality, British culture can actually be a lot more relaxed than American, particularly in the workplace. When I visited France, I was concerned about the stereotype that all French people were rude and hated Americans. While not all of them were overly warm, I never encountered a single rude Frenchman. My eyes have really been opened and I’m overly conscious now about keeping an open mind wherever I go.
Photo: The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
With this in mind, I was able to fully enjoy my fall break trips to Italy and Spain. I did my best to embrace each culture and fully experience a new place. I did my best to speak the languages and appreciate the customs without questioning why everything was so “different.” Even though at times I was surprised and confused by some cultural differences, the biggest thing I learned was that neither culture is “right” or “wrong,” and it’s actually a lot of fun to learn about the differences.
Katrina's journey continues every Wednesday so stay tuned.