Culture affects our views of reality. It provides the mental concepts by which people perceive, interpret, analyze, and explain events in the world around them.
JAMES G. PEOPLES
What is American culture?
Japanese culture, which I absorbed into my bloodstream when I married my Japanese husband, has very distinct rules. Eat your food with chopsticks. Don’t eat with your fingers. Take your shoes off when you enter a home, school, or other public buildings. Japanese people eat the same thing for breakfast: miso shiru, rice, small salad, boiled egg, a slice of toast, and green tea. Japan is a monoethnic country. One percent of the population is represented by minorities. These minorities include Koreans.
US culture is primarily of Western origin. The English were the first immigrants; the Irish and Italians followed. Chinese and Japanese began to move to the US for work on the railroads and in the mines. Blacks were brought as slaves and worked on plantations. The Native Americans and Mexicans were here before the English came. Because of its diversity, the US could be classified as a polyethnic country.
International visitors and students think of American culture like fast food restaurants, Starbucks, cheap clothing, big houses, and big cars.
I taught English to International students for forty years. I lived in both Japan and Mexico for five-year periods. The students who came to my classes at the university level had questions about culture. The curriculum included language and culture. I explained that I could only tell them about my customs and traditions. I have lived in three cultures: Japan, Mexico, and the United States. I was born a caucasian raised in Catholic private school education and married a Japanese non-practicing Buddhist/Shinto.
These are ten questions my English as a Second Language students at the university always asked me about American Culture.
- Do you live in a big house? (Japanese student)
Americans take up more space than we really need.
My house in Japan had two six tatami mat rooms, one four tatami mat room, a kitchen, a divided bathroom with a pit toilet, and a soaking tub with a shower.
My house in the US is 1400square feet, has two floors, three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a loft, a kitchen, and a living room. There is a patio and a small garden. There are only three people in my family.
- Do you carry a gun? ( All international students)
No, I do not have a gun. There are no guns in my house.
- Do you have a driver (chauffeur)? ( Mideastern Students)
No, I don’t have a driver. Chauffeurs in the US are for rich people.
- Do you take public transportation? (Japanese students)
No, I don’t take public transit. I live forty minutes from the university, and there are no buses or trains that go from my house.
- Do you go shopping every day? (Asian students)
No, I usually go shopping once or twice a week. In Japan, housewives go shopping almost every day. They buy fresh fruit, vegetables, and fish. The refrigerators are smaller than the monsters we have in the states. My refrigerator in Japan did not have a freezer. When I was younger, my mother went shopping every two weeks when my father got paid. I would go with her, and we would load up two full baskets of frozen vegetables, bread, potatoes, hamburger meat, milk, and eggs. She would only go to the store to replenish the supply of milk and eggs. I had four brothers.
- Do you eat rice? (Asian students)
Yes, I do eat rice. My husband is Japanese, so we have rice every day. Other people eat various types of rice in the US. My husband eats only white rice.
- Do you make a lot of money teaching at this university?
No, I don’t. Instructors at the university level do not make a lot of money. I got one raise in eight years at the last university I taught. American universities invest their money into buildings and sports programs. They advertise so that more students will come and study at the school. Instructors do not have the same ______ as they do in Japan or other countries.
- Do you give tips in restaurants?
Yes, I do. People who work in restaurants make less than minimum wage. They depend on tips to help pay their rent and food. Many restaurants around the university include the tip in your tab because so many students don’t tip. No one gives a tip in Japan. Those who provide service are offended if you offer one.
- Do you go to church?
Yes, I go to church. Not as frequently as I used to. Asian students don’t go to temples unless they ask for a job, good scores on their tests, or celebrate a national festival. The Mid East students prayed three times a day and went to a mosque located a block from the university.
- Do you recycle? (Asian students)
Yes, I recycle. I have two separate garbage cans I put out every Tuesday. The recycling container is blue.
There are recycling containers on campus that International students fail to use because they don’t understand what goes where. In Japan, each household is fined if you don’t separate paper products, plastic products, and food.
American culture can’t be defined by one person. There are many variables, which cause confusion among those visiting or studying in the United States.
6 thoughts on “What is American Culture?”
Good job Carol to lay these examples out for folks to read, be surprised by, maybe shake their heads and disagree but then look into to see more clearly and understand better. Thank you for speaking up.
Cathy, Thank you for reading my post and your comments are greatly appreciated.
Carol, Your multinational experiences give you a unique perspective that is fascinating to read about. The questions from your foreign students reminded me that when my Taiwanese college friend’s husband was helping new immigrants in the U.S. with language skills, he ended up writing a book about American idioms. People were trying to translate idioms word by word, and couldn’t make sense of them (like waking up on the wrong side of the bed, or saying something is “a piece of cake”). I bet you ran across these a lot in your classes :-). Thanks for the interesting article.
Sally, Thank you for reading my post. Idioms were the hardest things to explain to my students.
Carol Interesting article. A lot to think about that many take for granted!
Joni, Thank you for reading my blog. Thank you for your comments.