TEACHER’S TRAINING COLLEGE
OF NABEREZHNYE CHELNY
LOOKING FOR CULTURAL ROOTS OF AMERICANS.
WRITTEN BY A STUDENT
OF GROUP #002
LOOKING FOR CULTURAL ROOTS.
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.
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.
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 – almost by instinct– 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 – these made up the
frontiersman’s 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 later.
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
doesn’t 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, American’s obsession with statistics often
amazes non-Americans. No fuzzy theory here; no guesswork. The American
wants to know exactly who is achieving what – and if he can’t measure it
he’s inclined to wonder if it’s any good.
To be an achiever, one must be a do-er, and it will soon be apparent to
you…that Americans are much better at doing that at merely being. In
fact, you’ll notice that if they’re 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
These attitudes have produced a highly kinetic society, full of movement
and constant change. If you’re accustomed to a more leisurely pace, you
may find the American tempo exhausting. Or you may find it exhilarating.
Most Americans enjoy it; it’s a high compliment when they say of a
person, “He has a lot of drive,” or “He knows how to get things done.”
Almost invariably, the 1st question an American asks about a newcomer or
stranger is, “What does he do?” He’s interested primarily in the
person’s 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. …you may feel that Americans are much
more concerned with material than with spiritual things. You’re 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, it’s 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 it’s
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, you’ll get an answer in
miles or kilometers. Ask an American and he’ll probably tell you in
hours with his calculation based on the fastest available mode of
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 “all men created equal,” a phrase enshrined in their
Declaration of Independence. They don’t 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 American’s 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 doesn’t offer – or
expect to receive – 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
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 “the expert,” 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 – New England or the Deep South – you’ll 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 round.
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