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US Culture

When discussing issues of culture it’s important to understand that there are different aspects of culture.  Culture can be broken down into two distinct categories surface culture and deep culture.  Surface culture includes things like what food and drinks are consumed, what holidays are observed, how people greet etc.  Surface culture can be defined as visible social actions be do that don’t reflect the way people think.  Deep culture includes the way people think and feel about topics such as dating and marital dynamics, family relationships, moral/religious beliefs, individualism vs. collectivism, punctuality etc.

As a foreigner it’s more difficult to acculturate to deep culture.  It’s easier to adapt to surface culture.  In order to follow surface culture a person just changes their actions and doesn’t need to adopt different attitudes or beliefs of the new culture.  On the other hand, in order to adjust to deep culture a person needs to understand the beliefs and feelings of locals in order to understand and follow cultural practices.

In some countries people don’t typically stand in lines.  Services are distributed instead by a first come first serve basis.  This may come as a shock to Americans who are accustomed to standing in lines and value strict adherence to the rules related to standing in lines.  This difference in the way people view lines can affect a person’s stay in a country.  In order to get services and goods a person has to adopt the ‘no line’ policy of the new country.  If they don’t, and instead form a line, they’ll be pushed aside and miss out on opportunities to receive something or a service.  As a general strategy for a ‘no line’ culture it’s important to stand your ground.  Normally people will try to edge up and advance their position, it’s important to be able to stay in the same place.  It might also be advantageous to be adopt the mindset of ‘the best defense is a good offense’ and be aggressive actively trying to move up in line.  Sometimes this is necessary to just stay in the same spot.  In a situation like this it’s vital to recognize that this isn’t a flaw in the people’s character of your new country, rather it’s a way of operating that works in their society.

One of the greatest benefits of people able to live and teach in a foreign country is the introspection it affords a person.  A person can break out of cultural restraints they have and ‘find’ themselves in a new society.  One of the greatest difficulties is being able to think in a different mode.  Because of our acculturation we tend to all believe along the same lines and accept a standard way of thinking and doing things.  It takes a lot of effort to shift from that mode of thought in order to understand a different way of thinking.

There can be some difficulties when returning home.  For example a person might enjoy an aspect of the new culture and choose to adopt it.  When they return home however the new cultural aspect might not be well received.  For example, a person might like the lack of person space required in other countries.  It certainly is more efficient when trying to get around in crowded places or reach nearby objects, it’s very utilitarian.  However, Americans value personal space over this gain and prefer to keep their distance.  By not returning to valuing personal space more a person can upset members of their own native culture