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 exist.
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...
4. American paradoxes
Yes, American life is full of paradoxes. Its people and culture, values and beliefs are often seen as contradictory and at times even absurd. But like all impressions of a nation or people, popular perceptions do not always match to the day-to-day reality. Here are some of the paradoxes that you can meet in the US.
Americans are fiercely individualistic. It may seem that everyone has an opinion, whether they are informed about the subject or not. "The every man for himself" attitude is much a part of the American mentality. Americans place great value on the individual. They believe that individuals are solely responsible for their success and failures in life and that they should "earn their own way". Due to this belief, you may see that individual achievements are often measured by one's ability to accumulate material things, rather than the quality or strength of one's character. You will also hear arguments in support of individual rights over the community good. And, even though Americans tend to be very generous in some situations, many of them are not supportive of national programs where they think that healthy, able-bodied people might not have to work for their benefits. Americans are extremely patriotic. The have taken great pride in their nation's accomplishments and in being as "the best" or "the 1st". whether it to be in national wealth, discoveries or inventions, technological feats, or sport. National symbol such as the raising of the flag, the pledge of allegiance and singing the country's national anthem are rituals routinely made part of public life.
However, despite their fervent nationalism and love of country, only about half of the Americans vote in political elections. In the 1992 presidential elections that elected Bill Clinton, only 55% of eligible Americans voted, which was the largest voter turnout since 1968, when 61% of citizens voted for president. Many Americans don't see voting as a duty but do consider it a right. While immensely patriotic, the are suspicious of government, distrust politicians and don't see voting doing much to significantly impact their everyday lives.
Self-absorbed in their own particular work and activities, most Americans have limited knowledge even about their own country.
Americans have an extremely organized approach to recreation and leisure activities. Their weekends and vocations are prepared and managed like any other work while shopping and watching television consume much of their leisure time.
In a nation where shopping is considered a leisure activity, Americans are quite proud of the their purchasing power. The popular slogan "shop until you drop" reflects the pattern of Americans going to shopping malls filled with every imaginable consumer good and looking for the best deal. The variety of goods and services available to the average American consumer is staggering.
If one didn't know better, one would think that all Americans are rich and can purchase anything that please them. But this is hardly the case. The number of Americans living in poverty is more than 14%, while close to one third of Blacks are poor. Americans are faced with walking by the growing number of homeless people who they see on the streets.
Crime has become a result of poverty, drug trafficking and an assortment of social problems that only seem to grow in number each year. While crime was once the scourge of urban America, it has now become a major concern for suburban and rural America as well. Millions of citizens own guns, and it is reported that deaths by guns may soon be higher than the rate of Americans who die each year in accidents. While the US has the largest prison population in the world, little has been done to stop the proliferation of lawfully owned guns among Americans who staunchly defend the "right to bear arms" that is guaranteed by the US constitution.
5. Why do I like them anyway.
Despite the many serious problems they face, most Americans are optimistic people. They have great faith in the future and believe that the future will always be brighter.
Although they are often self-critical people, their criticism is seen as a method by which the continue to create a better future for themselves. They have traditionally thought that things can be "fixed" and will always get better for the future generations. They place great faith in technology and its ability to improve the lives of people.
"How to Understand Those Mystifying Americans" by Arthur Gordon.
Introduction to the USA – student workbook.1993, 1994 by YFU Washington, DC, USA.