My Cultural Takeaways after 3 Years in the US

Note: While this is primarily a blog about positivity, I will occasionally write about other topics that I feel passionate about (Leadership, Cultures, Tech, Education, etc.).

People often ask me for my take on the US. "What do you think of America?", "How does it compare to the other places you have lived in?". It's been now ±3 years since I moved here and as someone who is passionate about cultures and diversity, I think a lot about the similarities and differences of the environments I'm in.

The other day I finished re-reading one of my favorite books called "The Culture Code" by Clotaire Rapaille. It's a thought-provoking book about cultures and how they function. Many of my own takeaways about the American culture which I'd like to share with you have been influenced by his writing. To say it very clearly: I love living here in the US and I'm fascinated by all of its cultural differences and particularities. So by no means is this post meant to criticize or badmouth the culture of this great country. I invite you to discuss this topic with me and I ask you to not take offense in the generalizations that I'm making.  

America — A culture stuck in adolescence

When people ask me to how the US differs from Europe, I can't think of a better explanation than to describe the US as an adolescent and Europe as an adult. The adolescent culture is characterized by certain traits that I find recurring in the US: overstating the "now", disregarding authority, a fascination with extremes and a constant need for exploration. 

All of us go through adolescence at some point in our lives – a time of rebellion and detachment. If you look at most cultures of the Old World, especially in Western Europe, at some point they acted out their rebellion by killing their kings (f. ex. the French beheaded King Louis XVI and the English killed King Charles I). They fought authority and liberated themselves from it which always constituted a fundamental act of identity building. The US, however, never had to kill its king to become who it is today. As a result, this rebellion period never ended. In fact, it was continuously fed and fostered by more rebels joining as immigrants (if leaving behind your home country is no act of rebellion, I don't know what rebellion is). 

Adolescent misdemeanor on the political stage

The adolescent behavior of challenging authority is fairly visible in the recent, political history of this country. Just like adolescents, the US often feels it knows more than its elders. You would rarely see the US consult France, Germany or England over foreign policy, would you? Rather than learning from others, the US prefers to go ahead by itself (f. ex. the Iraq war without the authorization of the UN) and make its own mistakes as opposed to learn form the mistakes that others did.

As a teen, encouraged by all the things I was not allowed to do, I had a juvenile desire to break the rules – play with fire if you want. The recent revelations coming from Wikileaks or Edward Snowden have shown that the US has been behaving exactly like that. The NSA affair feels like a modern version of going through your older brother's personal items or reading your sister's diary. 

Modern Day Adolescence

To little surprise, the US is generally good at exporting the trademarks of adolescence: Fast Food, blue jeans, Nike shoes, Disney, loud and violent movies among many other things. It's a culture that never wants to grow up but remain eternally adolescent. Automobiles and Electronic Equipment are referred to as "toys" and as an elder you would still refer to your date as your "girlfriend". 

Also, the US has never really produced a world-renowned composer of classic music (after all, it's mostly adults who listen to classic music) but when you think of the music of teenagers – Rock, Pop or Hip-Hop – you can find it all around the globe. You go to Philadelphia and the most famous statue in the entire city is not a philosopher, scientist, marshal or any other historical figure, but it's the fictional movie character Rocky Balboa played by action star Sylvester Stallone. This reminds me too much of teenagers putting up celebrity posters in their rooms.

What we do is a reflection of what we are

It has always been a fascination to me how many Americans describe things as "the best" and "most amazing thing ever... EVER!!!". But in the end this is just a reflection of its cultural identity. If it's not the best, it's simply not worth pursuing. It's all about the extremes. 

This extreme behavior is also visible among adults in the US. Take Tom Cruise for example. A few years ago he was invited to the Oprah Winfrey Show and started jumping around on her couch shouting how much he loves Katie Holmes – just like a teenager in love. Take Bill Clinton, the perfectly adolescent president who cheats on his wife with his intern, in office, and then lies under oath – what drama! And you thought rebellious immigrants wouldn't adopt this behavior? Think again. Arnold Schwarzenegger, California's former governor, has a tank and invites you to go "crush things" with him. But no one personified the eternal adolescent better than Michael Jackson... a grown-up who continued to sleep in the same bed with children – simply refusing the reality of his age.