American Cultural Values Elizabeth Therese Gaughan * English Language Assistant * IES La Arboleda
The individual before the group
Self-reliance, don’t depend on other people, do things yourself
Many teenagers are expected to have an after-school job
Moving away from home after high school is encouraged
“ God helps those who help themselves.”
“ Work is a virtue, and idleness is a sin.”
To not be busy can be considered lazy
Anything is possible if you work hard enough
Competition with yourself and with others
Fast pace of life
Pressure to be successful
Education, income, awards, popularity are highly valued and rewarded
“ Have something to show for” your work, your life
Leaving a legacy: How will people remember me when I’m gone?
Important to have time alone
Shouldn’t visit someone’s house without calling first, even with close friends and family
Taboo to ask someone’s age, income, or weight
“ Mind your own business.”
“ Time is money!”
“ Efficiency is a virtue in the U.S. Americans are apt to become impatient with slow moving lines in supermarkets and banks, especially if the teller or checkout person is slowing down the line by chatting with the customers. Even a customer may be looked upon impatiently if at the end of a line he or she doesn’t have the bank deposit slip filled out, or the money out of the wallet quickly enough. To Americans time is money. It should be valued, saved, and used wisely.”
Punctuality: “Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.”
Should always call if you’re going to be late
Deadlines and sticking to the agenda
Important not to “waste” time
Very informal in dress and interactions
Common to go out in jeans, gym clothes, or even pajamas
“ Sir” and “madam” are rarely used
Not to be mistaken for impoliteness!
Lack of deference to age and authority can be mistaken as disrespect by foreigners, but is actually rooted in the American tradition of equality.
Please , thank you , and you’re welcome for almost every transaction, even among family or when someone is just doing their job
Very rude not to respond to thank you
English is a polite language: would , could , can , may , and might are used to soften
Simple commands like “pass the salt” may be perfectly polite in other languages, but sound very rude in English.
Manners are much more demanding in American schools than in Spanish schools
It is common to smile and say hi when passing strangers on the street.
Small talk is very important. Even on the phone or in work/business dealings, it’s important to show interest in the person and their life before getting to the point.
“ How are you?” is not really a question, but a polite phrase that often isn’t even meant to be answered. If someone asks this in passing, they may be annoyed in you actually start a conversation!
It is common for Americans to have different groups of friends from various facets of their life who they only spend time with at that activity: work, gym, etc.
Important to be “PC”
Americans are very sensitive about race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation.
Even among family and friends, jokes and comments related to these topics are likely to cause discomfort and even offense.
Has a huge effect on the English language:
Problem of gender-neutral pronoun
Former “un-PC” words replaced by new PC words
“Five Often Misunderstood American Cultural Values”