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U.S., E.U. students share cultural attitudes

by Ina Hinkelmann, staff writer

Have you ever wondered how Americans (those from the United States, specifically) and Europeans perceive each other? Do they find it easy or difficult to make friends with each other? What do they see as the greatest cultural difference or challenge? What do they think they have in common?


Anonymous surveys of both European and American students at HPU produced the following results.

European students in the United States are usually overwhelmed by the enormous size of the country. What is often next most striking for them is the friendly and open American mentality. A female student from France said that she perceived American students as funny and open-minded, and that some of them wanted to know more about the European culture. However, some Europeans often consider such friendliness only a communication technique, implying that it is somewhat superficial. Americans are indeed keen on making contacts, perhaps because easy friendliness is a necessity in a country where people move a lot and change their social environments.

Some Europeans at HPU think that making deep or true friendships with Americans takes a lot of effort. A female student from Slovenia said that she thinks American students, as well as Europeans, tend to stick more with people from their own culture. She finds it hard to really get to know an American. Nevertheless, a female student from France replied that, for her, nationality doesn’t determine friendship, but personality.

Some European students think that Americans are provincial, ignorant of world affairs, and materialistic. They find that even the more educated Americans don’t speak any language fluently besides English and don’t know much about European history, let alone geography. Some of the negative images about Americans stem from such stereotypes and long-standing prejudices that are hard to break.

The reverse is also true. For American visitors to Europe, Europeans might seem more formal because they are more reluctant to use first names. Also, Northern and Middle Europeans—from Switzerland to Scandinavia—often seem less easy-going, less friendly and less talkative, especially in public places like buses, subways, or shops.

However, the continent of Europe is composed of a large variety of cultures and peoples, so one can hardly speak of one European society. In Europe, the ethnic and cultural differences are mainly divided by national borders. European diversity is its variety of cultures, languages, and ways of living in a rather small area: London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin, Rome, and Athens – all are within a radius of fewer than 1080 miles (1725 km). For the United States, the distance from Miami to Seattle is more than 3300 miles (5320 km), yet, at least for European eyes, these cities have a lot in common: both places have their skylines, their ghettos, and the same supermarkets, shop chains, and restaurants where one can eat the same pizzas or hamburgers.

What do students find most challenging about the other nationality? According to a female American student, not knowing another country’s language is challenging. A male student from Norway replied that it’s challenging for him to try to communicate the beliefs, values, and norms of his culture without being interrupted or told off. Many students also said that food and ways of eating are different. European meals often tend to be two-hour social events while many Americans value quick convenience foods and faster meals.

The biggest cultural difference? A female student from Slovenia said that it’s the quality of life. Many Americans have to work hard in order to make a living, while many Europeans can allow themselves to work less and take longer vacations. Also, according to a female student from Germany, the social security system in the United States does not seem that social at all, for many Americans can’t afford health insurance and those who have it can still face high costs when certain treatments are not covered or only partially covered.

A male American said that the education systems and views of the world are different. Information in the United States media and in U.S. schools is focused on the United States which, given its size, can easily be seen as a world in itself. The views of the immigrants to the United States were completely directed towards their future in the new world so this has not changed a lot until today. Therefore, even educated Americans often have an insufficient knowledge about the rest of the world.

How would students like people from the other nationality to act towards them? Here, Americans and Europeans alike said that they want to be treated with respect and that they want others to be open minded towards them and their culture. One female student from Switzerland said that she would like students to mingle more and not stay within their own circles.

All in all, attitudes and viewpoints of American and European students are quite diverse and there is a wide range of individuals in each group. Some seem to have difficulties getting into a deeper exchange with another nationality, while others do not have such a hard time or see differences mainly in education, food, or other minor aspects of culture. One thing is obvious, though.

Everyone wants to be treated with respect. By being tolerant and open minded, we can enhance cultural understanding and also bridge cultural gaps.


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