Monday, February 16, 2009

Rude Americans?

I never used to buy into the idea that American travelers were rude and obnoxious until I moved to another country for an extended period of time.

And then I realized something.

It's not that Americans are bad people, per se. But we are an "in your face" people. We are loud, we are obnoxious, and by global standards, we are rude.

It's just who we are as a people. We are louder and ruder than most. Sure, individual Americans can be quiet and/or polite (though not this individual American), but as a society, we are bred to be demanding and loud. Whereas the Brits are just ridiculously polite, as a people.

The great thing about living abroad, is that you are really able to learn about another culture in a way that you cannot begin to process in a couple of weeks.

And one of the things that I have learnt, living in Britain, is that life is pretty nice when everyone assumes a base level of politeness.

People actually SMILE at each other on the street here. In LONDON. (In the North, they carry your suitcase up a flight of stairs, and call you 'love.') And if you dawdle on the street, you're not going to get people angrily pushing past you the way you would in New York. If two people get to a seat at a crowded bar at the same time, they will both deferentially apologize and then you'll have two minutes of awkwardness as each insists the other take the chair.

Now maybe on the inside, the Brits are angry, angry people, and are just waiting to explode ... but I don't really think so. Instead, I find that my blood pressure rarely rises as high from every day aggravations.

And it makes me realize, that simple things like smiling, can really make a difference. It seems silly, doesn't it, to think that we can change the world, one smile at a time, but ... it couldn't hurt, could it?

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think the loud pushy thing depends on what part of the country you are living in. I think Texans are a lot like the British you discribe.

Since the turn of the economy, there have been a lot of people moving to Houston from all different parts of the country, but most the North.

The number one thing that I hear from them is that people down here a lot more friendly and a lot more calm than in other places. We let you cut in front of us in traffic, and if you have let us cut in front of you we give a thank you wave. Men give women their sets all the time. People let others go in the elevators first. We line up at bus stops so that the people who got there first can get on first. We smile.

I have one co-worker who moved to Texas from NYC just a few months ago and she said her biggest adjustment has been that people make eye contact with you and strangers will strike up a conversation at the bus stop, in stores or even just walking down the street. She said that letting her gard down and not assuming that everyone is trying to mug her has been the biggest change.

ruchi aka arduous said...

Yes, you are right. America is a big country, and there are areas where people are just more polite than in others!!

Billie said...

And the same can be said for moving to the US from another country. Because I am from Canada, most people assume that I am American (which I now am) and don't recognize that I am from somewhere else. I really get the most incredible things said to me that certainly highlight Canada's stereotyping of Americans.

Canadians feel that Americans are self-centered and that is often the base of their rudeness. The one thing that was said to me and really sticks in my mind as highlighting this is: "NYC is the financial center of the world" Say what??!??! Even my husband, who grew up in the US thought that was rather funny.

Farmer's Daughter said...

I have a friend that moved to London. I love visiting with her British boyfriend becuase we talk about these things... He says the biggest difference he notices are "big American smiles." He says all of us girls smile big, full teeth showing, where as in London people do more of a grin... less teeth. I don't know if that's true or just his observation.

ruchi aka arduous said...

Hmmm ... Abbie, I think Americans do smile bigger, but in big cities, I think we tend to smile less? Again, these generalizations are hard, but when I go to New York, I've rarely seen anyone just smile at a stranger on the street.

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

This made me smile! Thank you ever so much for your lovely blog post. (Northern translation: ta chuck).

There are definitely differences between cities. I found Boston particularly rude, whereas Ohio is a haven of friendliness.

Vancouverites are superficially polite, but not overly friendly to strangers. It's tough to meet people here. I got lucky with good work friends in my first year, and then meeting (and marrying) a local after that, but I know lots of other people who've found it very tough to break into a clique. So politeness isn't everything.

Massimo (formerly known as Okham) said...

No, no, no, no, no, no. And, no. :-)

You are comparing the British with the New Yorkers -- sorry, not fair. Try calling once a telephone operator in continental Europe, go to a travel agency to buy a train ticket, call your landlord on Saturday to tell him that you have lost power in your apartment, go to a store to return something you bought which is defective (with the receipt), stand in line (any line), go to any government or provincial or state office and get some personal document... then we talk about 'em rude yankees...

Di Hickman said...

I 100% agree! As a Brit living in America not only are Americans rude many are also ignorant to others. The problem as I see it is Americans are in too much of a rush. This morning for example my dogs decided to stop and poop, now I am one of the small minority that actually stop and scoop my dogs poop. A woman wanted to turn into the drive and we we right on the edge. Did she stop? No! Just kept driving on up through, too busy in her own thoughts to LOOK and see me and two 55lb dogs in her way. We had to jump out the way and she did eventually realize that "oh look someone is there picking up poop". No apology nothing. Naturally being british I'm too polite to mention the fact that pedestrians have right of way.
The problem? Too rushed, too busy in their own worlds and sometimes just plain ignorant. I also think there is a sense of entitlement with some Americans, not all just some, that they can just do what the hell they want.

Sometimes I miss England

Mouse said...

I wonder if they said "please" and "thank you" when they colonized a quarter of the globe!

http://strangemaps.files.wordpress.com/2008/05/toryatlasoftheworld2.jpg

ruchi aka arduous said...

Ahahahaha, Mouse you crack me up. Probably not though. :)

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

Down here in North Carolina, people will carry your suitcase up a flight of stairs and call you "honey." I'd argue that people here are every bit as nice as the Brits. The difference is that we are still loud, obnoxious Americans. Brits would probably be put out by the "in your face" politeness you find here in the South.

Joyce said...

Loud I would probably agree with. I do think that most people I meet in my community are very nice and polite, though. And my experience of Canadians, if it makes any sense at all to generalize an entire nation of people, is that they are unfailingly polite.

Betty Black said...

Your idea of politness making a differnce in other peoples lives is so true!!!! I've lived only in Seattle and a small town in Washington state and people are so rude, except when they want you to buy something. I surprize people when I say hello or smile or make eye contact but after years of getting rebuffed sometimes I have to gear myself up to contiue doing it. I think its important though just cause I know how happy it makes me when I have a good interation rather than a bad one.

Maybe you can take the politness home with you?

knutty knitter said...

Try being a shop keeper in a tourist zone :) I seem mostly to be considered as a native of some kind and rather quaint. It's almost as if "I" as a person don't exist - just local colour.

This is something that happens mostly with the American tourists although not exclusively. Sometimes I'd like to give them a facefull of backchat but unfortunately I was brought up to be polite. I was also brought up to treat everyone as an equal regardless of who they are or where they are from.

viv in nz

Stephanie said...

Funny, here in Berlin I quickly adjusted to not smiling and saying hello to strangers on the street. There are just too many people to acknowledge each and every one.

But I agree about Americans being loud. I'm tired of only overhearing conversations in American English on the subways.

Science Bear said...

What an interesting topic but I too am going to have to disagree (slightly). Being a southern girl by birth and upbringing, I was taught politeness is not only expected but it is REQUIRED.

I do agree that not all of the US is like this, having just moved to the northeast for graduate studies, I was shocked by [some] people's actions. I had heard the South was known for hospitality and charm, but didn't realize how much it was lacking in other places until traveling and moving to the North. I am going to have to agree with another comment that it might just be we are still an "in your face" kind of people, since southerners are polite but have no problem sticking their nose in other people's business.

I would LOVE to live in the UK, however, and am hoping to postdoc there after graduation. What made you decide to move there?

Rosa said...

I was kind of shocked at the racism I ran into in the UK - the first time I was there, I was nannying two Nigerian boys, and their mom was afraid to let them go to a nearby park because of racist threats. We got a *lot* of nasty comments on the street, and going from that neighborhood (in SW London, lots of Asian & African people) to the touristy parts in the City made me see how segregated it is, too. This was in '98, for what that's worth.

Beany said...

I know I'm being negative, but I think the rudest fucking people can be found in the very unbrotherly city of Philadelphia. Its only after we left the city that we found nice people everywhere. Its one reason I fell in love with the midwest. Men treated me like a woman (I even liked being treated like some delicate flower).

But only in Philly have people said "can I help you?" in a way that really says, "get out of my way so I can spend time doing nothing."

I still have some hard edges that need to be smoothed out. But apparently San Diego has many transplanted mid westerners. So I love it.

organicneedle said...

Being pleasant is always a plus. I must say, the whole NYC vs the South in terms of politeness strikes a cord with me. Having lived in both, I much prefer NYC. I really did not enjoy the south and that infamous southern hospitality was part of the reason. There is something a little fake about gushing niceness. Manners are nice, but never really knowing what someone is thinking about you and the 10 minutes of obligatory insincere small chat is just unsettling. Not an issue in NY. People here are very direct...which can come off as rude. But the truth is, people here are genuinely good and helpful. Also, because NYC is the world's biggest melting pot, what can seem like rudeness can often be just a cultural and/or language barrier. Yes, NYCers could be warmer on the street, but I would cringe if we went to the extreme of the south. Perhaps a little Canadian hospitality would be OK, but that is as nice as I can handle.

herself said...

I'm a Mid-Atlantic person with one foot on both continents and have lived in three countries. I see the rudeness of Americans, and as Di Hickman pointed out, the apparent "ignorant to others" mentality. I call it "autistic"; totally centered on self activities and oblivious to what's going on around them for the most part. It can get very disconcerting for me as I seem to be invisible to them. My mom even was pushed into a clothes rack and would have fallen if the rack was sparse. The man who ran her into it was apologetic and embarrased, saying he never saw her. He felt terrible, but iot still happened and is threatened daily to happen again. In Michigan, also, it's almost uncouth to be friendly (which is a quick way to chase people away). One has to assume a specific type of walk in order to not get run off the sidewalk or isle as people tend to excersize a type of lordship over those who seem to be aware of, and careful for, other people around them. You almost have to walk looking way beyond those around you, over their heads,into the distance, and with an air to your step. Then people move out of your way. Otherwise, you'de better step aside for them. That's just one incidence. I have tons more. I've also seen how that some geographic locations are better than others. Chicago blew me away and I'll go back there any day ;)

brianne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
herself said...

got an email; brianne has left a new comment on the post "Rude Americans?":

yall never heard of southern hospitality?
____________________
yes i have ;) lived in texas and tennessee. also three countires. As I sad, we live in MI and it takes the cake on rudeness and unfrienldiness. They seem, more than ahyone else, to be "autistic" and totally out of tune with others around them. Of course, there are exceptions ;)

Anonymous said...

Americans show full teeth (if they have good teeth only) when they smile for one single reason: they want you to see (and perhaps make you feel inferior to them) they've got beautiful white teeth and they paid "an arm and a leg" for having white teeth. Very often those teeth are not natural or outright fake, so is the smile (fake) in many cases. Very shallow people, indeed. Try get deeper with them, see what happens. They'll promise you the Moon and that will end right there. Promises are usually unkept. They'll invite you to their home and when you are ready to visit them they'll default on their invitation. I'm afraid the entire world is heading the American way. Also I wanna say that the wide American smile is nothing but an act of aggression made unconsciously deep in one's mind, it's the kind of self-protection by throwing a million dollar smile which is shallow and has no soul attached to it (usually). The smile often looks freaky and weird and I feel a displeasure actually. I do prefer just a tiny grin instead with full heart and soul to it and only from deep of the person's heart, only if really necessary. I love when people genuinely smile with their eyes and touch me with their hand instead. I'm European and I spent over 10 years in USA. I find USA a convenient place to live and do business and a good selection of climates. Some people especially in MidWest and South East are quite friendly in some areas. Americans in general are very helpful on the road, but they also like to have the speed lane on the expressway all to themselves and are sometimes quite selfish drivers.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what southern hospitality you are talking about? I never not a single time been in anyone's house in the South-East. They never invite you to their house which is usual in Europe.

herself said...

No sooner had I said how unfriendly people were in Michigan, than it all changed! For the first time ever, people began to talk with me, even crossing isles to start small talk with astranger! For the first time ever, people said "axcuse me" as they passed by me in an isle or hallway, even though there was totally plenty of room! The list goes on, and all of it was such an oddity, I had to marvel at it..and it lasted over a month!!! As it stands now, there is a pleasant mix for a change, instead of all negative or all positive. I love it! Annonymous; yes, I agree that it is a different form of hospitality from Europe, but it is, nonetheless, hospitality when compared with the rest of the geographic areas in USA. Yes, I've seen the way they say one thing, but do something else when it comes down to it. Now that I've run into a more friendly environment, I'm happy enough. I never have belonged, and never will, but at least they aren't running my off the road any more !!!

Anonymous said...

I live the south of the U.S., and I don't know about the whole hospitality thing. I have met many people who really don't want you where you are, if you know what I mean. People here tend to be way more rude behind a person's back as well, and I can't stand that. be up front about your opinions!

On the other hand, I have lived in England, and I certainly don't remember being smiled at in London. But I liked it way more over there because people were, overall, much more friendly, easier to talk to, and a lot more respectful. I think the main problem with Americans is that we tend to think we are the awesomest people on Earth; we are really condescending (in general; this is not the rule!!) to outsiders. For example, my stepdad is English, and he gets people who say to him "Oh, that's so sweet, your from England." Duh. How the heck is that sweet? It's another country.

We are also ignorant of different cultures and the histories of other lands.

Just my opinion on the subject!!

herself said...

bye guys...i'm outa here.

Anonymous said...

I have never visited America and though I would like to, I have been put off. The reason? I work in an airport in the UK and the rudeness of Americans arriving here is incredible. They resent being asked questions (necessary at passport control) and think they have the God given right to do as they please. The "In your face" and "don't care what you think" attitude leaves a lot to be desired, and is worse if the person concerned is wealthy or has a well paid job (like your the only people in the world who could hold such positions or have money?) If you want respect and support from other nations, you should practice better manners when you travel abroad, the way you behave individualy is a reflection of your nation as a whole. Just Ugly!!

Anonymous said...

While I feel badly that many of you find Americans to be rude, please keep in mind: not all of us are rude. However, even if a small minority are, it is much more memorable than the majority who are not. Interestingly, I've spoken with many who feel the bluntness of Brits is extremely rude. Also, during my last trip to Canada, I encountered rudeness from several British Columbians during my travels around town. While I am choosing to chalk this off to anti-American sentiment (and ignorance), it was still blatant and made me uncomfortable.

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