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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Friendships, bonds, and social attitudes

Here is the biggest difference between making friends in America vs. abroad. In the USA, to make friends you often feel that you have to prove your worth to others, especially among the young crowd, to gain their attention or interest. And the strong sense of individualism which leads to a separate ego makes it that much more difficult.

But outside of North America though, people tend to just like you for you. You don't get the feeling that you have to prove your worth. Even in countries like Japan or Taiwan, where people are generally shy, introverted, and not very outgoing, people will still like you for you once they get to know you over time, and once they do, they treat you very well. People in those Asian countries may not be open to strangers, but at least you don't get the feeling that you have to prove your worth to them. That's the bottom line.

Therefore, outside of America I find that it's a lot easier to be myself because I don't have to prove anything to people, whereas in the US, I feel that I have to do something or project some kind of image to people to prove my worth. Let's face it. The reality is that in America, 99 percent of the people you meet are not going to just like you for you, or just because you're a nice person. Nor will they stick with you through thick and thin. Abroad though, the percentages are much much better. I guarantee it.

Furthermore, friendships in the USA generally aren't as strong, enduring, and deep as friendships are abroad, and there isn’t the warm-hearted camaraderie that you find abroad either. In most countries, when you make a friend, it is easy to keep that friendship through thick and thin, as long as you remain a warm loyal friend to that person. But unfortunately, in America most friendships or relationships do not last through thick and thin. Americans are just too individualistic and selfish for that. Most people here don’t even try to connect with others; instead they live in their own ego bubbles and only humor others.

And recently, a CNN report found that internet communications in America (on the rise probably cause people are afraid to talk to others in person) have made human relations in this country more superficial than ever before. See the report at:

Also, in most countries neighbors are very close and share their private lives with each other. But in most of America, particularly suburban neighborhoods, many people live in their homes for years without ever getting to know any of their neighbors! (Something unheard of in other countries!) Especially in apartment complexes, neighbors don’t even like to talk to each other or acknowledge their existence. Instead, there’s this disassociated separateness from others that is so strong that you feel like a freak if you violate it.

Among foreigners, there is a common saying that in America people are “easy come, easy go.” Foreigners also commonly observe that the way people greet and smile to each other in America in public or professional settings is very fake and artificial. These kinds of observations about America are very common around the world, yet our media never covers this for some reason.

And in workplace environments, coworkers tend to politely tolerate each other without becoming real friends or bonding with each other. Not always of course, but more so compared to other countries. During lunch breaks, for example, most office workers tend to go off alone and do their own thing. If they go eat with someone, it’s usually with one or two coworkers to the exclusion of the rest. But in other countries, such as Greece for instance, coworkers eat together, cook together, and often the boss cooks for everyone too.

One reader noted to me:

“Dear Winston,

A late good friend of mine from Peru used to tell me "Americans are friendly but not your friend". He observed how in the U.S. one could work for years in a company and never be invited to a co-workers home. This was far different from Peru where people frequently visited each others homes and were very social outside of work. I found this intriguing. As you have said each society has its pluses and minuses. Hope you enjoy this. Take care.”

And an East Indian friend of mine concurred, saying:

“Yes, very. I agree with your late peruvian friend in that I've found for the most part, most American's have a friendly manner that may or may not reflect how they really feel.

So someone coming here from another country (say India ) would think they're the friendliest people in the world. I thought that too, when I walked out on the streets on my first day in the US and had total strangers smiling at me and saying "Hello, How do you do".....but I quickly realized that they were just 'being nice' and had no earthly interest in hearing my answer.

In India, it is rather different - people aren't as quick to smile and say hi, but they are much more likely to invite you home, or do other things that help cement friendships quicker than I've seen happen here in the US. I know that's generalizing, and I'm not an expert on cultural phenomena by any means, but there definitely is a discernable difference.

Just my .02”

Even an American traveler confessed to realizing these differences after having them explained to him in Europe.

This is why we travel, right? To learn about our ideal selves? I hope you're doing that. Your observations are valid and your conclusions worth taking to heart. But let's not stop at simple America-bashing. I'm not proud to be American, nor am I ashamed. I just am. But I do my best, I try to change things that really bug me about our culture. It's easy to complain, but it doesn't do any good if I don't get out there and do something about it.

When I lived in Europe, people frequently made me aware of our "out of sight, out of mind" mentality when it comes to friendship. When I returned here, I realized just how true their accusation was to a large extent.

But I also learned that there are a lot of truly sincere and loyal people here, and I hope that I've become one myself.”

1 comment:

  1. Your right, friendships in America do tend to be superficial and not long lasting. You do have to prove your worth to someone in the US just to maybe become friends or acquaintences with them. Most people don't talk to their neighbors but rather avoid their neighbors like the plague! How are you supposed to meet people living in that kind of environment?


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