General Question

ShaChris23's avatar

How to understand American culture / Assimilation?

Asked by ShaChris23 (318points) January 31st, 2011

I’ve lived in the US for over 15 years now. A lot of times, I still feel like an outsider. Perhaps it’s because of my accent. Mostly, I feel it’s because I might not fully understand the American culture.

Are there books out there that might help me understand American culture more? In other words, if there was a foreigner that just came to America, what book would you give to him so he could fit in?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

18 Answers

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

I’ve lived in America my entire life, and I don’t even understand “American culture.”
I’m not even entirely sure that we have culture in the same sense that many other countries do, we’re a pretty well blended mish-mash of multiple cultures.

Nullo's avatar

Start with an older book on American history – the older the better, really, to better capture the mindset that underlies the present one. Read it, and then read up on the big events that you find in it. Then find a newer one, and so on.
Watch explicitly American movies, preferably ones made within the last twenty years or so. Older ones, too, to get an idea of the preceding mindset. Study your friends, ask about their family history.
Look for commonalities between your own background and your present state.
Travel a bit with your eyes open. Do what other people in your area do.
Identify yourself to yourself as an American for a while, to see if it helps.

Finally, don’t worry too much about it. As @ANef_is_Enuf said, American culture, such as it is, is a blend of many other, mostly Western European cultures.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

If you’ve lived here for over 15 years, you’re probably going to have to take it on an issue-by-issue basis – is there something in particular you’re not understanding at the moment?

Jeruba's avatar

Where did you come from, and what is your situation? Do you now live in a multicultural community, or are you mostly among people from your homeland, or are you isolated among a majority of U.S.-born Americans?

And would you call yourself young, middle-aged, or elderly?

JLeslie's avatar

American culture varies quite a bit from region to region. Where are you from? And, where do you live? I am from the northeast, and when I live in the midwest, I loved it there, but I am reminded every so often that I am not really a midwesterner. I don’t mean someone tells me, I just feel it, I know I am a little different. Right now I live in the south, and there are many times I feel like I am in a different country from how I think of America.

What specifically makes you uncomfortable? Or, maybe aren’t understanding? Like my BIL doesn’t get why Americans always ask him where he is from. He thinks it is rude. My husband thinks it is very odd to hug a friend when you greet them (which is only done in some parts of America). I could name a zillion things that have been brought to my attention.

JLeslie's avatar

Also, you mention your accent. Where I grew up it was very diverse, so it was not a big deal if someone had an accent, or had emigrated here recently. Where I live now it is not very international, families have been here for many generations, and I think foreigners might feel more on the outside. But for me, America is a melting pot, full of people from everywhere. Don’t lose what makes you you. Most Americans are interested in people from other places. Interested in what it is like in their countries, what brought you here, if you like it here, differences you observe, and more. Although, they don’t like to hear comments that seem like a lot of complaining, because then they wonder why the heck do you stay. But reasonable criticism and observations are fine.

My husband had a textbook about cultural differences when he studied International Business. It gave a page worth of does and don’ts for many many countries including America. It was interesting.

woodcutter's avatar

America is really a country full of smaller mini countries within, or so it seems. It’s a big place where people from other places all settled and carved out their territories early on. In contrast to the smaller European countries that are much older and have more consistent populations and cultures. Europe was civilized first then branched out to the west, or something like that.

Zaku's avatar

My recommendation would depend on whom I was recommending it to.

Also, I grew up in America and have lived in America most of my life, and much of American culture confuses and/or bothers me. The last eleven years have been especially surprising.

mattbrowne's avatar

Many academics doing research on cultural dimensions and differences have found this:

“You can’t understand a new culture properly, if you don’t learn about your own culture in a structured and conscious way.”

Why is this so? Like for your native language, unless you study it, you don’t know the rules. You just have a feeling this or that sounds right or wrong.

Do you know your own culture?

One of the best books I’ve read are from

who also offers a tool for comparisons on this website. Click on

“Compare your home culture with your host culture > > >”

Then select the two cultures. I did this for Germany and the United States and I learned that the major differences relate to the IDV dimension (role of individuality in a society).

Try it. It’s free. But you need to read the books to understand the deeper meanings.

And start with a book about your own culture. Then read one about the American culture.

JLeslie's avatar

@mattbrowne That link is fascinating to me. As you know my husband’s family is Mexican, and it was very interesting to see that quick graph when you enter the two countries.

JLeslie's avatar

@mattbrowne The longterm parameter is not shown for Mexico, does that mean they are not long term minded? Or, for some reason there is no evaluation?

mattbrowne's avatar

@JLeslie – Interesting. Well, maybe there’s not enough data on LTO for Mexico yet. Ongoing inconclusive research perhaps.

majorrich's avatar

America is presently kind of in a reverse assimilation mode. Any new culture that is added to the collective is adopted and becomes the prevalent. That is why we are transitioning from an afro american culture to a latino culture. We will probably transition to a communist chinese culture next, for some reason to create more distance ourselves from our roots. I am at a loss to explain why I feel this way as I bleed red, white and blue. I feel kind of betrayed.

JLeslie's avatar

@mattbrowne I thought maybe they were so low it is off the index. For sure I would stereotype them as not being long term thinkers, but I would not say completely void of it.

Earthgirl's avatar

One of the funny, sort of unique things about the United States is that growing up here, unlike, I think, most other countries, kids will ask each other:“What nationality are you?” What they are asking is where are your ancestors from? There are a few people who feel very patriotically inclined who will say “I’m American!!!!!” Yes, we’re all Americans, but people do want to know your heritage. So as a more recent immigrant I don’t think you should feel uncomfortable about being different. Americans for the most part tend to love accents! I know I do. As others have said, we are a melting pot. Being culturally diverse is what makes America America. So celebrate your ethnicity if you are proud of it, share it with others. They will, for the most part appreciate your uniqueness and what you can teach them about your culture. At the same time, embrace what you see as the great things about your new country. Be engaged with people and don’t seperate yourself. Be open to learning about other cultures. You don’t have to be the same as everyone else to fit in. Viva la difference! That is what it’s all about. IMHO

flutherother's avatar

I’m surprised you felt that way because I was surprised how quickly I adapted having come to the United States from Scotland. My accent stuck out like a sore thumb but I was made very welcome by everyone right from the start. There is no doubt that American culture is very different from that of the UK but both developed from the same roots and I just liked the people I met there. In a country of outsiders I felt no more an outsider than anyone else.

Sinqer's avatar

I think there are too many subcultures to the ‘American culture’ to try and tackle it as a single culture.
I would recommend asking any questions that come to mind throughout your day to day life. If the question arises, ask it. The person’s answer likely reflects one of the many subcultures.

I’m not sure America has much of a culture anymore, though there are some commonalities I have found since I moved out of the US. Talking to a lot of non-Americans has helped me understand much.

The last thing I would recommend is a book. If any, I would hand them a sociology textbook.

Answer this question




to answer.

This question is in the General Section. Responses must be helpful and on-topic.

Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther