What is it like to be an American?

Excess and convenience.

So many people have way more than is necessary in most cases. Bigger cars than they need. Bigger houses than they need. Bigger waistlines… 

There is a Starbucks on every corner. Supersized drinks. Over portioned meals. A dozen kinds of delivery.

All-in-one stores like Wal-mart, Target, and K-mart where you can get your tires changes, groceries, nails done, gift shopping, and eat lunch without leaving the store.

Most areas have gas stations within sight of each other. Where there is a Walgreens there's a CVS, a Home Depot there's a Lowes, a Mcdonalds, theres a Subway.

Unbelievable amounts of choice and it's all available all the time – there's no such thing as seasonal foods.

2-day shipping is almost the normal.

So many don't realize how grossly convenient life is that not being able to do or get something immediately is considered an inconvenience.

Success is expected to be provided.

Very few live within their means. To be debt free is to be in the minority. Not to have internet or a cell phone is an even smaller group.

Nothing is realllly that difficult. We have a seemingly endless supply of fresh water, gas, food, education, clothes, internet, 2 day shipping, free samples, free upgrades, free refills, etc. Everything is at our fingertips.

We have the power to choose and sometimes get paralyzed with choice.

We can effectively do, say, or have anything we want (more or less).

Nothing is stopping you from becoming a millionaire.

and for some, it will never be enough.

Our lives are so simple that we are probably dumber for it.

Waste isn't a priority. We throw out more food than some countries eat. To think where something goes after a trash can is unusual.

Our poorest probably don't realize how rich they really are.

We take for granted how clean our air is, stable our government is, amazing our healthcare, and powerful our currency is.

*It's hard to cast a single net to include everyone, but these are my thoughts. I'm also bias to living on the east coast, growing up middle class, and taking part in many of the mentioned.

19 Replies to “What is it like to be an American?”

  1. As David S. Rose and Quora User highlight, the US is a large and vast place. Americans will likely have different experiences depending upon where they live. Being an American in San Francisco feels a lot different than being an American in Oklahoma City.

    I hate to generalize, but here I go….. Following are 10 things that this thirty something Northern Californian woman has felt being an American.

    Compared to my non-American friends, I:

    1. Speak only one language.

    I grew up with smart people, and have had a relatively good education. Yet, most of my American friends and I are only fluent in one language. Every time I travel out of the United States or hang out with a non-American, I'm aware of this difference.

    2. Call almost everyone by their first name.

    It feels weird to address people as Mr. or Mrs., which is typically limited to the first meeting. In many situations it is considered immature, or a sign of weakness, to address someone you know as Mr. or Mrs. Even the President of the United States prefers to be called Bill or Jimmy.

    When I travel out of the United States it feels strange when I'm addressed formally. I'm more likely to say Kate Middleton as apposed to, Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge.

    3.  Would rather be thought young

    Along with point #2, I once had a member of my sales-team repeatadly  call me "Ma'am." It made me feel uncomfortable…..and old. I didn't like it.  I kept telling them to call me "Mira" and they continued calling me "Ma'am." It was a culture clash, and awkward for us both.

    Age does not automatically confer respect to most Americans, the way it does in many other cultures. 

    4.  Don't feel bad leaving food on the table.

    It isn't particularly rude or offensive when people order an appetizer or dessert and just "take a few bites." It's often polite to "show restraint" and eat only a portion of one's meal. After all, portion sizes are large in the US. I've noticed that my non-American friends take "to-go" what they don't eat, and rarely leave any food on the table to be wasted.

    5.  Am surprised if anyone smokes at the table or during a meal.

    Americans don't smoke in restaurants, and it's generally considered rude to smoke between courses if eating at a guest's home.  

    6. Expect to tip at least 15% at restaurants, even if the service is slow.   

    American restaurant owners are not required by law to pay minimum wage to serving staff, so servers rely on tips to make a living. When the service is slow, it's often not the individual servers fault, and I'm unlikely to stiff the server if the server tried their best, and the problem was with the restaurant.

    7. Think dubbed movies are strange.

    Hollywood is one of the United State's biggest exports. Whenever I am abroad, the TV and radio feels familiar. It's normal to turn on the TV to see "Friends" almost anywhere in the world. However, as an American, I'm not used to hearing dubbed languages. I'm more familiar with entertainment in English or with subtitles. 

    8.  Don't expect an answer to: "How are you?"

    If I ask someone "How they are?" I typically expect "fine" or no answer at all. Oftentimes I'll have already moved on before they have the chance to answer. Americans consider it polite to ask the question, and don't require an answer. Similarly, if someone says, "Talk to you soon," I'm not going to be sitting by the phone waiting for them to call. 

    9. Rarely have cash on hand.

    I pay for most things with credit, and rarely use cash.  Even very rich Americans often have no cash on hand. 

    10.  Am loud and friendly

    When I'm traveling abroad, it's usually easy to spot other Americans, we are the loud, gregarious, outwardly friendly ones. Americans generally believe in "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

  2. Choices.
     
    I was at a bed and breakfast for my honeymoon in Niagara Falls (Canadian-side) and one of the couples with us was from Germany.  We asked them about their impression of the USA as they had just come up from a visit there. Their reply?
     
    "In Germany, if I want a sandwich I go somewhere and order a sandwich. In America if you want a sandwich you go somewhere and order a sandwich, but…
     
    'What kind of bread would you like? Do you want your ham smoked? Do you want hot mustard or regular yellow? Red onions or white? Colby or Colby Jack cheese… oh, you want Wisconsin Sharp Cheddar instead? Toasted or plain…?'
     
    And on and on."
     
    Next:
     
    "Grocery store: 17 different olive oils. 20 different breads. 7 different hot sauces (with perhaps hundreds of different kinds across the country).
     
    You guys are crazy! I just want a sandwich! Argh!!!"

    EDIT-  Thanks everyone! I had no idea this little episode would make that much of an impression…

    EDIT 2-  As this answer continues to ping-pong around Quora I can't in good conscience avoid stating the obvious: there are many, many people starving while I joke about too many food choices. If you could join me in donating to your local food bank or charity I'd really appreciate it. (If this postscript 'edit' prompts even one person to do so then my words here have made at least a tiny impact.)

    Thanks.

  3. I think Quora User's answer is a good one, and I agree with it. But let me approach the question from a somewhat broader perspective…and from that of an adult.

    Like every place else in the world, the U.S. is not homogeneous. As a result, what it's like to be an American is vastly different depending on one's personal circumstances. That of a poor, white mine-worker in Appalachia will bear little resemblance to that of a Wall Street hedge fund partner from a pedigreed background, which in turn bears little relation to that of a person of color born in the segregated South.

    But doing my best to control for the outliers, I believe that the predominant sense would be a greater or lesser feeling of American Exceptionalism: the belief (whether correct or not) that America is different from every place else, and…well, umm, "better".

    This isn't just typical patriotism, or nationalism. It's something else—and something deeper. What drives it is different for different people. For shallow types, it can simply be that "we're the world's only superpower; richer, stronger and smarter. So there!"

    But for the historical middle of the bell curve (the stereotypical middle class, white, high school or college graduate), it is a baked-in feeling that America as a country, while it certainly has its flaws, is just fundamentally Good. That our government (whether or not you voted for this particular president) is not corrupt, that people and businesses follow the law, that the court system is largely fair, that we are the most charitable country on earth, that our constitution has withstood nearly 250 years of tests without bending, let alone breaking. That we act as the World's Policeman not just because we have the strongest army, but because we have a parental responsibility to protect the weak and 'stop the kids from fighting'.

    That we have the best educational system (even if we don't) and the most Nobel Prizes (which we probably do.) That terrorism is simply not acceptable under any circumstances, that our laws prevent our spies from assassinating foreign leaders, and that (to many people) even a guy who deliberately revealed our national top secret information deserves at least a fair hearing.

    This amalgam of beliefs (look up American Exceptionalism for more background) is hard wired into much of our national psyche, and affects—in ways both positive and negative—virtually everything we think and do when it comes to the rest of the world.

  4. For the most part, our lives aren't dramatically different than anyone else who lives in an industrialized quasi-democratic country.
     
    To non-Americans, especially those from Western Europe and other English speaking "Western" nations, I would say that you can't underestimate the impact of the Revolution against the British. I think it explains a lot of our attitude toward guns, religion, and wariness of authority. Our creation as a nation wasn't like most of yours. It's not better or worse necessarily; it just didn't happen in the way your country was formed. We take a lot of pride in the fact that we risked everything to make our own way. It doesn't make sense to you in some ways, but it would if you'd grown up here.
     
    There are some situations in which foreigners judge or misunderstand us that I wish were different:
    1. You think you know and understand us based on our TV shows and movies. It would be frustrating for Australians if the world judged you solely by Crocodile Dundee, or if people thought all Swedes could do is sing cheesy pop ballads and build mid range furniture. And yet, many of the stereotypes about loud, obnoxious, ego centric Americans are really just reflections of media.
    2. When the US has a President like George W. Bush, then all Americans are viewed as dimwitted war mongers to be avoided. Russians aren't similarly judged because of Putin. Brits weren't all painted as stone hearted assholes because of Margaret Thatcher. I won't even get into opinions about Germans. But people have less problem making broad judgments about the American people based on our President. The reply is usually then "well, but you elected him." Actually, over 50% of the population voted for Al Gore. Instead of feeling sorry for us that an election was stolen, Bush's views were seen as eagerly supported by most Americans. It's not true.
    3. Foreigners can seem excited to talk about the worst things we do and ignore the good things about us. I've never understood the near exuberance at our failures and the asterisks placed on our successes. It says more about your pettiness than ours.
    4. We do care about the rest of the world. Anytime there's a natural disaster, Americans are generous and compassionate; even to nations that express hatred for us *looking at you, Pakistan.* Both our government and individual citizens are among the most giving in the world. And in most cases, the first foreign assistance comes from the US military. I know it's not always a happy sight to see a US Navy vessel off your coast, but on your worst days, it really is.
     
    It's easy to hate us, judge us, laugh at and mock us. But it's just as easy to get to know us if you try. We are pretty laid back and friendly. We judge you based on who you are and how you present yourself, not where you come from. We ask the same in return. I know that's a simplistic answer that overlooks a lot of systemic racial and economic injustice… but I'm talking about individual people versus American society as a whole.

  5. These are some defining traits of American cultural psychology. 

    -Intense local, really provincial, focus, in most non-urban areas, and even in many or most urban areas.  Non-Americans don't understand this or the implications of this.  Americans are focused on their local communities so much that they just don't think about the wider world very much.  It isn't lack of intelligence, or deliberate arrogance.  It's just intense localism.  They care about Springfield. 
    -Perhaps paradoxically, a great deal of geographic mobility for a significant portion of the American population.
    This, along with low overall population density and Americans' cultural psychology in this environment, leads to a culture emphasizing positive face and compliments. The flip side is that our social bonds are more affinity-based, and therefore weaker than those in most other cultures.  We place fewer binding obligations on each other than members of other cultures. 
    -An implication of this and our history is our attitudes toward family and gender. There were fewer Old World-style constraints on marriage, and the settler atmosphere loosened these obligations further, and replaced them with a combination of affinity and sort of … task obligation.  As a consequence, from our earliest proto-novels we've been obsessed with the idea of broken families being recombined, and as Alastair Cooke put it, Americans retained the idea that women are the keepers of gentility and culture longer than other Western cultures did  — look at the captivity narratives of Mary Rowlandson, or even the film The Searchers.   You can still see these themes in more modern American cultural products.   What is "Leave It to Beaver" but a celebration of the ideal that we wish for, and at the same time, wouldn't fully want?
    -Problem-solving.  In other languages and cultures, "problems" are almost existential states of mind or fatalistic circumstances.  In American culture, by definition, a problem has at least a partial solution.  If a circumstance doesn't have something that can be done about it, as opposed to simply enduring it, it may be many things (most likely providential/the work of some uncontrollable cause, see: implied agent assumption), but it is not a *problem*.
    -The assumption of "doing".

  6. I think that the signature thing about being an American that's different from everywhere else is that Americans feel that there is someplace in America that's just right for them.

    I can recall asking a Brit how they felt about Americans, and he said that we're pretty much the same except in America everybody thinks that they can get rich and so the rich are looked upon favorably. In the UK nobody thinks they will, so they all want to kill the bloody bastards.  Sure there is a political minority in the US who takes every opportunity to blather on about income inequality, as if in world history it never existed, but I think my friend's idea holds true. Culturally, we accept the premise that there may be riches in store for our particular dream.

    It does happen. That's why we're inventive. For example, when I was 14 years old, somebody invented something called 'Cadillac Wheels'. These were urethane wheels for skates and skateboards which had, up until that point been made of steel or clay. It changed a kid's toy in such a way that it became a sport, and then an 'extreme sport' and now a multibillion dollar worldwide industry of entertainment. Americans are predisposed to believe that good ideas, even weirdly good ideas, can make a potential market.

    The social implications are strong. Among all nations, America is the place where there is not only a respectable upper middle class mainstream, but all sorts of alternative cultures which also have respectability. You can expect real respect. You don't have to hide who you are or what you believe. So much so that people make huge 'cultural authenticity' statements about things that don't even really matter, like tattoos, music tastes and sports team allegiances.

    But also we are an open society. When you go to that fancy restaurant in Beverly Hills or New York City, you know that the guy at the bar just might be a multimillionaire. You just might meet an ace combat pilot at the NFL game. The scientist who identified HIV will actually come to your high school to speak. Even when if you decide to look at it from the negative perspective – yes there are homeless people in our biggest richest cities. We don't ship them off. And some cities even encourage some form of squatting.

    The point is that America remains a country of big dreams and big deeds, and while there's always some complaint (and there are cities full of complainers too), there's a place for everybody in this big country. And I do mean everybody. Even if you have Ebola there's a place where you are welcome. Everybody has a city or town where they fit right in. You just have to find your place and then follow your dreams.

  7. When I was 16 years old, I convinced my wealthy grandfather to pay for a trip to Spain in the summer of 1992.  Succeeding, I hopped on a plane and traveled through Atlanta (of "Before you go to heaven or hell" fame), through Madrid (of "Barajas is the biggest goddamned clusterfuck" fame), to Tenerife.  It was outstanding.  There is simply nothing that compares to being a young fellow and departing your comparatively sequestered Midwestern, waspy lifestyle to be suddenly immersed in a different language, culture and worldview.  That was me. 

    And you know what I never thought once while I was there?  "Wow.  These people are sooooo different."  In fact, as my 2.5 month adventure in Tenerife came to a sad conclusion, I remember thinking how my time there really wasn't all that surprisingly different.  Now, of course, we're both European-ish cultures and there's that to keep in mind.  But even after moving there to polish off my high school education a year later and then traveling to Africa and Central America, I still never thought, "Wow, life here is so different."

    It's not that it isn't "so different", it's just that to an impressionable kid, despite all the differences, I adapted quickly and never thought much more about it.  I realized that the biggest differences between American kids and Spanish kids and Moroccan kids and Venezuelan kids was that American kids had more money, spoke a different language and played different sports.

    That's it.  I mean it. Other than that, kids are kids.  Teenagers are rambunctious, arrogant, self-interested, hyper-sexual, idealists.  Every kid thinks she or he knows how to fix the world.  Every kid thinks that he or she is invincible.  Every kid pisses adults off wherever they live.  That was my biggest take-away.  And as I departed Tenerife for the last time in 1994, I remembered that more than anything.  Humans are all kind of the same, despite these very compartmentalized differences. 

    So, wherever you are, whatever you're doing, being American isn't so alien than what you're doing now.  We might sing a different tune, or speak a different language or worship different (or no) gods or have a different government.  That's patently obvious.  Baring some really extreme cultural examples, for the most part, being American means having a lot more "shit" than most other people on the planet.  Other than that, it's about the same.

  8. I wake up in the morning, in my one bedroom apartment downtown, next to my girlfriend. It is 5am. The cat hears me stir and starts screaming at the door for her morning food.

    I groggily shuffle through the living room and into the kitchen. Scoop a handful of dry food into the cats bowl, make myself a bowl of oatmeal, grab a shower, then pack my bags and get ready. At this point, my girlfriend has woken up and begins her own morning routine.

    We live in the center of a small town. There isn't much: a bar, some resturaunts, gift shops, tattoo parlour, book store, bakery, cafe, deli, farm store, bank. It's certainly more choice than when I lived with my parents in the suburbs, but I'd appreciate a grocery or butcher or liquor store. Such a pain to have to drive to the next town over.

    Today, I have to drive two hours to an off-site company for work. I've been doing this three days a week for four months, with two left to go. It is not my favorite gig, but I have student loans and medical bills to pay, so I do it.

    On those three days, most nights are spent at my uncle's house to avoid ridiculous commutes. We're a close enough family where he barely charges me any rent. I stay in his son's (my cousin's) room. He is on tour as a US Marine, playing in the band. That whole offshoot of the family has always been musically inclined.

    So, those two nights, I catch up with family and catch up on my reading. Maybe go for a run along the highway. My uncle, aunt and cousins are very busy people, so I take the company I can get.


    I get back home on Wednesday. Since it's the summer, some local band is playing at the bandstand. Usually some sort of swing music, but this week it's more contemporary sounding. I can't check it out, because I have laundry and shopping to do (plus I'm tired), but it appears to have gathered a decent crowd.

    Thursday I'm back in my home office, only 25 minutes from home with a much more pastoral commute. It's more relaxed than the off-site gig by a country mile. Much less corprate. There are only five developers in our offices, plus the owners, and we all get along well. This week, my boss decides to take the company out for beer at a local pub, and I get to complain about the people off site over one or two drinks.

    I get home late (I'm stone sober at this point), and watch some TV with my girlfriend.

    She works in taxes, but wants to go back to school so that she can work in museums. We've been going out for years now, and our personalities seem to click, even if our interests are vastly different. We enjoy spending the evenings together, and look forward to the end of my off-site gig, even if it will mean less cash coming in.

    Saturday. Day off from work. I've either slept in, or gone to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. I've been falling out of volunteerism lately, because the commuting has been sapping some of my energy, but I'm not worried. I've fallen off the bandwagon before and gotten back on. This week, I work on fixing an audio amplifier I purchased on ebay, so that the house can have some music again.

    Sunday. We visit my girlfriend's family this week. Her parents are having a barbecue. It's a lazy, sleep in kind of day. We take a walk in the morning, as people are leaving church.


    Later this year, we'll go on a vacation. It'll have to wait until my off site gig finishes up, but we'll have a good week off. We'll also take short, local holidays with the families. We only have two weeks of vacation this year, so they have to be used sparingly. For his part, my boss will usually let me slip out an extra day or two without a fuss.

    Between our college debt, car payments, medical debt and other bills, we don't have much savings, but we live comfortably enough. We both know that if we got into real trpuble, we could always live with my parents or hers, though this is not a preferable option for either of us. We're sober enough to realize that, if we're to get married, we might have to do this for a couple years to save money for a house. But that's not yet. Best not to worry.


    That's what it's like being one particular American, male, white, 25 years of age, in upstate New York. Results will vary.

  9. I am an American, but more importantly I am a Washingtonian from the Northwest corner of the country.  I lived in Idaho for 6 years which is the state next door.  Up here we don't like folks from places like New York and California.

    I grew up in a small industrial town called Longview, which has a large international  ocean port and numerous paper pulp mills fed by the massive forest industry in the area.

    Growing up, my friends and I spent most of the time in the outdoors.  This was typical for kids in this town.  I got my first rifle when I was 9 as did most of my friends.  We did lots of shooting, hunting and fishing.  Summers were spent out in the woods dressed up in BDUs (battle dress uniforms) playing militia.  Lots of other kids were also into working on trucks.  Second only to hunting and fishing, working on old beat up trucks was probably the most common activity for local boys.

    As a grown up I still live in Washington.  I have a degree in physics and work at home as a software engineer.  I still spend all my free time in the mountains.  Still go hunting and shooting and love exploring the back country far from trails and roads.  I own an AR-15 with a few 30 round "high capacity" magazines and tons of ammo and strongly support the right of individuals keep and bear arms.  I live in a small town where its common see folks open carry handguns, so I am not alone.  I go hunting and hiking in the vast national forest over the weekends.  I drink local grass fed raw milk. Freedom is important.

    I live in Washington so I like to smoke weed now and then.  A favorite activity of mine is to go driving around on the forest service roads up in the mountains and get stoned.  Its legal here.  I voted in support of gay marriage, weed legalization and I am an atheist.  I supported Ron Paul for president, I'm a member of the republican party, I am scared of our Federal Government and I think The Northwestern states would be better off seceding from the union.

    I buy only organic non-gmo food.  One day I hope to own my own ranch or farm way out in the sticks.  I'd like to raise Bison.

    So there is one data point for ya.

  10. Just to add two examples from foreigners I've known, not my own experience. I can't see the forest for the trees, but the biggest observation that a South African friend of mine had was that he was surprised at how much everyone loves the United States. Not in a necessarily prideful or arrogant way, but in a bred-in-the-bone way, a feeling that whatever happens it's still good to live in America and be American, and that anything is possible because of those two things.
    The second observation comes, oddly enough, from another African, this time from Ghana. I was close to running out of money for flight school, and he was attending nursing school at the same community college. Why a Ghanian would move to a medium sized town in Iowa to go to a community college is beyond me, but his response to my depressed whining was a genuine laugh and "Man, you will find some way- this is America!" followed by completely dismissing my fears. some five years later, after running out of money, working sheep and construction for a year, and working my way back into and through school to be head of General Aviation instruction at a crop dusting school in Georgia, my response to him is exactly what my dad's was: Damn right.
    I could expound on that theme, but like explaining Scottish Nationalism, this is one area where adding words obscures and confuses the subject rather than helping.

  11. It's a mixed bag.  On the one hand, I should never forget how safe and prosperous I am compared to most people in the world.  Within the US, few have ever been first-hand witnesses to war (though we export plenty), terrorism, starvation-level poverty, or the ravages of infectious disease.  Our employers and markets, while imperfect, are still healthier than most.  Ditto for the "surveillance state" and "onerous" gun control, and so on.  Which other of the world's 15 most populous countries is better in those respects?  Crickets.  Yeah, thought so.  Even when I was poor in the US, I was in a great situation compared to most people in the world.

    On the other hand, our political system is a farce.  Our medical treatment industry – by design not a health care industry – is a travesty.  We have more pollution, corruption, crime, obesity, ignorance, urban sprawl, and so on than I find acceptable.  It is precisely because we enjoy the advantages mentioned in the previous paragraph that we have no excuse.  That doesn't make those problems worse, but somehow it makes their continued presence more frustrating.  We don't have problems because of some external/historical circumstance beyond our control.  We have problems because we have managed our own affairs poorly.  WTF, fellow Americans?  Demand better.  Be better.

    Sorry, got carried away there.  As I said, it's a mixed bag.  It's exhilarating and frustrating all at the same time.  I hope those two paragraphs juxtaposed with one another give some sense of that.

  12. This is probably the most difficult question I’ve tried to answer on here. I saw it listed nearly 24 hours ago and have thought about it a lot. As I start writing I still don’t have a clear idea of what I will say so if you hang in with me, we may both be surprised where the answer goes. I’ve always been an American and I have no frame of reference what it is to be anything else.

    I was born an American, part of the “Baby Boomer” generation, WWII was over and Korea was just heating up. I wasn’t aware of any of this until much later but it was to form a large part of my world view. The depression was still in the rear view mirror along with the austerity of wartime rationing and a lot of doing without. This was the most optimistic, most “can do” country you can imagine. The whole country was rebooting their lives and the future was incredibly bright. All of this was to form a major part of my character and outlook. I’ve always believed that I could accomplish anything, that I could achieve anything I chose to dig in and go for, on my own and without any help from governments or programs or anything. I’ve always seen governments as a hindrance, not a help and at best something to be avoided. How that squares up with also believing we had the best form of government in the world (with the Constitution and the guarantee of freedom) I’m not real sure, that does seem a little weird.

    My fathers work kept us on the road constantly so I was exposed to many social and ethnic groups, poor to rich, black, white, and Indian. I was by myself in the back of a station wagon a lot, but sometimes I got to play with the children of the people my Father was doing business with. These were the only kids I was around. Some of my happiest memories center around being included in the group of kids pulling the pump handle for water on a hellishly hot day as we took turns dancing dancing under the pump spout to cool off. We weren’t rich or poor black or white, we were sweaty kids in our skivvies dancing with the joy of being wet and cool. I didn’t see the divides of the times between poverty and plenty, and race. I still see America as a place where we may have differences but we are still a common people who can pull together to get anything done. Often these kids were Cajun or part Cajun and spoke French. My French always sucked but it didn’t matter we could overcome anything if we tried. Things like this proved to me Americans could do anything if we pulled together and I still believe that.

    I’ve rattled on long enough, this is not intended to be an autobiography and I’m not that good a writer anyway. But when I say “American” I mean an optimistic, “get her done” individual who sets out to do impossible tasks, willing to overcome any problem that engenders. An individual who loves this country and even while while still disagreeing with some of his other Americans doesn’t make it or take it personal. An American also means someone standing up to government and holding its leaders to keeping their promises and holding them to especially protecting the promise of every freedom in that Constitution and making sure we can pass it intact on to our heirs, just as a small group of patriots once pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to making the change from British Subject to Free American.

  13. I never really thought about it too much until I started living abroad. The first time I tried my hand at it, I was 20 and studying in Kyoto. Then I started thinking about it all the time as I abruptly realized I was not in Kansas any longer (not that I was in Kansas in the first place; that is a turn of phrase).

    In terms of being an average American just bouncing along through life, one of the drums that I bang on frequently here is how isolated you are likely to be from the rest of the world. Americans have to travel a long way in order to get out of their “sphere,” which is essentially the US, Canada, Mexico, and the Carribean. If you talk to most Americans, you'll find that in terms of distance travelled, most are actually rather well travelled. Most Americans have been to at least Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean. Virtually everybody has gone on at least one road trip, which is a rite of passage of sorts. The amount of mileage (or kilometer-age, if you prefer) can actually be quite staggering.

    But you are still isolated, generally. Yeah, most Americans are monolingual. Where the hell are they going to really use foreign language, unless that foreign language is Spanish? It is not necessary to be cosmopolitan to be a perfectly functional member of American society. You need to know how America works (which is not that easy, really) and you're ready to go.

    You are also going to live in an echo chamber because nobody, and I mean nobody produces media like the US does. In terms of entertainment, the U.S. is completely self-satisfying in that regard. You will occasionally get some supplement through BBC America and some anime from Japan. People are generally vaguely aware of what K-Pop is. But there is no need to import. I myself have watched television programming in many different countries. If you removed all the American-produced crap from the airwaves, most countries would have about five channels of programming, it seems (two of them would be news channels, and one would be dedicated to bewilderingly dramatic soap operas). Same thing with radio.

    So, in sum, you don't hear about most of the rest of the world because there's very little permeable media, and since getting out of the northwestern quadrant of the world is such an expensive pain in the ass, you're not likely to do it much. Also, unlike the Aussies and the Kiwis, who are also quite isolated, you don't get as much time off.

    And why don't Americans get more time off? Americans like to work. Americans will bitch about work, but there is no other country on the face of the plant that likes it as much as Americans do. Unemployed Americans are about the most depressed motherfuckers on the planet.

    Anyway, let's assume that you are one of those Americans (like your loyal servant) who is willing to give up any semblance of a normal American life to go wander about the planet because for whatever reason you are certifiably insane and have managed to avoid therapists.

    Congratulations! You are now going to have to repeatedly explain everything about America to everybody because thanks to Hollywood and the joke that is the US political system, everybody has an extremely warped idea about how the U.S. actually works and everybody is going to assume that you are a dumbass.

    So, here's your hole. Start climbing out of it.

    I honestly think that this has fueled my love of history and museums. I mean, I already had an inclination toward those things but, man, I can't tell you how much it helps when you're talking to locals and can recite dates and facts and history and context. A visit to the local history museum, a visit to any major monuments or production centers, an hour spent reading the English mirror of the most local newspaper you can find, and, honestly, learning who the hell the local soccer team is will go a damn long way in sparking positive connections.

    But the assumption of dumbassery is generally the worst part of it. I've mentioned several times that I've never gotten any actual bad responses for being American and I have not. People can be patronizing, though, and after a few encounters where I left feeling rather insulted the above is my method of coping with it effectively. Different people have different approaches.

  14. I used to feel embarrassed by being an American. I thought that we weren't as cultured, interesting, or sophisticated as other countries. That all we had to export was Coke and wars like Vietnam. Now that I've traveled around the world more, I feel as if Americans are . . . people. I've met plenty of dumb Europeans. I've seen that a lot of Asian cities lack the old-fashioned grandeur of New York. I feel very lucky to live in a country that has rainforests, deserts, beaches, prairies, etc. all within its borders. I feel that it is a country quite rich in culture–highbrow as well as lowbrow–and is a good place to live. Having said that, I don't think Americans are better than other people. We're just people. As far as our role in the world goes, we've done good things, we've done evil things, but so has every powerful country. I still think we have a lonnnnnng way to go before we screw up as many places as Great Britain has, for instance, throughout its history. But the Brits have better cream teas, so I guess I'm going to have to let them off the hook for imperialism for the moment. Cheers!

  15. Well, unless one has some awareness of and familiarity with other parts of the world, this question is a little bit like asking a fish what it is like to live in the water. Nevertheless, I’ll give it a try. Maybe it would be best to approach this by walking through a typical day.

    Morning:

    I wake up in my house – a house that is not by any means huge by US standards, but is large by global standards. I go into a bathroom just off our our bedroom, and this is not the only bathroom (or bedroom) in our house. The house is comfortably warm in the winter and cool in the summer. I take a shower daily in ample clean, hot water (a luxury in some parts of the world). I dress myself in clean laundered clothes – I have enough that I can wear something different each day – another luxury not enjoyed by much of the world. I work in a small town government job of sufficient informality that I do not have to dress up in a suit and tie, just in comfortable business casual attire. Before leaving for work I feed my three cats (another luxury – I can have these pets and feed them with special pet food that is formulated for them) and fix my breakfast. I microwave some quick-cooking oatmeal, and eat it with a hard-boiled egg, package of yogurt, and a glass of orange juice – all relatively fresh and safe to eat. I could choose many different things for breakfast if I preferred. Nutritionally, I’m already off to a better start than are many people in this world.

    Work:

    I drive my own small (by US standards – more like an average car for the large global minority that do own any sort of automobile) car a couple of miles to work (which for me, as a small town dweller, is a much shorter and quicker commute than many people in the US and around the world must endure). Those streets are kept in fairly good repair, too, and are well enough policed to assure that people observe the speed limits and other safety regulations; driving back and forth to work and around town is thus not a particularly hazardous endeavor. (Unlike much of the rest of the world, however, public transportation is not available in my small town – and would likely be inadequately available in most of our large cities as well.) I spend most of my day working at a computer screen, as do increasing numbers of others in the US and around the world. I do not work in a cubicle, but do have a defined and semi-private work space that I had the flexibility to set up to work well for me. Most of my colleagues are either in the office all day doing their own computer work, or else are engaged in service or skilled manual work outside of our office. I and my colleagues all have a fairly high degree of autonomy in how we go about setting our priorities and schedules and doing our work. Our compensation is not at all lavish by either US national or local standards, yet is still enough to place us in the upper 1–2% of global households in terms of wealth.

    Evenings:

    After work I drive back home most weekdays, with a couple of exceptions. I serve as a volunteer teacher of English as a Second Language one night a week, helping recent immigrants to learn English so that they can better integrate into society and the workforce. I am also active in a local civic service club, and am frequently involved in various volunteer service projects that help people in our local community. This volunteerism is something that is so quintessentially American, and is something you don’t see so much of elsewhere. Other weeknights I might stay home and read or watch television. My viewing habits tend more toward Public Television documentaries, which are not typical compared to most Americans. My suppers (and lunches) tend toward simple meals prepared at home rather than at restaurants.

    Weekends:

    My weekend routines differ considerably from the weekdays, and probably differ the most from more typical Americans. One thing which is fairly common for many Americans but which is uncommon compared to many people overseas is my religious activity. As a faithful Christian, I not only attend my church on Sunday morning, but also am involved in a couple of other church-related small group activities on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday is also not only my day to do our market shopping for the week, but also to visit and help my elderly father and my elderly mother-in law with their shopping at the same time. Neither one lives with us, but each have their own places not far from us, and we do provide whatever caregiving is needed. Weekends are also our time to do laundry (and we are fortunate to have our own clothes washer and dryer in the house, which is typical but not universal for Americans), fix more substantial meals (with leftovers often eaten during the week), and tend to other chores around the house. Unlike some Americans, we don’t have time to get out and enjoy outdoor recreation or other entertainments quite as often as we would like, but we do occasionally. Being very much an introverted loner, I don’t tend to live as gregarious and convivial a social life on the evenings and weekends as some Americans do, and is often quite typical in some places around the world.

    That weekly shopping experience is one thing that may be quite a bit different for most Americans compared to much of the rest of the world. We have very large supermarkets, in which a massive quantity of food is available. There is also a wide variety of every type of foodstuffs, often leading to an overabundance of choice. Much of it is quite reasonably priced compared to what many other people pay for food around the world (and, of course, there is no haggling over the prices). Much of it is the product of factory farms and industrial-scale production, and some of the processed foods are of questionable nutritional value. It takes a conscious effort to eat healthy. As for non-food items that I might need to buy less frequently, there are various other stores available, and anything that is not conveniently available at a nearby store can be ordered online through Amazon.

    This probably only scratches the surface of what it is like to be an American, but it is a start.

  16. There are so many great answers here, hard to add much.  One note I'd highlight, though, is diversity.

    I'm not talking your average"majority and minority" dynamic.  I'm talking real diversity, where most of the planet is represented without ethnic infighting.

    The following I an excerpt from an article about my daughter's high school, with 1,900 students: " It’s what you can’t see or measure that makes K-M a hidden treasure.  There are 70 nations represented at K-M along with 69 different languages."

    Where else but America?

  17. This is a near impossible question to answer  except as an individual.
    I think I have a somewhat different take on it as I spent some formative years overseas. Not quite a two culture kid. Our family moved to Singapore from Orlando Florida when I was 8 years old. This was in 1967 and we moved back to the states in 1976. We lived in Singapore and then Malaysia with only one "vacation" trip back to the states. We were exsposed to the cultures of the Chinese, Indians, Malaysians, Brittish and Australiains and all the sub cultures to boot. On returning to the States, I felt like a stranger in my own country. I learned about the differences in the north and south, east and west, middle America and the wealth/ poverty structure. Black, white, Indigenous etc.
    I am very proud of the USA and what we have accomplished in our relatively short history. Our tradition of helping others, sometimes to their and our own detriment. Our freedoms of speech, religion, politics etc. Our clean air and water and freedom to travel pretty much unrestricted are still a wonder to me and I'm in my  late fifties.
    We are our own people but owe much to the world for making us who we are. Truly a melting pot of cultures and ideas that is the United States of America. The founders did it right and the grand experiment has succeeded.
    Waxing poetic, I know.

  18. Honestly, I am thankful. Most people I know are thankful to live in America.
     
    By some accident of birth we reap the benefits of 1,000 years of democratic history, peaceful change of control and culture of opportunity. We reap the benefits of the wealthiest economy to have ever existed on this planet.
     
    Having only ever been an American, I have only ever seen it from my eyes. I would love to hear the stories of immigrants to and from America. Their insight is almost certainly more interesting.

  19. I am going to be as concise as possible, although the other answers seemed to have grasped it.

    You hear of all of this bad news happening in other countries, you hear of comparisons of the US with different countries, and most of the comparisons of are how bad the US is and how it is in its decline. Everybody seems to be hating on the US.

    I like to think of these people, in their cars and on their computers. Going through their daily routines. Talking on their phones, working. The fact of the matter is, these people are impacted by the United States indefinitely.  I'm not saying it in that "everything is impacted by everything" which is true, but more of a they own something that started in America. The innovation is in the air here. It's invigorating.

    That being said, there is really some bad here. It's the divisions exaggerated from the media. Republicans versus the Democrats. The media is a double-edged sword. With freedom of expression comes major bias. However, this is also amazing, because things change because of it.

    Anyways, I love it, the capitalism, the innovation, everything.
    Some might not, but I understand that now.

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