Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Weird Culture Thing

I know, that's probably the most descriptive title ever, right?  I was bumming around a friend-of-a-friend's blog yesterday and came across something that really got my blood pressure pumping.  The guy happens to be Australian, and he released the freakin' hounds on a famous American preacher for what was, to my mind, a series of totally boring and ordinary Facebook posts talking about his schedule, family life, marriage, etc.  But in thinking about it last night I remembered that there's a weird culture thing (there's that brilliant phrase again) between Americans and Aussies that we often don't recognize and that very often causes problems between us.

What is this Weird Culture Thing?  I'm so glad you asked.  (Attention: broad cultural stereotypes ahead.)

Americans are, very generally, a positive people -- I'm thinking of that sort of midwestern, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, self-reliant, I'll get by, buck up attitude.  I mean, there's a whole sub-genre of American folk/popular music dedicated to getting people to cheer up and have a positive outlook on life ("Smile, Darn Ya, Smile" "Put on a Happy Face" "You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile," "The Sunny Side of the Street," etc.) -- much of which was written during the Great Depression, a period with an incalculable impact on the collective American psyche.  I like this attitude, generally; I think it shows resilience and optimism.  But there's a dark side to it as well, what we might call the Joel Osteen or Pollyanna side, that closes its eyes to the impending storm and brags about how wonderful life is.

Aussies, in my experience, often don't get that, for most Americans, this positivity is a totally natural cultural thing, ingrained in us since infancy, not a boastful put-on, not a fake-out, not an effort to belittle anyone else.  Because, generally, in my observation, Aussies are humble, hard-working people who just want to give everyone a fair shot, get on with it, and not call attention to themselves.  So they see what we think of as cheerfulness and positivity -- or just stating facts -- and read it as Pollyanna-ishness or bragging or putting others down, and feel the need to address it (just like we would want to address something we saw as major arrogance)

But unfortunately, the kind of forthrightness that your average Aussie values, unmixed with flattery, is going to come across to your average American as presumptuous and rude instead of like a much-needed dose of reality. So that gets our defenses up, and we write you off as a mean old crank, and then you write us off as xenophobic and isolationist, and then our suspicions are confirmed that Americans are the only nice people in the world (and we value "nice" a LOT), and then your suspicions are confirmed that Americans don't understand or care about anyone but themselves, and then...

See?  A Weird Culture Thing.

5 comments:

One Salient Oversight said...

More detail needed. What was it specifically that the Aussie guy was upset about?

PS I'm living in Tasmania now.

Laura said...

It was stuff like, "Taking my wife on a date, an important tradition in our marriage. Guys, spend one-on-one time with your wife!" and "So proud of my kids, who got 95th %ile scores on their ITBS tests today!" and "Hanging out with my little sweetie this afternoon -- daddy-daughter time matters!"

The Aussie guy interpreted that as, "I'm a better husband and father than you are, and my kids are smarter than yours."

But the point, I think, is not the content of what he said so much as the fact that virtually no Americans would take offense at what he wrote or even think twice about it, while the Aussie guy interpreted and responded to it as rank arrogance.

Incidentally, I'm not trying to assign blame here (I don't think this Aussie guy was being a crank or a jerk, just misunderstanding intent) -- I'm trying to point out this thing that gets in the way of good communication between brothers and sisters in Christ from different cultures.

Re: Tassie, if you're still there in a couple years, maybe I can have the privilege of meeting the guy behind the eyeball. ;)

One Salient Oversight said...

It sounds like the guy was being a bit of a jerk to be honest, though I think you're right that there is some cultural stuff there.

I hope to be in Tas permanently. I moved here a few weeks ago to find work and haven't been too successful yet. My wife and kids are still on the mainland and will come to Tas once I have a stable job. We'll then sell our house on the mainland and buy one here, probably around (but not in) Launceston.

Here's me and my daughter at her 3rd birthday party in 2008

Laura said...

I'm jealous that y'all are moving to Tassie permanently. It's my second favorite place on Earth!

I was in Launceston for a Hawthorne game in July. Was nice to get out of Hobart and see some of the rest of the state.

Your daughter is a DOLL! :)

The Borg said...

Laura, Tassie is your 2nd favourite place??? ;)