Misunderstandings Of A Foreigner In American Culture

1663 words - 7 pages

I still remember the shock I got when I first moved here. What a terribly superficial culture this country has, I thought. The way people treat each other, especially in conversations! At the beginning they ask you: "How are you?" But beware! They don't really want to know how you are, and if you make the mistake of actually giving them a detailed account of your well-being, they'll shun you for weeks. On the other hand, you're required to immediately embrace all new acquaintances with the standard "Nice to meet you." Maybe you weren't even in the mood to meet somebody at this particular moment, and if she or he turns out to be just another perfectly intolerable human being, then you lied to the entire world around you! I had some serious objections to this whole game. Unfortunately, even I am human and realized that it was either going to be adaptation or getting the heck out of this country, and my finances narrowed it down to the first choice.

In addition to my little blunders with American small talk, I also had quite a few instances of misunderstandings, and it certainly was not because my English wasn't fluent! I could tell you about the time I had an enticing little talk with a seriously cute guy who threw me a "I'll call you later" at the end of the conversation. Dummy me, sat by the phone the rest of the evening waiting for him to call. Is this an instance of gendered communication, or is it just a sign of the "American" times? How often do we use these vague phrases to be non-committal with almost anybody? These sentences have lost any actual meaning; they're an easy, "polite" way out of any situation. We refuse to give a concrete answer and therefore we can't be tied down to any kind of commitment. It's a good way to keep the other person at an oh-so-friendly arms length. But is it really polite to put the other person on hold by being so evasive instead of being definite and honest? Personally, I don't think so. Where I come from, we prefer the rude method of saying exactly what we think and getting it over with. Not unfairly have we Germans earned the reputation of getting things done efficiently...

Thinking about my first years here gives me quite a different perspective towards the issue of gendered communication than what the typical American citizen might have. Although I agree that we have to take into consideration that men and women are fundamentally different, to blame all misunderstandings and miscommunications on this fact is not accurate. Two very popular authors, Deborah Tannen, who has impressive credentials as a linguistics professor, and John Gray, of whom almost everybody has heard of by now, claim the different use of language by the opposite sexes to be the root of all evil in arguments. I believe that miscommunication between men and women is only a small portion of the whole problematic issue, which is not specifically gender?related. We have to look beyond the obvious differences to get to the real sources...

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