Table of Contents
II. Methodical Procedure
V. The Perception of Time and Distance
VI. Business Life
VII. Cars and Transportation
VIII. Sense of Humor
VIIII. Recreational Activities
This paper deals with the description of the difference between the American- and the European mentality. This is achieved by comparing single aspects of American and European life which I used as an indication of the respective mentality.
Last year I visited the United States of America for the first time and was impressed by the difference to other European countries I had been to before. Of course, I started to compare my experiences and often was confronted with my different attitude towards things of daily life.
This essay is part of what I found interesting in both mentalities - the American and the European.
II. Methodical Procedure
The exploration of the difference in mentalities is a very vast field. For this reason, I had to be restrictive. Because there are a lot of topics with which I could have dealt, I chose those which I considered the most relevant.
Especially since Europe comprises many countries and there are huge differences between these countries, this was not easy to achieve. Therefore I picked the countries which seemed to me most interesting to compare. If there was no significant difference, I referred to Europe in general.
The United Kingdom has been included in the European part unless stated otherwise.
Americans see themselves as different from the rest of the world. They are proud of standing apart from other nations. For them, America is the best country in the world - »God’s own country«. Because America has its roots in a »melting pot of nations«, Americans have split up into different groups according to their ancestry. They describe themselves as »Japanese-American, Mexican-American, and Polish-American«. In this way, every American has become a »hyphenated American«.
Europeans, on the contrary, have no common »European-identity«, though Europe is growing together faster and faster. Because of the different languages and cultures, there is no such collective identity. Nobody in Europe would consider himself or herself abroad as a »European«, but rather like a citizen of his or her country.
For example, the Germans and the French especially still see themselves as German and French.
III.I. Interpersonal Relationships
The first impression when meeting American people is: They are a friendly and approachable nation. When first meeting an American you will probably be asked if everything is okay and how you like the United States. Five minutes later you will be addressed by your first name. When you say goodbye, you will be hugged and receive an invitation to a dinner at home. But never take this too seriously. It can be the next day the person will not even remember your name.
Personal contact is always in a friendly manner. For a European, this could lead to the conclusion that this means lifelong friendship which is not the case.
In Europe, interpersonal relationships are more formal and reserved. It is not likely to be as amicable as in America, and friends have to be »won«.
A typical characteristic of the American language is the use of verbs instead of nouns.
Americans love »action«. Therefore they turn nouns into verbs wherever possible and with great creativity.
For example, when a spokesperson for a company talks about a new product he or she will say: »We are trialing a new product«. In this way, they have created a new verb which probably does not exist in a dictionary. Correct English only has the noun »trial«. The American language is full of these neologisms.
In Europe, a spokesperson would instead say: »Das befindet sich gerade in der Erprobung« preferring the noun to the verb. This way of talking has its roots in the administrative language which creates a more serious and reserved approach to the audience.
A further idiosyncrasy of the American language is the use of »euphemisms«, that means avoiding negative statements. For example, a person who has died is referred to as »having passed away« or »departed«. Another euphemism is the use of »challenge« instead of »problem«. For example, a person is not »fat«, but »overweight« or »a person of size«. Nowadays, no American is in »financial difficulties«, but is in »financial distress« instead. These idiosyncrasies have already swept to some degree into European mentality. Political correctness is widely being adopted, and euphemisms are becoming more and more part of everyday language. For example, in Great Britain and Germany a person is no longer »handicapped« but »differently-abled«.
Contrariwise Americans love blunt expressions. Hidden allusions and subtleties do not seem to comply with their mentality. Whereas in their motherland Great Britain sophisticated language and veiled references between the lines are deeply loved and appreciated.
In general, Americans tend to speak only English and maybe their mother tongue (if they are immigrants, e.g., Spanish which is quite widespread in certain states). In Europe, foreign language learning is not exceptional; every pupil usually has to learn at least two languages besides his or her mother tongue.
V. The Perception of Time and Distance
The feeling for periods of time is different in American mentality in comparison to European thinking.
In most European countries it has become common that buildings from the past are not considered as »ancient« unless they are older than 1,500 to 2,000 years, whereas Americans regard buildings, e.g., houses or churches dating from the last 100 to 200 years already as »ancient«.
The United States of America is a young country in contrast to Rome or France, and therefore most of the Americans are not used to old buildings in their country. The result is that when Americans travel to another European nation, they develop a completely different feeling for actually old artifacts.
V.I. The Concept of Time in Everyday Life
For the typical American time is money. The concept of time is linear (cf. Fig. 1). If you want to keep pace with time you have to move fast and use your time wisely to make a profit. It is up to you how you use your time and thereby you are able to control its results. In the U.S. you have to make money to lead a successful life. Time is measured by the money you earn, therefore in America wasting, spending, budgeting, and saving time plays a more significant role than in Europe, especially in comparison to some southern European countries.
Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten
Figure 1: Carving up American time1
In some European countries, the perception of time is more flexible. In countries like Spain or Italy, the indication of a specific time is more like a rough estimate than an exact point in time. For them, social contacts and, e.g., a conversation are more important than showing up in time.
V.II. The Perception of Distance
Besides, the approach to distance is also different.
Europe comprises more than one nation and has a lot of cultural diversity to offer. Its inhabitants do not need to exit their continent to experience other languages and customs. That is why Europeans tend to travel more outside their own country. Whereas the U.S. consists of just one nation and is a rather big country (actually America is twice as big as the whole of Europe), Americans travel less outside their own continent.
VI. Business Life
Henry Ford may not have invented the automobile, but he revolutionized production methods and marketing and took things to a whole new level. He once said: »A customer can have a car painted any color he wants as long as it’s black.«2 Ford represents two typical American business strategies: First, customer orientation, secondly, mass-market production. For Ford, a car was not a luxury but an article of daily use like a refrigerator. There were only a few models available, but he wanted almost everybody to be able to afford one. In Europe, new inventions tend to be accessible only for upper-class people unless they are produced in high numbers and become cheaper.
A well-established business model is the concept of »franchising«. That means an already successful, proven concept is sold to somebody who wants to run his own business. By »franchising« he or she can do this without having to develop a new business idea. This business model has its roots in the typical American dream of running one’s own business and making money.
In Europe, the concept of franchising was taken up from the United States, but because the entrepreneurial spirit was not as pronounced it has not taken foothold as fast as in the U.S..
VI.I. In the Office
Americans expect their work to be interesting and fun. What they do has to be rewarding. The dress code is more formal: »Business casual«3 or »Business Professional«4 is expected for example for men and women in offices.
In Europe, this might not be easy to explain because of the difference in cultures and workplaces. The dress code is not as defined as in the United States. It may vary from company to company. In general, the English approach to dress code comes closest to the American one. Their mentality seems to be similar in this respect.
Americans also tend to treat their coworkers more like friends. For example, the first name is used, and even the boss is addressed by his or her first name. The relationship is more relaxed and informal, although it is important to treat others with proper respect. It is also common to talk about everyday life and personal problems at your workplace. In Europe, the relationship between the coworkers is more reserved. Smalltalk is typical, but no intimate details are being shared.
1 http://www.businessinsider.com/how-different-cultures-understand-time-2014-5 [12/27/2017]
2 Vitullo-Martin, J. and Moskin, J. (1983). The Executive's Book of Quotations. 1st ed. Oxford University Press, p.86.
3 Men: No need for a suit and tie; but no T-shirt and jeans. Women: Collared shirt or sweater with dress pants and dress shoes or boots.
4 Men: Blazer or suit jacket, button down shirt, suit pants, a tie and dress shoes. Women: Skirt or pants suit with heels.