If you’re in the POV of a foreign character who interacts with Americans, or if you’re showing the reaction of a foreigner to an American, read on.
When I introduced non-Americans into my novel, I realized quickly they didn’t seem authentic. So I started reading blogs and forums of foreigners, see how they talked and thought and the connections they made between events. Then, I morphed to their attitudes toward Americans and our stuff–our patriotism, work ethic, individuality, those things that we take for granted but the rest of the world finds odd. That’s where I found the core of my foreign characters.
Every nation is unique. Their culture, people, are perfect for their country, but often odd to the rest of the world. If you’re an American author, you need to understand what it is about Americans that the world loves and hates, what they see in us, how they would describe us.
Here are some ideas I collected from sites that discuss Americans with foreigners, traits that have been observed by foreigners. Obviously, they do not all reflect my personal views. Here goes:
- Hard-Working; Workaholics
- Uninterested in other cultures
- Religious; socially conservative (by Euro standards)
- Socially liberal (by Middle Eastern standards)
- Great disparity between the rich and poor
- Shallow or superficial (goes along with friendly)
- Open to new technologies/ideas
- Live with lots luxuries
- Lightly taxed
- Love fast food
- Car-oriented (main/only form of transportation)
- Not family-oriented (nursing homes, etc.)
WHAT ARE AMERICANS LIKE
The American society is composed of people from many social, cultural, ethnic and national backgrounds, different economic situations, and vastly different philosophies of life. Because of this, it is difficult to generalize about Americans, however certain traits may seem most obvious to people from other countries.
Probably above everything else, Americans consider themselves individuals. Although there are strong family ties and strong loyalties to groups, individuality and individual rights are most important. This may seem like a selfish attitude, but it also leads many Americans to an honest respect for other individuals and an insistence on human equality.
Independent and Self-Reliant
Related to this respect for individuality are American traits of independence and self-reliance. From an early age, children are taught “to stand on their own two feet,” or to be independent. Since this is such a marked trait in the American style of relating, you are expected to take care of yourself, and if you do need help, ask for it. Others will usually not offer help until you ask.
Americans are very direct. Honesty and frankness are important to them. They are quick to get to the point and may seem blunt at times.
Americans are informal and treat each other the same way, even when there is a great difference in age or social standing. Most people call each other by first names, regardless of age or social differences. Although this may be different from what you’re used to, it is part of the American Culture.
Americans are generally competitive. They place high value on achievement, and this leads them to compete against each other. You will find friendly and not-so-friendly competition everywhere. Competition is apparent not only in sporting activities, but also in conversation, (seeing who can get the last word in). You may find it disagreeable, but such behavior is natural to Americans.
Although often competitive, Americans also have a good sense of “team work,” which means cooperating with others to achieve a common goal.
American are somewhat obsessed with records of achievements in sports and business.
Americans are friendly and open people. In general, friendships among Americans tend to be shorter and more casual then friendships among people from other cultures. This could have something to do with American mobility and the fact that Americans do not like to be dependent on other people. Americans also tend to “compartmentalize” friendships, having “friends at work,” “friends at school,” “family friends,” etc.
Americans are often accused of being materialistic. Success is often measured by how much money a person has and how many materials goods an individual accumulates. However, there are many American who do not share these feelings–people who are “down to earth.”
American are very time conscious. They keep appointment calendars and live according to schedules. They usually are on time for appointments and expect that of others as well. American may seem “always in a hurry,” and often times hasty, but they are generally efficient and get many things done simply by rushing around.
The United States is a highly active society, full of movement and change, therefore. If you pursue a more leisurely pace, you may find the fast tempo exhausting.
Many American children and adults are not very knowledgeable about international geography or world affairs. They may ask uninformed questions about current events and may display ignorance of world geography, but their questions usually grow out a genuine interest.
Desire Eye Contact/Body Distance
Americans consider it important to establish eye contact with addressing a person, but feel uncomfortable if the other person is standing too close to them. Some Americans are very open and “touchy” and others are somewhat closed and like “their personal space.”
Americans in very negative terms
‘loud, badly dressed, graceless, arrogant, provincial’, the usual ‘ugly American’ stereotype, where people are only concerned with vanity and appearance.
Click for the complete list of 69 writer’s themed descriptions.
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Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also the author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Savage Land, Winter 2024.