Observations of American Traits From A Foreigner’s Perspective

I haven’t been in Chicago long enough to befriend many Americans,  and I am obviously not an expert on American behavior either (duh), but I have spotted a few common traits that seem to hold true for most Americans through my daily observations.

1. Ability to chat with almost anyone


I’ve seen it in supermarkets, I’ve seen it in my apartment’s lobby; it appears that most Americans can chat quite naturally and smoothly with almost anyone. And this is something I find every impressive. Every now and then, I will see customers engaging in friendly chatter with the cashier when the cashier is ringing up the items at the supermarket or pharmacy. Smiles and laughter will be exchanged. As for me, I just hope that the cashier doesn’t get overly friendly with me, cos I will definitely disappoint him or her with my reserved smile and boring replies that usually put a stop to any possible idle chatter. I find it quite remarkable that most Americans I have seen can come up with a reply to almost any comment.

2. Natural wit


Whenever I watch Hollywood movies in the past, I see the actors and actresses coming up with witty one-liners. I thought this probably just appears in Hollywood movies, but it appears to me that most Americans can come up with rather witty replies to almost any random comment in real life too. Their minds seem to work in a different way, the sort to be able to come up with something interesting and non-cliche to say on the spot.I am guessing that this might have to do with the parenting style where kids are taught to embrace who they are and freely express their own opinions. As a result they grow up to have more of an individual style and less conformity in thinking.

3. Patience when it comes to the slow-closing elevator door


In Singapore, you will always see Singaporeans pressing the elevator button multiple times. We press it repeatedly when we wait for the elevator to arrive, and once we are in the elevator, we press it repeatedly again just so that the door can close as soon as possible.When the elevator takes slightly longer to arrive, you will see impatient looks and tsk-ing sounds.

Therefore I am quite surprised when I realized that most Americans do not have the habit of pressing the “close” button once they are in the elevator. Upon pressing the level button, each and everyone in the elevator will simply wait until the door slowly closes on its own.

4. Prevalence of using voice-mail


In Singapore, there isn’t really the habit of using voice-mails. Most people just text, email or call to pass a message. If I were to pass a message to someone just via voice-mail, I am extremely sure that I will be scolded by my boss. Cos she will say “What if they never listen to their voicemail?” Which is probably the case for many people. In fact, I don’t think I have even checked my voicemail in Singapore before.

But over here, I realized that it is quite the norm to just leave voice messages. There were 2 times when my art classes in two different art centers were cancelled due to low enrollments. And both times, the different staff in these 2 art centers simply left voice messages to inform me.

And because I never checked my voice message, there was once when I turned up at the art center expectantly for my new class only to be told that it had been cancelled. When I asked the staff why I didn’t get a call to inform me about it, she just said ” But I left you a voice message!”

5. No fear at being put under the spotlight


For me, I have this big big fear of being placed under the spotlight, especially when I am not prepared for it. I believe many Singaporean Chinese feel the same way, although of course there are always the more extroverted ones who don’t mind. I guess this has to do with the Asian mentality of not wanting to “lose face’ or to 献丑( display your ugly imperfect side), that’s why we only hope to garner positive attention and do not want to attract unwanted attention to ourselves.

I think Americans take themselves less seriously, which is why most can react quite positively or gamely if they are suddenly placed under the spotlight.

I remember one “terrifying” encounter I had when I went to Disneyland last year. There was this Monsters Inc. gameshow which is more like a live comedy act except that the person on stage is the “monster”. So the “monster” will make improvised jokes based on his observations of the audience. Every now and then he will pick out one audience  and the spotlight will shine on that particular audience member.At being selected, the “Monster” will banter with that audience member and everyone will turn to look at that audience.

Most of the audience members chosen were Americans and they were all game for it. A man even did some dance moves on the spot. All in all, they managed to react in a positive and humorous way that drew laughter from the crowd. I am quite sure they were not nervous. In comparison, I just kept praying that the “monster” will not see me and that the spotlight will NEVER EVER shine on me.