Use the dictionary to look up the meaning of the words you are unsure of, before you read the text. impressions, clad, mill around, barely, superficial level, community spirit, charities, volunteer, pledge allegiance, ignorant, spectators, gargantuan, pageants, aficionados, seeds, foliage, urbanites, dwellers, emphasis, abundance, temptations, obesity, explore
A foreign visitor’s impressions of Americans are often based on stereotyped characters brought forth by TV, films and media. Most of us have been bombarded by TV programs sporting bikini clad blondes, Hollywood wives, high school musicals or MTV rappers. Luckily, reality paints a different picture. On stepping on to American soil, we are greeted by the vast diversity of multicultural America. People of all shapes, races and sizes mill around in public areas and malls. At first glance Americans are outgoing and friendly. If you are standing in line for something or in a store shopping, the chances of an absolute stranger starting up a conversation and telling you his or her entire life’s story in the course of 10 minutes are great. They are the first to call you by your first name or offer you assistance, if you seem lost. But don’t confuse friendliness with friendship. As in most cultures, it takes a long time to establish genuine friends.
A Country of Doers
A country built on individualism and a Protestant work ethic handed down from the Founding Fathers has produced a uniquely dynamic people. Americans are known as “doers” barely allowing themselves two weeks of vacation on a yearly basis. On a superficial level, they set their goals high and success is often measured by how much money they earn, what education they can provide for their children, what kind of house and car they own and what great parties they throw. However, they also have a great community spirit, give generously to charities, and are often first to volunteer for various activities within the community. Parents together with young people are often involved in school activities such as PTA meetings, school pep rallies, seasonal dances, and various sporting events. Church-based activities are also very popular and are focal points for bringing people together.
America’s Silly Side
Americans have been described as being able to laugh at themselves. They readily enjoy poking fun at their leaders and celebrities. A variety of TV programs such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or Saturday Night Live confirm this. They also have a soft spot for their pets. Americans love their pets so much that they dress them up as humans and enter them in designer collection fashion shows. The 600 pet cemeteries in the USA with headstones for Max and Fluffy demonstrate their devotion to their dearly departed pets even after death.
Americans are proud and very patriotic. They sing their national anthem at the start of most sports games, pledge allegiance to the flag at school, and display or wave the flag whenever they can. 75% have never been outside the USA because they say they love their country and feel that it has everything. Although some are quite ignorant of the outside world, many college students still take the world tour during their studies. But those who actually move to live in another country are in the minority (ca 4,000,000).
Think Big Events
Everything is big in America, phrases such as “think big”, “big is beautiful”, “the Big Apple”, ”the big cheese” or “big money” are all part of the American mind set. Big cars, big trucks, big highways, big sky-scrapers, big burgers and cokes at McDonalds, big screens and super large humans may seem overwhelming to foreigners. Gigantic amusement parks such as Disneyland in California, Disneyworld or the Epcot Center in Orlando Florida greet millions of visitors each year. Huge sporting events organized by the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League are played in arenas packing hundreds of thousands of spectators.
Popular events including the Easter Parade, the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York or any of the 4th of July Independence Day parades demonstrate the American love of celebrations. Other forms of events are the eating competitions or giant truck rallies where gargantuan trucks try to outrun each other on obstacle courses. Pageants such as the Miss Universe Contest, The Oscars or the Tournament of Roses from Pasadena California originated in the USA. Where else do flower aficionados dedicate their time and effort staying up night on end to decorate floats with millions of flowers, leaves, seeds and foliage just to win special titles for their county or city? And we cannot leave out the huge number of Folk and Music Festivals taking place all over the country that are too many to mention here.
Americans are Mobile
Less mobile than in the past, Americans still move around a lot. The saying ”the grass is greener” still holds true. In a national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends project found that nearly 46% of Americans would prefer living in a different type of community than the one they are in. According to the US Census Bureau, however, only 11.9% moved between 2007-2008. While most young urbanites prefer cities, most middle-aged urbanites would prefer to live somewhere else. At the same time rural dwellers seem more content to stay where they are.
Mobility in Americans does have its price. The Americans’ love of their automobiles may have reached its peak in 2009 with the rise in gas prices and the emphasis on saving the planet. But the first thing foreign visitors cannot avoid seeing are the millions of cars all speeding to unlimited destinations on the huge network of roads, 8 laned freeways, overpasses, and boulevards throughout the country. Distances are vast and walking is still not the preferred mode of transport.
Fast Food and Obesity
While many Americans are interested in keeping beautiful and fit by exercising and walking, many still pour their 300 lb bodies into their beloved cars for short errands to the 7 11. In a society of abundance, it is hard not to give in to temptations. High-cholesterol foods sold in grocery stores, fast food chains or served in restaurants in mammoth portions keep one out of three Americans overweight. Don’t be shocked if you are served Italian spaghetti Bolognese together with a plate of French fries. However, recent research published by the National Restaurant Association shows that the obesity trend has peaked and Americans are now looking for “greener” restaurants. Calories and healthier alternatives are now published in menus and on the websites of most of the traditional fast food chains like McDonald s or Burger King. Love it or hate it, you cannot help feeling energized after a visit to the USA. Whether you choose the big cities or the countryside, there is so much to see and do that you will definitely want to explore this nation with all its contrasts again and again.