I know, that’s probably the most descriptive title ever, right? I was bumming around a friend-of-a-friend’s blog yesterday and came across something that really got my blood pressure pumping. The guy happens to be Australian, and he released the freakin’ hounds on a famous American preacher for what was, to my mind, a series of totally boring and ordinary Facebook posts talking about his schedule, family life, marriage, etc. But in thinking about it last night I remembered that there’s a weird culture thing (there’s that brilliant phrase again) between Americans and Aussies that we often don’t recognize and that very often causes problems between us.
What is this Weird Culture Thing? I’m so glad you asked. (Attention: broad cultural stereotypes ahead.)
Americans are, very generally, a positive people — I’m thinking of that sort of midwestern, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, self-reliant, I’ll get by, buck up attitude. I mean, there’s a whole sub-genre of American folk/popular music dedicated to getting people to cheer up and have a positive outlook on life (“Smile, Darn Ya, Smile” “Put on a Happy Face” “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile,” “The Sunny Side of the Street,” etc.) — much of which was written during the Great Depression, a period with an incalculable impact on the collective American psyche. I like this attitude, generally; I think it shows resilience and optimism. But there’s a dark side to it as well, what we might call the Joel Osteen or Pollyanna side, that closes its eyes to the impending storm and brags about how wonderful life is.
Aussies, in my experience, often don’t get that, for most Americans, this positivity is a totally natural cultural thing, ingrained in us since infancy, not a boastful put-on, not a fake-out, not an effort to belittle anyone else. Because, generally, in my observation, Aussies are humble, hard-working people who just want to give everyone a fair shot, get on with it, and not call attention to themselves. So they see what we think of as cheerfulness and positivity — or just stating facts — and read it as Pollyanna-ishness or bragging or putting others down, and feel the need to address it (just like we would want to address something we saw as major arrogance)
But unfortunately, the kind of forthrightness that your average Aussie values, unmixed with flattery, is going to come across to your average American as presumptuous and rude instead of like a much-needed dose of reality. So that gets our defenses up, and we write you off as a mean old crank, and then you write us off as xenophobic and isolationist, and then our suspicions are confirmed that Americans are the only nice people in the world (and we value “nice” a LOT), and then your suspicions are confirmed that Americans don’t understand or care about anyone but themselves, and then…
See? A Weird Culture Thing.