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Preface From Dr. Nussbaum's American Cultural Baggage.

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American Cultural Baggage

Preface for Americans

As long as you live in America, you can get along very well without being conscious of your own culture. You automatically do things in an American way and it automatically works.


When you go into another cultural setting, it doesn't work so well. You suddenly discover that you have unconsciously brought a lot of cultural baggage with you, and it is always causing trouble. You get angry with people because they do not measure up to expectations you didn't even know you had. You get laughed at or avoided for doing things in a normal American way without even thinking.


The aim of this book is to help open your eyes to your own American culture. Then you can deal with it in a conscious way, choosing when to act American and when not to.


Throughout this book watch for the dynamite symbol. The paragraphs following the symbol are addressed to you as an American, explaining how a particular American cultural value can cause you trouble if you are unaware of it.


Becoming aware of our own culture is not quite as easy as it sounds. It has been said that as a fish would be the last creature to discover water, so the members of a particular culture would be the last ones to become conscious of it.


Culture is to a society what personality is to an individual--unconsciously built in, hard to describe but easier to deal with once a person deliberately reflects on it. This book is a reflector, a mirror helping you to see what you look like to other people.

Preface for Everyone except Americans

This book helps people recognize and deal with American cultural baggage. You probably need no help recognizing it. It is already painfully obvious from your perspective, as you see Americans and their culture overrunning the whole planet these days. You see them charging into your country, making their typical American blunders. They are clueless about your culture and their own, and mystified when people are offended by their American ways. They need this book, though most don't know it--you may have to give them a copy!


Since most Americans do not deal with their own cultural baggage, the people around them are forced to deal with it. As you do so, a clearer picture of American cultural values may help you. This book tries to draw the picture for you.


The aim here is neither to promote American culture nor attack it, but only to sketch it as clearly as possible. The sketch is based on 235 common sayings, grouped in this book around basic American cultural values.


Of course no sketch gives a complete picture of a culture, especially not a large and complex one like America's. My observations on American culture are probably more accurate for white Americans than others, more for small towns than urban areas, more for the Midwest than other regions, more for the baby boomer generation than the younger generations and more for men than women.


To help you understand the particular Americans around you, some "Ask an American" questions are provided at the end of each short section. These are all marked by the symbol at the left. Most Americans will find these questions interesting but not threatening. A reading list is also provided for you at the end.


Note for international students: You may prefer the shorter edition of this book, Why Are Americans Like That? Only 100 proverbs are included, footnotes explain the more difficult words, the explanations of cultural values are shorter and the "DANGER" sections for American readers are left out. Whichever edition you choose, may it help you deal well with the Americans in your world.


View the Description of American Cultural Baggage

View the Table of Contents

View "'The Ten Commandments' of American Culture"