The proper means of increasing the love we bear our native country is to reside some time in a foreign one. ~William Shenstone
I’ve been living in Singapore, a small island nation off the tip of Malaysia, since February of this year. Although I’ve traveled in 20 countries and lived in the Spain as a missionary, this is my first time living and working in Asia. Whenever you live or travel away from your home country, you gain a different perspective. You may begin to see your country as an outsider does. You notice the values and assumptions you hold (that are not shared by your new neighbors) or things that you take for granted in your everyday life. Some aspects of your new country will be superior (in your opinion), and some will be inferior (in your opinion). You often notice things that are “more” or “less” in your new culture. For example, here are a few observations about Singaporeans from my American perspective:
- They are more materialistic than Americans.
- They are harder working than Americans.
- They are less efficient than Americans.
- They are more politically involved than Americans.
For those of you not familiar with Singapore, there are 4 official languages here: English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil. Nearly everyone speaks English and Singlish (a version of English that has structural elements of other Asian languages) as well as one or more other languages. The average salary is $53,000, and the average monthly rent is $3500. It is a very diverse country with over 40% of residents expats (from all over the globe). Over 60% of the country are practicing Buddhists. Only 14% are Christian.
Here are some things living in Singapore has reinforced for me about Americans:
- Americans eat a lot of cheese. Seriously, it’s in just about every recipe I have from the U.S., but you will really not find a lot of Asian recipes with cheese.
- We are masters of sarcasm. I didn’t realize this until discovering that most Singaporeans (especially those that speak both English and Mandarin) do not use tone to convey an opposite meaning. So, when you make a sarcastic remark, people usually just think you literally meant what you said.
- Law suits are how we solve problems in our country. Law & Order has to be about the most successful franchise in the U.S., for good reason. And despite all the lawyer jokes, it’s not a terrible system. Anyone can essentially “have their day in court,” and your case may create precedent that has a bearing on future cases.
- The U.S. media truly sets the tone in America. While this is true in many countries, one thing I’ve seen even more clearly as an outsider is how much the media controls the American conversation. And topics seem to go around all in circles with a specific shelf life (Jon Stewart often points this out). But this becomes even more apparent when I can see the same stories from a different perspective (in this case, one that is more friendly to business).
- Americans are firmly middle class. Our rich are mostly upper middle class, and even our poor have middle class values. We believe in going from rags to riches, and in truth, we respect the wealthy who are self-made, not wealthy by inheritance. We look down on those who flaunt their wealth as being insecure.
- We are incredibly efficient and have amazing self-service solutions. Pizza rolls, boneless chicken wings, self-check out, Costco, pay at the pump, toilet sensors that flush for you: these are some basic American conveniences. Personally, I think this also ties to the American dream. In other countries, the “dream” is to become wealthy and be served by others, not to have modern conveniences that simplify our middle class lives. And for all the hoop-la about German efficiency, I experienced the slowest hotel check out process ever in Frankfort. Their airport security was not terribly efficient either, although it was, ahem, thorough.
- Hollywood is unparalleled. The great American cultural exporter is Hollywood. Even countries that dislike America watch our movies and TV shows. I’m not knocking foreign films and TV shows. I’m fond of Outnumbered (UK sitcom) and An Idiot Abroad (UK travel show), and I enjoy a lot of the gritty Australian films. There are some incredible foreign movies from all sorts of countries. China can’t be beat for arty movies about sex with ghosts, and if sex with robots is your thing, Japan and Korea are top of the charts. Bollywood is very entertaining if you like splashy spontaneous dance numbers in the middle of your rom-coms. Italy and France are great at “war of the sexes” movies with weird, semi-sadistic twists. But no one puts out as much content as we do, and our quality is higher than most countries’ films.
- We are relentlessly politically correct. Why? See reason #3. Honestly, I prefer our over-the-top political correctness to the openly racist and sexist comments that are the alternative.
- American kids grow up faster. Why? See #2 and #7. American kids are more socially adept, sassy, and fashionable. Unlike in Asia, we expect kids to reject their parents and rebel as a rite of passage.
- We relish our independence. If possible, we avoid knowing our neighbors and don’t feel obligated to house our relatives indefinitely. We don’t feel obligated to spend our evenings and weekends with our work colleagues. We like our down time.
These are just a few of my own observations about Americans that are specifically a contrast to living in Singapore. Are any of these surprising to you? What traits of your home country have you discovered from traveling or living abroad? Discuss.