10 Things I’ve Learned About Americans

Hello! I’m Mark Jessop and I’ve recently joined the team here at the Australia Studies Centre. I’m the Student Services Coordinator and the ‘Aussie’ on staff. My role involves administration and planning, coordinating service placements (community volunteering that student’s complete while here) and internships, updating social media, oversight, and leadership on trips and pastoral care. As a former ESL teacher, I have previously met and taught students from many different countries. However, I had not met many Americans or worked with them until recently. After 4 months of doing so, here are a few things I’ve learned (so far).

  1. They like to sing along. Musicals appear very popular. Students would often break into chorus which brought a cheerful air, though I usually didn’t know what they were singing about!
  2. They like to hammock. Break time = hammock time for the US students who brought their hammocks; something that definitely suits Australia’s northern climate but not utilized much by the locals here in Brisbane.
  3. They like a good plan. Americans appear to be more time orientated than the average Australian, meaning there are schedules for all occasions (though with flexibility). Planning represents initiative, efficiency, and control, which are valued traits.
  4. They aren’t all city slickers. I was somewhat surprised to learn that most Americans live in rural towns, not big cities. This was evident in the mix of students we had from different parts of America, though many moved away to larger towns or cities for college. Comparatively, Australia is a very urban society with most of its citizens living in cities. Many Australian students wouldn’t travel more than a few suburbs to their university.
  5. They get straight to it. Their direct communication style means that they can be upfront about issues, openly express their feelings, and address problems in a matter-of-fact way. Although Australians generally respond well to this, it can be a little jolting. At least you know where you stand with them.
  6. They are not ignorant. This is a common and often unfair stereotype of Americans outside of their country. Most of the students were well travelled and showed an awareness and interest in events and issues beyond their community and country. Though they may not freely admit it, Americans believe they occupy a special place in the world. However, this doesn’t mean they’re arrogant. Given their achievements and influence, it’s not without cause. There is an optimism in their outlook and ability to improve the world as they see it. I find this positivity admirable.
  7. They value self-made achievements. Self-driven success earned through hard work, especially from humble beginnings, is prized, and once achieved, is readily praised. Personal ability, innovation, and intellectual aptitude are given greater recognition in education and public life. Climbing the social and economic ladder doesn’t have to be as self-conscious and self-effacing as their Australian counterparts. For them, it’s ok to stand out.
  8. They prefer a happy ending. There is more romanticism and optimism in the way they present stories and conclusions. The most recent group of US students were struck by the recurrent theme that many Australian heroes were, in the words of one of our lecturers, ‘white, male and dead.’ They don’t have quite the same scepticism that Australians do in the way stories unfold and are therefore more comfortable with ‘Hollywood endings’ at which Australians cringe.
  9. They value individualism. While being a broader western trait, American individualism and its closer tie with personal freedom gives it a more prominent flavour. There are deeper historical roots drawn from the Bill of Rights which take on a quasi-religious status.. Australia doesn’t have an equivalent founding document and differs in its colonial history. Though its influence has diminished, Australia is still part of the British Commonwealth. It hasn’t gone through the same battles for independence or had to ‘earn’ personal freedoms, which means Australians are generally less combative and often apathetic in regards to personal choice and civic life.
  10. They don’t rely on the government. Americans have different expectations from the government. It’s the individual’s responsibility to support oneself when tough times hit and self-reliance is expected. There is a suspicion towards government, the power it yields, and the control it has. By contrast, individual politicians are respected and honoured. Whereas in Australia, it’s typically the other way round. Elected governments are trusted enough to get the job done but the public servants who do so are mistrusted and often mocked.

I’m looking forward to meeting the next bunch of North American students for our fall semester and learning more about American life and culture. The winter break between groups has given me time to reflect on and evaluate my own Australian culture (as much as that’s possible!). We share many similarities but also some important differences as I’ve shared in this blog.