Bringing American culture closer to new immigrants
Time to get really excited because I have a wonderful person to introduce! Sveta Bazhenova is a linguist, an experienced traveler and a really smart girl eager to share her personal experience of dating an American.
Sveta spent 5 years of her life studying English in general and intercultural communication, in particular. It means that she was learning different theories, classifications, strategies, etc. that help avoid cultural misunderstandings. That was really awesome and fascinating.
The thing is tricky, however. It might seem that the more theoretical stuff gets into your head, the more powerful you are. In fact, once you land at JFK you get lost and all magical knowledge hides away under the influence of culture shock and only then suspiciously and reluctantly comes back to you.
So, let’s go back to Sveta! Being a 3d year student she decided to spend her summer in America. Decided. Done. And there she was, equipped with valuable information and natural curiosity. That’s how the story started:
“So, there I was: a Russian girl in the States eager to give it a shot. And … there was a nice opportunity!
It looked like in a Hollywood movie: I walked into a café with my hair streamed in the breeze. I was wearing a polka dot dress and a careless smile. He was blond, tan, strong, with white teeth – a typical American. There was definitely some chemistry between us, so we let ourselves be smitten with passion. Not only was I able to spend some great time but also made a decent intercultural research: I tried hard to employ my skills of gender differences, verbal styles and Hofstede’s cultural dimensions. This is what came out of it:
First, I supposed dating an American would improve my English and may be one day I would sound as a native speaker. No way! With my advanced level of the language I felt really dumb when I heard them talking to each other: “Hey, buzz Killington, it sucks to be you.” What does this one suppose to mean and why I don’t know half of the language they use? I realized there is a lot of slang in everyday life and was having a great pleasure discovering new words.
It never came to my mind but American dating style is quite different: they make you feel you are special no matter how many girlfriends they had before. I was paid from fifteen to fifty compliments on my appearance, way of thinking, skills every single day. In the beginning I was getting a little bit embarrassed but later it was just a pleasant surprise to find little notes at my door or at my workplace saying: “Sweetcakes, you look so stunning today that I got you something that will knock your rocks off”. Even though it was misleading in a way I enjoyed all these compliments because Russians are much more reserved to pay them.
Having got acquainted with my boyfriend I started to look for differences based on our cultural backgrounds. For instance, Americans tend to have a high level of individualism. They start to make money from the age of twelve and live separately from sixteen. It has many advantages: personal freedom, financial independence and strength to survive in the real world. But having been brought up in a collectivist society I felt really sorry for the guy who had almost no childhood while working in a pizza place during spare time.
Another point is Americans do have a low-context communicative pattern: I could easily decode my partner’s words and body language. Everything was quite straightforward: “Hey, I like your strawberry blond hair and I think you’re cute. Let’s hang out tonight.” It might seem not to be romantic at all but at least I was confident about his feelings and since the message was explicit I never spent a sleepless night wondering if he likes me after all. On the contrary, he had some problems with me being a representative of a high-context culture. A lot of times he had to read between the lines: “Oh, I am craving something sweet” meant “Would you please bring me two scoops of Gelato: one pistachio and one caramel?” or “My friends feel really tired today” was to be decoded as “Shall we go to your place instead?”
Apart from that difference between direct and indirect communication, there occurred a “sharing” issue: he applied the principle “if I do something for you, I expect you to do something for me”. In my opinion, it is natural to want to have something in return especially when you give out a lot, but it is ridiculous to count every good you do to people. Once we came to my place and my friends just cooked some Russian food, so we shared the dinner. After it, he thanked us and said: “Next time I will bring you some homemade pizza for it. We will be even” We were taken aback when we heard that reaction.
One more thing was that Americans tend to have short term orientation towards things: they have very hectic lives, they move a lot, make new friends easily. Once they are bored with something, they change it. While we Russians like to stick to one place, most of us are extremely afraid of changes. So, my guy was freaked out about commitment (which I totally understand) and saw no point in long-distance relationships. There was actually one wise way out: to remain friends, which we did and we are totally happy about it now.”
Sveta gave an amazing analytical description of her first dating experience in America! That’s exactly how it is, small misunderstandings and different expectations. And this is when theoretical knowledge comes in handy. I, personally, believe that one can overcome all those obstacles and make things work, you’ll just have to work a little harder for that.