Soukie's Place

keeping track of random thoughts

Cultural Differences

Starting an article with a disclaimer is bound to discourage the readers but I want to avoid it being misinterpreted. (Which might happen anyway.) My opinions are, of course, subjective, the observations cannot be applied in general, and a light-hearted (rather than a sociologically-scientific) frame of mind is recommended.

I am going to discuss the cultures I know: Czech and American. Now here is the first problem: While you can pretend that the 10 million Czechs living in the area of roughly the size of South Carolina share a common culture, with the 300 million Americans of different ethnicities and origins living across an area 40 times larger than the whole United Kingdom, there is not much to define one culture apart from the language and TV programs.

Let me highlight some differences anyway. Americans tend to treat people in a very civil and friendly way. Ask Czechs how they are, and they will probably start complaining. (Which is why Czech people seldom start a conversation with “How are you?”) To be fair, the reason behind this difference is that the Czech is giving an honest answer, while the American is simply being polite.

People are not equal in their potentials

Americans are more individualistic and self-centered than Czechs. That individualism does not rule out the professional politeness though: US drivers are very courteous (yes, even in California, compared to the Czech Republic) but the fact that signals and lights should be used primarily for the benefit of othersThe lessons here are that lights are primarily for being seen, not to see; and signals allow others to navigate more efficiently. (Sorry I could not resist.) is often eluding them. Contrast this with Czech drivers who are very assertiveActually, ‘aggressive’ is a more precise description. but will nevertheless almost always give signals to let others know what they are up to (and how they are not going to let anyone in should their paths be crossed).

A topic for a whole chapter or a book is the American dream. This is, just as the previous points, a double-edged sword. Inspiring people to be hard-working and to look after themselves is excellent. On the other hand, European cultures bear in mind that people are not equal in their potentials, and that they often deal with circumstances beyond their control. There is no individual accomplishment that would prevent natural disasters or a malign tumor. So it is a delicate line of striving to achieve the best but not forgetting that not everyone is as lucky.

On the other hand, Americans can feel better about helping those who are less fortunate because in case of Czechs, the government does it for them. If my health and social insurance scales up with how good I am at making money, I am not compelled to further contribute out of my pocket because the state does it on my behalf; robbing me of the wonderful feeling of personal contribution. That being said, the current resentment to health care reform in the US is no doubt linked to the self-centered approach I mentioned previously, which is the darker side of the individualistic society.

The last difference is as much cultural as it is a fault in the food industry. If you want to gain weight, go to the United States. If you want to lose weight, go to Europe. I guarantee that without consciously changing your habits or the amount of food you eat, you will see noticeable differences in your weight within a couple of weeks. Try the new Soukie’s Place Diet Plan for only the price of an overseas ticket and a hotel!


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Joep Hein, September 4, 2009:

Nice article, I like the comparison between Czech and Americans. Maybe I can write something similar between Dutch people and Czech. Nevertheless I think that generalization is inevitable to avoid.

Pavel Soukenik, September 4, 2009:

Thanks Joep, if you do, let me know. I will be happy to post a link to that!

gwego, October 2, 2009:

You are correct; we are inspired to work hard; we are not equal; but are all contributors to society. I want to be able to be a “contributor”; and it that is taken away from me, it will prompt me to be less inspired.

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