I think I know now why I like living in the US. Above anything else, it’s the casualness, the informality that permeates everyday interactions the same way as business life. It’s partly due to the language: there is, e.g., no distinction between a formal “Sie” or an informal “Du” as in German and many other languages. There is this unfamiliar usage of words like “guys” when addressing a group of (sometimes unknown) people. (There is also this admittedly disturbing tendency to overuse the f-word, which inspired some volunteers to contribute an article worth reading on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuck.) But it’s more than that.
I see people tell strangers in the elevator how they like something they’re wearing, or their hairstyle. I can address someone by their first name, even if they’re 20 years older and I just met them for the first time, say at a business trade show. I find myself talking more openly about personal preferences, cravings, experiences, as I see others do the same. Sometimes it’s in simple things, such as mentioning to the person taking my order at a fast food restaurant how I love their fries. Sounds stupid? Well, it’s a little human interaction at the most unlikely place that can sometimes make the difference between an uplifted spirit or a “meh” type of afternoon. Who knows how they’ll react? You can’t know if you don’t say it.
The style I see people writing business email in, the style of presenting new ideas at conferences, the style of talking to a sales prospect about your products. It’s casual. It’s normal. It’s the opposite of stuck up. It’s what I can identify with. It’s where I can be myself, even though I’m at work.
Waiters come to my table at a restaurant and introduce themselves by name, tell me how they’ll be “taking care of me tonight”. And lately I actually catch myself calling my waiter by their name half way through the restaurant and asking them for a free refill of my soda or a free side order of that delicious sauce of theirs.
Cashiers at the supermarket checkout ask me how I’m doing. I tell them I’m doing great and how about themselves. Now you might say that’s that typical American superficiality and they don’t REALLY care about how I feel or do. But you know, I’d take superficial friendliness over genuine rudeness ANY time.
There is a “can do” spirit in the air, mixed with occasionally child-like curiosity, that is simply inspiring. I see people driving the weirdest and most exaggerated cars or trucks, probably pimped by their own hands’ work. Man how much fun that must be! Sure, these vehicles might not be the most environment-friendly things out there, but maybe the same people are making up for that in ways I can’t currently see? I don’t want to be judging. Which, by the way, is another thing that Americans teach me.
I see people pursue the weirdest sports and hobbies. I see people try out things, fail, and try again. I see people not ask questions. I see people find the most exotic reasons to come together and celebrate, have a party, enjoy life. A “blocktoberfest” in October that claims to have something to do with Germany? Silly, but sure, why not! (FYI: the original Oktoberfest only happens in one of the 16 states of Germany, and it’s in September.) A “Dos-XX-Mas Party”? Uh-huh, happening. “Drinko de Mayo”, remotely – strike that: entirely NOT – related to a Mexican celebration in early May? Why yes please!
Now you might think that life where I come from is the opposite of everything I’ve described. Hell no. That would make it an exceptionally boring place, which it isn’t. But the combination of all of this, in an eclectic mix that distorts most of what it’s original European heritage is, together in one big place that doesn’t take life all too seriously, is what I find myself drawn to in ways I couldn’t imagine before I came. I like living here. And I don’t want to leave, just yet. Thanks, my American friends, for letting me be a part of this adventure.
And if you could now please excuse me, I have to put the turducken into the oven.