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Иностранные языки Appendix 13.
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American Culture and Culture Shock: Myths and Realities

From your reading, from American films and TV, and from talking with Americans in your country, you have probably formed some idea of life in the United States. Some of what you have seen and heard is true; some of it is probably distorted or just plain fiction. To help you distinguish fantasy from fact, we include several common "mythical" statements about life in the United States, followed by our view of the reality behind these myths. Remember though, that each person's experience is different, and part of the value of your experience abroad will be your own discovery of America and Americans.

MYTH: Life is easy in the United States.

REALITY: While it is true that the material standard of living in the United States is high, this has not resulted in a leisurely pace of life. Visitors to the United States are often surprised at how hard most Americans work, at their long work hours and short vacations, and at the fast pace of American life in general. Even leisure time is often devoted to activities such as sports, exercise, or other hobbies that involve intense activity and effort. Many Americans are uncomfortable with true leisure and feel guilty about doing nothing or spending long periods of time relaxing or talking with friends.

MYTH: America is “the land of the free,” so I can do whatever I want there. REALITY: Individual freedom is an important American value, but newcomers may find themselves overwhelmed by the legal and bureaucratic restrictions on their activities and confused by the complexities of social interaction. Throughout their 300-year history, Americans have been trying to balance the freedom of the individual with the well-being of society, sometimes with odd results. Often the right of a majority to freedom from something wins out, as in anti-smoking laws, where the right of nonsmokers to be free of smoke overrides the right of smokers to smoke.

In the United States many different cultures exist side by side, which means that values may differ widely from one social group to another and from one individual to another. Sometimes it may seem that no rules apply and that "anything goes," but a newcomer should be wary of making assumptions about what is acceptable, especially in the area of sexual relations.

MYTH: Americans are racist/Americans are tolerant.

REALITY: These contradictory stereotypes exist side by side, and both have elements of truth. In general you need not fear that you will encounter overt racism in the United States, particularly within the university or college community. In regions where there are many immigrants you may find yourself blending in, suffering more from indifference than intolerance. In other, more isolated and homogeneous areas, you may be an object of curiosity, noticed and welcomed, but perhaps not always understood. Because of America's relative geographical isolation, many Americans are quite ignorant about the rest of the world and may be rather chauvinistic (have a sense of national superiority). This can be irritating, but you will find that hostility toward foreigners is rare. Racial and ethnic prejudice is unfortunately a reality in the United States. This is a complex issue that reflects many of the paradoxes of American history. Be aware also that you may have been influenced by racial stereotyping in American films. Visitors to the United States are sometimes surprised to find that the African-Americans they meet in the United States have nothing in common with the violent stereotype so often projected in the movies.

MYTH: The United States is a classless society.

REALITY: Although the United States does not have a history or tradition of rigidly defined social classes, distinctions among economic classes in the United States result in de facto social stratification. Although the majority of Americans can be considered to belong to the middle class, there is a small, wealthy upper class and a growing underclass.

MYTH: Americans are rude and loud.

REALITY: This is the image of the "ugly American" who, when abroad, demands in loud English to be understood. It is true that Americans are often less inhibited socially than people from some other cultures. It is equally true that directness, or saying what one thinks, is acceptable behavior. Americans value honesty and frankness. They are generally not embarrassed or angered by being told they are wrong, as long as the criticism is stated in a friendly and respectful way. They would generally prefer an honest argument or refusal to polite but insincere agreement. The definition of "rudeness" varies widely from one culture to another. MYTH: All Americans are rich and drive fast cars.

REALITY: In the United States, as in any country, there is a wide spectrum of economic status. Many American students go deeply into debt to obtain a university degree. However, you may find it hard at first to tell the rich from the poor. Even "poor" American students own a lot of things, from cars and computers to stereos and skis. Material goods are easy to acquire in a consumer oriented, credit-driven society, but they do not necessarily indicate great wealth. A car may be a practical necessity for a student who works long hours after classes or who lives with his or her family in another town.

MYTH: American students are less prepared academically than students from my country.

REALITY: Some American students are less prepared academically than others. In general, American students have a lot of experience in test-taking and at expressing their opinions in class.

MYTH: American professors are casual, sometimes even asking students to address them by their first names.

REALITY: It is true that your American professors may ask you to address them by their first names, but this does not mean they do not expect your respect. The ways in which courtesy and respect are shown to an American professor may well differ from how they are expressed in your country. Respect in a U.S. classroom includes a willingness to participate in class debate and to ask questions when you do not understand something that has been said. Spend time watching how your American classmates interact with the professors. You will catch on quickly to the unique mix of formality and structure.

MYTH: American students use illegal drugs.

REALITY: Some do; most do not.


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