united states through the culture lens

18 Mar 2020

United States. Through the culture lens. US. And them.

United States. Through the culture lens. US. And them.

If you see United States through the culture lens you find many strange revelations. Cross culture communications often take a tumble because we view ‘other people’ or those outside our country as them. It’s they, it’s the other, it’s the stranger among us. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic however we are all the same: a species, the human species. All are equal in the eyes of the virus. And some (those that travel) more equal than the others. But sooner or later, each of us is likely to be susceptible to the onslaught of the virus, no matter who we are or where we are and what we believe in.

However our cultural DNA still overrules some of our decisions. In this series we have already taken a look at China and Italy (links below). Now it’s time to look at the United States of America.

United States. Through the culture lens

Is it even Us vs Them. As the virus shows itself in mass infections in parts of the US, the country has vacillated between having to test or flouting the advice given by those impacted. A party of 16-18 in Seattle were infected in one night in Seattle – which has now become the epicentre of the virus. But it is not just there. It is all over. From struggling to find and manufacture test kits to false claims of having a vaccine ready in a couple of weeks (which conservatively will take at least 9 months to make) the US government has lost some precious time from the moment its first case was detected. So how has culture impacted it? Here’s a peek at two of the dimensions that determine how the country behaves in times of the COVID-19 crisis.

United States. Through the culture lens. INDIVIDUALISM

The fundamental issue addressed by this dimension is the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members. It has to do with whether people´s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “We”. In Individualist societies people are only supposed to look after themselves and their direct family. In Collectivist societies people belong to “in groups” that take care of them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.

The horrific videos of shopping panic and hoarding of sanitisers and toilet rolls showcase the dark side of this individualistic behaviour which set off each man for himself. That’s definitely not the exemplary behaviour that helps fight the #coronavirus. Is it the people? Or is it culture? Or is it both?

United States. Through the culture lens. INDULGENCE

The dimension of IVR or indulgence vs restraint is also worth looking at. This dimension is defined as the extent to which people try to control their desires and impulses, based on the way they were raised. A tendency toward a relatively weak control over their impulses is called “Indulgence”, whereas a relatively strong control over their urges is called “Restraint”. Cultures can be described as Indulgent or Restrained.

The United States scores as an Indulgent (68) society on the sixth dimension. This, in combination with a normative score, is reflected by the following contradictory attitudes and behaviour.

Source: https://www.hofstede-insights.com/

Considering this score on Indulgence, even if the people do it, it is going to be difficult for the populace to exercise restraint in terms of social distancing and foregoing outings, parties or celebrations in view of the greater good.

A quick look at this chart from Statista.com shows how social distance can be of paramount importance at a time like this.

Work hard and play hard

Work hard and play hard say the Americans. Unfortunately the virulent attack of the COVID-19 is not going to allow either of the two. From our experience in China as well as Italy, this is not the way to go. But knowing the United States, chances are,  this war will not be fought basis what the rest of the world has done. It is after all, about the US and them.

Here’s a song which put it into some kind of perspective. It’s now us against the virus.

Meanwhile stay safe. And share with those who may find this relevant.

Us (us, us, us, us) and them (them, them, them, them)
And after all we’re only ordinary men
And you (you, you, you)
God only knows
It’s not what we would choose (choose, choose) to do (to do, to do)
Forward he cried from the rear
And the front rank died
And the general sat
And the lines on the map
Moved from side to side
Black (black, black, black)
And blue (blue, blue)
And who knows which is which and who is who
Up (up, up, up, up)
And down (down, down, down, down)
And in the end it’s only round ‘n round (round, round, round)
Haven’t you heard it’s a battle of words
The poster bearer cried
“Listen son”, said the man with the gun
There’s room for you inside

“I mean, they’re not gonna kill ya
So if you give ’em a quick short, sharp, shock
They won’t do it…

Source: LyricFind

Read the earlier posts in this series? Here are the links.

Italy through the culture lens

Cultural Dimensions & China

Blurred Boundaries


2 thoughts on “United States. Through the culture lens. US. And them.”

  1. This is so right on and since I live in the United States I totally relate! Here many have no restraint, will hurt others to get what they want…even a roll of toilet paper.
    There is even a good chance some will rob others of what they don’t have because “I” is more important.
    So glad you covered the United States! Very accurate.

    1. Cindy, in times of panic this is bound to happen. Each to his own. As I work on the series I am astounded at how we respond the way our culture demands. Thinking of it from that perspective it’s a good predictor of future behaviour also. Thank you for sharing this Cindy, it ratifies what I have been writing about. Much appreciated.

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