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June 21, 2014

Understanding the Confusing U.S. American Culture: The Scheduled, Relaxing Vacation!?

One of the values of the American society that newcomers must know is “Work Hard & Play Hard.”  

Americans have tightly packed schedules, day in and day out. Many times things get ‘checked off’ on a to-do list. These include activities and events typically known as ‘fun and relaxing’. Time off work, whether it’s a typical workday, a weekend, or a longer vacation is of process, procedure, and the time is broken into small blocks of scheduled activities. Some of these activities are scheduled based on the family’s organizational and planning skills, while the others are planned and purchased fun activities. These activities may be scenic train rides, group tours, zip line rides, amusement park rides, or other planned and paid vacation activities. 

This incessant, almost obsessive need to have things prepackaged, planned, and prepared (ready-to-use) was highlighted in an episode of Phineas and Ferb. I like this cartoon as it often portrays the humor or absurdity in ordinary American activities. In this episode, the family takes a vacation to Hawaii. In the video below at 5 minute 23 second mark, Candace, the teenage daughter is relaxing poolside while a hotel employee announces ‘yoga classes’ that are supposed to help one relax in a controlled environment. Candace replies, “Pathetic, isn’t it? Some people don’t have the discipline to relax on their own. They need to take a… Who are you kidding? You’re takin’ a class!” But like most Americans, she is relieved to actually partake in a relaxing activity with parameters and goes to join the crowd.

<Sorry, video deleted.>

I think this value stems from the Puritan work ethic followed by the early settlers of the US. The settlers couldn’t relax as they were setting up their new home. Any chance of relaxation was taken as a sin because the new environment was so unpredictable. The only way to make sense out of this unpredictability was to create structure, process, and ‘busy work’. This seems to be a hallmark of the American culture. To prepare your employees for onsite expat assignments and knowledge transfer in the US, view the wide range of topics in the cross-cultural training menu or contact us today with your virtual or face-to-face training needs. 

Thank you for your time.

Jennifer Kumar is a cross-cultural trainer based in Kochi, India. She specializes in helping your onsite and offshored US-India global teams to work more effectively and productively across borders. Training programs are available in person or virtually through VOIP, phone or Skype. More about her services here.

Chris Sufi is a freelance editor who lives in Bangalore, India. Her personal interest in language and communication inspires her to contribute through proofreading and editing. She can be contacted here.  

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We help build effective, culturally competent global teams with focus on the cultures of the USA and India. Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director, an American citizen, has almost 10 years experience living, studying and working (owning a business) in India. Authentic Journeys Consultancy is registered as a Private Limited in India (Kerala) and an LLC in the USA (Salt Lake City, Utah). We provide onsite and live-online instructor-led courses, facilitation and corporate coaching.