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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Networked blogs link: http://nblo.gs/XQuTj

7 comments:

  1. Thank you Akshaya. A zip line is a cord that is strung between two points, high off the ground. They put you in a harness and hang you from the line and you fly from point to point on this line. They call it 'zip line' because the word 'zip' has an idiomatic meaning of 'going fast'. Here's a photo of me doing a zip line- http://www.flickr.com/photos/kris_kumar/4826866624/in/set-72157624411864246

    This video shows it better - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQKXVxXbOeU&feature=related

    The zip line I went on was not this high!

    Does that help? :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Akshaya.. in the new movie Ek Main aur Ek Tu..." is a scene with a zip line! Check this song at minute mark 1:59-2:04...
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAfY-OCcqNs
    See how they're flying through the air? :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I would like to point out this, people in the western world express more than they work (this is my opinion please do not take in wrong way)..... They speak much about what they are doing, what they did in the past and their achievements etc....
    But Indians (at least me and few others that I know in person) work too much and expresses less..... This is a big disadvantage..... In my opinon, this is because of our culture or something. that is related to indian working environment (boss is always right)....

    ReplyDelete
  4. An anonymous visitor e-mailed me with this feedback:

    "I would like to point out this, people in the western world express more than they work (this is my opinion please do not take in wrong way)..... They speak much about what they are doing, what they did in the past and their achievements etc....
    But Indians (at least me and few others that I know in person) work too much and expresses less..... This is a big disadvantage..... In my opinon, this is because of our culture or something. that is related to indian working environment (boss is always right)...."

    Jennifer's response:
    "Hi. Thanks for sharing this with me.

    I see the truth in your words.

    The main difference here is that American and most Western Cultures are individualistic. By this I mean from a young age we are taught to express ourselves, question others (even teachers and parents) and always ask why. Our individual experiences are meaningful. It is not that we expect each person to experience or do the same thing in our group, each person will do and be different. It's expected. I think one reason this came about especially in the US is the diverse cultures that exist. People wanted to try to maintain their identity but at the same time struggle with the 'equality ideal'. So because of this we try to overcome it by making each person's experience important. In our schools we have two important assignments every year from about 1st to 6th grade. One is show and tell. Once a month we bring in something from our house and talk about it from personal experience. There is no grade on this, but it is done to get to know each other. The other assignment is 'What did you do on the summer vacation?' Everyone must have a different story. Even if you and I were in the same class and our families went on the same vacation and we each wrote about it, it's expected both our stories would be different. If not, one of us is cheating!

    So, you are right. This is a major problem for many Indians and Easterners working in Western countries. I have seen many Indians lose promotions even JOBS because of not understanding and practicing this. One example is in giving a job interview. Firstly, the resumes would be written differently as the Indian resume would be more about what was achieved as a part of a group in a company, rather than how that individual contributed to the group and their own unique strengths and talents. (I have seen this problem while coaching Indians with their resumes.) So since in the resume itself these points are not bought out, how can one be considered for a job? Even if an American helps the Indian/Easterner to write the resume, how will the person fare in the interview? Certainly this is not a problem for all Indians because many Indians/Easterners come to the US and may not necessarily adapt this and have successful careers. However, if they adapted this strategy and mindset and behavior, it may provide them the extra edge they need to be that much more successful!"

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hey Jennifer, nice post. Just wondering what zip line rides mean?

    ReplyDelete
  6. I agree, sometimes we just can't seem to relax. Taking a trip involves a lot of preparation, and almost no spontaneity. Sometimes though, it helps to not have to think about what to do on vacation, like attending yoga sessions by the pool.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I always thought that having a vacation and Renting in the outer banks is always a good idea. The place is very peaceful and a lot of people has been going there lately.

    ReplyDelete

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