There are many aspects of American culture that visitors to the U.S. and those who come here for work or school often are not aware of, but which are of critical importance to understanding how to interact with the culture. In this latest in a series of posts about American culture, we will examine a specific aspect of United States culture: patriotism.
One of the most surprising components of American culture is the way that patriotism plays out in everyday life. At sporting events and before school and college events and functions, when the national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” is played, people are expected to stand at attention and remove any hat or cap, holding it or your hand over your heart. Although no one is required to adhere to this particular cultural practice, it does make one stand out in a crowd if they do not. Also, families with school-aged children who move to the U.S. may be surprised to learn about the daily recital of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools as well as the singing or playing of the national anthem. Students are expected to stand at attention facing the flag (if present) in a sign of respect, placing their hand over their heart, but foreign students might, understandably, not wish to participate. This will be noticed by American students and might be interpreted as being disrespectful.
Moreover, many Americans view the national flag as a symbol of patriotism and freedom and can take personal offense to perceived disrespect towards it. This is rooted in a complicated mixture of pride for the country, honoring service members as having died fighting for freedom, and a firm belief that the U.S. is, as Ronald Reagan put it, the “shining city upon a hill.” This refers to America’s place as the oldest democracy in modern times, often seen as an example to be followed.
Furthermore, there is a widespread belief in the idea that everyone is afforded the same opportunities, which is a source of great pride and national identity -- anyone can "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" as a common American saying goes. This is, however, a glaring contradiction insofar as many Americans’ experiences diverge greatly from one another. The idea of the middle-class “American Dream,” in which any able and willing, hard-working individual can enjoy a comfortable life with the same freedoms and rights as everyone else, is upheld despite much data to the contrary. However, this does not stop many from viewing failure as a result of an individual’s inadequacy. Americans often view “rags-to-riches” stories as exemplary of how American society functions.
Certainly, this post is not meant to be exhaustive on the subject, but the focus on patriotism and national pride in the American context as a crucial part of the culture is not to be underestimated.
What are your thoughts about aspects of American culture you feel any newcomer should be aware of? We'll continue next week with another installment in the series.
Here are other articles in the same series:
United States Culture: Convenience and Work Hours
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