Re: Training Execs for Int'l LO2238
Wed, 26 Jul 95 16:21:9 GMT

Commenting on Lilly Evans' LO2183 and Carol Anne Ogdin's LO2201..

Well, Lilly, I'm tempted to say it probably has to do with what
companies these Americans are working for and where exactly they're
living. For some American firms assignment to London means prestige, so
if they're all living in Chelsea or equivalent, I suspect they might want
to be known to live in the "right part of town" and the right "lifestyle."

If, as you say, the companies arrange everything for them, perhaps
this goes along with the ol' American "innocents abroad" syndrome. Many
Americans are not very comfortable in foreign lands and get quite
intimidated when everything works "differently." I've seen lots of
intercultural timidity by Americans. American proximity abroad might mean
familiarity, safety. There are also those, however, who expect foreign
travel to be in some way like Disneyworld, where everyone smiles and
there's no trouble finding a rest room. After all, they've PAID to get

I'm in Florence, Italy, with thousands of "herding" American
students spending their "junior year abroad," discovering the wonders of
Renaissance art. Same tendency. Disneyworld. Very consumeristic
approach. It's the rare American student that actually integrates a bit
with local students. Little cultural exchange, lots of cultural
consumption. Some could care less, but others seem to "not know how to go
about" intercultural situations. A lack of basic intercultural "skills"
that Europeans would probably take for granted. It's common for European
students to mix, and whatever Asians, South Americans, and Africans, etc.
there happen to be, but then again, they usually *learn the language.*

I think an element at work here is the tendency of American
culture to be highly ethnocentric. The US is so vast, so much is
happening, that when one finally gets a minute to consider different
cultures, it's probably through an American correspondent reporting on
"events" around the world. It's rare to find, for mass consumption,
translations of commentary from Le Monde, Tass, etc., not even the
Financial Times, which at least is in English! Nothing European, African,
Asian on TV (except maybe public television and more recently cable TV),
very few foreign films - and only in urban centers. (Most Americans will
not tolerate voice dubbing or subtitles) Even for the willing, the
geographic distances make it extremely difficult to get to know other
cultures, other ways of life.

So I think that the impression this leaves for many Americans is
that the rest of the world is big, unknown and "out there." France has
the Eiffel Tower, England has Charles and Diana. The rest gets blurry. I
also think that many Americans strongly believe that the US is "the best
democracy in the world" and the rest of the world either wants to be, or
should be, more like them. That US culture somehow represents "a more
advanced state" in a long upward march of technological progress. And it
occasionally needs to step in as a "big brother" in order to help the poor
and defenseless. (Like Kuwait.) This isolation also leads to advanced
stages of paranoia - the US ALWAYS has some "foreign evil" to rally
against - communism, Saddam Hussein, "foreign drug merchants," whatever.
A paranoic fear creating the desire to protect what all their "hard work
and good intentions" have "earned." You hardly ever hear about the CIA in
the States, you hear about it often outside of the country.

American popular culture has that tendency to confuse capitalism
with democracy. Or represent the two as one and the same, a single
"authoritative" version embodied in the US. Very little emphasis in terms
of *learning* from other cultures. Comparing American culture against
others. "International" is generally considered in terms of potential
markets, sporting events or vacation sites. (I actually had a rather
earnest American explain to me that Italy has a "tourist economy" and that
by selling trinkets on the street, this money "trickles down" amongst the
rest of the population. Oh, okay.)

In response to Carol Anne's comment about not getting invited to
one's home, I would say that this is fairly typical. My experience has
been that in Europe, on the whole, there tends to be a greater separation
between the private and public spheres. One's home is one's castle. My
first "intercultural" work experience was, as is often the case for
Americans, in London. I was 21 and working an internship at a US-based
merchant bank in the City. This was '85, the epoch of merger mania, and
there was a definite "work-hard, play-hard" attitude towards life. The
Australians and Americans would opt for impromptu get-togethers at one
another's apartments. While British friends would more often plan on
meeting in pubs. Since many were from London they also had a network of
non-work-related friendships, and were around less often than the
non-native others. However, I've found an attitude of "home as private
sphere only" or a separation of work-life/personal-life elsewhere in
Europe. I know people who have grown up together since childhood and have
never seen the inside of each other's houses! This is unheard of for
Americans who normally have low interpersonal barriers. I have also found
many of my European friends slower in offering friendship, but it usually
doesn't have that "disposable" quality I find with some Americans I know.

As a corollary to the American tendency to know very little about
"life outside the USA," Europeans are immersed in international exchanges
*as a culture.* So where the American probably has yet to form an opinion
of the European he/she meets, the European probably already has an idea
formed about what the American is generally going to "be like."
International comparisons are constantly being made. Nationalistic
stereotypes subsequently tend to abound in Europe. The US has similar
regional stereotypes, someone from California or from Texas will call up
different ideas in ones head. But they're rather "young" in comparison.
Multiply these differences, give them a unique ethnic history, and then
try to make a joint decision on economic unity. Oh, boy.

I'd say that Americans will generally comment that Europeans won't
stop arguing long enough to get anything done, while the Europeans will
comment that the Americans don't think before they act. There's a middle
way somewhere in there.

I've gone on quite long enough. Too long, I'm sure.
Intercultural musings peppered with irony. Comments and rebuttals are
certainly welcome.

	Jackie Mullen