Are American Friendships Superficial?
Why do many immigrants consider American friendships superficial?
Posted Sep 07, 2010
I have heard this criticism before, with variations--"no deep friendships," "people form and dissolve relationships too easily," "you don't know if you can really trust people," and so forth.
What is going on here?
To begin with, in a conversation Germans tend to be quite direct. (An American might joke that their words are so long that there is no time left to beat around the bush.) Where an American might say "From my point of view, I see it this way," a German might simply say "I think X." Direct speech can seem inconsiderate to Americans. In this regard, Brazilians are to Americans as Americans are to Germans. Americans who are new to Brazil complain that "You never know what Brazilians think." or even "People are always lying to me." From the Brazilian point of view, they're being considerate, modulating what they say according to the non-verbal reactions of the other person, so as to have an agreeable conversation.
American individualism means that we give more emphasis to our own needs in forming and dissolving relationships than do cultures organized around traditional forms and relationships. This means that people who don't know one another can form groups to satisfy common needs. In criticizing what she viewed as the superficiality of our friendships, the German woman also praised the existence of numerous informal groups--around hobbies, interests, work, self-improvement, religion, and so forth--that make it possible to meet new people.
For generations, America has been the world center of capitalism; and capitalism prizes a mobile labor force. Thus, it is not surprising that many Americans have developed the ability to form and dissolve relationships, as they are periodically uprooted to earn a living or advance a career in another city, state, or region.
I should also mention that, during her childhood, the place where the woman grew up was in East Germany. Before reunification, the Stasi (secret police) were an omnipresent danger. People never knew, if they told someone their true thoughts and feelings, whether the information could be passed on to be used against them. Trusting someone as a friend could mean putting your life in their hands--a much greater commitment than friendship here. Even though that time has passed, the more intense commitment involved in friendship lingers on.
(This issue is discussed further in my next post.)
hermandad - friendship by Rufino
Corner of Friendship Dr. and E. Winnemissett Av in Deland, Florida by Gregory F. Maxwell
bobi bobi illustration from France,
Friend/Freund Venn Diagram by D. & J. Fish
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