What Can We Learn About American Culture From Captain America ?

Captain America Comics#1 (March 1941). Cover a...

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I have been away from my blog/business for few weeks as I was moving from Belgium to New Jersey in June and July. After short vacation, we arrived in our new house last week. This is our third expatriation in the U.S. First time was New York City from 2001-2003, second Atlanta from 2006-2009.

Initially I wanted to share some of the challenges I faced while I was moving but I realized that after move #12, I already wrote numerous articles giving tips or sharing personal stories about preparing a move, dealing with frustrations and emotional eating or building resilience. You can search my blog and contact me if you need some specific help regarding expatriation and transition management.

For my first blog post “Made in America”, I chose to give some tips about American culture, values and principles to expats freshly arrived in the USA and international people working with Americans.

I was inspired by the movie “Captain America, The First Avenger” we saw last Sunday with my son who is a big fan of Marvel comic books. Captain America was the most popular character in comic books during the wartime period but still continues  to be a model showing social values and principles that unite Americans. Captain America exemplifies the importance of freedom, equality and justice.

Here my short list of American most typical cultural traits, values and principles new comers living and working  in America should be aware of :

1-Individual Freedom: This is the most basic value that all Americans share. Individuals have control over their own destiny and they want to have free choices on every topics. American culture is highly individualistic and personal success is priority number one. Americans are expected to take initiative regarding education, employment, personal development or well-being. As a consequence, Americans are assertive and straightforward while interacting with others and sometimes labelled as arrogant by other cultures who value group interests over individual success.

2-Direct Communication Style: Captain America is a simple guy, he smiles when he is happy and look straight in the eyes when he speaks to someone, he focuses on what is said.  Americans value logic and linear thinking, they expect others to get to the point quickly and are annoyed by beating around the bush. Time is money! Expect brief, informal emails, SMS or voice mails with very little formality. If you are from a culture that has more indirect and formal communication style, practice being direct and keep your communication short and simple. If you are from a country where it is rude to look straight in the eyes of the person you talk to, be aware that Americans will interpret that body language as someone who is hiding something, lying or is unreliable.

3-Idealism :  Captain America is the first to volunteer whenever the mission requires a sacrifice for the greater good. Many Americans believe that the rest of the world share their values and  the U.S. foreign policies have supported “fight for freedom” wars based on this “missionary instinct”.  Of course more practical reasons such as an access to resources or political power are also behind any crusade. Despite the globalization, most Americans have lack of knowledge or interest in other cultures. As a consequence, understand and respect American patriotism and keep your political views and opinions about American politics for yourself. Avoid sharing stories about your life abroad if you speak to a person who has never live abroad unless she asks you specific questions about your experience. Practice introducing yourself in less than 60 sec, It is called an “elevator pitch” and is mandatory in the business world but it is also a good idea if you are the trailing spouse to introduce yourself to the teachers, other parents, people you meet at the gym and other places you can make friends:  The Art of the Elevator Pitch: 10 Great Tips

4-Can Do Attitude. Before becoming Captain America, Steve Rogers, the frail patriot and anti-Nazi soldier was declared unfit for military service but was finally able to take part in a secret government project after several attempts.  Americans value positive thinking and hard work, they have  a lot of self-confidence and faith in themselves and make excellent entrepreneurs and sales people.  When you work for an American company, people are often competitive but at the same time are able to be very good team players. Outside work, people belong to communities who have a lot of support groups in almost anything and everything. Despite their individualistic nature, Americans are usually very generous and you will be  asked to contribute financially or giving time to your local school and to a wide variety of causes and non-profit organizations.

5-America is not a “melting pot” anymore: Captain America is a patriot, not really xenophobic but he is a hero of the past who is not reflecting today’s cultural diversity of America.  Since WWII, the U.S. population profile has changed and ethnic segregation is a reality. According to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey done by the Center for Immigration Studies in the year 2000, most of the immigrants settle in just six states: California, absorbing 8.8 million people which is 30.9 percent of the whole immigrant population, New York with 12.8 percent, Florida with 9.8 percent, Texas with 8.6 percent, New Jersey with 4.3 percent, and Illinois with 4.1 percent. In fact, these six states occupy only 39.3 percent of the country’s total population, yet they account for 70.5 percent of the nation’s immigrant population.  Immigrants do not scatter equally across the country. It is apparent from these facts that America does not have a mix of people everywhere.(Ref: America: Melting Pot or Salad Bowl ?).

If you just arrived in the States with your family, go watch the movie, take a big bag of pop corn and a giant Coke and have fun and tell me:

What Did YOU Learn From Captain America ?

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About Anne Egros

Zest and Zen is a blog about Expat Life Challenges, Global Leadership, Intercultural Communication, Health and Wellness, Nutrition, Change Psychology, Life Transitions
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13 Responses to What Can We Learn About American Culture From Captain America ?

  1. Pingback: Intercultural training important to expats’ success | Anne Egros, Intercultural Executive Coach

  2. This is an excellent post Anne. After 3 years here in New Jersey, I would say your summary is spot on and provides a very balanced view of how things are. It took us a long time to come to grips with the core values lived here. A briefing like this ahead of time would have done wonders for us in opening our eyes to the fuller picture of Americans, rather than the narrow stereotypes which we arrived with.

  3. Thanks Anne. I really appreciated and welcome back! I’ve been living in the USA in the late 80s (I’ve been living in Brussels in mid ninty too, but this is another story) and got same impression. This means that no matter how things are changing the foundation of this great counry remain the same. And this is good news! Love your post. 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment Fabrizio, I think cultural values are strongly anchored through the education system and social interactions governed by laws and family traditions. Technologies may have changed greatly in 30 years but the main values and principles that founded the American constitution in 1787 remain pretty much the same. is it true for most countries ? Maybe China and its cultural revolution is an example of huge switch in values in short period of time. What do you think?

  4. It’s so interesting to read about the American culture from a non-American’s point of view. I have to say, that I nodded in agreement to all of your points, and realize how little awareness we have in our own country about the possibility that these values, which we take for granted, could actually be off-putting or awkward for those not brought up in this country.

    I haven’t yet seen Captain America, but I did see two other movies this weekend: “Cowboys and Aliens,” and “Crazy Stupid Love”. I suppose each of these could also provide some lessons into the culture of America… and I recommend both!

    • Thanks Bradley , Of course I have my own bias as I was born and raised in France and lived for 20 years abroad mainly in Japan and US, but I tried to report more like a journalist what I have observed by living 6 years already in NYC and Atlanta and just immigrated again to New Jersey. There is one movie I really like on how Americans see “typical” French: The Pink Panther 1&2 with Steve Martin playing the role of the detective “Jaques Clouseau” with a ridiculous French accent, totally hilarious, but somehow true. I love movies so thanks for recommending the last two you saw! Maybe next week if still in theaters will go watch the movie with Harrison Ford.

      • Yes, Pink Panther was hilarious!

        I will be in France for the first time later this month with my fam for a little vacation in Paris. Looking forward to the crepes and croissants!

        And where are you in NJ? Lots of contacts in that area.

  5. Jack Scott says:

    An excellent piece. I wish I’d had this advice when I first travelled to the US at the tender age of 20 but I muddled through somehow. Being British helped, I think. What are you thoughts on Americans as expats abroad?

    • Thanks Jack. I think American expats are usually very active and organized abroad. They build communities open to locals and other expatriates.
      I have been a committee chair for the American Chamber of Commerce in Tokyo for example and a member of the Tokyo American Club.
      I have also noticed that most American expats are much more open and willing to learn the language and the culture of their host country. Back home I discovered that it is not unusual for ex-expat American to create multi-cultural clubs supporting both new comers in the U.S. and Americans interested in a particular country culture or language.

  6. jeff says:

    Some things are (just so very) worth waiting for. Good to see you back online, Anne.


    p.s. We also move, this weekend. Hardly the distance, but a big transition nonetheless as we buy a home – a sense of permanence here in eastern Canada. 😉

    p.p.s. …and I guess you sold me on the movie.

    • Hello Jeff, Glad to hear good news from you. Wish you happiness in your new home. Seems we are in the same phase, we too decided it is perfect timing to settle and we bought a house we love in a very nice area of New Jersey. I listen to Guy Kawasaki on his book “enchanted” and that is how I feel right now. Will come back checking “trailing spouses” on Linkedin soon after our stuff get delivered to our house next week.

  7. J. Scott Shipman says:

    Hi Anne, Welcome back! Very good post. Cordially, Scott

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