Learning about being an American

Hello, beautiful Roermond!

Several weeks ago, I took a walk with another American. She has lived in The Netherlands for several years, while I haven’t been here very long. When we met people on the path, I nodded and said hello to them, because I always do that. After a while, my friend laughed at me & said “You’re such an American! Saying Hi! with a big cheerful smile to everyone we pass!”

That surprised me – I hadn’t realized my behavior was unusual. Is this a bit of culture shock? No, not shock; just a little jolt of surprise, a different perspective. I’ve heard that Americans seem over-friendly, ‘fake’ friendly, to some Europeans.

Now that lockdowns are over and people are out and about, I see what my friend was talking about. Here, people often don’t greet each other in passing; they don’t even make eye contact. It’s not un-friendly; it’s just being private. I find this very relaxing. It’s a relief to be free of the need to recognize & nod to everyone.

At first I thought it’s just a cultural thing that happens in younger countries, where everyone came from somewhere else within the past two or three generations. I’ve read that Americans, Australians, etc. are louder and more out-going to everyone, including strangers.

But there’s something else. In the US, I think we’re sending a signal to other people that says “I am not a hazard to you”, and at the same time we’re checking – Are you a hazard to me? It’s very subtle; I certainly wasn’t conscious of it until I came here. Walking in Marktplein one day, I thought how that public space felt much more private than a similar space would feel in my home-town. And it felt much safer, even though the square was crowded and busy. I realized there was no need to be wary, to be watching others.

How much energy have I always used, in public, to keep aware of the people around me? I don’t know if this is common to all Americans – it might just be me. I can ask my friends in the US what they think, but unless they get into a different environment for a while, they may not even be aware of the level of caution they’re maintaining. I certainly was not aware of this!

Thank you, Nederlands, for teaching me about being an American!

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