MiR 068 – Shorts – Unwritten Rules in America Part 4


Hi and welcome back to the Mark in Russia Broadcast, episode # 068, and I’m Mark. Today I’m going to continue the topic started in episode 063, which was a topic suggested by one of my listeners.

Remember, you should go to my website, www.markinrussia.com in order to listen to all of my broadcasts and to see the show notes for each episode.

When traveling or living in a different country, some of the normal behaviors of society are based upon certain “Unwritten Rules” and until you are able to crack this seemingly secret code, life is not really totally clear to you.

It’s my hope to help you learn some of these rules in order to increase both enjoyment and understanding.

Well, let’s get moving.

Again though, I need to qualify the following as the unwritten rules that I grew up with. The country is changing in recent years in some unfortunate directions. Now the unwritten rules are probably becoming things like; rich people are bad, government will take care of us and “we love so-called free things”. Well, Obama the socialist will be gone in 4 years and perhaps the old unwritten rules will return.

Let’s talk a bit about competition and achievement. In episode # 066 I discussed how American like to be very individualistic in most things that they do and because of this we are very competitive in many ways. A “go-getter”, or high achiever is something to set as a goal in America.

In spite of the democratic dream of creating a society of classes in America, we really don’t have classes. Classes are for Marx. Because of this in America you are not limited as to how high you can rise. Hard work, coupled with good ideas and efficiency equal greater earnings and the ability to enjoy a better lifestyle. It is possible to work your way to the top in America, regardless of where the top is, whether it be within a corporation, athletics, high-tech, education or politics. You are not limited by your family’s nationality, color or religion.

As a rule, traditional Americans place a high value on action, as opposed to words; they typically keep a fairly busy schedule. Even a non-working mother will often have a schedule that seems insane. This is where the term, “Soccer Mom” comes from.

We believe that “If you aren’t moving ahead, then you are falling behind”. They often seem very hurried in life, running from one activity to another with iPhone reminders going off all day to remind them of their next appointment.

An overemphasis on achievement can often lead to an overly busy life, also sometimes leading to competition concerning almost all aspects of life, which is not good.

However, one of the positive and often surprising outshoots of such a competitive lifestyle is the ability of Americans to work together as a team when required and to display a real sense of teamwork and cooperation with others when striving toward a common goal. When we look at most all “open-source” projects and similar projects, it’s not a surprise to see that at the early core of these projects are Americans. This almost seems in stark contrast to the competitive nature, but it is actually just an extension. Think of it as a competitive team sport.

Even in schools and universities you’ll see this cooperation take the form of study groups and preparation groups.

OK, let’s take a short joke break here and I’ll meet you on the other side.

A young reporter went to a retirement home to interview an aged but legendary explorer. The reporter asked the old man to tell him the most frightening experience he had ever had.

The old explorer said, “Once I was hunting Bengal tigers in the jungles of India. I was on a narrow path and my faithful native gun bearer was behind me. Suddenly the largest tiger I have ever seen leaped onto the path in front of us. I turned to get my weapon only to find the native had fled. The tiger lept toward me with a mighty ROARRRR! I soiled myself.”

The reporter said, “Under those circumstances anyone would have done the same.”

The old explorer said, “No, not then — just now when I went ””ROARRRR!”””

An Irishman, Englishman and Scotsman go into a pub and each order a pint of Guinness. Just as the bartender hands them over, three flies buzz down and one lands in each of the pints.

The Englishman looks disgusted, pushes his pint away and demands another pint.

The Scotsman picks out the fly, shrugs, and takes a long swallow.

The Irishman reaches in to the glass, pinches the fly between his fingers and shakes him while yelling, “Spit it out, ya bastard! Spit it out!”

There were three men who got stranded on an island. A group of cannibals found the three men and took them to their place in the tropical rainforest of the island.

The cannibals told the three men to go in the rainforest and find ten of the same fruits each. So the three of them went into the woods to get fruits. An hour later they all came back.

The first man brought ten apples.

The Cannibals told the man to push all the apples up his ass without crying, if he did not cry, the cannibals would let him go. The man pushed five up his ass then cried. The cannibals ate him.

The second man brought ten berries. The Cannibals told him to push all the berries up his ass without laughing, and if he didn’t laugh, they would let him go. The man pushed nine up his ass then laughed. The cannibals ate him.

Up in heaven the first man asked the second man, “Why did you laugh, you were so close!”

The second man says, ” I couldn’t help it, the next guy came with ten pineapples. ”

OK, welcome back

In the U.S., Culture is very informal and therefore for a foreigner it can be hard to determine the boundaries concerning questions. You want to avoid  Proscriptive norms, which are society’s unwritten rules about what one should not do, or in this case, “ask”.

Here are a few examples of American proscriptive norms:

How old are you? Although, this doesn’t really apply to guys, just women.

How much money do you make? This is a big no-no.

How much do you weigh?

What religion are you?

Ask any of these, and although Americans don’t wish to make you uncomfortable, you’ll notice by the body language of the American that the line has been crossed.

Just for your info, “Prescriptive norms” are the things that you should do, in direct contrast to the proscriptive norms we just spoke about. You’ll probably never have the opportunity to use these two words again, but if you ever do you’ll look like some sort of linguistic god.

Here are some other social taboos:

  • Cover your mouth when you yawn, sneeze or cough. It’s considered unsanitary to not cover your mouth.
  • Americans are offended by strong odors, and normally bathe daily (sometimes twice daily in hot weather), and use underarm deodorant. Strong smelling perfumes or colognes are applied sparingly because they may not be pleasant to others.
  • Do not belch loudly in public.
  • Do not spit, it’s considered very rude.
  • Do not pick your teeth  in public.
  • Something I see here in Russia, which still mortifies me is some people, both male and female alike, will hold one nostril closed and blow the snot out of their nose like some kind of gun. Often then wiping some of this snot off their hands onto their pants. This is horrible enough for a month of nightmares, but you also need to understand that it is customary to shake hands with those they know almost each time they see them. Nasty ass stuff.  If you did this in America, someone might shoot you thinking that you’re some sort of evil nasty zombie.

Well, let’s call this episode over at this time. Thanks for staying with me till the end and I’ll see you next time. Until then, GoodBye!

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