What is the difference between the mentality of Americans and Russians, and why this can create problems in the USA
The difference in mentality that exists between different cultures often makes understanding between people difficult. However, there are cases when such differences lead not only to everyday troubles and disappointments, but even to problems with the law.
Presumption of voluntariness
For example, in the United States there is an unspoken presumption that each person acts solely voluntarily and in his own self-interest. This seemingly quite natural postulate, however, often causes misunderstanding among immigrants from Russia. In our culture, it is common to downplay the responsibility of a person under the influence of others. We sympathize with teenagers who commit crimes because they find themselves in bad company. We sympathize with the victims of scammers who gave away their last savings under the influence of deception.
For us it is often quite sufficient justification that a person has been asked to do something. Even if on a conscious level we understand that the very fact of someone else’s request does not impose any moral obligations on people, in our culture it is not customary to refuse those who ask. We condescendingly perceive people who, for the sake of love or friendship, turn a blind eye to breaking the law, because we are accustomed to defending “our own” and fully understand those who do the same. If corruption committed for money often evokes our distaste, then offenses committed “with the best intentions” tend to attract sympathy.
However, in American culture there is another extreme. If you agreed to do something not at gunpoint, it is assumed that you fully understood what you were doing, and therefore should take full responsibility for it. The only exceptions are if you were actually deceived and you sincerely did not know that you were breaking the law.
How scammers, security forces and sellers use it
For example, in the United States, a fairly common type of fraud is in which immigrants who do not have work permits are offered a simple part-time job: sending parcels to specified addresses for cash. Most often, in this way, gullible immigrants are drawn into a fraudulent scheme. Criminals purchase goods from online stores using stolen credit card data, and then, in an attempt to cover their tracks, send them to customers through a long chain of intermediaries. In this case, intermediaries can avoid liability only if they can prove that they did not know anything about the fraud. In some cases they have to hire private detectives, since American courts are not inclined to believe in such naivety.
However, the presumption of voluntariness is often abused not only by fraudsters, but also by law enforcement officers. In the practice of the American police and the FBI, provocations are often used, when agents working for security forces literally convince a potential criminal to break the law. If a person yields to such persuasion as a result, he must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. By the way, the European Court of Human Rights condemns and even prohibits some types of such provocations, but its jurisdiction does not extend to the territory of the United States.
This presumption is also actively used by intrusive sellers who are trying to persuade you to purchase goods or services that you do not need. They can be extremely assertive, but if you agree with their proposal, you are considered to have made your decision voluntarily, which means you must carry it out. Arguments like “he insisted so much that I couldn’t refuse” are not respectful in the USA.
Romance the American way
However, there are exceptions to this rule regarding interpersonal intimate relationships. Here the situation is exactly the opposite of what we are used to in Russia. For example, in our culture, it is not customary for a girl to actively demonstrate her consent to intimacy, and the moment of this consent is often guessed intuitively. Unless your partner actively shows reluctance to enter into a relationship or tries to resist, consent is presumed in our culture.
However, in American culture, the demonstration of such consent on the part of both partners must be active and clear. This approach destroys the romance we are accustomed to, but helps to avoid incidents of violence. In America, before showing any degree of closeness to a girl, be it the desire to walk her home or kiss her, it is important to clearly ask her if she would mind, and wait for an equally clear answer. Otherwise, you may be accused of sexual harassment.
For example, there is a well-known case of an immigrant from Ukraine who began to offer his help to the girls sitting at the next table in a cafe. According to him, it seemed to him that they had dropped something on the floor, and he decided to show gallantry. However, unfortunately for him, the girls turned out to be minors and complained to the police about him, suspecting him of harassment. The innocence of his intentions, the immigrant had to prove in court.
From this feature of American culture naturally follows another - what psychologists call low-context culture. This means that the role of context in American communication culture is quite low, and people are accustomed to saying certain things in plain text, even if quite delicately and in compliance with political correctness. In Russian culture, unlike American culture, hints are more common and there are unspoken taboos on certain topics, for example, discussing sexual topics or money.
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However, Americans most often do not hesitate to talk about intimate things, and are certainly not modest when they ask for remuneration for their work. Sometimes you might even be shocked by the American habit of talking openly about very personal things with strangers. On the other hand, without the ability to clearly communicate even on sensitive topics, you will not be able to obtain that very active consent, which is the key to continuing the relationship.
In America, you shouldn’t speak in hints and expect to be understood. It is also quite naive to expect gratitude for some actions. Based on the same presumption of voluntariness, people believe that if you did a good deed for someone, it was primarily necessary for you personally. As a result, they do not consider it necessary to take any reciprocal actions out of gratitude. This does not mean that Americans do not help others, but it is important to them that this help is the result of their own decisions and choices, and not the result of someone else's actions.
Knowing these things will help you not only better understand Americans, but also avoid serious mistakes in communicating with them.
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