AEE 741: Was the Party Fun or Not Boring? How Culture Might Influence What You Say

How does your home culture influence the way that you express yourself?

Does it change your words or the way you structure your sentences?

Does it change your outlook on different experiences?

Today we’ll dive into this question with a note from a listener.

 

Hi Michelle and Lindsay,

First of all, thank you so much for your great podcast! My name is Fabrice, I’m French, and I’ve been leaving in the US for almost 4 years now in Chicago. In spite of this time of immersion, I’ve yet have to achieve my goal: being bilingual, and your podcast really helps a lot! It’s a pleasure to listen to you every day: you often make me smile and I learn so much without even noticing it!

Two years ago, I married an American, which has helped me a lot to improve my English, obviously. However, because of the language gap, we argue once in a while.

One of the things he keeps make me noticing is that I use a lot of negative forms (for example, instead of saying “I had a great time”, I’d rather say “It wasn’t boring”, or instead of “It’s warmer today” I would say “It’s less cold”). I think it’s a French habit that it’s hard for me to get rid of, and my question is: Do Americans really avoid speaking with negative forms? Would you have tips to give to people regarding this topic, if it’s relevant?

Thanks again for taking the time to read my question and eventually to answer to it.

Best regards, Fabrice

 

Two things are probably happening:

1- Our cultural value towards things that are positive in the US and optimistic

2- Exaggeration in our language. Everything is hyped up. American culture rewards extremes. This may be related to the free market. Everywhere we go we see marketing messages that emphasize success and money versus a certain modesty or self control. Our culture does not value the idea of modesty or the idea of not over emphasizing.

 

Don’t forget!

Today we’re going to focus more on the inclination towards the positive in American culture.

Any time we talk about culture I want to make it clear that we are not trying to stereotype.

We never assume that “everyone” acts a certain way from a certain culture.

This is especially important today.

When we watch the news it’s easy to make cultural assumptions and this can create fear.

The point of this show is to find out what we have in common which is a desire to connect.

However we shouldn’t forget that our cultures teach us to see the world differently and this knowledge can help us connect.

 

Americans often tend to emphasize the positive.

What phrases do we use?

1- Don’t be a Debbie Downer

2- Think on the bright side

3- Well, the good news is….

4- You need to stay positive,… (when someone gets sick)

 

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So, going back to Fabrice’s question, why would one person come back from a party and say “it wasn’t boring” while another person would say “I had a great time.”

Sometimes it’s a matter of degree.

An American might say “well it wasn’t boring” to express that it wasn’t amazing but it wasn’t too bad either.

But sometimes, when both people enjoyed the party about the same amount, it’s the way we see the world and our culture.

That’s what this listener is asking about.

I found an article from Stanford University news by professor Jeanne Tsai, direct of the Culture and Emotion Lab.

 

The article was written by Clifton Parker and we will quote parts of it below.

Clifton Parker says,

“Culture teaches us which emotional states to value, which can in turn shape the emotions we experience,” said Stanford psychology Professor Jeanne Tsai, director of the Culture and Emotion Lab on campus. Stanford psychology postdoctoral fellow Tamara Sims was the lead author on the research paper, which was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.”

“Sims noted that a number of studies by other researchers have shown that people from Chinese and other East Asian cultures are more likely to feel both negative and positive – or “mixed emotions” – during good events, such as doing well on an exam.”

“On the other hand, Americans of European descent are more likely to just feel positive during good events. Tsai said this is explained by cultural differences in models of the “self.” Americans tend to be more individualistic and focus on standing out, whereas Chinese tend to be more collectivistic, focusing on fitting in.”

“In multicultural societies like ours, this can lead to deep misunderstandings,” Tsai said.

“For instance, Americans might view Chinese who feel bad during good events as being depressed, when in fact they are feeling how their culture expects them to feel.”

“In an interview, Sims said, “Although Americans know what it’s like to look for the good in the bad – the silver lining – they are less likely to see the bad in the good, compared to Chinese.”

 

So according to this article it’s the values that we hold close that come through in the way we word things.

What do you think?

If you are from France do you agree with what the listener asked?

What have you observed in other cultures?

If you are from China what do you think about this study?

Remember, we are not trying to stereotype and put people in boxes, but I think it’s important that we look at culture.

It helps us understand how we see the world through different lenses.

Leave your comment or question below!

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  • 1) Are you a Debbie Downer? Love can be evolved into a completely different species. It’s a tough struggle.
    2) Think on the bright side. Everything happens for a good reason, no matter how great your life is.
    3) The good news is time is on your side. There’s no room for procrastination.
    4) You need to stay positive, pride yourself in hard work. Your day is made.

  • Marcos Lopez

    Hey guys, very clarifying episode. What I’ve experience myself is that American people tend to be more optimistic and don’t want to say anything that could be embarrassing.
    For instance, if someone invite me to a party and I don’t want to go I would say something like: Oh no thanks!!! You know, I’m tired and I’d rather stay home. But for an American person this would be terrible, I suppose the reply would be something like: I’ll try to make it! and everybody would understand he or she is not going.
    I suppose it’s a cultural issue, while southern Europeans are more direct, American (or British) people are more indirect.
    Well I’ll take the chance to say thanks again for your amazing show, that helps a lot and not only in the language learning. I have to confess that you both are becoming my “gurus”: I’ve started a meditation course and it’s incredible (thanks Lindsay), and I’ve also started watching the show Friends and I can understand almost everything -with a little help of subtitles, but in English of course (thanks Michelle).
    Thanks again girls, you’re amazing!
    Marcos

  • Interesting!

  • It’s great to hear that you started a meditation course! I hope it helps! Thanks for listening. I know that you have been a longtime listener (3 years?) and we appreciate that.

  • Marcos Lopez

    Yes, 3 years now and it looks like yesterday and I don’t miss any episode! You guys are awesome and deserve all the success you’ve got (and more!)

  • Thank you Marcos!

  • Joey

    Think on the bright sight.
    You need to stay positive