This 8-page monthly newsletter offers a unique collection of information, advice, and cultural interpretation. It is written by Anne P. Copeland, Ph.D., a clinical family psychologist and founder of The Interchange Institute. Those who have moved to the US for work or personal reasons have found the blend of practical tips and thoughtful analysis of American culture a lifeline during their transition. Individuals, couples, and families have made it a "must read," whether they have just arrived or have been here for several years.
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Excerpt from article on "Friendship"
Excerpt from article on "You've Got Mail (US Style) "
Reader's Comments from Article on "Time"
Newcomer's Almanac is designed primarily as a cultural and language support tool for newcomers to the US during their first one or two years in this country. For this reason, articles about holidays and sports may be repeated annually; articles about cultural values and tips may be repeated bi-annually. Every issue contains brand new, current information about news events, new technologies, US demographics and attitudes, and other US opportunitites as well.
Excerpt From A Newcomer's Almanac Article
"Friendship in the US: Too Much Too Soon and Then Not Enough"
Anne P. Copeland with Lynn Stoller
A few years ago when my children were young, I was away from home on a business trip. My husband suddenly had to go away too. There would be one afternoon when neither of us would be home with our children. My husband called one of our usual baby-sitters, the 14-year-old daughter of a Russian couple in our neighborhood. The daughter was busy and could not come. But her mother offered to watch our children for us. My husband said, “Oh, we could not possibly ask you to do that.” We had spent several happy evenings with this family, but her offer surprised him. She answered, “Don’t you see? We would like to be friends with you.”
In a typical American way, we had already thought of this Russian family as our friends. In our minds and vocabulary, they had moved from being “people we know from the children’s school” to being “friends” after one dinner together! We probably would have stayed at that level of surface friendship for a long time if they had not brought their own cultural values to the relationship. Instead, my husband gratefully accepted their offer, and we went on to feel an unusual connection to this family.
My husband and I probably have as many “friends” as most American couples. I am sure many of them would have been happy to help in this case. But my husband would have called many teenage baby-sitters (whom we would pay, keeping the relationship formal and distant) before asking any of our friends for this kind of help.
I have heard many international newcomers say that American friendships are superficial (on the surface only). They say Americans do not know what true friendship is — they seem very friendly at first, but the friendships do not grow. It may feel like “too much too soon, then not enough” to you. Here are a few thoughts that might explain American friendships. Hold on to your seat — if you are from a country with very different friendship patterns, this may sound crazy to you!
Americans do have long-term, close friends. They share problems with each other. They ask each other for help and accept help from them. Their friends may even replace their family in some ways, because their families may live quite far away. Making connections and building friendships across cultures may not be easy but it comes with a unique set of rewards as you learn different ways to connect with each other, just as we did with our Russian babysitter’s parents.
As a graduate student, I completed a group project with three classmates. Two of them were American. The other was from Mexico. During our first meeting we discussed our project, divided up the work, and scheduled another meeting for the next week. We agreed to stay in touch till then through email.
During the week I sent out several group email messages to tell my teammates what I was working on. The two Americans in my team did the same. After a few days, I was puzzled that I had not heard back from our Mexican group member. Did his silence mean that he hadn’t done any work or that he was unhappy with ours? We all thought that his “email silence” meant that he wasn’t committed to our project.
When I arrived at our second meeting, I was surprised to be greeted enthusiastically by our Mexican team member. He gave each of us detailed feedback on the work that we had done and then showed us what he had been working on. It was clear that he had put a lot of time and effort into our project. We were all pleased with the results.
Still, I couldn’t understand why he hadn’t stayed in touch during the week. I asked him about it a few days later. He said to me, “You know, I just can’t say what I want to say in an email. There’s just something missing…I think it’s better to say things in person.” My teammates and I could have saved ourselves a lot of confusion and anxiety if we had understood some of the different styles of email communication across cultures.
Email can be very useful because it is a quick way to communicate. However, it can be difficult to interpret when sent across cultures. Fortunately, communicating through email can be a lot less stressful if you keep a few facts in mind. Here are some tips about American “email culture” for newcomers to the United States.
Oral vs. Written communication
Americans are usually very comfortable with email because it fits their informal style of communication. This can be confusing if you come from a culture where face-to-face interactions are important in building and maintaining relationships.
Email is a standard method in the U.S for quick communication. Responses to personal email might be put off for a few days, but most work related email gets answered immediately. If you receive email from American work colleagues or clients, try to respond promptly, at least to tell them that you received their messages. If writing in English is difficult for you, this gives you more time to write a thoughtful response. If you are more comfortable communicating face to face, a brief email saying, “Thanks, let’s talk about this in person soon” will put your colleague’s mind at ease until you are able to meet in person. Most Americans check their email frequently. If that is not the case with you, make sure you let people know so they know to expect a slower response time.
Formal vs. Informal Writing
Americans are usually very informal, especially in email. Use of “Mr.” or “Mrs.” will generally quickly change to using first names. If you often email back and forth with a colleague or client, greetings and closings might eventually be eliminated altogether. The level of formality for email introductions will probably evolve from “Dear” to “Hello” to just your first name (like “Jerry – I got your message.”). The level of formality at the end of an email might go from “Sincerely” to “Warm Regards” to “Best” and “Cheers.” After a while, emails might be closed with only a first name signature.
Remember that Americans tend to keep themselves very busy, and place a high value on their time. This means that the emails you receive will probably be very brief and direct. Most Americans will appreciate the same style of emails in return. Some cultures show politeness and respect through emails that are detailed and personalized. Americans show respect for a person’s time by being concise. They prefer quick responses rather than elaborate responses.
Emails in the U.S tend to be written in a very clear and simple style. Americans may interpret elaborate language as pretentious or silly. If English is not your first language, remember that metaphors, idiomatic expressions and your style of writing might not translate into another language. Keep your writing simple. Try looking at emails written by American colleagues and friends to help you decide what is an acceptable style and format.
Direct vs. Indirect Communication
Americans tend to use a very direct style to communicate. When asking for something they will usually start their email with a request and then follow with their justifications. Other cultures (such as Japan or Mexico) will first list their reasons, leaving the actual request for the end of the message. In American writing, the writer is responsible for clearly and directly stating his or her meaning. This style can sound unusual in cultures where communication is much more indirect and where the reader is responsible for interpreting the meaning of the writer. Americans will place most of their focus on what is said, while more indirect cultures will put more emphasis on how something is said.
Politeness and Expressions of Humility
Independence and being self-sufficient are very important to many Americans. So, when you ask someone for a favor, first acknowledge that you are inconveniencing them and then thank them for taking the time to help you. In contrast, in many Asian cultures, expressions of humility are a more common way to show politeness and sensitivity. Unfortunately, this form of politeness does not translate well. For Americans, these expressions of humility can be interpreted as a lack of confidence and independence.
Email can be a fast and efficient way to communicate. But it means we cannot use several other ways of communicating, like gestures, tone of voice, loudness, and facial expressions. Emails are just words on a screen, which makes them harder to interpret. These tips can be a guide to you in writing and understanding American emails so that your message won’t get “lost in translation.”
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