Wednesday, February 16, 2005

An American Abroad: The 12 Step Program revisited

I am doing this on a whim, so hopefully it makes sense. The follow is a set of guidelines for Americans living abroad. Mostly these are things I find helpful. I've several people tell me I'm not 'the typical american' they've met outside the US -- people are doubly shocked when I tell them I'm from Texas.

1. I am American. Don't deny it. Other cultures have the uncanny ability to pick out americans for whatever reason. hiding it, "only makes it worse!" Plus americans are terrible liars.

2. I am from a place, not a Unit. When introducing yourself say you are from City, State. Do not say, US. It's too general, and people will ask where in the States you are from. It's like a Brit or a German saying they are from Europe. Well, duh, but where. I find that people take it much better. Though I'm always prepared for the 'do you ride horses,' 'is everything bigger in texas?' etc.

3. I will be Fun without being Funny. Americans are really bad about jokes and trying to build immediate rapport with people. Wait an hour or so before you bust out with the southpark references, groups will appreciate it. Jokes and 'stories' don't usually open a shared conversation, whereas talking about current events or travels will.

4. I am a good person. While Megan likes to dismiss being american, it does not make her a bad person. In fact, most people who make this concession are the 'good guys'. People take social queues from introductions and body language. Keep your hands to your sides when you are meeting people, and use the "unfortunately" comment sparringly (preferrably at the beginning of a night).

5. I will let people talk to me first. Make your rounds, then let people come to you, or ask your new acquaintences to introduce you. This isn't terribly important, but you get to let someone else introduce you. It is also a good way to see how people percieve you in a social context. Overly outgoing Americans may find they meet more people this way after they get used to the 'meet, greet, now let them come to me,' routine. Participants in Greek Life in Ugrad know exactly what I'm talking about.

6. I will be myself. This is the kicker. While it sounds like the above changes people, it is most effective to incorporate the above in your own style/personality. Having peer counseled for a while I can tell you that natural execution is 10000 times more effective than rehearsed lines and reservations.

7. I will smile. So americans smile, a LOT. The nice thing is that we do it sincerely most of the time, but we've a terrible habit when we first meet people to smile as part of a greeting. This is appropriate, and works with the above. Some of my friends suggested that smiling all the time makes it seem insincere. Try a casual half smile instead of a full-faced-squinty-eyed-smile. Btw smirking is an american trademark that I've heard makes us hot ... a smirk is a casual half smile with flirtatious intent ... be careful with this one when meeting significant others :)

8. I will maintain a neutral personal space. You may have to give a little on this one depending on where you are. Try not to cross your arms, which puts you in a defensive posture. On of the easiest ways to create space is to hold your drink in front of you sternum. Other ways I've seen is to turn your body slightly so that you are not completely facing the person. Encourage group conversation, this usually results in a social 'circle' that creates communal space.

9. I will be transparent with my judgments. Give people a chance. Do not discount people you do not like the first time you meet them. If nothing else, try to find one common ground. Afterwards, you can make a decision, but just try not to be dismissive.

10. Eating. Do not hover over food if you are at a party. Eat before you go. If you are at dinner do not offer to 'clean' someone's plate. Be open about sharing your food. This is appropriate if you are a sharer, but be open about it. Offer only once. If you've a table of nonsharers, they will remember the offer, believe me :)

11. I will speak in my indoor voice. Americans talk on the 4 - 10 scale. Indoor voices are 2 - 4. They is something in the nuance of our language that carries and fills space. Try to keep this in mind, especially when you are talking about something requiring emphasis. Drag out the words or accent them rather than raising your voice. It works pretty well. This is particularly true in the subway or other public areas.

12. I will listen, but speak my mind. Do it, in that order only. Using acknowledgment words are particularly influential: I see what you are saying, that is a good point, I hear you/that, I can see that etc. Acknowledging people allows for empowerment and recognition. These are powerful social tools that opens them to your thoughts, and usually leads to more productive conversation.

Another recommendation, though not really a big issue, is Grey, Blue and Black over colors in general. Americans are notorious bright color wearers. Grey is terribly safe. Gap/Banana are your friends >:) And no, blue on blue do NOT match I dont' care what people tell you.

Hope you guys enjoyed!



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