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The book, Distant Mirrors: America as a Foreign Culture

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The book, Distant Mirrors: America as a Foreign Culture, is a compilation of articles written by anthropologists, sociologists and professors. It was edited by Phillip R. DeVita and James D. Armstrong. This is the third edition of the Distant Mirrors books. In the introduction to the book it is said that Americans like things bigger and better and that is why they feel the need to keep making new editions. The main focus of this book is looking at the American culture from a different prospective.

It is very difficult to be objective about your own culture. You are brought up in your culture so it is very easy to overlook some of the details. The routine you follow during the day may seem perfectly normal to you but odd and unexplainable to an outsider. In the article, Professor Widjojo Goes to a Koktel Parti, it describes what an American cocktail party may seem like to someone who has never been or heard of one. He almost makes the cocktail party seem like the worst idea ever. “Social status is indicated by the number of partis that a couple is invited to attend – and, of course, wealth, since the woman cannot wear the same dress and hat to more then one parti. People complain bitterly at the number they have to go to-” (Labarre 32).

This has to deal with how we, as Americans, are socialized. We are brought up in a society that puts high standards on being wealthy and being happy. If you are attending these cocktail parties then supposedly you fall under both of these categories. This may not be the reality but people are responding to their perceptions of reality. Which they learn through interaction, in a way, conforming to what others think reality is.

A reoccurring theme in this book seems to be what that American culture lacks compared to other countries cultures. One thing mentioned was that our cities are not as “city-like” as other cities in the world. “Not only are there no sidewalks, there are no squares where people can safely gather, meet people, talk, or buy flowers. There are no coffee shops like in Vienna, Rome, or Budapest” (Mucha 38). Also, our urban life lacks face-to-face contact; people don’t know their neighbors and sometimes hardly acknowledge them when they walk down the street. And with the more technology advances it has made it easier to achieve a sense of anonymity.

Another thing that differs with the American culture is how we raise and treat our children. In other countries children are not to speak unless spoken to, they must refer to the elders in the proper, polite way by always saying “Mr.” or “Mrs.” We, in America, are much more tolerant and patient when children speak out of turn or when they begin to show more independent behavior. We allow our children to make their own decisions at an early age, hoping that they will grow up to be strong willed adults.

Patriotism is another differing factor. In other countries it is very unlikely that you will find their flag hanging in private homes. In America it may be considered unpatriotic if you do not have a flag flying at your home. It is also almost required to rise at the National Anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance. If you refuse to do so you will be looked down upon for disrespecting your country.

There is a lot of social control in American culture. We want to make sure that everyone follows the norms. A norm is simply a social rule that specifies how people should behave. We have formal ways of enforcing the norms, such as the police and our laws. There is also informal ways like receiving a positive or negative comment. Values always come before the norms. They are socially shared ideas about what is right or desirable. Not all cultures have the same norms and values; they vary from culture to culture. There are also culture universals, things that are the same in all cultures. All cultures make up myths and legends all cultures also name their members and have taboos against incest.

Culture bias is called, ethnocentrism. It is when you think that your culture and values are better then everyone else’s. It also is taking your values for granted. Your culture has always been there so you don’t even realize that it is there. For example, American woman wear makeup to look beautiful and in other countries they may wear bones and view that as beautiful. Being immersed in a new culture and having to adapt is called culture shock. There is a real and an ideal culture. The real culture is how the culture really is and the ideal culture is how the society views their culture. When the gap between the two grows to be too large then there is social designation.

As Americans we tend to be louder and more boisterous. Our culture is more vulgar and more straightforward then most. We tend to say what is on our minds without the fear of offending people. Our freedom of speech allows us to be more opinionated, we could stand on our soapboxes and preach all day long if we wanted. Where in other countries you are expected to be more reserved. Cultures may differ greatly, maybe even only slightly, but I don’t feel as if our culture is lacking in comparison to others. Then again, I am bias.

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