Sunday, April 14, 2013

Do Americans have "habits"?

After my last post concerning the proper way to disinfect food that has been dropped on the floor before handing it back to small children,  I got some great comments. One of you ("goury") asked me if Americans have "habits". *Ya'll won't believe me, but I'll say it anyway... I have been thinking all week about this question. Partly because it's really hard for me to answer, and partly because, whether goury meant it to or not, it opened up a whole other train of thought for me.  And after all is said and done, I would love for any of you to chime in with your thoughts...

Of course I started racking my brain for all those things Americans do similar to blowing on dropped food. Quirks, if you will. Habits, yes, things we do without having to think about it. Things we "must" do or else we feel like something is "off."

The answer is yes, that Americans do have habits of course. Habits that have been passed down from their parents, just as Poles have inherited their's from their parents. The difference is, in a nutshell, that America is just not as homogeneous of a culture as Poland. What quirky habits got passed down to me can be, and most likely will be, wildly different  from those passed down to my best friend who lives right next door. Certainly some traditions or customs in America, like fireworks on July 4th, Christmas trees at Christmas (even if you don't believe in Jesus) and so on and so forth, will be pretty much the same in every household. As they will also be in Poland. But the little things, as I've already mentioned, and others that I haven't (and trust me there are some really interesting ones), just aren't as prevalent in America... unless...

...unless... as an American I am just blind to them. And quite possibly, this is the answer. Enough people have commented and told me that they never realized these things were "Polish" until I mentioned they don't exist everywhere that I am willing to bet that there are things Americans do that they don't realize the rest of the world doesn't do.  AND/OR there just are no habits I can think of that are "American" because to be American, by definition, means to be, in a sense, from somewhere else entirely. Yes, even over 200 years after the founding of the country, there are still many people who are celebrating holidays, cooking foods, raising children, and picking their nose, in the exact same way that their ancestors did in Mexico, Italy, Ireland, Poland, Lebanon, Israel, China, etc. Because that is what has been passed down to them. Just as here in Poland things have been passed down for several hundred years.  But again, in Poland, everyone has the same things passed down (more or less, of course there are exceptions) because everyone here is Polish and has been for 100's of years (more or less). In America everyone is American but that means something entirely different.

Does that make sense? I'm trying to make this make sense.

When it comes down to it, the best I can do is think of things  that I have found are distinctly American, and this would be mostly societal norms. Social awareness, because of the fact, perhaps, that Americans are all so vastly different in many ways behind closed doors, that in public we are very quick to establish "ground rules" or "norms" that everyone understands. Much like the "padding" I spoke of a couple posts ago. Almost as if, by creating these norms, we are creating an almost perceived (not fake) sense of "American culture". If, in public, we all adhere to these common, understood, rules, then it will seem, and does in fact seem, that we are all part of one big homogeneous community. And it works. And we do feel that way, for the most part, at least in public.  ;)

- forming lines for everything, and NO CUTTING
- "minding your own business" (sometimes to a fault)
- lots of personal space
- "padding" what you say (especially to strangers)
- others, ya'll can think of some

And if you've made it this far, I applaud you, because here is where I really go off on a tangent...

At some point this week it hit me how very opposite America and Poland are on the spectrum of homogeneity. Because of communism in Poland for almost two whole generations you come upon a country that even late into the 20th century often had no access to "other" (at least in a global sense). America, on the other hand, has been  gobbling up "other" as if it were the Thanksgiving turkey (irony being that if you served anything other than Turkey on Thanksgiving, you would be thrown out of the house). And so I find myself asking Martin, asking other Polish friends and family... why? Why do you do these things?  Why do you believe this will happen if you do that? Why?! Did you read that somewhere? Did you see it on t.v.? And a lot of the time the answer will be, "well, that's just what we've always done, my mom and dad did it, and now so do I."  Of course a lot of that is changing. Poles are moving all over the world, or even staying right here. Wanting "other" and getting it. Gobbling it up. For better or for worse.

I want to know if any of you have experienced American "habits" and if so, what are they?
And for my Polish readers, tell me, what were your biggest influences growing up, besides family? Responses from older generations are greatly appreciated.

P.S. Poland, if along the way you decide to ingest the idea to form lines/queues/kolejki in an orderly manner, it would be greatly appreciated.

*I have been spelling this word wrong my entire life. And have made the decision to never correct myself, ever.


  1. Cutting line could be an Olympic sport here. It drives me crazy!

    Have you noticed the reluctance to move when passing someone in the opposite direction on the sidewalk. I expect both people to move a bit. It's like a game of chicken.

    1. The walking and not moving out of the way is crazy! It is as if no one else exists here when people are walking. I cannot seem to get used to it. This is clearly the difference in ideas about personal space. Martin calls this the "bubble" phenomenon. In America, everyone has an unseen bubble and we all respect that space but here, in Europe, there is no bubble.

  2. Cutting in line is more common here, especially by older folks but I've seen a few recent situations in which the other people waiting in line drew attention to the line-cutter.

    Lois, I have noticed the same thing. I follow the "keep to the right" philosophy which sometimes finds me having to step into the street or into some stray dog poo.

    I've got an American habit, well, I think it is an American habit anyhow. Many American people smile a lot for ex. walking on the street or while at the supermarket. I used to do it out of habit (I didn't know I was doing it), but I don't anymore. First of all, people would ask me "czy my się znamy?" and my husband used to say "you're not on TV". I'm cured of all my smiling.

    1. I have chalked up the lack of smiling between people here to be more a result of the fact that everything here is just more public so if you smiled at everyone you came across you would be smiling constantly. In Texas, you so rarely have to look another person in the face because you're all safely in your cars. ;)

      Older people don't smile because if you smiled back in the day you were "suspect". Too happy means you have too much and something should be taken away. This is the explanation I have been given by the elder generation.

      We are often plowed over by old people on the sidewalks. There is no other word for it. You just don't exist to them. They are clearly walking and you dont exist. It's weird. A couple times I have just stopped and not dodged them and they jerked around me as if I was a pole they all of a sudden realized was there. It's fun. And dangerous.

    2. I have done the same - stop and wait for them to pass on the sidewalk. I keep to the right, and it's usually a young couple holding hands that want to stay side-by-side when there is only room for two people on the sidewalk. I figure they'll run into me or move. It seems so rude to me. I'm old enough to be their mother, and I'm not stepping into the street to let them pass. I have this urge to act like a hockey player and start "checking" people with my shoulder, and it takes a lot to bring out such aggression in me!

  3. Thank you for the reply! I'm glad to have caused your brainstorm! It' might be true that America is just too diverse to incubate some quirks that are nationally universal. What does Marcin think about the issue?

  4. Most Americans don't remove their shoes when they walk into a house (really gross, when you think about where those shoes may have been).
    Are you including "superstitions"? Like not walking under a ladder, in the path of a black cat, throwing salt over your shoulder, etc.?
    Oh, and Americans drink beverages straight from the can/bottle, and typically expect ice in their glass of water.

    1. I thought about superstitions, but I consider those more customs or traditions. Ooo, that would be a good post.

      The ice thing is so noticeable. There just is no ice here. I mean, it exists but people don't use it, like it, want it. I don't know. I haven't missed it that much but in the summer I will most likely have a few ice trays in the fridge no matter what.

    2. Everybody I know have ice trays in the fridge during summer. Including me. During winter we don't drink too much cold drinks so ice is not in use.

    3. I have never been given a drink with ice in this country. Some people have even asked if it's alright if they give my children drinks that have been chilled in the fridge. And Martin has family that will heat up any drink before giving it to my kids. Water, milk, etc. I expect a tall glass of some sort of fruity drink (preferably with alcohol) and ICE at your house this summer. :)

    4. Of course! I've already have ice in my freezer, because it's warm outside. And because we bought good whisky in duty free zone (whisky without ice is not possible ;)).

      About heating drinks - in Poland many people think that children have to drink only warm drinks. My son drinks water with ice during summer and he is still alive but his grandparents feels that I'll kill him some day by giving him cold juice. ;)


  5. When I went to Italy, I would come across tiny open air markets where fruit was being sold.

    I would, as I would do in any American supermarket, feel up the fruit to see if it is ripe.
    I got my hand slapped (nicely) so many times! It was a cultural surprise, but made perfect sense. The produce was probably picked hours before and in small quantities. Of course it was perfectly ripe. The old ladies were, of course, insulted by the possible bruising of the fruit!

    1. Oh no! I remember being told the same thing in squeezing the fruit! t certainly is one of those things you do in America without thinking about it....

  6. I have been pondering this one, and I think the biggest difference between Americans and the rest of the world (as far as I know at this point) is our sense of independence. That goes for everything from wide personal space bubbles to letting our kids wander far across the playground. And also, never assuming that anyone else is going to either a. help us do something or b. be as capable as we ourselves are at executing the task. For example, I didn't know anyone my age who had any sort of 'domestic help' back in the States, be it a cleaning lady, grocery service, or gardener. Now maybe those things are just out of reach for most American SAHMs because of the pricetag, or maybe it's a little bit of a check to the pride to think of soliciting help in those areas, or maybe it's just residual pioneer spirit and disdain for aristocracy. Probably all of the above.

    Also, Americans love to buy things in bulk. Because it's a good deal, or at least appears to be. And because bigger is better! Nobody here thinks that, and I am constantly blushing at the checkout lane with my double stroller LOADED down with groceries while everyone else is clutching dainty single-servings of fresh bread and a couple of vegetables. I mean, maybe they don't have kids...