America’s monopoly on enthusiasm
Sonikka Loganathan reflects on cultural differences between United States and India
When my family and I think of America, we think of Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, clean roads and Hollywood as "American."
Yet, the most American thing that U.S. citizens have is something that is so deep rooted in their behavior, they cannot imagine life any other way. That thing is enthusiasm.
I’ve observed that there is a very distinct way that Americans behave. Walking down Massachusetts Avenue, I’ll notice that Americans tend to smile at people, even strangers, and greet whoever they meet with wide eyes and seemingly excessive gratitude.
It makes them seem as though they are friends with everyone and have the ability to create a deep bond with whoever they meet, or rather, want to create a deep bond with whoever they meet. This can make for a dramatic culture shock when Americans travel abroad, where such enthusiasm may not as common.
For example, when I returned to America for university, I was as fresh off the boat as a third culture kid — someone who has grown up in a place different from their parents who often move around during their childhood — could get. I knew what the “land of the free” was like; however, having been tied back to my Indian roots for high school, I still had some adjusting to do.
Of all the things that I found myself needing to adjust to, one of the oddest ones was the fact that everyone used exclamation marks when they texted me. “Hey! It was so great meeting you, wanna get coffee?!,” a friend texted me one day.
Texts like these left me bewildered. Was this girl yelling at me to get coffee with her? Was this how sororities recruited people, by aggressively texting other girls? Are people here just crazy? No. This was just an average American being enthusiastic.
Eventually I caught on, and if you text me now, I will probably reply with some exclamation marks. But my friends back home don’t understand why I do so. I recently messaged a girl I was interning with, asking her if she could send me some documents. When she did, I replied with “Thanks!!,” to which she said, “why are you thanking me? They are your docs.”
To clarify, this isn’t because she lacks manners or is bitter that I texted her late at night, it’s because she could not understand why I was so enthusiastic about her doing something that was simply her responsibility. It’s the same thing when I thank cashiers at grocery stores in India. People don’t usually thank them because they are just doing their job, so there’s nothing to get hyped up about.
America has a monopoly on enthusiasm. It’s as though those native to India, or Indians who have not explored Western countries as much, are looking at a country filled with stereotypical sorority girls who bounce from McDonald’s to Starbucks with excessive smiles.
If you’re living in America, the option to not be enthusiastic isn’t available. I feel bad when I forget to say thank you to the AU shuttle drivers even though they are being paid with my money, yet I never thanked the Uber driver back home. This, like most other things, is changing. More Indians are immigrating to America and then returning as non-residential Indians, spreading their newfound enthusiasm onto the motherland.
Perhaps part of the reason behind why Americans are so enthusiastic is because they have no reason not to be. In countries like India, there is still a need to look out for yourself and your family, in a sort of survival of the fittest sort of way. Smiling excessively, greeting people and thanking them can often come off as sarcastic or even a form of intimidation.
If I said “have a great day,” to the cashier at a small store, they not only would think that I’m whitewashed or Westernized, but they would probably think I’m mocking them and showing off my social status. This is because I know that, unlike them, it is significantly easier for me to have a good day than for them.
In a way, Americans possess a naivety that comes with having certain rights and freedoms and living in a place where, regardless of its own issues, is a significantly better place to live than many other places in the world.
At the end of the day, America, until November 8, 2016 at least, managed to set the bar to the highest standard on enthusiasm, bewitching us Indians and pulling us into its lair. Whether you make it across the world or not, people nevertheless try to imitate western fads. As globalization increases, so does America’s stronghold.
Perhaps India will become more enthusiastic in the future, but it will probably take more than a couple of non-residential Indians and tourists to change a country of over 1 billion people.