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Differences in Optimism between Europeans and Americans

My ex-Third Grade Teacher, Mrs. Keating, sent me a message that was posted up about the differences between Europeans and Americans. It kind of got me thinking, and I wrote this back...

First, the prompt:
.Patrick, commented on how he thought he was missing something, possibly something European, that his cheery, optimistic American soul did not get and he found Kundera's would very rigorous, dense and specific. Well, at the risk of being even more politically incorrect than above, I think there are several differences between Europeans and Americans at play here. Many Europeans find many Americans rather superficial (not that this is my impression of the folks on this board!), all friendly on the surface but not a lot of depth to their conversations. European pub and coffee house conversation can be highly charged debates, usually political or ethical, sometimes religious. Although we can be just as trite as the next person! The other aspect is that Americans seem to be brought up to be more optimistic and to always look on the bright side. Europeans find this cheer leader style somewhat oppressive. Americans find that Europeans look for what went wrong, why it would never work etc. They see this as worse than not being optimistic, being totally negative and against whatever is being discussed. They see it as fault/blame finding. But to Europeans it is anything but, they are not doing it to find fault or attribute blame but to clear away, fix things up and see through to the real core of the issue.

My reaction:

Hmmm...this is very interesting. I've been out with people who have laughed at my enthusiasm for things, and at my excitement when I'm talking to people, and said that here, it would be considered sarcasm. I think that yes, Europeans are brought up to be more pessimistic, but that also might be a reflection of their place in the world, both politically and economically.
I was just thinking that many Europeans are growing up listening to the stories of the past, listening to the history of their nations and the empires that have BEEN, but at the same time, don't hear a lot of encouragement to succeed as much. Many of the students here hear that they are on a set path in University, but, for the most part, don't seem to really think that it is very much compared to a path that they might have taken in the States. For example, computers are seen as the territory of Bill Gates and Americans. Hollywood is where the movies and the money are. I've talked to a few students that have thought about going to American universities, despite the cost, because they thought that the opportunities and the education might be better. The past can be brought into the present if a glorious future is possible (1930's Germany), but I think that lots of Europeans don't see the same amount of glory of the past ever coming again, and have resigned themselves to that fact. Americans are in a priveleged position because we're at the fore of a lot of science and computing - and we're constantly told how good we are, how advanced and powerful and strong our nation as a whole is. Europe, I think, seems to be in a place where the individual countries, or even Europe as a whole, are doing quite well, but there is the belief that there is someone better than them at economic and military affairs across the pond.

I think that Americans are brought up in a competitive atmosphere as well, and are expected to be good at a wide range of things. Europeans specialize very early on - British students, for example, know what they are going to major in when they enter the University, and 80-90% of their classes are just within that field for the three years that they study. At Pitzer, maybe 40% of my classes have been in my major, and the remaining 60% have been in different fields to make me more "well-rounded." I think that maybe the knowledge that there is a lot of potential knowledge out there, and a lot of potential jobs, might make Americans a little more...childlike? in the way that they handle new situations, because we kind of seek out answers and resort to outside help when we absolutely don't know what to do (the stereotype of men driving without asking directions) whereas when Europeans encounter a situation, if they don't know what to do, they'll call a specialist or a friend who knows about it.


If anyone has any thoughts on this, please contact me! I would love to hear them!