UCAELI reflects on major cultural differences since moving to the U.S.

A vintage map of the world. (Patrick Barry/Flickr Creative Commons)

This is the first of a two-part series written by UCAELI (University of Connecticut American English Language Institute) students here at UConn. In Part I, seven students in the afternoon content course “Connect with English” share their thoughts about a major cultural difference between America and their home countries that they have noticed since moving to the U.S. Reader comments and suggestions are more than welcome and may be directed to the course instructor’s email at krista.rogers@uconn.edu.

Chongbo “Loyce," China: I think the most obvious difference between China and America is the values that are important to people. Chinese pay more attention to integration; they care about what other people think about them. But in America, people focus on individualization; they live their personal lives and ignore others’ thoughts.

For example, we can assume that there is a Chinese person and an American person, and both of them are planning to buy a car. The Chinese chooses the car which is famous, popular, and even expensive because he thinks it would help him earn more praise, and people around him would think highly of him. On the other hand, Americans usually do not care about these things. The American prefers the car which is useful, suitable for his demands, and highly cost effective. I think that is the main difference between the cultures.    

Zhenyu “Jenny," China: There is a big cultural difference about age between China and Americans probably do not care as much about age as Chinese people, in other words, they are not restricted by age. Chinese have different opinions on this topic. For example, if a Chinese woman is still single at 20 years old, the public will think she is a “leftover lady;” if a woman does not have a child at 30 years old, then the public will pressure her. For us Chinese, it seems like society sets what we have to do in each age group. In China, almost no elderly people participate in marathon races. However, the situation in the U.S. is different, you can see people from each age group in running competitions, and the groups are more or less equal. It is clear that Americans do not use age to distinguish people. However, Chinese regard age as a superiority and inferiority.

Hee Seung, South Korea: The people who live in South Korea most importantly think about respecting their elders. To express respect, for example, young people use specific grammar forms when talking with people older than them. Related to my country’s culture of age and respect, I would also like to introduce special drinking etiquette. When pouring alcohol to a senior person, you should usually use both hands. In other words, you should hold the bottle with both your right hand and your left hand. If you receive alcohol from a senior, you should also hold the glass with both hands. Using only one hand, especially your left hand, is a very impolite action to your elders. Another interesting piece of etiquette is that when you are drinking in front of a senior person, you should turn your face in the opposite direction, such as to the right or left. It may seem strange and not make sense to you, but you can now give Korean people, including your friends and elders, a good impression when drinking together in South Korea.

Changgyoon, South Korea: America and Korea have several differences in food culture. In Korea, people eat white rice, and they need to prepare lots of side dishes to eat with the rice. For example, kimchi is the most common food for side dishes. Also, they usually prepare Korean soups for every meal. We call it ‘guk.’ Korean people use spoons for eating rice and guk, and they use chopsticks for eating side dishes.

Saad, Saudi Arabia: In the U.S., There are a lot of holidays, but in Saudi Arabia we just have two holidays. The first holiday is called Eid al-Fitr and is not just for Saudi Arabians, but for all Muslims. Also, the second holiday is called Eid al-Adha, and is the same. On both holidays all Muslims should share their food with the poor and less fortunate people.

Yachun “Anne,” China: Here are a few cultural differences between China and the U.S. that I have observed:

1. The food. Americans like eating cheese, while Chinese people like fried dishes.

2. Time. Chinese people like to reminiscence about past events, but also focus on the future. However, Americans are not interested in old things. They focus on immediate things.

3. Praise. If Chinese people are praised, they would say, “I’m not good enough; I should be better.” If Americans are praised, they would accept it, and say “Thank you.”

4. Gifts. When Chinese people bring a gift to house parties, the host will not open it in front of the guests, but wait until after the guests have left. However, Americans would just open it and say “Great! I love it.”

Haofeng “Michael," China: I come from China, and what I think about the major cultural differences between China and the U.S. relates to people's self-awareness. American people seem to focus on themselves; they have their own style of doing things and personal freedoms. They can sit anywhere they like and dress however they like, even if others think they are weird. Also, American people pay attention to their rights, believing everyone is equal and protecting each right they have. However, in China, people focus on their image in public; they do things very carefully. Chinese people cannot ignore their public image even though they have the right to do so.