Intercultural Extraneity

A valuable lesson from greenhorns

Each nation has their good and bad characteristics. Of course, as Piller suggested “people obviously are rarely, if ever, stick figure representatives of national stereotypes”. Still, we subconsciously assign certain traits to certain nations. One thing that I appreciate about American nation, and I think that we should all try to acquire this trait to some extent, is the fact that the emphasis is put on an individual. Anthropologists suggest that cultures can be either individualistic or collectivist. As the article on Brown Political Review put it, “people from individualistic cultures like the United States and Western Europe, are highly independent and have strong feelings of autonomy within the group.”

The beginning of the 20th century of America was marked by great influx of immigrants. There is an existing narrative that portrays America as the land of opportunities but I find it to be only partly true. As noted in American Crucible, “many native-born Americans thought that eastern and southern Europeans derived from such poor racial stock that they would never metamorphose into Americans.” There they were, greenhorns, who had to fight in order to fulfil their dreams and become equal with those that claimed America as their motherland. What I found interesting is the fact that some of the people who acted in accordance with individualistic culture that exists in America, are the ones who come from collectivist cultures. The attitude needed to be changed. Pupin’s quote says it all: “I would be a greenhorn as long only as I thought that I was one.” Similar situation happened to Adamic, who put an immense effort trying to find out more about America. His story was inspiring because we can see was proactive and he did not give in, despite the fact that people from his environment were not really helpful. He was more proactive than American born people, stating that “so far as my understanding of America was concerned, I was left almost entirely to myself.”

This individualist spirit is also shown in American business philosophy. Altman’s text on becoming successful stresses the importance of being proactive and being, as he put it “internally driven”. However, you need to convince people that your ideas have worth, as Altman put it. Similar thing happened with immigrants from Eastern Europe; a couple of decades upon their arrival, they were able to change the way American-born residents saw them. The individualistic mentality was actually created by greenhorns since they only had themselves.

Still, someone is going to question to what extent should we abide by this individualism narrative. Nowadays, as Andre and Velasquez put it, there are problems being ignored such as growing homelessness and unemployment because of this “allegiance to individualism”. They further stress that the founding fathers must have believed that the public spirit would shape public institutions.

No rule should be followed by all means, and it is questionable whether it would be possible for someone to experience a scenario of the 20th century immigrant. Nevertheless, we can use their stories as a reminder that we should never leave things to fate.

M.J. 2017/0335

I hereby confirm that this article is solely my own work and that if any text passages or diagrams from books, papers, the Web or other sources have been copied or in any other way used, all references – including those found in electronic media – have been acknowledged and fully cited.

1. Piller, I. (2017). The banal nationalism of intercultural communication advice. Intercultural communication
2. Rosenbaum, A. (2018), Personal Space and American Individualism
3. Gerstle, G. (2001). American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century
4. Pupin, M. (1924). From Immigrant to Inventor
5. Adamic, L. (1932). Excerpt from ’The jungle’, Laughing in the jungle. New York, London: Harper & Brothers.
6. Altman, S. (2019). How to be successful
7. Claire Andre and Manuel Velasquez, Creating the Good Society

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