Monday, August 12, 2013

Southern Americans Have No Culture

The title is a line that us 'westerners' hear fairly often (though it's almost always stated as 'westerners have no culture'). It's absolute crap! What makes this line the saddest is that many of the pardesi women married to desi's eventually start believing and acting like it's true.

Many of them will have a child and do everything in their power to teach the child only about Indian culture as if the child has no western culture at all. While I can't comment on every western culture, I can enlighten my readers on Southern American (as well as some collectively American) culture. For a take on Swiss culture, head over to Cyn's Adventures in India. For a take on Yoopers culture, check out Attached Moms. To hear an account of how one American found her culture, check out Authentic Journeys and for an insightful post on what culture is and how people relate to it, check out Let Us Go Then, You and I.

  1. Americans believe in freedom of choice. This is very different from the collectiveness of Indian culture BUT, it is a lively aspect of American culture. What this means is that if we don't agree with our parents, our family, our country, etc. then we are free to stand up and against them without fear of being ostracized from society. We can start our own lives, choose our own schools, choose our own educational focus, choose where we live, choose what things matter to us. American culture is all about making your own choices. You can choose to live collectively or individually. Your choices are endless!
  2. Cook outs and Potlucks. These are not unique to America but in Southern America they are held regularly in the summer. All the host's friends and family are invited and almost everyone brings something. Typically a grill is used for cook outs and the host cooks a variety of meats to ensure everyone is happy with the offering. The side dishes and desserts are brought by guests. These are community events and they foster a sense of togetherness and a connectivity not found everywhere in America. The only difference between a potluck and a cookout is the use of the grill and timing. While cookouts are typically on the weekend, potlucks can be any day of the week. Many churches hold a potluck every single Wednesday and/or Sunday. There is always at least one day of the week you can get together with others and share a meal. 
  3. Tattoos and Body Piercings. Again, this is not unique to Americans but our way of doing is very different from the rest of the world. Whereas in some western cultures, tribal designs tattooed on body parts are symbolic of life accomplishments, in the US it's all about choice (refer to point 1). It's said here that every tattoo tells a story and if you watch any of the tattoo shows on TV, like Miami Ink for example, you'll see that is true. Americans tattoo entire arms (called a sleeve) or legs to represent various stories in their lives. We also adapt piercing cultures from around the world to define ourselves. You can get pierced pretty much anywhere you want and there's a ton of styles of earrings and gauges to satisfy your personal choices. (Just FYI but any piercing sized 14 or larger is considered a gauge.)
  4. Americans follow the rule of the law (generally). There is an underlying fear of criminal activities in the US. Despite the fact most of the world doesn't consider our prisons sufficient punishment, it's very few Americans who actually want to go there. As such, we are cautious not to break the law even in small ways (except for speeding it seems!). Yes, we have gangs and serial killers but it's important you understand that even those individuals do all they can to operate within the confines of the law much of the time. For example, most gang members know they're being watched and as such obey speed limits more often than average Americans and typically save their crimes for times when they think they won't get caught. So many do fear incarceration despite the laws they do break. Not to mention, any human being who is not mentally unstable will still be apprehensive before committing a crime. That's the fear I'm talking about. 
  5. Southern Americans are a very casual and relaxed culture most of the time but we know how to be formal when formal is warranted. That's our etiquette. On any given day business casual dress is about as formal as you will get in this part of the US. But you let us get invited to a formal event and we'll out-dress any diplomat! My husband actually had trouble getting used to this idea. It's completely normal here to wear jeans and a t-shirt and he was used to wearing button up shirts daily. Of course, don't get me wrong, when we go to work we have no problem adhering to dress codes but in our every day lives we do not show up to dinner in a tie. 
  6. Southern Americans smile and waive at everyone. Drive down any rural road in the south and every single person you pass is going to smile and waive at you. They don't have to know you and half the time they don't look at you hard enough to figure out if they do know you or not. They just smile and waive as a sort of welcome to the community type gesture. Stop and ask for help and they will talk to you and do their best to answer whatever you ask. Inside of the smaller cities you find a similar attitude. I have an African American man who walks by my house every day and from day 1 he smiled, waived and asked me how I was doing. The same thing happened with my neighbor, the day I moved in she made it a point to come over and say hello. So did several others. We are are typically friendly culture down here (though I can't speak for any cities larger than Pensacola, FL as I've never lived in them). 
  7. Southern Americans still expect chivalry. When I go to a store anywhere in the south, 90% of the time a man will still open and hold the door for me while I enter. When getting into and out of a car, a man will again open the door and close it behind me. It's still highly common for a man here to pull the chair from under the table, allow the woman to be seated and then slide the chair gently under the table when they sit down to dinner at a restaurant. Chivalry is not dead here. 
  8. Southern Americans are bargain shoppers. We know the value of a $1 and how much work it takes to earn one. We're not willing to part with it frivolously without good cause. It doesn't seem to matter your economic status on this point. I know millionaires here who would rather buy used or leftover items than pay full price for anything. That's how they got to be millionaires lol. Buy low, sell high. Yard sales are a weekly social outing for many shoppers as well are flea markets, bargain outlets and discount merchandisers. If bargaining were introduced here, I think a southerner might just be able to out-haggle an Indian aunty!
  9. Everyone here is a "sugar," "honey," "sweetheart," or other endearing term. Most southerners seem to be terrible with names. As such, everyone is called some endearing term. It's nothing to be on the phone with customer service here and the person call you "sugar." I myself did that many a time and the New Yorkers I talked to loved it! Of course, this can get you in trouble as it is sometimes considered a form of sexual harassment. Despite all that, southerners still do it both face to face and via electronic communication outlets.
  10. Sugar honey iced tea! This is one of many Southern Americans will use to avoid using swear words or to throw out an insult in a less noticeable manner. For those of you not familiar, the first letter of each of those words spells out a 4 letter swear word. Southerners tend to avoid swear words most of the time. Another popular insult (which is also used as an endearing term just as equally) is "well bless your heart!" Cleverly disguised words and insults...a uniquely southern thing! It's actually well known that Southerners in the US have their own language! Check out the third reference below to find out more about it.
  11. Square dancing with callers. Square dancing came from Europe but those in the Appalachian region adapted it and added the callers, making their own unique form of it. This is still practiced to this day!  The callers basically give cues to the dancers of what to do and when. Some is improved when a caller is not available. I remember learning this custom in middle school! That's how ingrained it is into Appalachian culture. Now grab your partner and do-si-do!
  12. Rednecks and Hillbillies! Yes there is a difference. While they tend to be the brunt of many American jokes, very few people outside of these two groups of people understand anything about them. Most don't even know they're different groups of people! Jokes tend to be mean and ridiculous at best with many people that make them not giving any credit to the fact their ancestors likely were rednecks and hillbillies at one point (at least those who came at the countries beginnings.
I've barely touched on the many facets of southern culture. There are so many more things that just don't fit into one blog post. I hope you'll spend a little time checking out the links below to find out more about the facets that interest you most. Happy reading!

This has been quite an exciting post to write and I hope that my fellow bloggers will also write a post about their culture. I'm excited to see others writing and to learn about each of their countries as well.

For more reading on typical American cultures check out these links:
101 Characteristics of Americans/American Culture
Carolina Academic Press: Southern Culture
Know Southern History


  1. I always had an idea that the Southen America has a different culture from the culture of New York and Chicargo. But, southern people are also projected as country bumpkins like Forest Gump. In many films the high flying guy/girl goes back from a big city to his/her roots in Alabama and Texas and reunites with his/her sweetheart. There is lot of old world nostalgia associated with Southern America in movies. In many ways it is more like Punjab, UP or Bihar because of its agarian culture. I was quiet pleasantly surprised, as the culture seemed more like India. I have never been to America but that's what I deduced from the movies.

  2. I'm not sure in what sense someone meant that Americans have no culture, because every country or region does have a set of unique characteristics. More often than not, I've heard this in drawing room conversations.....I guess when Indians say that Americans don't have a culture, they generally tend to imply that Americans don't have a 'high culture' of the form that's been nurtured over generations. Even though Indian movies are becoming increasingly westernised, if you have a look at old movies, prior to 90s, you'd have some idea of 'culture' Indians refer to. Hindi songs, had a lot of use of urdu, persian poetry, and complex ideas of love and passion in a society that never encouraged such open displays, were beautifully, and very subtley conveyed without being overtly sexual. Plus, a lot of hindu homes have kids that start learning Indian classical music from a very early age and even if they don't learn it, a lot of parents, especially in the south make it a point to build an appreciation for the arts. Even within India, other states have an opinion about high and low culture.....northern states, especially Pnjab, Haryana and nearby areas are not considered to have high culture....yes, they have a folk culture....Bhangra, butter chicken and giddha, but not the tehzeeb of the Old Lucknow, where people hold doors for you and continue to do so with a gentle,'pehle aap'. I don't know of an indigenous dance form like India's kathak, kathakali, bharatnatyam, odissi and so on in the US. They require years of practise to master and no one can suddenly decide to learn it in their 40s...These are a lot like ballet, but then ballet is not unique to the US. Just the way Punjabis have bhangra and a good, jovial care-free culture.....their culture isn't cultured enough for the rest in India. But it definitely is unique. But it's interesting for you to share uniqueness in your culture.....because of globalization, major western brands are available here and one doesn't really feel anything unique about American or Western culture over a period of time when you get used to the foreign brands. Give american style yoga a few more years and a bet a lot of people would end up believing, it's an American invention :p. Like a lot of countries in the East, which have distinct cultures, globalisation has blurred the uniqueness of European and American cultures. I mean look at the clothes you guys wear....everybody in the west is expected to dress the same, regardless of the country. The traditional dresses of European countries are all but extinct....not even used on special occasions. Almost all of them share the same values of democracy, freedom and equality.....again, lines get blurred on what the uniqueness of american culture. Most western cities have a similar graeco-roman architecture, and new builings are all glass and steel. European countries have a lot of culture but sadly, globalisation....especially by giant American firms are destroying the indigenous uniqueness of each of our cultures (not by some nefarious design of course, but by the fact that their goods and services are really good). These, are my two cents on what makes a culture, cultured.

  3. This is "culture" in the sense of "refined culture." You do find it in the United States even while the US is a relatively young country, and a country of immigration at that. So we do have our symphony orchestras and opera (imported from Europe) but also our grand tradition of musical theater - Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Les Miserables, The Music Man, Hello Dolly, Oklahoma! and many others. Jazz music is an American invention. So is modern dance, pioneered by Martha Graham and Isadora Duncan in the early 20th century. Cotillions, debutante balls, and the like are the coming-of-age ceremonies of high society in the South. There is nothing in the world like the Mardi Gras krewes of New Orleans, which do a double duty as parade sponsors and civic/social clubs. Speaking of social clubs, the Lions, Kiwanis, Optimist Clubs and other fraternal organizations have always done good things in communities large and small in the United States, and the fraternity/sorority system, while often bearing Greek names, is an integral part of the American college experience! Culture there certainly is, in any form :)

  4. There is a lot more to southern US culture than what is portrayed in the movies. Surely elements of that are there, but the view of the US that an Indian gets watching movies is about as accurate as if an American watched Slumdog Millionaire and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham!

    I am from Dallas, which some people call the South (Texans vehemently deny this), and it is as modern and cosmopolitan a city as any other in the United States. There are seven Indian grocery MEGA STORES in the area, and countless little strip mall shops and restaurants as well! The same goes for Asian and Mexican food markets. It is a very diverse place. Cowboy hats and boots are *not* worn except for special occasions (go to Fort Worth if you want to wear your cowboy hat every day). And yet 40 miles south, you have small towns and villages that people have never left in their long lives, and people with that small town mentality who are born, grow up, and die in the community and in the family business. Everything is everywhere! And you will find much more variation within groups than you do between groups.

  5. What about drugy culture ,young sex culture ,teen age pregnancy culture, old age nursing home culture, there is 1000's of thing's wrong in American culture, be realistic

  6. What you mention is just like how some Americans get the impression India is just like Bollywood. TV helps shape stereotypes like this.

    Forest Gump wasn't actually a country bumpkin. A country bumpkin would be more like Honey Boo Boo when she's not doing pageants. You're right that Southern American culture is similar to Indian culture. My husband is seeing that now and loving it. He's been over-fed, just like his mom or aunty would do and he's had just about everyone smile, waive, say hello and talk to him like he belongs here. We have a lot of the same family values as well. That's something you rarely find in the bigger cities of America.

  7. Most American culture is splashed with something from other countries. That too is part of our culture! We're not known as a melting pot for no reason lol. I think I share your sentiment on American yoga. I can already picture the argument of 'no, we changed this, this and this, and India never did that....' LOL. That's what we do right? More American culture - hostile takeovers hahaha.

  8. We tend to think of america as a urban civilization and are, therefore, surprised to find that it has a rural side. BTW Indian culture is so overwhelming and layered that it often confuses and fascinates foreigners. Compared to that, western life may feel very straitjacketed and predictable. It does lead to introspection. There is a lot of soul searching in these blogs. Indian spirituality attracts a lot of them. This often leads them to conclude that west has no culture. I am fully in agreement with Nadia that we have lost a lot of popular culture in recent times due to westernization. The culture of small town India, classical music, simple living as portrayed by bollywood is lost. Old Hindi films had such fantastic urdu poetry. It was a cultural icon in itself. A large chunk of our popular culture is lost for ever in the last twenty years. We cannot speak proper Hindi/Urdu these days. The next generation would be completely devoid of all traces of Indian culture.

  9. Haha, well I see that chicken tikka masala is now UK's 'national dish' because of hiw it's been improvised to suit British's so similar to what Americans have done to Chinese food....its so different to the real one, that it's now called American -Chinese :p That's actually a great thing about Americans(and other immigrant countries like Canada, Australia and the UK) there's space to reinvent other cultures and accepting the best from them. Of course in this melting pot,there's always the risk of losing the depth of the native's culture....which in India, Brazil, China etc. might be considered a 'destruction' of their original culture. But it creates a receptive atmosphere where the diversity of other cultures is celebrated and appreciated. While not everyone is as open minded in the West too, but my guess is, it is far more easy to be an immigrant in the 'West' than in native countries like India and China....there's still a lot of chauvinism about 'our culture and our heritage especially from those who have not travelled much, 'while people don't realise how diversity actually helps to enrich our world view.

  10. My dad visited the East cost of US in 2009 taking his own sweet time on his sailboat, as he has been going around the world on it since 2007, it was his life long dream to do so after retirement and he saved his whole life for it. He raved about the hospitality in the Southern States. He was going up the Intercoastal Waterway, he mentionned that despite long stretch of apparent no population, he never ever found himself really alone while travelling on the waterway and got invited into homes along the way more than once. He was also happy to see that some elements of German and Swiss culture made it that far.

  11. Oh yes! I know of 2 "New Bern" cities and several others named after those in Europe.

  12. I agree with the layered bit :P...The layers of etiquette on how to behave with elders (however annoying they are) to courtship, rigid relationships between different class groups. I don't know how many people here have watched Downton Abbey which is set in 1938 Britain. I often believe, Indian society is still stuck in tradition and old values, just the way it's shown in DA. The culture of protecting traditions, especially in some communities, at the cost of personal choices and freedom is literally, as if taken out of DA. Globalisation, comes at a cost...has it's good and the bad.

  13. Re Chinese food in America: there has been a significant Chinese community in the US for 150 years, long before any South Asians showed up. American-Chinese food is a cuisine developed by Chinese immigrants to the US (not by "Americans" which I assume you mean people of European origin), much in the same way that US Southern cuisine evolved from British/French influences, combined with African influences and what was available. Same with Mexican food-it's not Spanish, it's not the food of First Peoples. Cuisines of North-South America are both inventions and amalgamations of food brought by immigrants. Food in India is also influenced by outside sources: you do know that the tomato and potato are New World plants, don't you?

  14. Let's get our terminology straight: It is called the American South, and people from that area in the US are called Southerners. It is not "Southern America" as that is too easily confused with the 'southern Americas' or South America. Take it from me, a Southerner from before the US was an independent country.

  15. You haven't lost your popular culture. It has just changed, and is continuing to change, as all cultures do every where, and have done forever and ever. If cultures never changed, we'd all still be living in caves as hunter-gatherers. Re westerners seeking enlightenment in India: many of them are quite delusional and 'lost souls.' Westerners with existing strong spiritual beliefs do not need to go to India to seek "enlightenment." That comes from within.

  16. Well as someone who's seen this 'change in culture' we guys are disappointed....instead of taking the best from the west, we're taking the trashiest things in the name of liberalization. For instance, a lot of Indians families go to McDonalds and KFC for dinners as if they were gourmet food. Imagine if orchestras and symphonies around the world suddenly decided to switch and start playing only Indian classical, or Chinese/Arab classical music.....more than a few people would be angry and surprised. My point is, the sitar, tablah, santoor, veena and 100s of indigenous musical instruments that are found and played exclusively in India should be preserved and appreciated instead of being unceremoniously shoved away. This is disappointing and we have no one to blame but ourselves. Also, the amount of sleaze that's shown on MTV is nothing to be proud off. Yep, you could show sexuality with a certain aesthetic....but what we see on TV in terms of moral liberalization is just gauche, tending towards soft-porn. Some feminists believe this is the 'liberation of the Indian woman' but what liberation, I ask? Women are increasingly looked up as sexual objects. If India were to indeed accept aspects of the west, they should be: punctuality, efficiency, transparency and a solid work ethic. We're just taking in the worst, at the cost of diluting our own culture. As Mark Tully said, India's increasinly becoming a nakli(fake) Amreeka. This is indeed sad.