America the Defensive?
April 25, 2008 2:08 PM   Subscribe

Please help me find an guide to dealing with Americans that deals with how Americans take criticism.

A while back I saw something like "A Guide to Doing Business in America" that suggested that Americans tend to take criticism of their ideas personally, as opposed to people of whichever culture would be reading the article. I can't find it now, and Google is not helping.

If anyone can provide a link to this article, or for that matter any other article on how Americans take criticism compared to other contemporary cultures, I'd appreciate it.
posted by lore to Human Relations (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
On his blog, British actor Stephen Fry recently described a tour of America in which he joined an American family for dinner, and criticized their ideas about global warming. He was surprised that they took such criticism personally, saying it wouldn't be like that in the UK.
posted by johngoren at 2:28 PM on April 25, 2008

I expect you will find that for this purpose there is no such thing as "America," and that people from New York City will differ strongly from people from Birmingham, Alabama will differ strongly from people in Seattle.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:54 PM on April 25, 2008 [5 favorites]

Don't think this is exactly what you're looking for, but I read this guide on the same topic quite interesting.
posted by peacheater at 2:59 PM on April 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hrm, peacheater, that reminds that the article I'm thinking of may have been called something like "Social Myths" or "Convenient Lies" or something like that, and may in addition to the criticism thing have said that Americans like to pretend they're equal, even when one person is in a superior position.
posted by lore at 3:07 PM on April 25, 2008

I think this is dealt with in the "Xenophobe's Guide to the Americans", which is a semi-tongue-in-cheek guidebook dealing with American culture. I read it a long time ago though. They're stocked in most major bookstores, small black paperbacks, probably in the travel section. (They exist for many countries/cultures; I think each is written by a team of one native and one foreigner.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:00 PM on April 25, 2008

The problem is that as ROU_Xenophobe pointed out, the US is a large country with many regional and ethnic differences, not to mention differences by industry - hard-core programmers have a different criticism world view than, say marketers at a consumer products company. So which Americans are you inquiring about, a bunch of Jewish garment district execs in Manhattan?, hell, you'll probably be considered the overly sensitive one. Scientists? Scientists everywhere usually have to develop a pretty thick skin. A politically correct non-profit? Better be *very* circumspect in your criticism.

Plus given the criticism - much of it justified, that the US gets, a European criticizing an American, can lead to misunderstanding and hurt feelings in a way that another American saying this wouldn't. Even when true, it can sound condescending and smug. Dealing with a whole host of recent multilateral political shit there. I mean, it does get tiresome to have one's country blamed for *everything*, pestilence, crop failures, Windows Vista, etc.

It is a little like saying how would black people take criticism, or tall people? Hard to generalize in a country of 300 million with regional differences - while not as pronounced as in Europe, they very certainly do exist - plus ethnic enclaves, etc.
posted by xetere at 2:43 PM on May 3, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the help, everyone. I just remembered the phrase "polite fictions" and did a search on "polite.fiction america equal" and found the article I was looking for: Polite Fictions.

The bit I was remembering was this: "Ideas belong to the person who had them, and must be treated with the same respect you would show to the person. A criticism of someone's statement = a criticism of them as a person."
posted by lore at 5:09 PM on May 21, 2008

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