Europe and America – 7 Main Differences
America, as we know it today, has its roots in European culture. Many settlers from Europe such as Spain, England, France, Ireland and the Netherlands made their way there in the 16, -19th Centuries and as a result, many place names, customs and religious ideals seem very familiar to many Europeans. America has the oldest and most well-known movie industry and produces many of the movie franchises and TV shows Europeans know and love which can give an impression of insight into the American way of life.
Yet, it would be a mistake to think America does not have its own idiosyncrasies and ‘norms.’ In fact, America can feel very different from many European countries due to a range of differences, big and small.
So, let’s take a look at seven big differences between European and American culture…
Americans are notoriously overworked compared to their European counterparts. This is in part because of better labor laws such as the working time directive in Europe and the ‘norm’ of working around 35-40 full-time hours each week in most countries. In contrast, American workers regularly work 47+ hours per week – one of the highest in the world.
Americans also have significantly less vacation time than most Europeans, coming in at a mere two weeks per year on average, compared to 30 days + in countries like the U.K and Norway. American’s also don’t always take advantage of time off – according to one survey many Americans only take 54% of their allocated vacation time per year.
In the U.S. the labor laws are not as favorable to the average worker, for example, there is no right to paid time off after having a baby, and neither does America guarantee sick pay by law. These areas are left up to each employer to decide.
Perhaps because of these factors, American’s tend to have a “Live to Work” culture. Working hard and being ‘irreplaceable’ is seen by many as a badge of honor. Compared to European work cultures, U.S. cultures seem more frenetic and competitive.
Although Europe has more than its fair share of sporting events to attend, the sporting culture in America is very unique. Going to a game can be a family affair for many Americans, or in other cases, friends and family might spend the whole weekend staying in with beer and food to watch a big event (like the Superbowl.) Sport is a big part of socializing for many Americans, and there are five main sports to follow – Baseball, American Football, Basketball, Hockey and Car Racing. These are much different to spectator sports in Europe (like Football or Tennis).
Many American have a real emotional investment in their team and are lifelong supporters of their chosen team who usually have loyal and even intense fan bases. Another big difference you might find if you attend a game is that food and drink is a big part of spectatorship in most games, whereas in Europe it tends to be less so.
The U.S. has one language for everything – American English (although Spanish is becoming more popular in some states). As a result, Americans rarely learn another language, compared to Europeans who often learn one or more extra languages at school and beyond.
American English has its own unique spellings and idioms that are different to international English variations. Some of the biggest differences are between British English spellings and words and U.S. English spellings. Some words are altogether different (such as “pants” rather than “trousers”) and some just have different spellings (“Color” rather than “Colour”). If you are far more familiar with British English, it’s well worth checking out key differences so that you can be both understood and also avoid getting into lengthy arguments about the ‘correct’ way to spell something like “organization”!
In Europe, eating around the family table at mealtimes is pretty standard, especially when it comes to the evening meal. American’s, on the whole, tend to eat far more convenience food and often don’t have ‘sit down’ family mealtimes, rather have “TV dinners”. Fast food chains are very popular, with a huge range of outlets in most towns and cities. Food is generally sweeter and soft drink consumption (Soda’s) is much higher than in Europe.
America has much stricter laws regarding alcohol than many other countries. The legal age of drinking is 21, which is much higher than many other countries in Europe. The legal age applies even if someone is given parental permission to drink, and punishments for breaking these laws are much harsher than in other European countries. Beer is by far the most popular drink.
There are also a couple of key differences in terminology if you choose to eat out in America. An entrée in Europe is usually the first course (or starter) whereas in America it’s the main course. An entrée is called an ‘Appetizer’. Americans might also have a salad course served separately, whereas in most Europeans countries a side salad would be served with the main meal.
One of the key differences between America and other European countries is the perception of time and distance. When it comes to our past, Europeans generally don’t tend to think of a 100-year old building as particularly old, yet in America it would be considered so. This is partly due to America being a relatively young country as it stands currently.
When it comes to distance it’s not unusual for Americans to consider a drive of over 100km as fairly short. “Road Trips” are a common way for Americans to visit others and to spend their vacation time. Europeans tend to holiday in other countries, but for many Americans travel happens within America. This is probably because each state is somewhat an individual country in itself, with its own customs and way of life.
When it comes to celebrations and public holidays America has many unique norms – for example dressing up on Halloween and going “Trick or Treating” is most definitely an American custom. Thanksgiving is an important occasion, and families tend to meet up to celebrate it. But Christmas is still important, even if some Europeans might scratch their heads at two large Turkey-based family dinners traditionally served so close to one another!
In the U.S. another key difference to many European countries is the emphasis on Patriotism. American’s tend to take love of their country very seriously and are not always open to criticisms of government – taking it as a personal insult. In recent years, with Trump’s “America First” policy, patriotism is becoming even more intense amongst many Americans.
As we’ve seen, working culture in America is most definitely “live to work.” It can be cutthroat because Americans take business very seriously. You’re expected to get the job done and appear strong and sure of yourself.
From a business owners perspective, labor laws in the U.S. can be a positive area. For example, you can ‘let go’ of staff who are not pulling their weight much more easily, and if things go wrong it’s much easier for American business-owners to recover from bankruptcy. It takes around a year in the U.S., compared to over 9 in places like France for example.
In America, businesses tend to be more straightforward in their outlook and prefer open, easy to understand communication. “Time is money” is still a big theme in U.S. business culture so getting to the point in an assertive but friendly way will score you bonus points.
In Europe, your CV or list of job roles is usually what lands you a fresh opportunity. In the U.S. conspicuous achievements are more noteworthy, and self-deprecation is not always seen in the same positive light it is in countries like the UK. Be prepared to sell yourself – underselling yourself can be seen as a sign of weakness rather than polite modesty.
These days, many Europeans have access to cable and satellite TV which gives you a vast amount of channels and shows to choose from. In America, this is certainly the norm, and TV is still a big part of many people’s time off. This might be related to long working hours, but TV shows and movies are often a big topic of conversation in the workplace.
Advertising on American TV can seem quite strange compared to the kind of adverts you get on European television. American Ads can be highly patriotic, and often very expensive if they are for a major calendar event such as the Superbowl.
America is the only country, aside from New Zealand, that permits adverts for pharmaceuticals. Turn on any American television and you’ll notice a whole host of these kinds of ads.
Americans also tend to spend longer online compared to their European counterparts and spend more over the internet. E-commerce is big business in the U.S. – in 2017 U.S. consumers spent $453.46 billion, a 16% increase since 2016. E-commerce continues to grow rapidly – great news for international entrepreneurs looking to expand into the U.S.!
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