Americans have a reputation overseas for being friendly. But according to many shell-shocked foreigners who’ve interacted with Americans, “nice” should be added to the list as well.
Note: Some quotes in this piece have been lightly edited for grammar.
An Answer, Please
A Bosnian who’s traveled to European and Asian countries says they were stunned by people’s niceness upon arriving in the U.S. “I found this to be awesome and one of my favorite things,” they said. But it led them to wonder, “Is this [being nice] taught in school, or is it just learned behavior common among the people?”
The Better Question
“Why are other people not [nice]?” questions an American who appears to be as confused by the question as the foreigner is about their experience with niceness. They explain that while saying “please” and “thank you” are taught, niceness is “just something that comes with the culture.”
Mom Knows Best
“I was raised to believe being nice doesn’t cost me anything, and it just might make the world a little bit better,” offers another American.
“Same here,” chimes in another person. “Being nice is free. Smiling is free.”
One person admits their frustration about foreigners who claim Americans fake being nice. That’s just not the case, they say. “We are genuinely trying to be nice and say hello to folks.”
Across the Pond
An American who spent six years in Scotland said British people constantly mentioned how nice Americans are. “It almost always creeps them out,” they said. They explained that the degree of niceness varies according to the region and that while people aren’t nice all the time, being nice is generally “not an act, or usually even a conscious effort.”
Back to the Basics
Some Americans were taught an old saying, “You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” That’s one way to foster niceness.
A Complicated Question
Several Americans pointed out that when two people ask each other how they’re doing, the cultural expectation is along the lines of “Good, thanks.” Should one wish to stray from the pack and say something negative, one person says it’s socially acceptable “as long as you do so with sarcastic cheer.”
The same commenter offers the following example of sarcastic cheer, using the letters “A” and “B” to represent two people.
“A: ‘How’s it going?’
“B: (Visibly exhausted): ‘Living the dream.’
“A: ‘Haha, I feel ya. Have a good one.’”
An American believes that having large rural areas, a large Christian population, and a high quality of life are some of the reasons niceness runs in U.S. culture. They believe quality of life is a particularly important point, as it “leaves more mental bandwidth available for generosity, which we frequently rank #1 in the world for.”
A Larger Horizon
“I think it’s just kind of a thing in North America,” observes a North American on niceness. “People in Canada and Mexico are friendly too. There’s not really any reason not to be.” Case in point? “It feels nice to be nice.”
It’s a Good Thing
A former study abroad student says they have “no clue” why Americans are so nice. However, they describe themselves as having been “low-key depressed by how rude people were in Europe. No one smiled or made small talk.”
One person came to Europe’s defense, saying the behaviors Americans construe as rude are often seen as “normal stances” in Europe. “A smile in Europe…is something that kind of has to be “earned,” they said, while noting that there are significant differences with this depending on where one is in Europe.
Classes Don’t Matter
No matter what class one is in, and generally speaking, American “culture values mutual respect regardless of class or social status,” comments one person. What follows is proof that not all Americans are nice all of the time. “If you’re respectful to us, we try to reciprocate. If you’re not, well, we reciprocate that, too.”
An American says they’re more conscious than ever of being nice to people, given “today’s mental health crisis.” They take special care to be nice to retail workers, as they were taught that doing so can turn someone’s day from bad to good.
Food for Thought
One commenter recalled a study they had read saying that people from countries with a long history of immigration from different ethnicities are friendlier and greet each other more. The study’s “hypothesis was that living in a place with multiculturalism where many languages are spoken forced people to adopt overly friendly mannerisms to show they aren’t a threat.”
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