What Do You Value? Reflections on American Values

A friend recently sent me some e-mails talking about American Values.  I found them very interesting.  She was researching an article or something and had been looking for a review of commonly held values.  Think of these not necessarily as individual values, but rather as collective values.

The first list comes from this site, a guide for international students…

  1. Individuality
  2. Privacy
  3. Equality
  4. Time
  5. Informality
  6. Achievement & Hard Work/Play
  7. Direct & Assertive
  8. Looking to the Future and to Change

It’s an interesting list, this one,  Many of the items that are on it, I would have included.  Some I likely wouldn’t have and there are some I see as missing.

The second list comes from this site which is a medical resource for international patients.

  1. Individual Freedom
  2. Choice in Education
  3. The Family
  4. Privacy

Again, I find the second list interesting based on what it includes and what it leaves off.

Finally, I found this list on a site which was posted by a professor at Claremont McKenna College’s and reflects thoughts on the topic of American Values from the Washington International Center.

  1. Personal Control over the Environment
  2. Change
  3. Time & Its Control
  4. Equality
  5. Individualism/Privacy
  6. Self-Help
  7. Competition
  8. Future Orientation
  9. Action/Work Orientation
  10. Informality
  11. Directness/Openness/Honesty
  12. Practicality/Efficiency and Materialism/Acquisitiveness

It’s funny to me that the last one, which has a very interesting descriptive explanation for each item as well as for why and how they came up with these, talks about the fact that Americans think of themselves as more unique than they actually are.  I think this is exceptionally true.  We are more alike than we realize and admit.  Clearly since many people can do work on the same topic and come up with very similar results, they have found many commonly held values.  I’d like to give my two cents n soe of these items as well, because I do find it interesting to view them in the context of living within a different society.


In at least one of its forms, this item appears on all three lists.  I think that pretty much every American would agree that this is a closely held value.  We do think of ourselves as individuals.  We’ve founded entire educational systems on “making the most” of your opportunities and offering unparalleled choice.  We ask students starting as young as junior high school to make judgement decisions on what courses to take.  We have a strong system of “electives” in every school I’ve ever seen.  We also ask students to express an opinion on topics (including the accurateness of essays by experts).  In fact, it isn’t just asked for, it’s expected.  We seriously value being an individual.  Privacy is, in its way, an offshoot of this.  It’s a hard adjustment to make coming to Jordan.  Both of these American values are not, in fact, values here.  Jordan is rather all about the community.  it is valued to fall within community norms.  This is typical around much of the world, but an odd frame of reference to Americans.  After all, for us the guy with purple hair is cool, not embarrassing.  And privacy… well, that’s definitely a tough one.  The idea that people think you must be lonely if you’re alone is a tough nut to crack.  I like to read… quietly… alone.  When El 3atal travels, I highly value the fact that I can watch whatever I want on TV… alone.  I’m not lonely.  I’m pleased to have some quiet time.  Now if he’s gone to long… that’s a different story.  But most Americans find the almost intrusiveness of Arab families into their lives a bit stifling and overwhelming.

Choice (or Control Over the Environment)

This is another big one for Americans.  We are huge on choice.  I mentioned above choice in education.  But, that’s just where we teach people to value choice.  We value choice in all walks of life.  As an American, I’m a little horrified to hear friends talking about how their oldest son is going to be a Doctor.  I can’t imagine raising a child with no choice on what they want to do with their life.  After all, what if they hate blood?  What if they are terrible with people?  What if their passion is computer games?  I know I don’t want THAT guy to be my Doctor (really and I’ve been to see him here in Jordan).  We think that choice is what it’s all about.  You should be able to control your own destiny.  I will admit to also being horrified at raising a daughter who thinks she has to depend on a man.  While I hope both my Beanlettes will find wonderful God-loving men and marry them, I expect that they will be able to support themselves.  Marriage isn’t the only option, it is one option.  And it isn’t the end, but rather a very rewarding part of the journey.  I couldn’t raise a daughter who thought that she had to marry to live.  I’d feel like a failure.


This would be another one that pretty much every American would list as a value, I think.  It’s one that has been, on some ways, the hardest to get a grip on and agree on how to ensure.  Fundamentally, though, we believe that men and women are equal, the rainbow of colors are equal, we are all immigrants and all equal.  These days there are some who find this one harder to grasp (like all religions have somehow become unequal), but even so, it’s a strongly held value.

Direct and Assertive

This one showed up in two of the three articles as well.  This isn’t by chance or coincidence.  When I read notes that come home from school (mind you this is me trying to understand enough of the Arabic to “get the gist”), I’ve learned that the first paragraph is always fluff.  I just ignore it because it is literally of no value to me.  Americans are direct and to-the-point.  In many cultures, we come off as downright rude.  I get that.  Another example is answering the phone.  When I answer the phone, I don’t want to chit-chat or make small talk.  I want to know what you want so I can get back to my day.  This is definitely a cultural difference and can cause hurt feelings if not managed properly on both ends ;).  Poor TetaBean is the biggest recipient of this one.  I love talking to people, just not on the phone really.  So, just call me rude, I’ll own it ;).  But, I’m also awfully direct and assertive in general.  I don’t believe in soft-pedaling.  At one of the large American multi-nationals I worked with, they even had a corporate managerial for “straight-talk”.  That’s code for saying it directly, not hemming, hawing, and talking around issues.  That’s us, the land of straight-talk…

Those are the three I felt in me to talk about today.  What do you think?  Do you see any missing?  If you were going to create a similar list for Jordan, what would the values be?  Any ideas?

Happy Cross-Values!


4 thoughts on “What Do You Value? Reflections on American Values

  1. Great post!
    I like such subjects because other cultures can understand why certain cultures do what they do. I want to mention two things:
    1) Although, all these American values look great. Some of them can’t be adopted by other cultures. Or it doesn’t mean the contrary is bad. For example, the choice thing is something we lack in Jordan. Parents like their kids to be doctors. I wish we can adapt the American way in giving the kids choices and making their own decisions. But, being direct and assertive is something that may not work for Jordan because of the overwhelming social system.

    2) It is good for people to talk about their cultures and learn about others. People in Jordan may think you are rude when you speak on the phone without starting the conversation with the usual 10 minutes greetings. But the misunderstanding may not exist if each culture understands why the other one does this or that.

    I already started a series of posts about living in the US for Arabs. The series title is “The Arabic guide to living in the US.” I started the first post talking about the law. Unfortunately, I decided to start this series while being engaged in too many school projects. I hope to continue writing this series very soon.

    • Jaraad, thanks for your post. The thing I really liked about the last article I posted was that he actually provides the counterpoints. I agree totally with the fact that one isn’t right and the other wrong. One isn’t good and the other bad. They simply are. However, in trying to understand a culture that we’re living in, we are well placed to understand where the other is coming from. As an American in Jordan, it’s good if I at least understand that my phone approach is rude. I may still decide to be rude (and yes, I usually am since everyone seems to call when I’m eating lunch, teehee). And the same is true about being in the US. To a great extent, if you want to make it, you’ll have to either adopt many of the other culture’s norms or find ways that you can manage without.

      Oh, and I’m finding more and more Jordanians are being direct and assertive. It’s no longer just me, which is nice ;). But I agree, parents’ notes from the school shouldn’t come without the fluff. Parents here need and want that. But, by my understanding it, I can ignore that part during the painful process of trying to work out what the note says that IS important. I’ll definitely chekc out your series. I’d love to see it.

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